Urban Outfitters and Etsy Artists: Who's Stealing From Whom?

UO stealing .jpg
via Regretsy
​It's well known by now
 that Urban Outfitters sometimes rips off designs from independent artists. Last summer, Foster Kamer noted that the hipster warehouse was stealing from Brooklyn designers; this week, Averie wrote about how the chain could be basing their state pendant necklaces on the design of artist Stevie Koerner. Here's the thing: Those state necklaces are all over Etsy. You've probably seen them, they're the ones in the shape of California or Texas or whatever with a little cut out heart. A post yesterday on Regretsy's blog takes issue with the idea that UO is the only bad guy here, given that there are a LOT of Etsy artists making the exact same thing. Who's stealing from whom?

The Regretsy post includes multiple examples of the state plus heart design from numerous artists. It doesn't seem as though the idea originated from just one person.

Are all of these independent designers on Etsy stealing from each other? Or this is such a simple and generic idea that many people can come up with it at once? Certainly the idea of a charm in the shape of a state is nothing new; they've been selling those to tourists for years. Is it such a leap to put a heart in one? That seems like a logical progression from the I heart NY design, which I first remember seeing in the late 70′s.

Now, I'm not generally the voice of reason, so this is an uncomfortable position to take. But I'm just not sure I want to start a boycott over an idea that many people have had, some for years before Truche even opened her Etsy store.

The question is less "Did Urban Outfitters steal?" (probably) and more "Who did they steal from?" It's unlikely that there's only one victim of UO's sticky fingers. On the other hand, does this mean Etsy artists are stealing from each other? And do we care? And if we actually think these necklaces are really cute and want a Massachusetts-shaped one, is that bad?

[rgray@villagevoice.com] [@_rosiegray]

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12 comments
Torontochoochoo
Torontochoochoo

As an artist, I'm tired of being ripped off because it hampers my creativity. It takes away your freedom as well as well as your income. I have payed to send my work to galleries, was rejected and then saw work that was the spitting image of mine come out a year later. Be aware that when you send work out...anywhere...they will keep it, add it to image "banks", copy it, or give it to there friends to copy. This is the truth. I have read that when you sign a work that is your copyright and more people should pursue that in a court of law. I have heard complaints from people like on Etsy that someone copyied their work, but the work was very generic and easy to copy. Now when I sell something, I make it as original and hard to copy as possible. I really work at making unique items that are so complicated that it wouldn't be worth ripping off, and guess what...they don't sell too well.Guess I'll have to starve.

Movielover
Movielover

This chain of dumps is part-owned by Rick Santorum, the frothy-poop-lube mixture man.  No low class rip off is beneath them.

Mc Lovebuddy
Mc Lovebuddy

There's a lot of cannabilism within Etsy. Sellers stealing from other sellers. That happens at a much more rapid rate, but in terms of volume sold I don't know if it could match a big retailer. 

If your stuff isn't that original (state silhouette and heart) and can't be copyrighted, maybe go for something you can copyright because you're really only mashing up something else you stole, anyway. 

With this stuff, it's a zeitgeist, folks. there's no original copyright.

I'm not saying Urban Outfitters or people they buy from for their stores have ripped people off, I feel that it goes the other way, too. Urban Outfitters has gotten ripped off a lot, too.

CC
CC

I know for a fact that Etsy artists are ripping off one another. I just had a good friend who had this experience and it was pretty ugly.

Jimbob Peltaire
Jimbob Peltaire

A generic design such as that is very difficult to own and police.  No one can own the shape of a state and a heart in it. It's too vague, where the heart is placed, how big it is, what material etc all play into how a product can be protected. Designers sometimes do not understand that simply making something doesn't mean they own it. If I come up with a product that is generic, I should predict that it will be ripped off.

Alethea
Alethea

While I understand this point of view, it's a little like saying that because everyone can write words, no set of words is totally unique therefore copyright does not exist.

