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Urban Outfitters Accused of Copying Necklace Design

38 Comments

Shiny Things, UO Necklaces
Credit

Retailer Urban Outfitters has come under fire recently after an independent jewelry designer accused the company of stealing one of her necklace designs.

Stephanie Koerner produces a line of necklaces called “World of Love,” which she sells on her Etsy page. These pendants are handcrafted by Koerner and depict various states and countries with a tiny cut-out heart. Last week, a customer sent Koerner a message telling her that Urban Outfitters had stolen her design, after stumbling across a similar necklace on the company’s website.

Koerner then wrote a post on her Tumblr about the discovery:

“My heart sank a little bit.  The World/United States of Love line that I created is one of the reasons that I was able to quit my full-time job.  They even stole the item name as well as some of my copy.”

Shortly after, Koerner’s post went viral on Twitter and other social media sites, with many people vowing to boycott the store. Koerner also pointed out on her Tumblr that this wasn’t the first time Urban Outfitters has been accused of ripping off indie designs.

The company has since taken the necklace off their website, but here’s a side-by-side comparison of both designers’ New York inspired state necklaces. Koerner’s necklace is on the left, while Urban Outfitters’ is on the right side:

Stevie Koerner UO Necklace Comparison
Credit

Urban Outfitters released a statement over the weekend saying the company “unequivocally denies copying independent jewelry maker Stephanie Koerner.”

The statement also said “the [necklace] idea is not unique to Koerner and she can in no way claim to be its originator,” citing this source, which shows other pieces of jewelry that are similar to Koerner’s design.

Thoughts?

What do you think of this story? Did Urban Outfitters knowingly copy Koerner’s necklace design? Do you think it’s just a coincidence? Be sure to leave a comment and let us know your thoughts on the subject!

Posted on on May 30, 2011 / Filed Under: Fashion News / Tags: , , ,

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38 Responses to “Urban Outfitters Accused of Copying Necklace Design”

  1. 1
    May 30th, 2011 at 10:24 am

    The idea may not be unique, but if she was the first to run with the idea and create her product, then it is hers. I hope Urban Outfitters gets laughed out of court.

  2. 2
    May 30th, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Check out this article on Regretsy (http://www.regretsy.com/2011/05/27/urban-outrage/) that show’s MANY other people copying/coming up with this idea. I don’t know where it all started, but this woman was not the first- just maybe the most vocal.

  3. 3
    May 30th, 2011 at 10:37 am

    This is really sad for the jewelry designer but I saw this story on another site and I have to say that the origin of the design seems ambiguous. The site, Regretsy, cited several similar designs from different designers. Some of the sales of these necklaces are from before this artist set up shop.

  4. 4
    May 30th, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Viveca – We actually linked that exact article at the end of the post. Either way, it’s definitely an interesting topic and it does seem that many people have had similar ideas. There’s also the issue of whether you can even get copyright protection for something like the shape of a state – is adding a heart enough to make it unique? All topics for discussion.

  5. 5
    May 30th, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I think that it’s really sad that big companies can’t be original anymore. That’s why I try to make my own jewelry-original & a lot cheaper. Of course, it could just be coincidence. But regardless, Urban Outfitters needs to be more careful since it seems that this is not the first time it’s happened.

  6. 6
    May 30th, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I’ve definitely seen similar designs at James Avery and they have been selling them for years…I don’t think this is an uncommon theme for jewelry

  7. 7
    May 30th, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I have a whole history of issues with Urban Outfitters, so much that I do not shop there (anyone remember the “Eat Less” t-shirts?), and I think it’s truly tacky for them to rip off independent designers.

    That being said, where exactly do we draw the line? I mean, F21 runs their entire company by copying designs, and they’ve only gotten into legal trouble for it a few times. It will be interesting to see how laws for these situations develop over the next few years. I guess it ultimately comes down to where we draw the line between inspiration and blatant plagiarism legally, as well as whether we as individuals are willing to pay more for the “real” thing.

    On the topic of guilt…am I the only one who doesn’t feel as bad wearing a fast fashion version of a DVF design as I would a design from an independent label?

  8. 8
    May 30th, 2011 at 11:55 am

    If it were just the jewelry, then maybe not, but similar copy? There’s no doubt in my mind. Very rarely do two people come up with identical ways of phrasing things, if one hadn’t read something by the other. Added altogether, I think the answer is obvious.

  9. 9
    May 30th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I think when it comes down to it… Forget who first came up with it and think of this:
    Say you like the necklace. Would you purchase it from someone with a small business that does this for a living as their sole way of making money or for a huge retailer that has a dozen other things and could replace the necklace design in a heartbeat (as they took it off the shelves supposedly when they were accused) ?
    I’d definitely buy it from this woman as it seems her jewelry is extremely important to her.

  10. 10
    May 30th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I agree with Regretsy!

  11. 11
    May 30th, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I think they’ve copied the design! The necklace has a special shape not a shape of a state or just a simple geometrical shape. So I think that they’ve just copied it, so what is said in the link above (that it’s a very common idea) is not relevant for this case.

