Co.Design

Alleged Design Pirate Cody Foster Is Only Sorry They Were Caught

Three weeks after widespread allegations of design piracy went public, the Nebraskan tchotchke maker finally releases a statement worse than silence.

Almost three weeks after the company was accused of shamelessly stealing the work of independent designers, Cody Foster & Co has finally released its first statement on the matter to Co.Design. But the Nebraskan tchotchke wholesaler would doubtlessly have been better off keeping its mouth shut.

While admitting that design piracy might have "inadvertently" occurred and that what had been done was "not excusable," Cody Foster then argues that design piracy isn't a big deal, happens all the time, and that the real crime here is that its business has been disrupted by the allegations.

Here is Cody Foster & Co's statement, as released to Co.Design, interspersed with our comments.

Cody Foster & Co. acknowledges that a small number of products in our catalog of more than 1800 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.

At first glance, Cody Foster's statement seems to begin on an earnest note, but the wording quickly troubles. The company reveals that instead of contacting artists whose designs were allegedly pirated and working out licensing agreements or financial restitution, Cody Foster has simply pulled the items to resolve the problem: the artists don't get squat. And even from the first paragraph, Cody Foster is unwilling to promise that this will never happen again, only that they are instituting policies to reduce the likelihood of it happening again.

As we'll soon see, however, it's not even clear what Cody Foster means to avert in the future: design piracy, or merely the allegations of it.

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.

In other words, to Cody Foster, this controversy isn't an issue of design piracy. It's a failure to correctly "document" work that was somehow nebulously "inspired" by the designs of independent artists. But such documentation does exist, and it implies a consistent, multi-year campaign of outright design theft.

As we reported three weeks ago, many of the artists alleging design piracy against Cody Foster have records and receipts that prove that Cody Foster vice-president Diane Foster had purchased items from their Etsy shops and had them shipped directly to Cody Foster's Valentine, Nebraska, headquarters. In addition, Lisa Congdon—the artist whose blog post alleging design piracy kicked off the recent maelstrom of controversy—had her designs copied by Cody Foster right down to her unique artistic signature. A lack of documentation is certainly not the issue here.

But even if design piracy did occur, Cody Foster wants us to remember who the real victim is here: Cody Foster.

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. In this case, a single artist made public allegations before she contacted us directly and took direct actions to whip up emotion and support based on misinformation. She has encouraged her supporters to disrupt our day-to-day business operations and caused documentable financial harm to our company.

It's true, there has been "documentable financial harm." In fact, we've documented it. Once allegations of design piracy were made by artist Lisa Congdon, Anthropologie, Fab.com, and West Elm all released statements saying that they were severing ties with the company. The reasons these companies did so is because Congdon's allegations were not a one-off occurrence. An entire Flickr group has been set up, documenting unlicensed items from the Cody Foster catalog that bear a striking resemblance to dozens of independent artists' work.

In fact, allegations of design piracy against Cody Foster go all the way back to 2010. Cody Foster responded to those allegations by locking up their online catalog behind a password so that any design piracy that may be happening was extremely difficult to corroborate. Is anyone really surprised that such a furtive company is complaining that allegations of design piracy against them weren't resolved secretly?

Cody Foster continues:

What has not been widely reported is that this same artist has now, herself, been criticized by independent art critics about the origins of her designs.

Here, Cody Foster refers to a blog post asserting that some of Lisa Congdon's illustrations—including one that Cody Foster copied, right down to Congdon's signature—were created by referencing the pictures of various nature photographers.

Without delving into the legalities of this, let's assume for a moment that what Cody Foster is saying here is true, and that Lisa Congdon did rip-off photographers in the creation of her work (and we are not saying that she did). If that's true, does that mean that Cody Foster is being accused of (and kinda, sorta admitting to) pirating the work of two artists with the exact same product?

Cody Foster & Co's statement is a sad, rotten salmagundi: a borderline delusional defense that comes weeks too late to be earnest about anything except the repeated insistence that the only thing wrong with design piracy is daring to speak out publicly against it. But read it for yourself: the entire statement is reprinted without interruption and in full below.

Cody Foster & Co. acknowledges that a small number of products in our catalog of more than 1800 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. In this case, a single artist made public allegations before she contacted us directly and took direct actions to whip up emotion and support based on misinformation. She has encouraged her supporters to disrupt our day-to-day business operations and caused documentable financial harm to our company. What has not been widely reported is that this same artist has now, herself, been criticized by independent art critics about the origins of her designs.

Cody Foster & Co. is a small, privately owned business with 18 employees located in central Nebraska. We greatly value original design and artistic creation and we are committed to properly compensating individuals who clearly create unique designs that delight and inspire. Even before this incident, we have been exploring new ways to engage with artists through commissioning designs and providing royalty agreements based on sales. We know that more needs to be done to protect artists and we look forward to doing our part to ensure a fair environment for everyone involved.

Add New Comment

0 Comments