On Twitter recently an allegation was made that Melbourne fashion business Leonard St sold tshirts that featured artwork plagiarised from a Melbourne artist (web and Livejournal). The allegation was made by the artist and a friend at a creative agency who, in a blog post, replicated and discussed the content the artist had posted about the situation in her Livejournal account.

I read the information with interest and came to the conclusion, based on the photographic evidence and the discussion, that the allegation of plagiarism was legitimate and appeared fundamentally truthful (through who was responsible remained unresolved). I retweeted the information, along with many other social media users, and posted links to it in Facebook on Leonard St’s official page, where a discussion was developing.

Unexpectedly, the post on the agency blog was removed, then a day later the post on the artist’s Livejournal was also deleted. It is plausible to infer that these deletions occurred because the authors were threatened with legal action, such as being sued for defamation.

I am able to make this assumption because I was also threatened. In a Facebook message, Leonard St owner Amanda McCarthy said to me:

Please remove this defamation of my label form [sic] your blog as it is incorrect and damaging my label without true fact.

McCarthy apparently mistook me, via my Facebook and Twitter posts, for the author of the creative agency blog. Is is coz I iz a blogger? All bloggers look alike apparently. Along with her terrible writing and the petulant princess attitude it suggests, I knew I was soon to find myself swimming in a skinny decaf latte of stupidity.

After a couple of days I was forcibly ‘unliked’ from the Leonard St Facebook page and my posts there were deleted, along with many others from similarly critical people (I know because I was not permanantly blocked and I briefly ‘re-liked’ later in order to see what had happened). Only the positive posts remain.

The Leonard St owner seems to be a barely literate leotard. She opted for the ‘passive-aggressive make excuses for our shitty behaviour and thus make the situation worse’ PR strategy with predictable results. It got worse.

It is unclear whether the initial allegation in the blog and Livejournal posts suggested that Leonard St intentionally plagiarised the artist, or whether it merely stocked and sold the shirts without knowing the provenance of their design. They were deleted before I could save their text (though fortunately I had saved the images).

In her Facebook message to me, McCarthy argues that she was not responsible for the plagiarism:

I purchased some print tees form a supplier last summer, I DO NOT PRINT THESE MYSLEF [sic] UNDER Leonard St label. They had no labels so I and attached a Leonard St swing ticket with price as required.

This is illustrated in the image published (then removed) on the artist’s Livejournal profile (below).

eveline2 Leonard St, fashion, plagiarism, defamation and free speech

Image copyright Eveline Tarunadjaja / used under the fair dealings provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 / c2011

McCarthy continues:

I was contact [sic] directly by [the artist]. And I passed the copyright infringement onto the people I bought them from and they did infact give [the artist] some compensation, as they themselves were not aware of it.

Leonard St claims it was not aware of the plagiarism of the shirt image, and implies that the shirt manufacturer was also unaware of it. For the sake of the argument, let us accept these assertions as facts. Leonard St did not intend to sell plagiarised clothing.

This implies that whoever designed the shirts stole the artwork from the artist. What is crucial here, however, is that the Thai manufacturer took responsibility for the problem and compensated the artist, thus acknowledging its partial responsibility in contributing to the plagiarism.

In contrast, Leonard St refused to acknowledge its part in perpetuating the plagiarism and instead made pathetic excuses for its behaviour. McCarthy says:

i did not produce these prints. The label area is blocked in the image that would show the public it is not a Leonard St product.

How incredibly disingenuous. They sold the shirt in their shop with their branded price tag on it. In the eyes of a customer this makes it their product. Just because it does not have a branded logo sewn onto the back of the collar does not mean that they can deny all responsibility.

Their first response should have been to issue a public apology and state that they had immediately removed the stock from shelves. But in none of their statements have they indicated when they removed the offending stock from sale and they have not apologised.

It is also a curious coincidence that the work of a Melbourne artist (which is presumably best known in Melbourne), is plagiarised by an unknown designer, printed by a Thai manufacturer, then bought and sold in Melbourne by a Melbourne retailer.

A suspicious mind could suggest that Melbourne fans of the artist’s work may be likely to buy it on a tshirt in a Melbourne shop because it may be familiar to them, but this hypothetical observation was labelled a conspiracy theory on Facebook before being deleted.

McCarthy then says:

Over a few conversations with [the artist] I suggested she should always water mark her work online so that it is not copy-able like this.

I am incredulous at the subtle ‘blame the artist for not watermarking their work’ distraction. How insulting. The legal onus is on people and businesses not to plagiarise content, not for content creators to try to make it difficult for their work to be stolen.

It gets even worse. McCarthy tries to make herself appear sympathetic by also claiming to be a victim of plagiarism while simultaneously claiming that it should be considered a compliment to have your work stolen:

I too have my had my own designs copied by major retailers and it is distressing alothg [sic] compliemtary [sic] at the same time.

