How the Kardashians Keep Getting Away with Copying Designs
"It's smart to copy something that you can't get sued for."
Photo via Flickr
A family that allegedly rips off lesser-known designers together stays together, I guess? Kylie Jenner and Khloé Kardashian are both facing accusations of copying designs from indie brands.
On Thursday, Jenner released a line of camo sportswear, and the brand PluggedNYC, which also makes camo sportswear, immediately called her out: The camo sportswear Jenner brought out looks almost identical to what's available from PluggedNYC. Meanwhile, last week the older sister was accused of lifting the sparkly sensibilities of Destiney Bleu, who has designed crystallized stagewear for Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, for her brand Good American.
The most damning thing? It seems that Jenner had previously purchased clothing from PluggedNYC. PluggedNYC creative director Tizita Balemlay posted screenshots of an email exchange she had with Jenner to her Instagram story last night, according to The Cut. The screenshots purport to show someone from Jenner's camp talking about how the reality-TV star loves PluggedNYC's clothing and inquiring about custom orders.
As for Khloé Kardashian, Bleu also alleges that Kardashian ordered every item from Bleu's online shop, along with some custom pieces. Kardashian's legal team has denied this and served Bleu with a cease and desist letter, calling for Bleu to stop claiming Kardashian stole designs.
It's not hard to see how similar the Kardashian/Jenner's clothing looks to the originals. The camo set that Jenner released is basically indistinguishable from PluggedNYC's camo sets, and Bleu makes a top that looks identical to the bedazzled top in Good American's new campaign.
However, receipts or no, the designers probably don't have any legal recourse; a copyright lawsuit wouldn't get very far, according to Leila Amineddoleh, a lawyer who specializes in art copyright law. "To prove infringement, there's two things you need to do. You need to show that the person copying you had access to your work and that the works are substantially similar," she told Broadly.
Everything in these two cases checks out so far, especially if Jenner and Kardashian actually did place orders with the independent designers. But there's one more crucial thing: The design in question also has to be original.
"The issue here is that the works aren't distinctive," Amineddoleh says. There's plenty of sparkly shirts and camo outfits out in the world. A person can't simply claim they have the sole right to make mesh tops with crystals on them when Olympic ice skaters have been wearing them for decades.
A person can't simply claim they have the sole right to make mesh tops with crystals on them when Olympic ice skaters have been wearing them for decades.
"Yes, you have the issue of access fulfilled, and the designs are substantially similar, but the underlying designs can't be copyrighted. They're too common," Amineddoleh underscores. "Even if the design was copied, it's not actionable."
Amineddoleh compares this copycat instance to the backlash against the retailer Zara, which was accused of stealing pin and patch illustrations from independent artists last summer. In the Zara case, the designs were specific and original, and therefore would be protected by copyright law.
"It's smart to copy something that you can't get sued for," Amineddoleh says. "I assume the Kardashians have advisers and know what they can get away with." (Kylie has been accused of ripping off other designers before.)
In a response to Kardashian's cease and desist letter, Bleu's lawyer Stephen McArthur acknowledged that the alleged plagiarism wasn't against the law—it was just super shitty.
"It is not illegal for Khloe to copy Destiney's designs—it is just tacky, disrespectful, and in bad taste," MacArthur wrote. "There is also something deeply uncomfortable about someone with Khloe's wealth and power appropriating designs and fashion directly from a black woman with a small business without crediting her, making cheap knockoffs, and then attempting to threaten her into silence. You should be ashamed."