An American freelance artist has sued Chinese fast-fashion retailer Shein for US$100 million, alleging the company copied her artwork without permission.
According to Sourcing Journal, Florida artist Maggie Stephenson, also known as Magdalena Mollman, a freelance illustrator for magazines who has 111,000 followers on Instagram, created a work called “One is good, more is better” which now features on a range of products sold by Shein. Products by other brands, including Urban Outfitters which is authorised to use the design, are priced from $19 to $300.
Stephenson has filed a suit against Zoetop Business Co, the Hong Kong-headquartered company trading as Shein, and Delaware, US-registered Shein Distribution Corp, based in California, with four claims covering copyright infringement, and the editing or absence of copyright management information.
The filing includes a comparison of her artwork and a wall hanging sold by Shein that appears to feature an exact replica.
According to the court filing, Shein offers the hanging in two sizes – 30×40 and 39×60 – at prices starting from $4. Urban Outfitters sells the 30-by-40-inch reproduction for $89.
Stephenson’s filing argues that by using Shein’s name and logo on the product’s packaging, Shein has added “false” copyright management information. “In doing so, defendants not only falsely identify Shein as the author and copyright owner of the original elements of the infringing work, but defendants also falsely imply that they are the author and copyright owner of the original artwork,” the filing added, as quoted by Sourcing Journal.
The case is not the first against Shein alleging copyright infringement. Levi Strauss filed a lawsuit in 2018 that was settled out of court. Other brands to sue include Dr Martens and Stussy. Stephenson’s complaint alleges more than 30 separate actions alleging infringement or unfair competition have been filed against Shein and Shein Distribution Corp in the Central District of California.
She further related accounts of four other artists who discovered their artistic works had been used on products being sold by Shein online.
Reacting to the case, Kain Jones, CEO of Pixsy, said if the case was proven to be copyright infringement in court, it could be an example of what the copyright expert sees on a daily basis: “some large organisations believe they have the upper hand against creators”.
“Artists and creators make a living from being able to license their work, and organisations are increasingly looking for original and creative content to use,” he said. “This has to go hand-in-hand; we must protect the value of creative works, pay a fair price and encourage the creative eco-system to continue to grow.”