An independent artist who claims Shein copied his works wants the fast fashion online retailer to shell out over $100 million.
The copyright infringement lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Jacksonville, Fla. artist Maggie Stephenson, joins similar lawsuits by fashion brands like Stussy and Dr. Martens, who have both blamed the Chinese phenomenon growing to sell “copies” of their creations. . Denim titan Levi Strauss filed his own lawsuit in August 2018, but settled in December of that year.
A freelance illustrator for magazines, advertisements and other publishers, Stephenson has counted Sephora, Urban Outfitters, Net-a-Porter Magazine and Mr Porter among her clients. She currently has around 111,000 followers on Instagram.
Its complaint, which named Zoetop Business Co., Ltd., the Hong Kong-based company doing business as Shein, and Shein Distribution Corp., a Delaware company with its principal place of business in California, as Defendants, comprised four claims: copyright infringement, consequential and/or contributory copyright infringement, deletion of copyright management information, and false copyright management information.
The complaint relates to a work entitled “Un c’est bien, plus c’est bien”. Although Stephenson registered the piece with the United States Copyright Office in 2021, it and its derivative works have been displayed and “widely distributed” since April 2019, according to the complaint. Named in the lawsuit as “one of the plaintiff’s most popular and best-selling original creative works,” the piece retails for prices ranging from $19 to $300, including through third parties like Urban Outfitters. . Stephenson has affixed several forms of copyright management information (CMI), including his name and signature, creation date, brand name, logo, and social media handle, on all permitted prints, copies, derivative works and associated packaging.
Shein began selling “copies” of this work under the description “Unframed Abstract Pattern Mural” “within the past three years,” the complaint states. A screenshot of the Shein product page appears to show a wall hanging identical to “One is more is better”. The page includes two size options, 30×40 and 39×60, with prices starting at $4. The 30-by-40-inch reproduction sold by Urban Outfitters retails for $89.
“Defendants never attempted to contact plaintiff to inquire about the proper licensing of her work,” the complaint added. “Plaintiff is informed and believes and based on this alleges that Defendants merely copied the original artwork, created the infringing work and sold copies of it for a fraction of their value without regard creative rights and financial interests of the plaintiff.”
The lawsuit also alleged that Shein “intentionally” removed Stephenson’s CMI “with intent to induce, enable, facilitate or conceal their violation.” The image used on the Shein product page appears to be missing a signature that is otherwise included on Stephenson’s own and licensed reproductions. The complaint further alleged that by affixing the Shein name and logo to the packaging of the allegedly infringing work, the online retailer added “false” copyright management information. “In doing so, Defendants not only falsely identify SHEIN as the author and copyright holder of the original elements of the infringing work, but Defendants also falsely imply that they are the author and copyright holder copyright of the original artwork,” he added.
Although many major brands have sued Shein for infringement, Stephenson’s complaint argues that the fast fashion giant’s “notorious” business practices are “based on the willful violation of the rights and interests of independent artists and designers who create original works protected under federal copyright law.
In a section titled “Defendants’ Modus Operandi,” the complaint told the stories of four different artists who had their work reproduced on merchandise sold on Shein. In three of those cases, according to Stephenson’s attorney, the online retailer blamed a third-party vendor. In two instances, Shein allegedly sold unlicensed copies of the artist’s design with his name still visible on the work.
According to Stephenson’s complaint, Shein and Shein Distribution Corp. have been sued for infringement and/or unfair competition in more than 30 separate actions in the Central District of California.