23.01.2024 | by Lili
Low prices and an abundance of products characterise Chinese online marketplace SHEIN. But where do those products, or more importantly, their designs come from? Three US artists believe that some of those designs originated in their studios.
Krista Perry, Larissa Martinez and Jay Baron filed a lawsuit against SHEIN for copying their designs. The three designers claim that SHEIN uses AI to find the most economically profitable designs and places their exact copies on its own products. For example, Krista Perry created the floral pattern featured below, and was surprised to find it on a SHEIN blanket - without her permission.
Screenshot of kristaperry.com featuring her design “Blue Floral”
Screenshot of a SHEIN product listing captured by de.fashionnetwork.com. We believe the original listing may have been removed as a result of the lawsuit.
The pattern on the SHEIN blanket is indeed eerily similar to that of Krista Perry’s. However, why do the artists claim that the copy was done by AI?
Well, as the lawsuit states, the artists believe that SHEIN uses an algorithm to find emerging fashion trends, designs that correspond to that, and creates exact copies on its products to maximise its profits. The claimants say that SHEIN deliberately uses the work of lesser-known designers to decrease the chance of being discovered.
Moreover, the suing artists believe that SHEIN uses this strategy repeatedly and systematically on a global level, which makes their claim eligible to be tried under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations) Act, a US law passed to combat organised crime.
The artists’ claim doesn’t sound far-fetched. Indeed, analysts report that one of the most important uses of AI in fashion is predicting future trends. The algorithms examine current and historical trends, social media images, fashion buying patterns, online searches and much more to effectively forecast emerging trends.
Similarly, AI can be used to create designs. The applications take brand image, previous designs, customer tastes, and even popular pictures by other designers into consideration before “designing” a new piece.
Now, whether this process threatens or enhances human creativity remains to be seen. However, if the AI-generated final design infringes on somebody else’s copyrights, then it’s a much more tangible question that needs urgent action.
As the plaintiffs state in their lawsuit, they “have suffered and will continue to suffer substantial damage” to their businesses and “a diminishment in the value of their designs and art, their rights, and their reputations”.
It’s true that copyright, and in Jay Baron’s case, both copyright and trademark infringement is very harmful for right-holders.
However, by filing the case under the RICO Act, the artists want to shine a light on SHEIN’s confusing organisational chart and common practice of deflecting the blame when faced with an IP rights claim.
It seems that whenever SHEIN receives an infringement notification, the company claims that another entity, e.g. a third party seller or manufacturer is guilty of the misdemeanour.
But sometimes this other entity is in fact a subsidiary of SHEIN. The plaintiffs claim that SHEIN deliberately created these seemingly independent entities under its umbrella to deflect any blame and confuse rights holders.
If the court decides in favour of the artists, the ruling may have far-reaching consequences for the operation of SHEIN.
According to the plaintiffs, “when SHEIN copies a small or independent designer, the most likely outcome (without brand protection specialists and specialised software on the lookout) is that the infringement will go unnoticed.”
Although this statement is quite pessimistic, the artists have articulated an easy and already existing solution to the problem: brand protection.
What can you do when somebody is selling products with your copyrighted and/or trademarked designs? Luckily, you’re not alone. globaleyez’s services were created with this exact scenario in mind.
Our image monitoring service, for instance, detects unauthorised use of your IP protected imagery. Thanks to our state-of-the-art software infrimage, you get dynamic and flexible search results that include both similar images and exact matches to your search. With versatile filters and reporting options you can widen or narrow your search according to your exact needs.
Since fraudulent products featuring your designs tend to be sold online (as in the case of SHEIN), we recommend a round of marketplace monitoring to discover who is selling your images without your authorization.
Finally, we can enforce your rights and demand the removal of any IP infringing content from the internet, including images, products listings, ads, and much more.
Whether SHEIN will change its practices depends on the outcome of the lawsuit. But if you’re concerned your designs will end up on another SHEIN product without your authorization, you don’t have to wait for the court’s decision. In fact, you can get started today.
Reach out to us and let’s set up a brand protection strategy tailored to your exact needs.