Copyright law, as I understand it, protects not ideas, but executions of ideas. It doesn't matter that a thousand people have thought of a thing. The person who makes the idea reality first holds the copyright. 

If Etsy artists steal from one another -- and I'm sure that they do -- they should be prepared to face the consequences. Many times, the consequences are to simply stop producing copied works, but I think having to compensate the artist who originated the work is completely fair.

When a well-capitalized, global company like Urban Outfitters resorts to theft of ideas rather than from investment in creative designers, they most certainly should pay a price above and beyond simple revenue loss. Without penalty, Urban Outfitters can simply go from stolen design to stolen design never feeling the pain that they inflict upon others. 

Most independent designers would be thrilled to sell their designs or to be paid a royalty so why doesn't Urban Outfitters simply ask? 

As most craftspeople and artists know, ideas are easy: It's marketing that takes all the effort. 

The real damage that Urban Outfitters and others who steal designs do is to remove an independent artist's tiny marketing edge in a very competitive marketplace. 

Sure, ripping off a design is no big deal in the cutthroat business world, but if the bulk of my income is from that design, your unethical behavior, even if legal, has put me in the poorhouse. I get it though, you're big, I'm small, and you don't care about me. 

Doing well by doing good is a far better long-term business strategy than doing well by screwing people over. Unfortunately, that doesn't matter to those with deep pockets and shallow morals who can feed themselves whether or not they behave ethically. 

dodododo
dodododo

@Torontochoochoo  damn.. i completely understand where you're coming from, they ripped off my coworkers design too.. what they're doing is shallow.

smelly
smelly

actually i just looked into that, urban outfitters is partially owned by conservatives who have supported Santorum .... me thinks thats right

smelly
smelly

its just part of the style / fashion of the times .... how many people made 1960's tie dye t-shirts or hippie leather belts, anyone copyright that? .... do you want to throw your money at a corporation for instant gratification, or support a small fry on etsy?

Robby
Robby

"While I understand this point of view, it's a little like saying that because everyone can write words, no set of words is totally unique therefore copyright does not exist."

I don't see how this excuses theft or denies the idea of copyrights. But saying something is your copyright should not be enough. We ought to be sure of what's what before doling out rewards and punishments.

I don't think Urban Outfitters deserved a guilty verdict because the twitterverse was mad.  And I dont think this seller, who is not the originator of this idea, deserved 60K worth of sales in 2 days based on a false claim.

Mc Lovebuddy
Mc Lovebuddy

etsy sellers gobble each other up all the time. that's all i'm saying. one shouldn't attack a corporation just by fact that it's a corporation (though i'd agree with you that most corporations belong int the jerk catagory.

there are small fry jerks, too. they ripped me off nicely, but that's how things work. i'll make something else.

Jimbob Peltaire
Jimbob Peltaire

 "And I dont think this seller, who is not the originator of this idea, deserved 60K worth of sales in 2 days based on a false claim."

Unfortunately the world of business, and the world for that matter, does not operate under the condition of what one "deserves."

Basically, the girl doesn't own the idea, copyrighting is an actual process. It's not a word you can just use without a mark being filed. It's not always the person who actualizes it first.

"I don't see how this excuses theft or denies the idea of copyrights." What Alethea was saying is that some things you cannot own or protect under copyright law as they are deemed obvious, ex. a state's outline, or a heart shape. The combination however may have a chance at protection under a design trademark, or perhaps a trade dress. However, most lawyers I know would say, "good luck."

The fact is, it's not that unique of an idea and isn't surprising to me to see replicated. If you wanna sell generic items, you have to play at that level. Indie designer and generic item doesn't mix well. If it were a designed font style that she came up with, and they stole it, then it would be a valid claim. If the heart was in the same exact spot, valid, or if she put her own stylistic alteration on the shape of the state, she may have a claim.

My advice, make a product that is unmistakably yours. 

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