McCarthy implies here that the artist is being ungrateful for not having her work appreciated (stolen). OMFG what a leotard. One in which the elastic has gone rather saggy.

Leonard St is a business bully that appears to have further victimised the artist into removing her legitimate complaint from her Livejournal profile.

The plagiarism itself is an agreed fact. The argument is about who is responsible for it. The artist (and her friend) may have made inaccurate allegations about who they thought was responsible, and it would have been reasonable for Leonard St to insist that they amend their posts to reflect this, but they should not have had to remove them entirely.

In addition to this, by deleting the Facebook discussion and telling me (in lieu of the author of the creative agency blog) to delete an allegation of plagiarism, Leonard St has acted to censor and stifle discussion of this issue well beyond attempting to get to the truth of matter and protect its reputation.

Leonard St is responsible for treating the artist with contempt and engaging in belligerent stupidity. Consider this statement on its last post on its Facebook page:

the artist has recently launched her own tee line, wonder if thats [sic] got anything to do with it as the live blog is in fact hers. good luck Eveline, hope your lies about Leonard St make you lots of money of [sic] thats [sic] what your [sic] after.

The artist does not appear to have been asking for significant financial compensation for the plagiarism, but to be treated with dignity, for her moral rights to be respected and for her legitimate complaint to be addressed fairly.

In relation to these matters Leonard St has failed to respond honestly and ethically and this has earned the enmity of many Melbourne people. Its passive-aggressive attitude and vindictive behaviour is an embarrassment.

Leonard St, fashion, plagiarism, defamation and free speech

15 thoughts on “Leonard St, fashion, plagiarism, defamation and free speech

  • 9 September 2011 at 8:01 am
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    This whole thing was crazy. Leonard St and their supporters have been very aggressive and scary. I was really interested to hear their point of view, but now I just view them as bullies. The misspelled, stream of consciousness ramblings on their Facebook page are really very ill informed, unsympathetic, unapologetic and nasty.

    They assume that anyone who doesn’t accept their statement is a ‘hipster’, a conspiracy theorist, a faux ethicist etc. They would be much better served to assume that people commenting on their facebook page with concern are intelligent, caring, curious customers, customers to be or potential ambassadors for their brand… And treat them with the respect that we all deserve.

    A situation like this, handled correctly can pay big dividends in terms of customer loyalty and brand perception. Sadly Leonard St have missed a great opportunity to prove their sincerity. They could have responded respectfully and showcased their own integrity. Instead they shouted everyone down, fired threats and deleted intelligent, inquiring commentary. Bummer for them. Very telling for us, though.

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  • 9 September 2011 at 9:23 am
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    Yeah well done I am so sick of all of these self-serving extremely UNcool local brands who somehow manage to convince lots of unthinking hipster try-hards that making them profits is really cool and hey is, you know, like, supporting all of the creatives out there too. So hypocritical – they are no different from any other brand marketing their wares. Good on you for exposing their true nature. KEEP IT UP!!!!

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  • 9 September 2011 at 9:25 am
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    Amanda McCarthy set up a twitter account, and has sent tweets to people who had tweeted the original blog post from Ev. She’s been telling people to check their facts, saying that the t-shirts were not a LS product, and that the artist had been paid.

    While I am sympathetic to her worries that her business has been put in a bad light, her clumsy PR efforts have done nothing more than to paint her as a bully. And it can only be assumed that if she treats potential customers in this manner, how badly must she have treated the artists affected?

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  • 9 September 2011 at 9:45 am
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    I have also been blocked from the Leonard Street facebook page, and my comments were deleted. I only questioned 1. how much content does Leonard street commission from Thailand and how much is produced locally, and two 2. why they chose to continue using a supplier that had sold them stolen designs in the first instance.

    I think these are really valid questions. I never attacked the brand, I was merely asking for more facts on the issue. I find Leonard’s streets behaviour childish and bullying and I will not be buying any products from their store.

    Such an unfortuante incident that could have been easily avoided had it been handled in an adult manner from the start.

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  • 9 September 2011 at 1:33 pm
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    I too followed this conversation but was not a Leonard St fan on facebook. I do think that Amanda could have handled it better. On Ink & Spindle’s Facebook that discusses this I said ‘It’s particularly distressing when companies tout themselves as small independent labels so you think you’re getting something designed locally & ethically’.

    I’m glad to hear that Leonard St didn’t personally plagiarise it but I am still not sure how I feel about whether or not they should have ensured that the product they were buying wasn’t plagiarised. I think I have a nagging problem that they use the terms ‘small’, ‘local’, ‘independent’, yet buy stock from suppliers that clearly can’t prove their ethical credentials.

    By selling those products and using the terminology they do in their public image they surely must know that people are going to identify them with these products and should actually take some responsibility that they are sourcing ethical products?

