During the peak Christmas ornament season, some independent artists and designers accused trinket wholesaler Cody Foster & Co. of poaching their designs with no compensation, maybe hoping that young artists just never go to gift shops or Anthropologie. Now the sleeping poncho-wearing polar bear has awoken, and is launching lawsuits from its den.
The accused design pirate has sought to silence the retailer with access to their site who made the original allegations last year, and some of the designers who claim that their designs were poached and ornament-ified. Now they’re suing Anthropologie and its parent company, Urban Outfitters, for breach of contract after the retailer publicly dropped Cody Foster & Co. as a supplier and asked to send the merchandise back at the wholesaler’s expense.
There is a line in the contract between the two companies that Urban Outfitters reserves the right to send merchandise back at the supplier’s expense if that merchandise “infringes any alleged patent, design, trade name, trademark or copyrights.”
Many of the disputed designs have a folk art feel, like many items that Cody Foster sells. Who really invented painting a deer antler? Who originally designed a lumberjack rag doll? One artist who accused the company of design piracy was in turn accused of copying her animals’ poses from copyrighted nature photographs.
The nature of art and “inspiration” is all very interesting, but what about the lawsuit? Cody Foster is suing Urban Outfitters and its subsidiaries (including Anthropologie) for breach of contract for purchasing $720,668.16 worth of holiday décor items, then deciding to return them in the runup to the Christmas retail season.
Although extremely concerned by the allegations against one of our suppliers, we believed it was our corporate responsibility to carefully investigate the claims before taking decisive action.
After a thorough investigation, Anthropologie has decided to sever its relationship with Cody Foster & Co, remove any current items from our site and stores and cancel plans to include the company’s products in our holiday assortment.
“These ornaments were uniquely crafted to suit the Defendants’ customer demographic,” states the initial complaint, because you can’t just say “we made three-quarters of a million dollars’ worth of hipster ornaments” in lawyerese. The company alleges that Urban Outfitters still owes $583,600.33, and wants to ship thousands of ornaments back to Cody Foster at the smaller company’s expense.
Cody Foster & Co. is kind of secretive for a modern company, even a wholesaler, not even publishing a public Twitter feed or blog. So it’s interesting to learn anything about the company at all. As FastCo.Design writer and Consumerist alumnus John Brownlee points out, his Anthropologie deal would be a huge part of the company’s sales: it took in about $3 million in 2012, and Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie began placing the orders in question in early 2013. No wonder they’re suing: the outstanding Urban Outfitters balance, plus interest, is a huge chunk of the company’s total income.
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Anthropologie, Fab.com Publicly Drop Cody Foster & Co. As Supplier
Cody Foster & Co. Speaks Up, Insists They Didn’t Steal Designs On Purpose