  12. 12
    May 30th, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    There are simply too many ideas like that for that particular woman to claim that she is the originator of that idea. Urban Outfitters could have easily gotten the design from another independent seller. And while I fully support independent and small businesses I also realize that I don’t have the money to pay that much for a charm with a heart shaped hole it, even if I love the design.

  13. 13
    May 30th, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    I read about this earlier and have been following the story since it broke. While UO hides behind the claims that the design was almost intuitive and is all over the market, it isn’t like this is the first instance of Urban Outfitters pulling this kind of crap, or anything. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2010/05/are_brooklyn_fa.php

    Just add this to the long list of reasons why Urban Outfitters is awful. It’s vintage store looks without any of the benefits of thrift store shopping (it’s unsustainable, mass-produced and expensive) and now, apparently, it’s the indie-design look without any of the benefits.

    The controversy raises a lot of questions about knockoff and counterfeiting, and has also made me reevaluate my priorities. While this kind of thing makes my blood boil, I used to have no qualms about buying cheap knockoff bags. But I actually don’t think I’ll do that anymore either, since I don’t want to be a hypocrite.
    I just hope that one day, when I have the money, I will be able to buy all my clothes from local artists and designers or legitimate sources.

  14. 14
    May 30th, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I suggest reading the regretsy post before defending anyone. Sure urban wasn’t the first to run this design, but apparently neither was the etsy seller taking action against urban. I doubt she would go this far if she had herself purposely copied the design, even though others were using it even before her. I’m not standing up for either side, but it’s not unheard of for more than one person to come up with similar ideas.

  15. 15
    May 30th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Unless Koerner can show secondary meaning in her design; her designs are not protectable and she can not sue U.O.

    It’s tacky, but it’s not illegal.

  16. 16
    May 30th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I came across this just earlier today:

    http://www.etsy.com/listing/67641256/long-distance-love-customizable-necklace

    Incredibly similar, and kind of proves a point.

    I just don’t think this design is unique enough for UO to have copied it, and even if they did, I would say the design is practically public domain, it’s been around for so long.

  17. 17
    May 30th, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    It’s hard to say who the design actually belongs to. I mean, there have been so many other state necklaces. T
    he part that seems a little odd to me is that UO took the exact same name she gave her necklaces and used that. It seems to me that if you’re going to steal someone’s idea, you should at least do a good job at it- and that means changing the name!
    The fact of the matter is that this is not the first time UO has done this to independent designers. They may say “oh yeah, we love independent designers. See? We do collections with them!” but what about the ones who get ripped off and can’t do anything about it?
    I have never shopped UO, despite how cute their items are, for this reason alone.

  18. 18
    May 30th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    If just the necklaces were similar, I’d say Outfitters probably didn’t ‘steal’ it or copy it deliberately… putting a heart shape in a state has obviously been done before by others.

    The fact that their line has the exact same name as hers, though… If they stole the idea from her, they’re rather stupid for not changing the name at least, to avoid a lawsuit. But the odds of the names being a coincidence are very slim. I think someone at Outfitters did stumble across her site and take her idea.

  19. 19
    May 30th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    At first I was outraged but then after reading the article you guys linked… I mean, it looks like many people have come up with this idea before. While I don’t doubt that Urban Outfitters would steal an indie design, since they seem to have been guilty of it in the past, I’m not really sure it could be said of this particular case. Definitely interesting, thanks for posting this!

  20. 20
    May 30th, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    This reminds me a bit of the Iris Apfel/Hanna Bernhard controversy. See here: http://seaofshoes.typepad.com/sea_of_shoes/2011/05/dissapointed.html

    However, that one seems to be a little more cut and dry than this one.

    After reading the Regretsy link it seems as if James Avery was the first to come up with the design (in 2004). Although who really knows? It does seem like a really common idea.

    However, it does seem like UO took the ideas directly from her since three of their designs link up exactly with hers–which seems a little too coincidental…

  21. 21
    May 30th, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I think that the design is not that special, anyone could have done it before her. personally I don’t like the charms, but if I did, I would buy the urban outfitters ones, because they are less expensive and its easier to get a hold of them. maybe its wrong from them to copy designs but even if they get sued, its a big company, what they might lose doesn’t compare to what they earn

  22. 22
    May 30th, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    I read all of the links posted in the above comments. The design of this necklace, is original, but not to the point of it being obvious if it was copied. Urban Outfitters has to be more careful in their products. If the name given to this necklace was not the same at Urban Outfitters, I would agree that this was a coincidence, but since the names are exactly alike I find it hard for Urban Outfitters to hold some credability. I 100% support independent buisness owners, and feel bad that this woman had her design stolen. I don’t think it could be copy righted because the heart does not give it much originallity, but the woman who originaly created this should have known it. I hope that Urban Outfitters does not win this court battle, and that the owner of the independent buisness does. Making it through this economy is hard, and I give her kudos for creating a buisness in the world today.

  23. 23
    May 30th, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    Is this new to anybody? Urban has been stealing ideas forever, the only time people notice is when the creator of the original idea makes a fuss about it. Anybody remember the Johnny Cupcakes debate a few years ago? I’m so over this, people will always steal ideas.

