If you own or operate your own small business, you know how exciting and challenging it can be. But what do you do if you feel your original ideas are ripped off and then used for sale somewhere else?
A Gilbert woman explained how she feels it happened to her and hopes through sharing her story, it creates an awareness and helps other local small-business owners protect their own companies from similar potential copyright infringement.
If you were to walk into a Macy's store right now, you would find a straw handbag for sale with the phrase "hello summer" on it, with the letter "u" in "summer" replaced with a picture of a watermelon slice. The problem is Moriah High says that design is her original design, and she believes the manufacturer of the handbag stole it.
"This is the original clip art I showed to my screen printer," she explained while referring to a picture, adding, "and this is the picture that I believe was used directly as the print of the tote bag at Macy's."
The interior designer turned stay-at-home mom and entrepreneur knows the power of social media. In more than a year, her online business, Sweet T's Design Shoppe, has grown to 25,500 followers on Instagram. But instead of focusing her energy on designing new chic T-shirts, she's currently working on protecting her already existing best-seller that she says has been taken wholesale and reproduced without her permission.
"My exact replica of what I came up with was printed on the tote bag," Moriah claims. "I would love to inspire people with my designs, but the direct copy is what is so upsetting to me in this case."
Side by side, the design on Moriah's popular "hello summer" T-shirt and the artwork on the beach bag look very similar, but it's in the fine print where you'll find a small difference. Moriah's T-shirt has her logo, Sweet T's Design, printed underneath the end of the word "summer" while there is no visible logo printed anywhere on the outside of the handbag.
It's a small omission that Moriah's attorney says makes all the difference.
"Obviously, if you were looking at this design and you see a logo, you know that that image was created with that logo and thereby removing it and using it again without their permission you are committing copyright infringement," Attorney Andrew High, with High Law Group, clarified. (He is also a family member.)
Straw Studios is the manufacturer of the handbag.
Macy's is just one store that carries the brand and had no knowledge of any potential copyright issue with the artwork displayed on the bag. But as soon as word spread on social media, the vice president of Straw Studios reached out directly to Moriah, but declined all opportunities so far to comment publicly.
Andrew explained Moriah's original designs are automatically protected under what's called common law copyright. He said she's currently working to obtain a second level of protection with the U.S. Copyright Office as well. That additional layer of protection gives a designer the right to sue in a case of copyright infringement.
Andrew recommends all small-business owners and designers take two simple steps to protect original work, like in the case with Moriah.
"Make sure to use your logo at the bottom of any design you do and two, get it registered even before you have a sale of your item, because once you have a sale, it's out there," he explained.
Potentially illegal and unethical, Moriah says, without an explanation of how her design was obtained, she feels taken advantage of.
"If they would have contacted me directly it would have been a completely different story," Moriah said. "But because I was not notified and because it was kind of a shock for me to see my design, it just kind of broke my heart ... small business is not something you can take advantage of."
While the case is now in the hands of attorneys, Moriah says she'll continue to fight not only for herself but more importantly, on behalf of all small and local business owners.
Since our initial interview with Moriah, we have since learned her attorney is in the process of working out a possible settlement with Straw Studios and possibly a future business collaboration as well.
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