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Art Theft in the Modern World

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness”

- Oscar Wilde

Working in the creative industry is no easy feat, with independent artists toiling hard to create unique pieces. Often these designs have sentimental value to the artist, and although they may be pricier than mass-market items, one can be assured that they are designed to a high standard.

Unfortunately, many large businesses are ripping designs off independent artists and designers, with no reference to the original work, and no monetary compensation for their work being used without recognition. This is unfair on independent designers and small Etsy/Redbubble stores, who put a lot of effort into their art, just to be scammed for mass-market consumption.

Multinational retailer Urban Outfitters, with prior scandals involving cultural appropriation and the distasteful use of mental health illnesses, is one of the most prolific examples of a large business ripping off independent artists.

Notorious for art-theft, a quick Google search displays a long list of small businesses with grievances against the controversial retailer. Chicago jewelery designer, Stevie Koerner, was one of the first victims. Followers of her brand sent her a link to Urban Outfitter’s website, which sold necklaces identical to her designs. Urban Outfitter’s even stole some of the item names off Koerner’s range, evidencing a blatant rip-off of her work. Due to the controversy, the line was pulled from Urban Outfitters immediately.

Zara is another multinational stealing from independent designers, as LA-based illustrator Tuesday Bassen found out. She proved her claims through an Instagram post, where her designs were compared side-to-side by that of Zara’s. The post received outrage against Zara. However, in response, Zara was condescending and demeaning towards Bassen, claiming that her designs weren’t unique enough, invalidating her efforts.

Artistic integrity is pivotal to the work of independent artists, and multinationals are violating this by stealing their designs, without permission, reaping profits which would have better benefitted independent artists for their creative pursuits.

Sadly, it appears that similar situations are likely to occur in the future. Despite the negative PR these firms receive, it has not appeared to impact their sales significantly, and they are able to utilize art which has received positive feedback for free. Additionally, it is difficult for independent designers to pursue cases of copyright against multinationals in court, as lawsuits are expensive and unaffordable for a majority of artists.

All is not lost, and through showing condemnation towards brands who steal from independent artists on social media, and campaigns such as #boycotturbanoutfitters, we can hope that multinationals will be held responsible for their plagiarism. Better yet, it would be appreciated if they stopped stealing art altogether, instead hiring independent artists or creating their own designs, to avoid such problems in the future.

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