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Anthropologie caught up in ‘David vs Goliath’ copyright complaint

Aspirational lifestyle retailer, Anthropologie, has apologised for selling vases which imitate the work of Sydney-based ceramicist, Tara Burke, without her permission. Ms Burke was alerted to the copies by a friend who saw the vases for sale on Anthropologie’s website.

Tara Burke’s vase is pictured on the right.

Ms Burke, who called the American retail giant, ‘scum’ in an Instgram post which then went viral, said Anthropologie asked her to collaborate with them in 2016 and photographed her work, but she declined their offer. Hundreds of her 18,000 Instagram followers commented or shared her post, also tagging Anthropologie, which has now removed the offending products from its shelves.

In her social media post, Ms Burke said: “After debating whether or not to post publicly about this for the better part of the year (I know this is not the first nor will it be the last time something like this happens), I decided staying quiet felt too much like letting them get away with it and I didn’t feel like doing Anthropologie any favours. With gift-giving season approaching, please consider carefully who you’ll be supporting with your precious money. Buy local! Support small businesses!”

The retailer issued an apology to Ms Burke, saying: “We deeply regret that in this instance, our safeguards did not hold up to our standards. We have tremendous respect for the artist community and are exploring how we can further strengthen our protocols. The product in question is no longer available and we are reaching out directly to Tara Burke.”

Ms Burke told the BBC she had been contacted by Anthropologie to discuss the matter but so far there has been no mention of compensation.

The parent company of Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, has also been involved in disputes over design copyrights. In May of this year it was forced to withdraw a range of vases following complaints from Bristol-based ceramicist, Sarah Wilton, who complained that Urban Outfitters had copied products she designed for Liberty.

Ms Wilton told the BBC that as a small and independent designer: “It’s important to know your rights and let them know you know, so you that you can begin to negotiate,” she said. “Worst-case scenario is they’ll ignore you. If that’s the case, try and get some people power behind you.”

American jeweller, Laurel Hill, has also faced difficulties with Anthropologie, who bought a range of her earrings in 2014. When she declined their reorder because she felt the price was too low, she soon discovered the retailer advertising pieces that were almost identical to ones she had designed years earlier. Following an Instagram campaign by the designer, Anthropologie removed the jewellery in question but claimed the earrings were purchased from an independent supplier and had not been designed by themselves.

Anthropologie also made more headlines when it was found to be selling a ‘Decorative Birch Bundle’ of twigs tied together with string for £40 via its website. With 18 twigs in each bunch this works out at £2.22 each, prompting ridicule on social media.