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  • 9 September 2011 at 1:34 pm
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    It’s interesting that the owner is so quick to yell defamation, yet misspells every second word while doing so. It’s easy to infer that she doesn’t know what defamation is, yet the threat of defamation proceedings is, to be honest, probably enough to get any blogger to take down a post as a precautionary measure. However, if the allegations are true, then there shouldn’t be a problem for the bloggers.

    For a company whose basic concept (so I believe) is indie-style designs, it’s even more important that Leonard Street to do in-depth research into the designer before buying products. Then again, based on the counterproductive response (blocking people, threatening legal action, removing negative posts rather than responding to concerns in a respectful manner, and spelling just about everything wrong), it’s safe to assume that research would not be one of the owner’s strong points.

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  • 9 September 2011 at 1:35 pm
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    I was concerned at some commentary on the Leonard St Facebook page asserting that the removal of the creative agency’s post, as well as that of the artist, suggests a kind of malicious, ‘hit-and-run’ defamation on their part.
    This seems particularly naive.

    If someone doesn’t have the time & money to pursue a legal remedy to copyright infringement, then the chances are good that the prospect of defending a defamation accusation would be deemed sufficiently onerous that they would settle into an intimidated silence. It is a grave irony that the very laws designed to protect the truth can also be used to obstruct it.

    Thanks for providing an intelligent discussion of the issue. I’d like to be able to hear from both sides without the bullying, threats and ridiculous Youtube-style commentary.

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  • 9 September 2011 at 3:45 pm
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    I (obviously stupidly) thought that if one started an independent fashion label it was perhaps because they wanted to design something themselves, not buy pre-designed, made in Thailand clothing to sew a label into.

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  • 9 September 2011 at 4:08 pm
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    A similar thing happened to me recently involving kmart and their own brand who were selling tshirts with work of mine on them. Their excuse was that they bought the image off someone else who ripped off my work, so according to them my problem is with whoever did that, not the seller. They are protecting this source of image too which is quite frustrating.

    But you know, thats kmart, not a business like Leonard st where you’d think they would have been absolutely mortified and very apologetic that this had happened. Sure these things will happen occasionally – they got caught out, they’ve tried to rectify it and saying they wont use that supplier again, but the aggressive hissyfit wipes out any of that. to me, more damage has been done by being less professional about it than the actual allegation.
    I’m so pleased that Eveline Tarunadjaja got compensation and recognition for their work.

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    • 9 September 2011 at 4:24 pm
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      You should take legal action against Kmart if they did not immediately remove all stock from sale once they knew of the plagiarism. Sue them for plagiarism to force them to disclose their supplier. And mount a social media name and shame campaign to embarrass them into doing the right thing. Bad PR is quicker, cheaper and more effective than the law.

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  • 9 September 2011 at 7:46 pm
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    Thank you for this insightful and decidedly un-leotard write up of this unfortunate saga. I think this tale shows that there is no cure for stupidity. And, that if any brand find themselves – rightly or wrongly – in Leonard St’s position they should hire a good media advisor who will not email aggressive “facts” to anyone who emails them questions about the issue. And, getting your friends to post rants on your FB page against anyone who dares have an opinion that differs to yours is not a good look…

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  • 10 September 2011 at 2:00 pm
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    This whole issue is of huge interest to me having being in Ev’s exact position twice before. Two of my textile designs ripped off in entirety and sold in large Australian chain stores. And in both instances the artwork was one that they had purchased from a supplied in China or India under the assumption it was genuine.

    Each time that we (Ink & Spindle) expressed our outrage and showed examples on our blog and Facebook we were unable to name and shame, much to the disappointment of many of our loyal customers, for fear of being sued for defamation. As much as we would have loved to have told everyone who the companies were, they could validly hide behind their ignorance of the source of the design, so for us to accuse them of the act of “ripping off” would indeed be defamation.

    But this still leaves me wondering two things:

    1) is it indeed defamation if you are simply stating the facts as they are (eg this company sold my designs which they purchased from an oveseas supplier unaware of the source of the design) so at least the public are aware of who is doing these things.

    2) where does the responsibility lie when it comes to ensuring a design is original? Isn’t the *some* way for these companies to ensure that what they’re receiving is original? Eg employ their own designers or ask for progress shots (as far fetched as that might seem!). And especially in the case of Leonard St where this is the second time it’s happened and they know to be wary.

    I’d be very keen to know if Ev can indeed post about this on her blog in such a way as to be protected from a defamation suit. The public needs to know!

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    • 10 September 2011 at 3:53 pm
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      It appears to be a fact that Leonard St stocked and sold plagiarised products. This does not mean they intentionally did so. But once a retailer becomes aware of this they have an ethical and arguably a legal obligation to stop selling the problematic goods. It is unfortunate for the retailer but they should then take up the issue with suppliers and manufacturers. They cannot ignore the rights of the copyright owner. They don’t have to genuinely care about the issue, but the risk is receiving lots of negative publicity, as Leonard St has. A sensible risk management driven PR strategy would be to remove the stock immediately and make this voluntary act well known.

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