Art Market
Artist Sues Marc Jacobs for Copyright Infringement
Laser Kitten's pin design. Photo by @laserkitten, via Instagram.

Laser Kitten's pin design. Photo by @laserkitten, via Instagram.

Katie Thierjung's pin designs. Photo by @theuncommonplace, via Instagram.

Katie Thierjung's pin designs. Photo by @theuncommonplace, via Instagram.

International fashion brand Marc Jacobs has been sued for copyright infringement over the company’s Resort 2017 collection. The grungy, 1990s-inspired ensembles that debuted in June of last year featured several pins and patches that were allegedly “flagrant, unlawful copies” of work by other artists, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this month.

The complaint points to five pins from the collection that allegedly infringe on designs by artist Katie Thierjung and two private companies: Laser Kitten, LLC and Wildflower + Co., Inc. The trio filed their suit against Marc Jacobs in the Southern District of New York on November 7th of this year.

The Resort 2017 collection was spotlighted positively by Vogue, which noted the playfulness of the clothing and the “patch-strewn denim and camouflage pieces” included among the 55 looks. Patches and pins appeared on “everything from jackets and jeans to bags and shoes,” according to the plaintiff’s legal complaint, which also notes that the accessories were sold independently and through major retailers including Amazon and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Among the five specific designs the artists point to as being used without permission are images of a pink-and-white parrot, a highball glass with a paper umbrella and lemon wedge, and a colorful margarita glass, all created by Thierjung.

She first discovered the Marc Jacobs pin almost a year ago. “I woke up to an email from an Instagram follower, who happened to spy the stolen designs for sale on the Marc Jacobs website,” Thierjung wrote Artsy in an email. “If not for her, I probably wouldn’t have found out as soon as I did.”

“Part of me wanted to pretend like it didn’t happen, but it was my work and I needed to defend it with all of my heart, no matter who I would be up against,” she added.

Pins backstage at the Marc Jacobs Resort 2017 Collection show. Photo by @elleyoungnews, via Instagram.

Pins backstage at the Marc Jacobs Resort 2017 Collection show. Photo by @elleyoungnews, via Instagram.

According to the document, the plaintiffs in the case sent Marc Jacobs a cease and desist letter in January of this year, but the company continued to sell the allegedly infringing items that were part of its Resort 2017 collection. The complaint charges that after receiving the letter, Marc Jacobs “proceeded to create numerous additional” products that infringed on copyright for a subsequent collection. “Even as of the filing of this complaint, plaintiffs are discovering new infringing products,” the complaint reads.

The suit—which includes side-by-side comparisons of the items—also alleges that a pink police car pin design sold by the company Laser Kitten and an overflowing champagne patch design created by Wildflower were used without permission or payment by Marc Jacobs. The complaint notes that the creation of such designs amounts to a “primary source of income” for the plaintiffs.

Calling the infringement “willful, intentional, [and] purposeful,” the suit is seeking monetary damages along with an injunction halting sales and the impounding of any infringing works. The designs were also registered with the U.S. copyright office, entitling the plaintiffs to statutory damages.

The attorney for the plaintiff declined to comment. As of press time Marc Jacobs has not filed a response in court, nor did its press office respond to request for comment.

The case is the most recent instance of allegations of copyright infringement by independent artists who charge that their designs were stolen by major fashion companies—a repeating occurrence that some have wittily dubbed “pinfringement.” The term was coined in a lawsuit brought in February by 11 international artists against women’s clothing retailer Francesca’s; the group even set up a website to call attention to the problem. Those artists are represented by Kushnirsky Gerber PLLC, the same firm that is representing the artists suing Marc Jacobs.

But the most prominent example of major copyright infringement claims against a fashion company dates back to last year, when roughly 40 independent artists alleged that Zara had copied their work to create knockoff pins, among other items.

The attention the artists in the Zara case brought to the issue motivated Thierjung to take action as well. “Us independent artists have grown tired of larger companies stealing our designs and receiving all of the credit and profit for them,” she wrote. “We put so much time, energy, creativity, and heart into our designs, and to have that stolen from us is completely unacceptable.”

Isaac Kaplan is an Associate Editor at Artsy.