Imagine walking into a major department store and seeing your artwork on a rack full of shirts.
It would be a pretty nice feeling, right?
Now, imagine that you had no idea that the apparel existed and that you would probably not see a cent from the whole deal.
That’s exactly what St. Catharines, Ont. artist Jody Edwards went through when she walked into her local Winners.
“Right in that front display were a bunch of shirts with feathers on them,” Edwards told CBC. “As I got closer, my stomach dropped and I thought, that’s mine, that’s mine and that’s mine. Some of those feathers on the shirt belong to me.”
As it turns out, the tops were being sold at many big department stores throughout the country, including Marshalls, and on the Nordstrom Rack website. But the artist, who is known for her watercolour paintings, probably won’t profit from it at all, even though Canadian copyright law states the paintings she creates automatically belong to her.
According to CBC, Edwards believes that the company that made the shirts and supplied them to the retailers found her feather images online and used them without her permission.
She is now in a battle for her own work.
When she contacted Nordstrom and TJX Canada (the company that owns Winners and Marshalls), TJX said it would stop selling the shirts and Nordstrom Rack said they were sold out and no longer available on its website.
As CBC reports, both companies advised her to contact the supplier, Los Angeles-based Vanilla Sugar, if she wanted to get paid for the use of her work.
“It looks bad on them to be selling merchandise with stolen images. They are just acting like it’s not their problem…. You feel helpless. These are big box companies,” Edwards said.
When CBC’s Go Public reached out to the companies, they offered similar responses, pointing fingers at the supplier and stressing that both take the issue of intellectual property rights very seriously.
The expectation, not surprisingly, is that the vendors have complied with all laws and regulations.
While Nordstrom and TJX provided Edwards with contact information for Vanilla Sugar, CBC says that tracking down the supplier is no easy task. Not only were the phone numbers out of service, 13 different street addresses were listed and the company goes by a total of eight different names. When Go Public finally tracked down the supplier, the company failed to answer phone calls or emails. The supplier’s legal team, who cited concerns about what she was telling Go Public, however, contacted Edwards.
They denied that the feather artwork used was hers, saying that the company – one which went by yet another name – designed it by referencing images in the Shutterstock website.
However, the email also said that the supplier was willing to “amicably resolve” the issue and said it will stop making and distributing the shirts.
It also said that the supplier is willing to negotiate a settlement with Edwards.
As for Nordstrom Rack, Winners, and Marshalls, under Canadian copyright laws, they are totally in the clear and don’t have to share any part of their proceeds with Edwards.
As CBC points out, to be liable for secondary infringement in Canada, it must be done knowingly. Once they were made aware and pulled the items from the shelves, they’re all good.
South of the Border, however, everyone in the chain of distribution can be held accountable in court.
Since the infringement occurred in the U.S., she could file a lawsuit there, but likely won’t due to the high cost of legal fees. Furthermore, as CBC reports, she would have no idea how much she was entitled to because none of the companies in question will disclose how many shirts were sold.
But, she’s definitely learned a lesson; all her artwork work posted online is now watermarked and low resolution.
In the meantime, this case should be a lesson for retailers and suppliers.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened as of late. Back in July, a dozen independent artists – including two Canadians – accused Zara of ripping off their artwork. And apparently, it happens with alarming frequency.
Like in the case of Edwards, the only ones who suffered in the end (aside from a short-lived PR nightmare on Zara’s part, which is now forgotten, as is this incident) were the artists.
As if working as an artist wasn’t enough of a struggle already…