Co.Design

Design Pirate Cody Foster Sues Urban Outfitters For Breach Of Contract

Cody Foster must be racking up the legal bills.

Cody Foster, the Valentine, Nebraska, tchotchke wholesaler that has been accused of stealing independent designers' work, is now suing a former retail partner that severed ties with the Nebraskan company after news emerged of its pirating ways.

Cody Foster has filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Urban Outfitters, whose subsidiary Anthropologie purchased wholesale goods from Cody Foster, such as Christmas tree ornaments, wall hangings, decorative pieces, and so on. But when several designers accused Cody Foster of pirating their wares, Anthropologie ended the retail partnership, saying, "Anthropologie cherishes the relationships we have fostered with independent artists and designers, which allow us to delight our customers with beautiful, distinct merchandise. ...After a thorough investigation, Anthropologie has decided to sever its relationship with Cody Foster & Co."

Filed in Douglas District Court, the lawsuit puts some firm numbers to Cody Foster's business. The lawsuit says that Urban Outfitters purchased $720,668.16 worth of ornaments from Cody Foster from January to October 2013. On October 24, 2013, Urban Outfitters formally canceled its contracts with Cody Foster, seeking to return (at Cody Foster's expense) $583,600.33 worth of ornaments that had still not been paid for. Cody Foster is seeking this full amount, plus incidental damages.

Lisa Congdon's original 2011 reindeer illustration (left), compared to Cody Foster's alleged knock-off

According to Cody Foster's contract with Urban Outfitters, which was included in the lawsuit, Urban Outfitters "reserves the right to return at [Cody Foster's] expense any merchandise and cancel this contract where a claim is made that the sale ... infringes any alleged patent, design, trade name, trademark or copyrights."

The lawsuit against Urban Outfitters is not the first legal action Cody Foster has taken since the storm of controversy began surrounding the company's practices. In January, Cody Foster threatened to sue a whistleblower for copyright infringement after that person posted pictures of the company's catalog to Flickr, comparing designs of independent artists to Cody Foster products. Cody Foster has also been employing lawyers to try to buy the silence of at least one designer whose works had been pirated.

Cody Foster's business is worth an estimated $3 million a year. If that estimate is accurate, Cody Foster's Urban Outfitters contract would have represented a significant portion of the company's business.

When we first started covering Cody Foster back in October, we wrote:

An individual artist may never make a design pirate pay, but collectively, design pirates can be stopped. The nature of their businesses cannot survive the scrutiny of being talked about.

Speaking out against Cody Foster has already cost the company as much as $1 million a year in lost contracts. Yet the company remains unrepentant, threatening whistleblowers and blaming their victims. Will Cody Foster have to lose the other $2 million worth of contracts before the tchotchke maker finally wises up?

As of writing, neither Cody Foster nor Urban Outfitters has responded for comment. You can read the lawsuit for yourself here.

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