What is UP with all the Copying Lately?

Tula Pink copied by unknown Wal-Mart supplier

Very Denyse-Schmidt-Flea-Market-Fancy-looking but not Denyse-Schmidt-sanctioned tights at Anthropologie, via Film in the Fridge

This Kokka print is extremely derivative of a Helen Dardik design. And, I just happen to be working on a post about low-quality ripoffs of Kokka prints.

There are always more players in the supply chain than the manufacturer and retailer, so I’m NOT accusing Kokka, Anthropologie, or Wal-Mart of deliberately ripping off copyrighted works. I just wanted to point out that somebody is. Haven’t people realized that in the internet age, you can’t get away with this stuff?

30 Comments

  1. Ann says:

    Well, apparently they DID get away with it, and even though you’ve spotted it, what will the consequences be? It is getting harder and harder to maintain intellectual property rights in today’s wired culture.

  2. Deana says:

    I’m not surprised that Anthropologie is on your list. They are notorious copiers. I worked for Kim Love Designs in college and they copied her signature fabric cuff bracelet with a hidden magnetic closure — except they did it really badly. Now, every time I see something I like on their site, I wonder who they stole the idea from. It ruined Man Shops World for me when I found out he works for Anthropologie.

    Problem is, legally, none of these folks have done anything wrong. You can’t copyright a design for a useful item, which includes clothes, quilts, etc. When quilters are cautioned about not violating copyrights by copying patterns for/from friends, it’s the instructions that are copyrighted, not the design itself. While that can make things difficult for designers and artists, there are really good reasons why that needs to be the law.

    • Joanna says:

      Actually, a quilt design is copyrighted by definition as intellectual property/art as long as it is original. In fact in a recent article in a mainline quilting magazine [McCalls I think], a copyright lawyer described in great lengths how far the copyright actually does go in quilting. Everyone I heard from was actually surprised by how many rights the creator of a quilt actually does have and that many copyright rights are being infringed on by other quilters all the time- some out of ignorance and some knowingly.

      As for fabric, cheap knockoffs have always been a reality in our industry unfortunately and its more about having the money, time and energy to fight it than it is an issue of whether or not its copyrighted.

      With the easy and quick access of images on the internet, the latest wave of problems is about being “inspired” by someone else’s designs and using that as an excuse to not be truly creative on one’s own. In my opinion “inspiration” can’t come from the same product/kind of art you are doing yourself. Inspiration can come from a flower or a sunset or a tilework pattern on the museum floor. It can’t come from someone else’s fabric design if you are doing fabric or someone else’s jewelry design if you are doing jewelry. That’s just plain ripping off.

      The more awareness everybody has of this happening, the more the community can police itself. Until then, people can just wave their hand and say “oh well, it just happens”. Thanks Kim for writing about it.

      • Kim says:

        Joanna, I will have to look for that article. I also like your take on inspiration — well put. It’s also sad that copyright infringers get away with their crimes because they count on people not having the resources to do anything about it.

  3. Jen says:

    Ahhh! I hate this. My carefree days of fabric shopping are over. Now I’m going to be stressed out hoping I’m not accidentally buying a cheap knock-off instead of the real thing.

    Wonder what would happen if a chain like Wal Mart tried to knock off a Chanel or Louis Vuitton print. There ARE copyright laws, it’s just that you need to be able to afford the lawsuits. Powerhouse fashion companies like LV and Chanel can and do sue successfully (though it’s hard to really target the ridiculous abundance of knock offs coming out of Asia, primarily). But I don’t think most of these fabric designers have the bankroll of LV or Chanel. And that’s what these companies count on.

    The best way to stop design theft is to NOT BUY KNOCK OFFS. And that includes knock offs of high end fashion staples like the above mentioned designers. It really makes me feel sad when I see people promoting buying a knock off, especially people in the sewing community. Just because they’re a major fashion label doesn’t make it any less nasty to support the knock off industry.

