A graphic created by Shoparttheft.com shows side by side comparisons of artists' work with Zara productions.
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A graphic created by Shoparttheft.com shows side by side comparisons of artists' work with Zara productions.
Credit: Courtesy of Shoparttheft.com

When copyright law falls short, public shaming can help

Seattle artist Michael Heck was shocked to find out one of his designs was handpicked for a pair of designer shorts; especially because his design – a drawing of Saturn, melting like a scoop of ice cream – was used without his permission.

Heck is one of several independent artists who found their original designs popping up on clothing at Zara, a Spain-based retailer with stores around the world, including here in Seattle.

All the artists allege the designs showed up on clothing at Zara without their knowledge, and without the artists being paid. More than 40 designs are under dispute.

The Spanish retailer is now facing a boycott from consumers because of the alleged copies.

Professor Zahr Said, who teaches copyright law at the University of Washington, told KUOW’s Bill Radke that, at least to her, it’s clear Zara copied those designs. But that doesn’t mean the company broke the law.

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"Copyright law… permit[s] a certain amount of copying,” she said, saying that the law wants to “prevent ideas from being monopolized by a certain artist.”

She said that overall, consumers are better off when multiple artists can reproduce the same idea, even if that creates a loophole where a corporation can copy an artist’s work without legal repercussions.

But Said does think there are is another way for artists to fight back: by publicly shaming the companies copying their artwork.

“You may be able to get away with something in a court of law, but you can’t get away with it in the court of public opinion," she said.

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