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.