THE case underscores an issue growing ever-more prevalent in the home furnishings world: The Rug Co., a London-based purveyor of couture carpets designed by the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith and Diane von Furstenberg, has filed a lawsuit accusing New York retailer ABC Carpet & Home of selling budget knockoffs of the Rug Co.’s bespoke creations.
[...] Sharp’s lawsuit, filed in May in federal court in New York, accuses ABC of copyright infringement and unfair trade practices. ABC owner Paulette Cole did not return calls requesting comment, but Mitchell Falber, general counsel for the company, said the charges are without merit.
Whether or not the allegations are proven, industry experts said the lawsuit is yet another sign of designers’ escalating concerns.
[...] “It is a huge problem, and it is a changing problem,” said Susan Farley, an intellectual property lawyer based in Albany, N.Y.
Blame technological advances and a global marketplace in which overseas factories can within weeks whip up inexpensive knockoffs from a photograph. Some in the industry also say the proliferation of shelter publications and decorator TV shows has awakened in consumers a taste for sophisticated design but not necessarily the willingness to pay for it.
“Magazines do a page where they show the designs a high-end way, and then on the exact opposite page, they say, ‘This is how to get the look,’ ” said Eleanor McKay, former president of the Foundation for Design Integrity, an alliance of companies fighting knockoffs.
Some say the trend reflects the democratization of design. McKay has another analogy.
“Plagiarism, is what it is,” she said.
[...] In the fashion world, knockoffs are rampant in part because it is virtually impossible to copyright the shape and cut of fabric. But home furnishings designers can legally protect many of their creations because they can copyright patterns.
According to Rug Co. attorney Peter Jacobs, copycats respond by making slight variations in hopes of placing their products outside the reach of copyright laws.
“It won’t look like your design, but yet it will capture the feeling of your design,” he said. “And then you have a real issue of whether or not it is your design they are knocking off.”
[...] Jacobs said the company has spotted purloined patterns in stores across the country. In each instance, he dispatches a cease-and-desist letter.
[...] The Rug Co.’s Sharp said the lawsuit is part of a crusade.
“What I’m trying to do is really make a point,” he said. “We’ve made a decision that we’re not going to put up with it.”