Oakland based artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon had an unpleasant discovery this past week: a Nebraska-based wholesale company called Cody & Foster that sells holiday ornaments and cute stuff to companies like West Elm, Neiman Marcus and Fab.com ripped off her drawings and manufactured a series of holiday ornaments that looked EXACTLY like her work, right down the the patterns on the blankets–without buying the rights to her work.

As soon as Congdon found out, she spoke up, twittering and blogging to reach out to media and friends to expose the manufacturer for stealing her intellectual property. By Friday, there was a firestorm brewing: Fast Company, Jezebel, Boing Boing, Consumerist and The Bold Italic had all written stories, and–even better–retailers, learning of the piracy–were pulling Cody & Foster items from their stores and catalogs. West Elm immediately pulled their goods from their line, saying “We love authenticity.”

What happened? As Fast Company says, “In 2011 and 2012, Congdon drew a series of illustrations featuring Nordic animals (including a reindeer and a polar bear) wearing uniquely patterned red-and-green jackets. Alerted by a reader, Congdon discovered that Foster was selling ornaments based on her designs in its 2013 catalog, right down to the jackets. ”

Using blogs and social media–and her connections, like friend Laura Beck at Jezebel–Congdon raised an outcry–and got a response many would envy, generating lots of press. Congdon did an interview with the Copyright Alliance and had some good comments, including this:

AG: There are always those who will say that you should be flattered that someone used a piece of your art – imitation is the highest form of flattery – what do you say to that kind of attitude?

LC: “My paintings and my drawings—are my livelihood, my creative capital, my intellectual property. It’s okay if you want to copy what I do for fun or practice. But it’s not okay to copy another artist’s work and sell it for profit without permission. That’s stealing, plain and simple. And it’s illegal based on copyright law.” “I also want to say that, fortunately, most of the time you see an artist’s work on a product, they’ve been paid. They’ve signed a licensing agreement. That kind of arrangement between an artist and company is good and fair. Many companies steal from artists, but fortunately many companies pay artists for their work. This is what we want more of. It’s better for everyone.

See a flickr pool of intellectual property appropriations by Cody & Foster at this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/105498342@N02/-and congrats to Lisa Congdon for showing true Oakland spirit and fighting back.

About The Author

Susan Mernit is editor & publisher of Oakland Local (oaklandlocal.com) a news & community hub for Oakland, CA. A former VP at AOL & Netscape, & former! Yahoo Senior Director, Mernit was consulting program manager for The Knight News Challenge, 2008-09; was a 2012 Stanford Carlos McClatchy Fellow; and is a board adviser to The Center for Health Reporting at USC, Annenberg School of Journalism. She has consulted with many non-profit organizations on strategy, product development and social media/engagement, including Salon.com, TechSoup Global, Public Radio International and the Institute for Policy Studies/Economic Hardship Reporting Project, led by Barbara Ehrenreich.

5 Responses

  1. TY

    Look up Brian Sherwin’s blog The Art Edge. He thinks that Lisa may have infringed on several photographers. This might be a pot calling the kettle black situation. I found this linked on Etsy. Someone did a comparison of her work with one of the photographs Sherwin mentioned in his article. http://imgur.com/TllHXTq

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