Posted by marc August 10, 2016

What the fuck is happening? The past year has been absolutely rampant with brands stealing designs from artists. Chain stores like Zara, Forever 21, and Francesca's are lurking on Etsy and social media to find what's hot and cash in on it. But social media is a two-way street. Artists and their fans are lashing back, bringing the issue to the forefront. Let's take a quick look at the lead-up to today's situation.

Just over a year ago, Target was called out by Etsy artist Melissa Lay, who designed a black and white shirt of the American flag with "#MERICA" replacing the section of stars. Target shamelessly lifted the design, modifying it only by adding a weathered texture. As if they thought they wouldn't be caught, the brand begrudgingly pulled the shirt from its shelves.

meaning-importance-shopsmall-has-never-really-hit-my.jpg, by Miranda

Around the same time, Forever 21 stole from Sam Larson, a freelance illustrator and calligraphy artist from Oregon. Using a brush pen, he created a simple work, drawing out the word "WILD". Forever 21 copied this right down to the brush strokes, adding in an arrowhead and feathering to the I. His huge Instagram following created a #PaySamLarson campaign, helping bring the brand's plagiarism to the attention of the media.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.44.50 PM.png
Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.44.50 PM.png, by Miranda

More recently, Zara has been under fire for stealing from Tuesday Bassen, who creates pins, patches, and other apparel. After contacting Zara, she was met with a belittling message from their lawyers, who claimed a “lack of distinctiveness” between her pins and Zara's, despite an objective similarity. Nevertheless, Zara's parent company claimed that the designs have been pulled from their stores, though Tuesday's fans have been sending photos of the pins still on the shelves.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.43.56 PM.png
Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.43.56 PM.png, by Miranda

Simultaneously, Susie Ghahremani of boygirlparty has had her own pins copied by Francesca's Collections. Clearly any brand that uses Papyrus in their logotype needs some artistic direction, but that's no excuse for stealing an independent artist's work. Susie has pointed out that several other pins being sold at Francesca's are suspiciously similar to those of Etsy artists.

And to be clear, this issue stretches back further than 2015. Urban Outfitters have had a reputation of liberally borrowing from independent artists since the beginning of the decade. And Forever 21 have a history of creating cheap knock-offs of high-end designer fashion. But things have really come to a head lately.

18ixkocetza88jpg.jpg, by Miranda

So what's the issue here? Are brands that lazy? Nope. They're cheap. Sure, they'll overpay their CMOs and waste millions on ineffective advertising, but when it comes to paying artists, that money simply doesn't seem to be in the budget. So they hire cheap work, paying intern-level employees to rip off what's hot. Joe Ledbetter himself was ordered by his first boss to copy Paul Frank's designs. $10 and hour entry level employees are much more appealing to brands than licensing an artist's work or actually hiring a few people with an MFA.

The other factor is that these brands know they're likely to get away with plagiarism. Artists are broke! Most of them won't be able to pay for a lawyer, and even if they could, these worldwide brands have far better lawyers, and whoever has the more expensive lawyer often wins. There's also a matter of public perception. I've had my own work ripped off by a brand that makes nearly a billion dollars a year. But I didn't do anything about it because I didn't want to risk burning any bridges. Instead, I saw my work - which I was never paid for - sit on their website for millions of visitors to see and watch their low budget (no surprise) ads play during the commercial breaks of Jeopardy!.

It's too naive to say that the solution is for brands to take some responsibility and hire skilled artists and designers. Imagine an officially sanctioned collaboration between boygirlparty and Francesca's! It would be a win-win situation. But that's too much work and not enough margin for a big brand. The main thing we can do is call attention to what's happening. Retweet the artists' claims of plagiarism, create your own posts, and make sure what you buy in stores isn't lifted from someone else's hard work. And the other even more important thing to remember is to not let assholes discourage you from making your art.

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