    Now excuse me while I go sit in a corner and cry because I love buying Kokka and now I’m just going to worry that it’s not what it appears to be…

    • Kim says:

      Jen, Keyka Lou’s article has some good tips about avoiding knockoffs, and one of the links has a discussion thread listing a ton of shops that sell the quality/genuine stuff.

      The whole fashion knockoff industry is its own ball of wax and there’s even a bill right now in the works about fashion and copyright, isn’t there?

  4. deb says:

    I’m wondering if the fabric isn’t printed by the same company -with the same basic screens. Put on cheaper greige goods, colors altered on the screens, and sold by the fabric company under their “lesser quality” company name.

    Other companies stealing designs? Happens all the time, unfortunately.

    • Kim says:

      Deb, this fabric was definitely not sanctioned by Moda or Tula Pink. AFAIK Moda does not have a lower-end line for the chain stores, like some other companies do.

      • Joanna says:

        MODA does not do “seconds” or lesser quality versions of their collections. It is one of the things that sets them apart from many of their competitors. Go MODA!!

  5. caroline says:

    I don’t go into Hancock Fabrics very often, and was impressed, initially the last time I ended up in one, at how much more with it they seemed than in the last few years. I noticed a lot of cotton prints, however, that were very reminiscent of independent designers. I don’t know that any were copies exactly, but they were all certainly branded as being “specially made for Hancock Fabrics.” JoAnn occasionally carries fabric from independent companies, and while the bolts are not labeled (and the Alexander Henry fabric is not on gold bolts) you can clearly tell from the selvage that it’s the real thing.

    • Kim says:

      Caroline, I know that some companies sell excess inventory and/or lower-quality lines to the chains (I guess that makes it harder to distinguish a knockoff!), but some stick with the high-quality lines only and sell only to independent fabric stores. I’ll have to research and think about that more.

      I saw some very cute corduroys at Hancock’s recently — I was going to post about them here, and probably still will!

  6. Vicki says:

    I would love to see a detailed, factual article about copyright as it applies to fabric and patterns, written by someone with actual legal knowledge and understanding of the topic. I’ve read a lot about this over the years and what I understand/believe from my readings is that yes, fabric designs are copyrighted and can not be copied legally (like the illegal knockoffs in this post.) BUT the use of finished products made from patterns cannot be legally restricted by their makers, or in other words, all those designers/bloggers/tutorial makers/pattern sellers who say “you can’t sell stuff made from my pattern” and the cottage licensers who say “pay me and you can sell stuff from my pattern” do not have any legal basis for this.

    The Tabberone website http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/trademarks.shtml has a lot of great information on this, and copyright/fabric/pattern issues have been discussed a ton over the years on Sewingmamas.com too.

    • Kim says:

      Vicki, I am not a lawyer but I did write a few posts on the subject a couple years ago. They’re all under my sparse but sincere “Fabric and the Law” category:
      http://www.trueup.net/category/fabric-and-the-law/

      The pattern issue/First Sale Doctrine stuff just makes my head hurt. I wish I understood it better.

    • Jen says:

      The problem I have with so many of the people who sew things with purchased patterns is that they don’t give credit to the person who made the pattern. So many times I see garments and think “Oh look at that, it’s pattern X by Z pattern co.” but the person who made the garment has a label on it which says “Designs by X” or “Studio Y Creations”. Now, while this doesn’t explicitly say that the seller/sewer made the pattern – it IS implied by the name on the label. So people who sell garments made from purchased patterns are making money based on the belief of the purchaser that this is something completely unique to the seller.
      For example: I made my daughter a dress from a pattern which she wore to school. It was a class party and some of the parents were there. Another mom asked me where I got it and when I said I made it she asked if she could buy one from me. I said sure, I can do a custom dress for you and quoted a price. She was willing to pay the cost until we talked further about it and she said I should sell them in a shop. I explained I couldn’t because it was a pattern that I’d purchased and suddenly she was no longer interested in buying a dress.

