Image via Rachel Taylor Designs
Retailers are being urged to back independent and self-employed UK designers by publicly pledging to commission their work rather than copying it.
The fledgling campaign has been given a boost by the case of Leeds-based designer Rachael Taylor, who is seeking financial compensation from retail giant Marks & Spencer after it apologised to her for using what appeared to be her design – without her permission – on a new range of T-shirts.
Taylor accused M&S of infringement after finding that it had used a distinctive hand-drawn flower motif which appeared identical to her own licensed “Etched Floral” signature range, used on tea towels, aprons and oven gloves.
The company apologised and withdrew thousands of T-shirts from sale in store and online, claiming it had bought the items “in good faith” from an international supplier it uses regularly.
Now Taylor is urging M&S and other high street retailers to publicly sign up to a pledge initiated by the Anti-Copying in Design Group (Acid), set up to protect independent traders and designers from copyright infringement and represent them in disputes. So far John Lewis, Next and Selfridges have signed up to the promise to “Commission it, don’t copy it”, in order to stamp out abuse of intellectual property rights.
Taylor’s case highlights the problems faced by thousands of independent and sole traders, makers and designers with little financial or legal clout to take on the retail giants.Did website and blogpost shows images of her own branded merchandise – which include wallpaper and lampshades as well as kitchen textiles such as tea towels, aprons and oven gloves – alongside the offending M&S garments. As a freelancer she has in the past supplied greetings cards to M&S.
The 28-year old designer claims she complained to M&S a month ago but only received the apology on Twitter last Wednesday, a day after she publicised her case and won the support of the trade publication Drapers’, and Elle Decoration magazine.
Elle Decoration – which recently launched a campaign called Equal Rights for Design – is also urging people to support its related e-petition.
Jewellery and fashion accessories as well as textiles are all ripe areas for copyright infringement, Acid claims.
Other recent cases include high street chain Claire’s Accessories, which at the beginning of this year launched a range of quirky necklaces which bore a striking similarity to the more expensive versions from the trendy jewellers Tatty Devine.
After the latter launched a complaint in February this year, both parties issued a statement in April announcing “a mutually acceptable resolution” to the dispute, and most – but not all – the necklaces were removed from sale.
Taylor said she only became aware of the “lookalike” design when friends and students contacted her after seeing it in displays in M&S stores. “The top in question that has my design was first brought to my attention from a concerned colleague on the 9 June, who wasn’t aware that I had gone into fashion – let alone supplied Marks & Spencer. Other emails started coming in from my fellow design students, who I teach on my surface pattern e-course, who were congratulating me on my new fashion line.”
Taylor used Acid-accredited lawyers McDaniel & Co to help her pursue her claims of rights to ownership against M&S, after being advised that she had a strong case. After a series of legal letters, M&S’s lawyers responded with a defence that they were “unaware” of the existence of Taylor’s design.
Frustrated and disappointed that M&S would not acknowledge infringement of her rights, Taylor turned to social media. Without admitting liability M&S responded and said that they had pulled the product immediately.
M&S is denying copyright infringement. A spokesperson said: “We are sorry for any disappointment caused to Rachael Taylor Designs from the sale of a T-shirt that we bought in good faith from a direct supplier. After investigating the complaint we immediately withdrew the product from sale.”
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