Another day, another high street brand caught stealing from an independent designer. Hot on the heels of our report on Marks and Spencers stealing from Tootsa McGuinty, we discover Forever 21 up to its old tricks.
London based roller derby and lingerie brand KnickerRocker known for its quirky and fun designs, has been copied by Forever 21, who are selling their copycat designs on their website. KnickerRocker’s pants feature animal faces complete with cute little ears. Forever 21′s versions are almost identical.
So, is this legal? Nope, not here in the UK where designers are covered by unregistered design rights.The unregistered design right gives protection to a design for a period of three years from the date it is first made public within the EU, even if it is not registered. Not that Forever 21 care. As a brand, it is worth approximately 3 billion dollars and settling intellectual property cases appears to be a part of their business strategy. Rather than pay a designer to license a design, it probably works out cheaper for them to steal a design and if they are sued, settle with the plaintiff. Companies including Diane Von Furstenberg, Gwen Stefani and Anna Sui have all filed lawsuits against Forever 21 relating to copyright infringement. Countless smaller designers have also been copied by Forever 21 and its ilk. Sadly there is nothing they have been able to do to stop it. In many instances, small designers have contacted the copiers to address the situation but find their pleas go ignored. Many designers like Knickerrocker Roller find themselves copied by highstreet brands and face a David and Goliath situation. It’s often the situation that smaller, niche designers targeted by the fast fashion giants don’t have the finance, time or team of lawyers required to take on a legal challenge and enforce their rights.
But, like Tootsa McGuinty, KnickerRocker has the power of social media on its side. Designers and their customers can ‘shame’ those that have copied into removing the product from their shop floors via social media sites. Just a couple of years ago, jewellery design duo Tatty Devine discovered near identical pieces of jewellery to their designs on sale in high street giant, Claire’s Accessories. When Claire’s ignored their complaints, Tatty Devine posted their grievances on their blog. Before long the story had gone viral and was picked up by mainstream media and national newspapers. Amidst the storm of negative media, Claire’s promptly removed the designs. Marks & Spencers has now responded to Tootsa McGuinty’s complaints following the spreading of the story via twitter.
It isn’t right though. Naming and shaming organisations on social media is a last resort. It doesn’t address the financial and emotional strains suffered by the designers who find themselves the victims of copying. The issue can be more easily resolved if organisations agree to pay for the designs that they use in the first place. Many small designers would be happy to discuss the possibility of licensing a design but don’t get the opportunity – their designs are taken and copied without their knowledge.
So while purchasing a designer dupe on the highstreet may seem harmless, remember, someone, somewhere put a lot of time and energy into creating the original. Intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime so let’s not encourage it. Innovative, creative designers should be rewarded, not punished, and retailers should pay a license if they want to use a design that belongs to someone else. Think inspiration, not imitation!