      However, I would think that the original fabric designs would be covered by copyright as works of art. I read somewhere that Alexander Henry designs are hand-painted so wouldn’t that make them works of art?

  7. Kristin says:

    I don’t know why, but I’m kind of surprised by Kokka ripping off Helen Dardik. That is just too sad! So blatant too. I’ll think twice about ordering from them.

    We’ve been told that the reason Alexander Henry doesn’t provide images of their fabric to retailers is because they don’t want to supply design thieves with quality images of their fabric. (Also the reason the images on their own website are so stinkin’ awful.) People rip them off all the time. Still, I think if the thief is determined, they’ll just buy the fabric and scan it. It seems futile to me.

    • Kim says:

      Kristin, I’m kind of shocked by the Kokka thing too. They have a very good reputation and I feel way more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt than Anthro or Wal-Mart!

      Interesting about Alexander Henry — they’ve always been gracious about letting me take pictures of the upcoming collections at Quilt Market, bit maybe not for long! I hadn’t heard of them being ripped off.

  8. Becca says:

    A few years ago I saw some bags at Target made with Amy Butler and Denyse Schmidt rip-off fabric. They changed the colors and scale of some of the designs, so they were slightly different, but I was pretty sure that neither designer had allowed Xhileration (I’m pretty sure that was the brand) to use their prints.

    Regarding the fabric at places like Joann’s, I read somewhere that some fabric companies will sometimes have a lower-quality version of designer fabric that they can sell for less to places like Wal-Mart, etc. So if you’re buying fabric for $6 a yard that most stores would sell for more like $10 it may be lower quality fabric. Unfortunately I can’t remember any other details – does this sound familiar to anyone else?

  9. The Kokka/Dardik comes as quite a surprise to me. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the Kokka offices in Tokyo and Osaka. They don’t seem the kind who would intentionally do do this.

    The Denyse Schmidt copyign comes as little surprise though. Denyse frequently sources older textiles designs to make up her collections. It’s happens more than you would expect with modern fabric “designers”. Feedsacks, vintage sheets and small swatches are sourced to finish a collection. It’s not surprising others may have sourced the same fabric swatches. That’s why you see Kei selling many of the same FMF prints. You can see more “inspired” fabrics and the originals here:
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/1458605@N22/

    One of my favourite fabric topics. I’m glad you are sharing.

    • Kim says:

      Amy, I know, I’m extremely surprised about Kokka too, and doubt they did this intentionally.

      As far as Denyse’s design — I know several of her designs are reproductions or re-workings of vintage textiles, and I have no problem with that — most are in the public domain. It’s my understanding that a designer owns the copyright to her or his version but the original remains in the public domain. I’m not sure if one just applies new colors to a public domain design, if that is protected by copyright.

      Thanks for the link to the Flickr group — very interesting!

  10. Lee says:

    My 4-year-old has a dress from Target in a print that looks exactly like a Kaffe Fassett print. I would be shocked if it were authorized. As a graphic designer and avid sewer, ripped-off fabric designs is a pet peeve of mine. ANY artistic work or design is copyrighted – and you don’t have to file any paperwork, it’s automatic. I wish one of these fabric designers would sue the pants off Walmart or Target! Tula Pink in particular would appear to have a case.

    Here are a couple of helpful links:

    http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-protect.html – info about what is protected

    http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/blog3/?cat=146 – a great blog where readers can submit examples of copyright infringement

  11. Munaiba says:

    Well done for spotting this. BTW I don’t know if anyone else has had trouble but this is the first time I’ve been able to access your site in about two weeks. Might be worth checking your webhost.
    Cheers

    • Kim says:

      Munaiba, I don’t know what might be the problem, I haven’t had any other people mention that and my stats have been fine. I’m worried though, thanks for letting me know!

