Cody Foster & Co. Speaks Up, Insists They Didn’t Steal Designs On Purpose

horsieWhat’s a folk design and what’s an original design? The origin of a design like a rag doll is lost to memory, but should the specifics of a given doll’s design be the property of its designer? That’s the question at the core of the ongoing controversy over Nebraska-based holiday trinket maker Cody Foster and its items that strongly resemble those sold by independent artists.

Throughout this whole controversy, the company has stayed silent. Their catalog, blog, and twitter feed have reportedly been open only to customers for years now. Finally, today they spoke up. In a statement sent to the Los Angeles Times (but not to Consumerist, even though we also asked them to comment on the situation.)

Cody Foster & Co. acknowledges that a small number of products in our catalog of more than 1,800 items bear strong similarities to ones being sold by others. When this issue first came to our attention in mid-October, we immediately pulled those products from our catalog and offered refunds to any of our customers that asked for them. We deeply regret any harm we may have inadvertently caused to our customers and the artist community at large. We are instituting new processes and procedures to reduce the likelihood that this happens again.

Our explanation for how this happened is simple, though not excusable. Unfortunately it occurs regularly in this industry. Documenting ‘artistic inspiration’ for reproduced craft products — particularly for those based on folk designs — is a difficult process and presents a huge challenge for suppliers, artists and retailers alike. Our own designs have been directly lifted by other suppliers on many occasions and we have generally found straightforward ways to settle amicably between parties.

You be the judge: here are the Cody Foster ornaments and Etsy seller Mimi Kirchner‘s dolls side-by-side:

Meanwhile, art critic Brian Sherwin points out that Lisa Congdon’s paintings in turn very strongly resemble photos by famous wildlife photographers. That, or her animals just happen to be standing in very similar poses. Can you paint an animal from someone else’s photo and call it original art?

Lisa Congdon vs. Cody Foster: What about the photographers? [The Art Edge]
Cody Foster responds to copycat accusations [LA Times]

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  1. oomingmak says:

    While some of Cody Foster’s pieces showed copying of Lisa Congdon’s work the claims against the included “lumberjack” example are pretty specious. Essentially both cases show a felted lumberjack with plenty of different details. To say it’s a ripoff essentially gives Mimi Kirchner a legal claim to a pretty basic representation of a lumberjack and I think that’s wrong.

    Everyone following this case should read the above link to Brian Sherwin’s blog as he lays out a very compelling case that Lisa Congdon (the original complainant) wholesale lifted tons of elements in her painting directly from photographs found on Google — pretty much *exactly* what she was accusing Cody Foster of doing. I bet she hoping this whole thing blows over now.

    • Cara says:

      I agree with oomingmak here. Some of the designs did look like a ripoff (the reindeer being one of them), however, this design is not one of them.

      Both designs are of lumberjacks – lumberjacks are typically portrayed with a knit hat and a flannel shirt. They’re also frequently portrayed with a good deal of facial hair.

      Cody’s design has different color pants, shirt, suspenders, hat… Cody’s lumberjack’s arms are more beefy, whereas the original didn’t look very ‘strong’. Cody’s version also contains an axe.

      I think that claiming copyright infringement on as many cases as independent artists are doing, may just hurt their collective lawsuits. It’ll be easier for a judge to see how many “copied products” look only vaguely similar, and might throw out the legit lawsuits along with the frivolous ones.

    • Bullpenny says:

      The only thing that gives me pause is that I can’t remember EVER seeing a felt lumberjack ornament. The timing’s a little iffy to me. I do believe there is a chance that Cody Foster was “inspired” by the Etsy design.

      • oomingmak says:

        The Mimi Kirchner original wasn’t a ornament — it was a doll.

        Even if Cody Foster was inspired by the doll I’m not sure it makes much of a difference to me. The only things similar between the two are the fact that it’s felted and it’s a lumberjack. Everything else is either substantially different or a trope of what makes a lumberjack a lumberjack (e.g., they’re both carrying axes and plaid shirts — exactly how ANYBODY would design any lumberjack-inspred folk piece.

        The fact that Mimi Kirchner somehow thinks she “owns” this should be insulting to anybody who’s an artist.

  2. MarthaGaill says:

    Why can I vote a seemingly unlimited amount of times? Also, why do I get logged out so quickly? I just want to do work and then look at the internet in between.

    • LauraNorthrup says:

      You can vote over and over, but it won’t count. After you click submit, you should get a message that says “Thank you, we have already counted your vote.”

  3. CommonC3nts says:

    The Cody lumberjack is actually made with much more detail and expense than Mimi’s.
    I am sorry, but I dont see any infringment here.
    Cody just made a better lumberjack with more detail. They clearly did not copy that detail from Mimi.
    Certainly the women is not trying to say she invented the idea of a lumberjack figure and that no one can make a lumberjack.

    I think Mimi owes them an apology.

  4. OrionBFury says:

    The Lumberjack isn’t a good example for copying. Some of the other ones, however, do appear to have been blatantly copied.