Design

This Indie Artist Shows Us All How To Stand Up To Giant Corporations

by Caitlin Murphy

July 21, 2016

This Tuesday, the artist Tuesday Bassen, whose illustrations have appeared on GOOD along with publications like the New YorkerLucky PeachBroadly, and many more, took to social media to announce that the brand Zara had allegedly “copied” her original designs. Stating that Zara “consistently uses my work against my wishes and without any compensation,” Bassen posted a collage comparing her pins and patches with those found in the Summer ‘16 collections of Zara and its subsidiaries Stradivarius, Pull and Bear, and Bershka. Bassen also shared a purported screenshot of a response from Zara’s lawyers.

Me and my friends have all been ripped off before. People joke that it's how you know you've made it.

In that response, Zara’s lawyers dismissed all claims, citing a “lack of distinctiveness” in the design, suggesting that complaints from Bassen’s fans were “a handful” compared to how many average monthly views the company’s websites net each month—98 million for Zara alone. 

“Zara’s lawyers are literally saying I have no base because I'm an indie artist and they're a major corporation,” Bassen tweeted. Zara has come under fire for ripping off the designs of artists as iconic as Kanye West as well as a number of independent artists (though Olivier Rousteing, creative director of elite fashion house Balmain, has said he loves Zara’s copies). Worth $10.7 billion as of May 2016, Zara is one of Forbes’ Top 100 most valuable brands, giving it a clear advantage over independent artists like Bassen, many of whom can’t spare the $2,000 needed to secure a lawyer to write and send a cease-and-desist letter.

Adam J. Kurtz, another artist whose work was purportedly copied by the brand, told GOOD that “me and my friends have all been ripped off before. People joke that it's how you know you've made it. I've had to fight with Amazon to get unauthorized duplications of my work pulled from sale.” Kurtz added that legal battles like Bassen’s simply aren’t sustainable for independent artists: “I'm waiting for a magic legal representative to swoop in and represent us as a unit and bear the risk—because Zara knows that none of us individually can afford to.”

Kurtz has been keeping tabs on who has come forward, publishing a page on his site titled “Shop the Stolen Art,” comparing and contrasting alleged copies to artist originals, linked and available for purchase. Other artists on the list include Kurtz, Strawberry Moth, Banana Bones, Coucou Suzette, Georgia Perry, Mokuyobi, Ivonna Buenrostro, Maria Ines Gul, Gabriella Sanchez, Explorer’s Press, Big Bud Press, Sara M. Lyons, Pity Party Studios, Crywolf Clothing, and These are Things, as of press time, with more being added as they come forward.

Internet celebrities like Tess Holliday and Akilah Hughes have come out in support of Bassen, and coverage has spread all over the internet.


Fred Jennings, an associate lawyer with the firm Tor Ekeland in Brooklyn, New York, shared his personal thoughts on Bassen’s case, stressing that his opinions are not legal advice and do not represent the beliefs of his firm. “The most polite thing I can say about [the company’s] argument is that it doesn't make any sense,” as distinctiveness is a matter of trademark, not copyright infringement, he says. “Even a very simple design, so long as it's original and creative, gets copyright protection.”

Public ‘calling out’ of apparent infringement is a powerful arrow in the artist's quiver.

For artists in Bassen’s situation, Jennings says the first move is actually one of prevention. “Registering the copyright to that design is an important and often overlooked step. Even though copyright is automatic once the work is created, registration of that copyright allows them to pursue many more options to protect their design from infringement… If it's too late for prevention, or for artists who want help with that process, another important step is to identify the art lawyers or legal organizations that can help them. Here in New York, we have the Center for Art Law and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, among others.”

Jennings added that “it's not really a legal point, but this kind of publicity and public ‘calling out’ of apparent infringement is another powerful arrow in the artist's quiver. Periodically running reverse image searches on their designs can help detect possible infringing use of their designs too.”

Late Wednesday, Zara’s parent company released a statement to Buzzfeed News and, Thursday morning, another to Vogue

“Inditex has the utmost respect for the individual creativity of all artists and designers and takes all claims concerning third party intellectual property rights very seriously... Inditex was recently contacted by Tuesday Bassen's lawyers who noted the use of illustrations in some badges sourced externally and on clothes in its group stores. The company immediately opened an investigation into the matter and suspended the relevant items from sale. Inditex's legal team is also in contact with Tuesday Bassen's lawyers to clarify and resolve the situation as swiftly as possible.”

Bassen noted on Twitter that as of last night, she had not heard anything from Zara and “nothing has been resolved.” The claim that the items in question were removed from Inditex Groups’ stores is apparently not entirely solid; Kurtz pointed out to GOOD that some of the items allegedly copying Bassen’s designs were still available. At least one can still be found in Berksha’s shop, and many that other artists have called out as copies can still be found and are documented on Kurtz’s site.

I hope that I can raise awareness for how often this happens and how few artists can actually afford to pursue it.

Bassen told GOOD, “I hope that one outcome is that I can raise awareness for how often this happens and how few artists can actually afford to pursue it. I would also like to be compensated for my work.”

Bassen also shared some exciting news—she’s got a new lawyer who has agreed to take on her case pro bono.

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This Indie Artist Shows Us All How To Stand Up To Giant Corporations