A group of 11 artists from Oregon, California, New York, Texas and the United Kingdom filed the complaint on Jan. 6 with the Southern District of New York. They say Francesca’s, a competitor of Urban Outfitters, has been selling cheaply made and unauthorized knockoffs of their original creations.
The artists’ complaint cites the “current wave of nostalgia for the 1990s and the ease of direct-to-consumer sales via the internet” for making enamel pins the hot accessory in fashion trends. An August 2016 article in W. Magazine gauged the pin craze at “Kim Kardashian levels.”
Friday’s complaint says that employees of New York based co-defendants O.K. Originals and Orion bought the plaintiff-artists’ original pieces after creating fake accounts and personas on Etsy.com and other websites.
Then the defendants used to foreign manufacturers to create unlawful copies and other unauthorized accessories like key chains, according to the complaint.
O.K. Originals and Orion Fashions allegedly acted as distributors to national retailers including the Houston, Texas-based retail defendant Francesca’s Collection.
By using fake names and fake accounts, O.K. Originals and Orion Fashion tried to “fraudulently divert attention from their unlawful scheme,” the complaint states.
Pictures of the original pins that the plaintiffs say Francesca’s, O.K and Orion knocked off dot the complaint. They include Dill With It! Enamel Pin, Boston Terrier Lapel Pin, Rotary Dial Telephone Pin, Cat Lady Pin, Bowtie Cat Enamel Pin, Pastel Strawberry Pin, Pizza True Love Enamel Pin, Moody Kitty Pin, Donut Enamel Pin, Banana Split Enamel Pin, Orange Enamel Cat Pin, Pixie Enamel Cat Pin and Best Babes Pin + Post.
The artist plaintiffs sell their enamel pins on their own independent sites as well as on third-party sites like Etsy.com and Tictail.com.
Aware of similar copyright infringement scenarios, many independent artists reportedly refuse orders from companies such as O.K. Originals and Orion Fashions.
The 26-page complaint asserts claims for copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, as well as unfair competition and fraud.
The bigger-picture theft of independent artists’ work by chain stores has inspired the social media hashtag “#shoparttheft”, as well as the Francesca’s Collection-specific hashtag “Scamcescas.”
New York-based artist Adam Kurtz launched the #shoparttheft social-media campaign in response to copyright infringement by Zara, one of the largest fashion retailers in the world. Kurtz told New York magazine: “It’s become apparent that Zara’s suppliers used Instagram hashtags for pins and patch makers as source material … knocking off work from a growing list of at least 18 artists in a single season’s collection.”
Francesca’s sells accessories, jewelry and clothing through its website and a nationwide chain of approximately 620 retail locations throughout the United States. According to the complaint, the company generated over $430 million in revenue 2015, with gross profits exceeding $200 million.
Andrew Gerber at Kushnirsky Gerber represents the artists, led by Sean Aaberg.
Representatives from Francesca’s, O.K. Originals and Orion Fashion have not returned requests for comment.