Gilmore Girls Steals Craftster’s T-Shirt Design

Because we’re apparently the clearing house for “plagiarized skull T-shirt” stories, reader Katie writes in with this disturbing tale of a costume designer from a TV show stealing a T-shirt design, then taking credit for it. It’s a cute design, with a skull and knitting needles rather than crossbones.
From Katie’s email:

To add insult to injury, this afternoon the Pop Candy columnist at USA Today posted a reader inquiry about where to buy Lorelai’s shirt. The columnist, Whitney Matheson, contacted The CW and received this reply
from the spokesperson:

“[The shirt was] a one-of-a-kind creation by the show’s fabulous costume designer, Brenda Maben.”

Pretty audacious to claim it’s one-of-a-kind when there’s ample evidence to the contrary.

Uh, yeah. The original designer is now working her way through cafepress, petitioning for the removal of all the knockoffs spawned by the costume designer’s theft. What a pain.

So if you were one of the many people looking to buy this T-shirt…do the right thing and buy it from the original designer at Craftster. —MEGHANN MARCO

The Candy Mailbag [Pop Candy]
Original Thread [Craftster]
Buy the cool T-shirt [Craftster]


Edit Your Comment

  1. The Unicorn says:

    Actually, looking at the website there’s an option to buy the shirt with custom lettering of your choice — and it looks very much like that’s what Ms. Maben used to create Lorelai’s design.

    That’s shitty that they would try to pass it off as original — there’s a big difference between adding some custom lettering to a pre-existing design & producing a “one-of-a-kind creation.”

  2. spanky says:

    The custom lettering option was added to the original design after the plagiarized design was on the show, as I understand it.

    It doesn’t look like the costume designer even paid the $20 or whatever for the shirt in the first place.

  3. Meg Marco says:

    The designer confirmed that the shirt was not purchased from her.

  4. mechanismatic says:

    I’m all for respecting artists’ original creations, but would anyone really want to claim originality for such a simple and boring design? It’s like the walmart skull shirts. All the original designer did was take a pre-designed Nazi skull, put a star on the cheek, and slap it on a shirt. The only significance these designs seem to bear is that they’re ripped off by someone else who had the equally poor judgment of their suitability for a t-shirt design.

  5. OriginalYouth says:

    Mechanismatic: OBVIOUSLY the rest of the country obsessed with knitting and/or skulls does not agree with you. Just because a logo is simple does not make it suitable for stealing. I think the entire point of the GG/Craftster issue is that the GG designer CLEARLY took the work of someone else and used it for her own convenience, at the loss of income for an independent artist. While the logo itself may not be considered the most original piece of art to date, I guarantee you that and the work of it’s members is chock full of original crafts, art, and techniques. That is the free forum that Leah Kramer founded, and the 80,000 members relish in posting unique art everyday. The point of the shirts is to simply generate income to help support the forum.

  6. sweets4ever says:

    The design on the show was not one of the shirts purchased from the site. The shirt on the show had a larger rendition of the logo. Also, long-sleeved shirts weren’t available until just recently.

    Meghann, thank you for posting this story!

  7. spanky says:

    Good design usually is simple. It’d be one thing if it was just the idea that was copied, but the costume designer in this case copied the original design in detail, then claimed it as her own. The fact that people were asking where they could get that t-shirt is evidence that there really are people who liked the design.

    And your comparison to the Nazi shirt is quite apt. That was all about righteous anger over a violation of Hitler’s intellectual property.

  8. TheBon says:

    The real issue here isn’t the concept of a skull with knitting needles being an original idea. Instead it is that Craftster’s specific graphic was used without permission. If Maben had created her own skull/needles graphic for use on the shirt there would be no issue.

  9. fishfucerk says:

    but the costume designer in this case copied the original design in detail, then claimed it as her own.

    Yeah, because there’s no way that the columnist might’ve got an incomplete story from an uninformed intern.

  10. spanky says:

    Or maybe a ROBBER broke into their office and was answered that call or email, and just made something up! Or maybe it never happened at all. Maybe that show doesn’t even exist. I know I’ve never seen it. For all I know, this whole “Gilmore Girls” might just be some elaborate social experiment, and that still shot is just a Photoshop. Or maybe we are all just brains in vats, and this whole incident is a figment of our collective unconscious.

    There could be any number of alternate hypotheses, see.

    But–just to go along with the premise for now–even if the costume designer didn’t verbally claim it as her own, it seems pretty clear that she coopted the design without permission or credit.

  11. Bright says:

    Since when is an uninformed intern considered a spokesperson. Are interns allowed to speak in behalf of the company?

  12. craftster says:

    Thanks for writing about this Consumerist! I appreciate it!

    I’m the founder of and my husband Dave came up with that design for me/Craftster in mid-2005. He came up with a version with scissors and a version with crochet hooks as well. I’ve got lots of proof online and in print (2 magazines have featured it) that I’ve been selling merch with that design since mid-2005 — long before that GG show aired.

