A former FIT student is suing US book giant Barnes & Noble as well as the fashion college for stealing her backpack design and selling it in Barnes & Noble stores. Diana Rubio claims that she never signed any contracts or licensing agreements to allow the bag to be manufactured or sold and now she’s suing for copyright infringement.
Back in 2010 Rubio entered a competition run by FIT & Barnes & Noble to design “back-to-campus” materials. The designer claims that she was not given an option of whether or to enter the competition because it was considered part of the coursework and she was entered automatically. She subsequently won the competition and her design went on to be sold at Barnes & Noble and on its internet site. Rubio’s name appears on the bag tag and on the website.
In the lawsuit, Rubio states that FIT tried to get her to sign a “rights and consent” form, which would give FIT the rights but she refused to sign it.
As regular readers will know, fashion designs in the US aren’t protected by copyright law. Because clothing is functional as well as artistic, the law of copyright does not provide fashion designers the same protection that other creative artists, such as musicians and authors, enjoy. So what’s the basis for the lawsuit? Rubio is claiming copyright infringement in relation to her drawing, which she has now registered with the US copyright office. She claims that Barnes & Noble reproduced the drawings and derivative works (the backpacks) without her permission. This has been wilful infringement of her copyright since it knew or should have known that she refused to sign the ‘rights and consent’ form. Furthermore, the bags are being sold using Rubio’s name on the tags and the website without her permission.
Barnes & Noble has been quick to distance themselves from the dispute, placing all blame on FIT. A spokesperson speaking with Gothamist stated;
“”We have a relationship with FIT whereby we pay royalty fees to FIT for student designs. We strongly support intellectual property rights. This matter is between FIT and Ms. Rubio and we trust they will work out a fair solution.”
More to come on this one