  12. Yahaira says:

    I’m really surprised about Kokka. Have they said anything on the matter? as for the Wal-Mart thing, are they blind? Wouldn’t they buyer know to buy from the proper sources? Or I wonder if they didn’t care since Moda won’t sell to them. As for Anthropologie, I don’t see that as a copy at all. Whoever designed the tights probably bought the image from the same place Denyse Schmidt did. Couldn’t this be the same way “amy butler” or “denyse schmidt” bags or dresses ended up at Target?

  13. mab says:

    I just bought some fabric from an international source that I thought was Flea Market Fancy. Nope. It’s a direct copy, but on home dec weight and there’s absolutely nothing on the selvage. Some people suggested that it’s Kei, but I couldn’t find any evidence that they had produced home dec fabrics. Anyway, it set me off on a search and I found soooooo many examples of knocked-off fabric. What’s up with that? We all agree that plagiarizing a paper is wrong — why do people think that plagiarizing a design is okay?

  14. Cat says:

    Not to put a big fat fly in the ointment, as I know it’s SHOCKING, but honestly? No surprises here.

    One of my favorite quotes is straight from the mouth of Picasso:
    Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal

    I have a Graphic Arts background, too. Standard Policy for designing Advertising? Change it 10% and it’s A-okay! Somehow was thinking that idea comes from Picasso as well…

    Historically, Repros have been common since the get-go. 1930s-70s “Calicoes” often smack of designs much like their early Sisters, but weave & dye processes advanced ALOT so it’s fairly easy to tell these apart. Patches in a Quilt? Still NOT impossible. What about “Aunt Grace” 30s Repros? And Michael Miller’s 50s Cowboys or Spacekids? Even A. Henry had me fooled with those adorable kids in the Park!

    Manufacturing has always gone with “it’s what the customers want” !

    Fraudulent “knock-offs” nicely termed “Reproductions” even have professionals confused for years to come. Case in point? Furniture “Revivals”. Then Roseville Pottery, China flooded the market with fairly decent FAKES in the late 1990s. I was working on Certification in Antique/Collectibles Appraising so studied those in depth. They were all over eBay and only knowledgeable collectors & experts knew the difference. Unknowing (or unscrupulous) Dealers everywhere sold 1000s of them as the High-priced Originals. I won’t even mention the “Limited Ed.” Prints of Dali and Chagall in the 80s.

    I think a good Reference Library might include the two Volumes of Dating Fabrics by Eileen Jahnke Trestain. Out-of-Print but frequently available on eBay or via Amazon

  15. Bella says:

    …This post makes me feel both sad and a little irritated too!
    Its insulting to the original artist to be so blatantly ripped off! Especially after all the hard work and effort to get one’s work out there!
    Worse still, ( and I understand that many fabric designers are very heavily influenced by vintage fabrics and pattern design) is seeing textile designs alongside original prints and how little has been changed from the original print….its disappointing to say the least. This happens time and time again in fashion/textile design, but i have to agree with Mab….why is this so accepted?
    I’m sorry, but isn’t this just laziness?
    The saddest thing is that designers and artists are the ones who are losing out on potential work and income with this kind of copying going on…..there are so many out there with original work and ideas who struggle to make a living.
    Also, I have to add, I have worked in the textile industry before, and have been disappointed (but not too surprised) to see that profits are still being made on goods that manufacturers have agreed should have been destroyed…for example, strike-offs and misprinted quilt cottons. I am sure there are quilt fabric designers who would be horrified to think that an inferior version of their product was still making its way into the fabric market….but unfortunately there will always be greedy people out there who put profit before any sort of moral/ethical conscience. Thanks for posting this topic, Kim, its sure to make people more aware of what they’re purchasing!

  16. Rosa says:

    Hi Kim, I am returning the Helen Dardik knock-off fabric I had ordered for my shop to Kokka (and they agreed to reimburse me). I urge all other Kokka retailers who have this fabric in their shops to do the same.