  24. 24
    May 30th, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    Can’t Urban do ANYTHING original? I have a Truche necklace, one Stephanie made special for me when I requested an Israel charm. As I doubt Urban can customize my shopping requests or give me the kind of customer service she did, I’ll stick with Truche and handmade products over Urban any day!

  25. 25
    May 31st, 2011 at 12:55 am

    James Avery Jewelers has been putting out charms like this for years. I think they’re only popular here in the South, as I’ve only seen a few Southern states as the charm, but still. Not really an original idea.

  26. 26
    May 31st, 2011 at 3:37 am

    Oy. This isn’t new at all, and it just makes me yearn even more for clothing/accessories/anything manufactured and sold by companies that are affordable, accessible, and Good People. Anyone know of any retailers like that?

  27. 27
    May 31st, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Its a design none the less even if its the states. If i were in her shoes I would want my work to be protected!!! she should sue them for using her design.

  28. 28
    May 31st, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    If she patented the design, then it’s hers.

  29. 29
    June 1st, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Personally, I hope UO losses this case. Sure, it might not make that much of a dent in their corporate profits (which I’m assuming are pretty substantial given how much they charge for their cheaply made products), but there still should be some sort of repercussions for stealing from the little guy. It doesn’t bother me to buy a F21 design inspired by something on the Prada runway, because it’s not cutting into Prada’s profits at all – there’s no way I’m spending $1000 on a T-shirt that they probably only made 20 pairs of anyways. But with Etsy and mass retailers, the price points are a lot more similar, and copies might legitimately be cutting into business.

    Just a point of clarification that’s going to make this comment ridiculously long -sorry.

    In the U.S., Patents are really, really hard to get. You have to pay a bunch of money, usually hire a lawyer, wait for months or even years, and prove that your design is unique and non-obvious. There’s no way these necklaces are eligible for a design patent, even if someone had gone through all the work and expense to file for one.

    Trademarks cover things like logos and signatures – like the red soles on Louboutins. If someone copies your trademark, even accidentally, you can make them stop. The problem in this case is that, to win a trademark case, Truche would probably have to show that her design has secondary meaning…that when people see a state shaped charm with a heart in it, they assume it was made by her. With all this media coverage that might be the case today, but when UO came out with these, the design probably wasn’t famous enough.

    Copyright covers anything creative. The text of this (very long, sorry!) comment is automatically copyrighted as I type it – I don’t have to file anything or put a (c) symbol on it or anything. The necklaces are definitely copyrighted. The thing about copyright is it only protects against people copying your stuff, not against them coming up with the same idea on their own. This is where the fact that UO used the same name is likely to get them into trouble.

    Whew… and with that, I’m back to studying for the Bar Exam.

  30. 30
    June 1st, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Just an update for those interested. Regretsy has posted another article on this.

  31. 31
    June 2nd, 2011 at 9:43 am

    They’re not ripping off this woman, but Urban does have a history of using designs, logos, etc that are not theirs. An example that comes to mind is the Harvard University crest, which is copyrighted by the University but has appeared in the past on Urban Outfitters and Target shirts, without permission of the college. That’s the sort of practice that could get UO in a lot of trouble if they don’t start paying attention.

  32. 32
    June 2nd, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    If they “unequivocally deny” copying her design, why did they immediately pull the design when they were accused? Seems to me like they thought they were big and important enough that they would never get called out on it, and a small independent retailer wouldn’t have the power to stop them. But then again, I don’t have much respect for UO anyway, so I am inclined to side against them.

  33. 33
    June 3rd, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I’d say Urban Outfitters got caught red handed.

  34. 34
    June 17th, 2011 at 2:28 am

    The thing is, even if UO blatantly ripped her off, it doesn’t matter. There are no copyrights in fashion. I looked it up when I was wondering about faux designer bags. While trademarked logos cannot be copied, the style of bag or whatever is free game. Urban Outfitters would be completely within their rights to take the idea without so much as a by your leave.

    The idea behind this is to perpetuate trends. If people were worried about copyrights, there would be no way a trend could get started. Designers are actually happy when they all come up with similar ideas. Urban outfitters copies other people’s ideas, because they are a trendy place. For something to be trendy, it must be copying something. They can’t be original, or their merchandise wouldn’t sell.

    Personally, I doubt the designer really cares one way or another who originated the idea. She is getting free publicity and sympathy from UO shoppers. I bet she sells a lot more of her jewelry with the links in the article than she ever did before UO started selling the same thing. Now, instead of a lame, un-versitile item, she is selling a controversial, trendy piece of jewelry. She is definitely the supreme benefactor from this arrangement.

    What can I say? There really is no bad publicity for some people.

  35. 35
    July 12th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I think Urban Outfitters did copy the necklace design. I do not get why they would do such a thing. Why not make a necklace their own instead of stealing someone’s design? It is like plagiarism for copying a paper in school, so there should be some way to have them put to court.

  36. 36
    July 22nd, 2011 at 3:10 am

    I think everybody should watch this before deciding whether or not there should be copyright protection in the fashion industry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zL2FOrx41N0

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