A Florida artist has filed a lawsuit against Chinese fast-fashion retailer Shein for more than $100 million in damages after the brand purportedly used her artwork without her consent.
Magdalena Mollman, professionally known as Maggie Stephenson and residing in Jacksonville, Florida, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, on June 15. Stephenson also reportedly presented her certificate of registration from the U.S. Copyright Office for her artwork “One Is Good, More Is Better.” The filing alleges that Zoetop Business Co. Limited., a Hong Kong- and China-based company trading as Shein and Shein Distribution Corp., used her copyright-protected artwork nine times without her permission. Stephenson, a freelance illustrator, listed four claims in the lawsuit: copyright infringement, vicarious and/or contributory copyright infringement, removal of copyright management information and false copyright management information.
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Although Stephenson registered “One Is Good, More Is Better” with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2021, derivatives of the artwork have reportedly been “widely disseminated” since 2019, the filing noted.
Stephenson’s complaint stated that the Chinese online retailer took some of her copyright-protected work from her Instagram from 2019 to 2021 and sold unauthorized copies for as low as $4 per print. The artist has allowed her authorized retailers, including Sephora, Urban Outfitters, Elle Magazine and Harper Collins Publishing, to sell prints of her artwork for prices ranging from $19 to $300.
“Defendants copied the original, copyright-protected elements of Plaintiff’s Original Art Work without Plaintiff’s authorization and created therefrom one or more art prints, copies of which Defendants then advertised, marketed and sold on the SHEIN Website under the description ‘Abstract Pattern Wall Painting Without Frame,’” the lawsuit claimed.
Included in the lawsuit is a screenshot of a side-by-side comparison of Stephenson’s artwork and Shein’s “Abstract Pattern Wall Painting Without Frame.”
The filing also noted that Shein “intentionally” opted to remove Stephenson’s copyright management information (CMI) from the artwork – including her name and signature – which is present on authorized prints. Shein purportedly added “false” CMI to the products featuring Stephenson’s artwork by including their own brand name and logo.
“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 Art Work,” the filing added.
Stephenson argued in her lawsuit that Shein’s “notorious” business practices are “predicated upon willfully violating the rights and interests of independent artists and designers who create original works entitled to protection under federal copyright law.”
The Jacksonville-based artist noted four cases in which the Chinese online fast-fashion retailer purportedly used other artists’ work without authorization. She also claimed that the company has already been sued in more than 30 separate actions for infringement and/or unfair competition in the Central District of California.