Barnes & Noble Didn't Play Fair, Designer Says
MANHATTAN (CN) - Barnes & Noble and a fashion school swiped a student's designs for a backpack and put it on the market, the graduate claims in court.
Diana E. Rubio sued Barnes & Noble and the Fashion Institute of Technology on Aug. 15, in Federal Court.
Rubio graduated from FIT in 2011 with a degree in accessory design.
Rubio claims that in the fall of 2010, faculty members walked into her course on accessory drawing and told the class that all of them would have to submit a drawing, for 30 percent of their grade, and that the drawings would be entered into a back-to-campus collaboration with Barnes & Noble. The bookseller was to pick the best drawing.
However, Rubio says: "FIT never explained to its students, including Diana, the terms of its collaboration with BN or the exact terms of the student contest, such as what the prize would be or whether any other or further future involvement in the aforementioned collaboration would be asked of the students after they had submitted their drawings or what their legal rights and obligations would be regarding such submissions."
Rubio, then 29, says she drew up designs for what she called "The Everything Backpack." A few months later she was notified that she had won the competition, and that her backpack would be sold throughout the country and on Barnes & Noble's website.
Then, Rubio says, she was then called into the chairman of FIT's Accessories Design Department, Vasilios Christoflakos, and asked to sign paperwork to seal the deal.
Christoflakos "made it appear like a rather innocent-sounding and routine formality, but it actually was a complicated legal document containing assignment causes and waivers of rights," Rubio says in the lawsuit.
She says that the document stated that she agreed to assign FIT all her rights to the drawing forevermore "for [no] money or other payment from any source."
She would get "'design credit on the hangtag,'" but otherwise waived her privacy rights and agreed to allow the bookstore to use her name, image and other materials to advertise the $39.95 bag, according to the complaint.
Rubio says she did not sign the agreement, and that such waivers fly in the face of the school's own written policies, which state that students own their work "prepared in connection with a contest or special project."
Rubio says tried to reach a collaborative agreement with the school and bookstore, but her "patience and optimism ran out," causing her to hire an attorney, who sent Barnes & Noble a cease and desist letter.
The bookseller responded orally with an "unreasonably low settlement," Rubio says in the complaint.
She seeks damages for copyright infringement, privacy infringement and unjust enrichment.
She is represented by Dimitrios Moscholeas.