Urban Outfitters and That Necklace

Some thoughts on the recent episode where Urban Outfitters was
accused
of stealing a design
from a jewelry maker on Etsy:

For those
of you not caught up on this: On May 25, Etsy
designer Stevie Koerner accused Urban Outfitters on
her
tubmlr blog
and Twitter
of ripping off her “United States of Love” design. After someone sent
her a link
with a pretty similar piece, she wrote:

My heart sank a little bit.  The World/United States of
Love line that I
created is one of the reasons that I was able to quit my full-time job.

She added: “Please feel free to pass this link on.” Writing
those words may have been the most important thing Koerner ever did.
Because plenty of people did pass the link on, and her complaint soon
went
viral, particularly on Twitter, where “Urbanoutfitters” became a
trending
topic, sparking dozens of outraged tweets. Even Miley
Cyrus
got ticked.
  

It all seems like the perfect story of
David-getting-his-jewelry-designs-ripped-off-by-Goliath. Though it’s not
so cut and dry. A little while after all this blew up, another blog,
Regretsy,
displayed other
pieces
that were pretty similar to the original. Urban Outfitters
then
seized upon that info in
its
post
denying it copied anything. (Showing the blogosphere giveth.
And
the blogosphere taketh away.)

Having followed my share of these cases, I know design
infringement can be difficult to prove—a fact which can be quite
lucrative for intellectual
property attorneys, as it gives them plenty to argue about. There is
always
someone who did something similar first. (Remember, when De Beers went
after
the “love knots”
that sprouted up in the wake of Everlon? That was
followed by De
Beers
itself getting sued
.)

No matter. The designer reportedly
is not interested in a lawsuit, and she has already won a victory in the
equally important
court of public opinion. The big factor here: Social media. Urban
Outfitters has been accused of this kind of thing before, fairly or no,
by The
Village Voice
 and Consumerist.
Those articles didn’t get much traction. It wasn’t until one jeweler’s
grievance became the talk of Twitter that this became a far bigger deal,
forcing Urban Outfitters to issue a denial, and, more importantly,
remove the piece from
its site
, which is generally the goal of these cases anyway. What
takes some a fleet of lawyers to accomplish, Koerner made happen with a
single blog post.

JCK News Director