Nebraska-based Cody Foster & Co. plans changes after allegations of copied designs

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Posted: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 12:00 am

Cody Foster & Co., a wholesale company that sells ornaments and gifts, says it is altering the way it does business to reduce the possibility that its products resemble items sold by others, including independent artists and crafters.

The company, in a statement issued late Monday, also apologized for any “harm it may have inadvertently” caused customers and the artist community at large.

The company's statement is a response to allegations that it copied the work of an independent artist.

Last month, Lisa Congdon, a California-based commercial artist whose clients include Trader Joe's and Urban Outfitters, wrote on her blog that Cody Foster was selling three-dimensional ornaments that looked strikingly similar to several two-dimensional illustrations she had created and displayed on her blog and other websites. Congdon's complaint that the company used her designs without permission was spread by sympathetic bloggers and others on social media.

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Several retailers, including West Elm, Anthropologie and Fab.com announced they were ceasing to do business with Cody Foster.

The Valentine, Neb.-based company, acknowledged that a “small number” of the more than 1,800 items it sells, “bear strong similarities to ones being sold by others.”

In an article Sunday, a lawyer for Cody Foster said the wholesaler is quick to respond to artists and designers who believe a product may be similar to their original work. “This may mean ... pulling the product offering until the issue is fully investigated.”

In its statement Monday, the company said it offered “refunds to any of our customers that asked for them” when it became aware of the claims, which began circulating last month.

The small, privately-owned business, which employs 18, said its “explanation for how this happened is simple, though not excusable. ... Documenting 'artistic inspiration' for reproduced craft products — particularly for those based on folk designs — is a difficult process and presents a huge challenge for suppliers, artists and retailers alike.”

The company said it is “instituting new processes and procedures” to reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences.

Congdon could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment. When contacted last week, she said she could not discuss the situation “due to pending legal negotiations with representatives of Cody Foster.”

Other artists have made similar claims, saying Cody Foster has been copying designs for years.

Without naming the individual, the company statement made reference to “a single artist [who] made public allegations before she contacted us directly and took direct actions to whip up emotion and support based on misinformation. She has encouraged her supporters to disrupt our day-to-day business operations and caused documentable financial harm to our company.”

The company also questioned the origins of the artist's work.

Cody Foster & Co. said it values original design and artistic creation and is “committed to properly compensating individuals who clearly create unique designs.”

“Even before this incident, we have been exploring new ways to engage with artists through commissioning designs and providing royalty agreements based on sales. We know that more needs to be done to protect artists and we look forward to doing our part to ensure a fair environment for everyone involved.”

“Cody Foster & Co. acknowledges that a small number of products in our catalog of more than 1,800 items bear strong similarities to ones being sold by others. When this issue first came to our attention in mid-October, we immediately pulled those products from our catalog and offered refunds to any of our customers that asked for them. We deeply regret any harm we may have inadvertently caused to our customers and the artist community at large. We are instituting new processes and procedures to reduce the likelihood that this happens again.

“Our explanation for how this happened is simple, though not excusable. Unfortunately it occurs regularly in this industry. Documenting 'artistic inspiration' for reproduced craft products — particularly for those based on folk designs — is a difficult process and presents a huge challenge for suppliers, artists and retailers alike. Our own designs have been directly lifted by other suppliers on many occasions and we have generally found straightforward ways to settle amicably between parties.

“In this case, a single artist made public allegations before she contacted us directly and took direct actions to whip up emotion and support based on misinformation. She has encouraged her supporters to disrupt our day-to-day business operations and caused documentable financial harm to our company. What has not been widely reported is that this same artist has now, herself, been criticized by independent art critics about the origins of her designs.

“Cody Foster & Co. is a small, privately owned business with 18 employees located in central Nebraska. We greatly value original design and artistic creation and we are committed to properly compensating individuals who clearly create unique designs that delight and inspire. Even before this incident, we have been exploring new ways to engage with artists through commissioning designs and providing royalty agreements based on sales. We know that more needs to be done to protect artists and we look forward to doing our part to ensure a fair environment for everyone involved.”

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