    Just to respond to mechanismatic’s comment above… Regarding the design itself apart from the whole GG situation– my husband is a talented illustrator/artist/graphic designer and he created the graphic from scratch. While it may be simple and stylized, he did a great job and people seem to really love it. He could have just dug up a generic clip art skull then thrown some knitting needles under it, but he didn’t. It took some skill to come up with that design. And people love it because of what it looks like and the fact that it doesn’t look like your usual clip art skull.

    The shirt on the show was definitely created anew with an exact copy of Dave’s design. Up until about a week before the show, I didn’t sell it on long sleeve shirts and only a couple of days ago I started to sell it with customizable text at Spreadshirt. Also, the design appeared much larger on the shirt that in any of the shirts I make available for purchase (probably to make the design show up better on TV).

    Honestly, I’m not a legal expert and I don’t know if what was done was illegal since basically the shirt was made as a “prop” and it’s not that they were mass-producing the shirts to sell. They could easily have just bought the shirt and added to text to it and I don’t think they would owe me/Dave/Craftster any “credit” at all. The characters go through lots of costume changes and you don’t see them credit the Gap and all the other places the clothes came from. But then again, since they did copy Dave’s design for their own monetary gain, it does seem only right they they should have had to ask permission and/or give credit.

    Really what has had me worried right from the beginning is the idea that now that this design has been shown so widely, that some of the trendy clothing chains might knock it off. As a matter of principle that would really suck. Whether GG had just bought the shirt from me or copied the design onto a new shirt, the problem of potential knock-offs would still exist and that’s not GG’s fault.

    Already I’ve asked CafePress to take down 6 designs that were clearly based on the shirt on the show which in turn is Dave’s design. (I also think it’s important to note that lately I’ve noticed a handful of skull/knitting needles designs on CafePress where I don’t doubt that they came up totally independent of Dave’s design. I haven’t asked CafePress to take down anything unless it’s very clearly based on the show’s shirt with Dave’s design on it.)

    Yesterday the story took a stomach-sickening turn when Pop Candy attempted to answer a reader’s question about where the shirt can be purchased and the CW told Pop Candy that it was an original design of costume designer Brenda Maben’s and that it was not for sale anywhere. They really should have had the decency to point out where the shirt can be bought.

    So anyway… Those are my thoughts so far. I’ll continue to document the twists and turns here:

  13. kerry says:

    Man, I don’t get this stuff. Gilmore Girls is usually pretty great about putting small-scale designer clothes in their show legitimately. When I saw this shirt I had hoped they got it direct from the artist, I’m ticked to see they didn’t. Grrrr. Does the artist have any legal recourse? Like, say, forcing the producers of Gilmore Girls to clean up the knockoffs on CafePress for her?

  14. OriginalYouth says:

    kerry: she is discussing the problem with a legal team, and, since she has an established CafePress shop, CafePress has been removing the MULTIPLE copyright infringed shirts.
    Still sucks though, cause a teensy bit of research done by GG could’ve prevented other people from trying to rip her off when they saw the tee on GG. SHAME SHAME on the GG Costume Designer, Brenda Maben, for taking credit for it. Stealing is stealing, idiot.

    To read Leah’s reactions and a timeline of the events, go to:

  15. Hellblazer says:

    kerry: Judging from that “CW” logo in the lower right of that picture, this is something that happened recently, and the latest season of Gilmore Girls has been worse than catching AIDS from that monkey you screwed when nobody was looking. This is apparently just the latest in a looooooong line of things that have gone wrong with the show since Amy Sherman-Palladino left.

    Wow. I know =way= too much about Gilmore Girls for a straight man. Sorry about that.

  16. Pelagius says:

    Reason 1,672,452 for me to hate that goddamn show.

  17. kerry says:

    Hellblazer – I know it aired recently, I saw it. It seems sort of unlikely that this has anything to do with the loss of the Palladinos, as I doubt the guy they left in charge would be OK with this kind of behavior. I’m with the person who blamed the costume designer’s intern.

  18. Hellblazer says:

    I didn’t see it; I gave up and quit watching three or four weeks ago. And you’re right, the blame for this almost certainly belongs on some intern in the costume department. But who to blame for everything else that’s gone wrong ;-) ?

  19. cuden says:

    What a small world it is. There’s a festival here in Ottawa Canada. Now who stole from who? Or is it Whom?

  20. craftster says:

    Just to clarify, cuden —

    When my husband Dave came up with the design for me/Craftster (in 2005) he was attempting to come up something funny and cheeky and that goes with the aesthetic of Craftster. He created three skull and cross designs with the following in place of the bones: scissors, knitting needles and crochet hooks.

    Since then I’ve noticed around a dozen other skull & knitting needles designs. I’m totally happy to give others the benefit of the doubt that they probably came up with the idea on their own. Lord knows that for every hobby out there, someone’s probably made a “skull and cross bones joke” out of it.

    (The exception however are the designs on CafePress that were *clear* knockoffs of what was on the show which in turn was Dave’s design.)

    But the fact remains that the GG show reproduced Craftster’s design exactly. Then when given the opportunity to give credit where credit is due, they gave false information. Although as some have pointed out, this could have been a miscommunication between the spokesperson and the costume department.

    — Leah Kramer /