Cape Town -
A Cape Town designer and retailer Woolworths are embroiled in a row over ownership of a hummingbird design printed on a cushion cover for sale in its stores.
The issue, which has gone viral on social media sites, exploded on Friday when designer Euodia Roets, of homeware shop Touchee Feelee, alleged Woolworths had based the design on a sample she submitted to them months earlier.
Woolworths, however, said the hummingbird design was not copied from the Roets sample, but created by a Durban artist months before they even came into contact with Roets.
But Roets was having none of it; she branded the design, which she noticed by chance last week, a case of “thinly-veiled plagiarism”. It was a “near identical hummingbird design” to the one she had submitted, she charged.
Brett Kaplan, Woolworths’ managing director of clothing and general merchandise, said the controversial design was “signed off” in November, months before the group came into contact with Roets.
Kaplan said the design was inspired by the “global trend” of “birds and hummingbirds”.
“Images and photographs of hummingbirds in flight in a similar pose are common, hence the resemblance of the designs,” he said. “It has inspired retailers all over the world, including South Africa.”
Roets countered that earlier this year she was approached by the buying head of homeware at Woolworths to discuss having some of her designs used as part of the retailer’s new “artisan” range.
“I took samples of all my work to the meeting and was asked if they could hold on to them to show certain samples to their manager,” she said.
At the meeting, she gave the retailer a few items printed with her hummingbird painting. A few days later, she received an offer: Woolworths wanted her to provide “panels of fabric for napkins and cushions… printed with my hummingbird”.
Despite reservations over price, Roets said she decided to work with Woolworths as it would offer good exposure.
“We agreed on two different fabrics and I was asked to provide six sample panels; three of each fabric. I provided these panels within two weeks.”
But, Roets said, she was then given the “silent treatment for two months” by Woolworths. During this period her e-mails went unanswered and phone calls were “denied”.
After two months the retailer returned some of her samples to her, saying they would not be going ahead with the designs, Roets said.
They kept four of her six designs, however, “for consideration for input later in the year”.
Then, last week, Roets was browsing through Woolworths in Cavendish Square, Claremont, when she saw a cushion bearing the hummingbird design.
“I could say that yes, they’ve changed the design slightly. I could concede that pictures of hummingbirds tend to largely look alike.
“But the facts stack up too much on the opposite side for me to allow it,” she said.
“Can you look at these two pictures and honestly say that Woolworths came up with this exact cushion design on their own?”
Debate over the hummingbird design spilled over on to social media, with some users supporting Woolworths and others taking Roets’s side on Facebook and Twitter.
Others pointed out that Roets herself had copied “her” hummingbird from a photograph by Gregory Scott.
“I agree fully that Woolies is in the wrong, but did the artist copy it from someone’s photo? Seems like a vicious circle,” tweeted Leon Steyn.