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Typically, what happens next is several blog posts say, "Look at how similar these designs are," before everyone moves on. But Bassen's claims have really lit the internet on fire.
Bassen shared the image via Twitter, above, which compares Zara's designs to her own on Tuesday. "I first noticed the copies in early 2016 when hundreds of fans reached out to me privately to ask if I was working with them or if they were plagiarizing my work," she told Complex.
Bassen then shared a letter from Zara, which says that because "a significant part of the population anywhere in the world" wouldn't associate these designs with her, she can't claim ownership over them. "Their lawyers claim that my work is both 'too simple' to defend and that I have no base because I am a small artist with 90k followers on Instagram, but they are a major corporation with 90 million customers and only 'a handful of people' would notice that the designs are mine," Bassen claimed.
However, the artist's followers retweeted her original tweet from Tuesday 3,000 times, and spread this story like wildfire. The Daily Dot also reported that Bassen's website receives 8,000 visitors daily.
The Fashion Law argued that Zara is on shaky legal ground, here. "Given that Bassen’s illustrations consist of intricate details, such as the 'Keep Out' and heart-lock designs on the diary (as opposed to a more simplistic drawing of a diary) or the 'Erase You' writing on the eraser (as opposed to a straightforward drawing of an eraser), which were all re-created by Zara, this is arguably not an applicable exception [to the merger doctrine]," the site wrote. The Fashion Law described the merger doctrine as "a caveat to copyright protection that holds that if there is only one conceivable way or a drastically limited number of ways to express and embody the idea in a work, then the expression of the idea is not copyrightable because ideas may not be copyrighted."
Bassen said she has already spent thousands of dollars on this case—it cost her $2,000 just to get a response from Zara—but that she has doesn't plan on giving up.
Bassen added that many independent artists can't handle such legal expenses even though having their designs copied takes money directly out of their pockets, and hurts their brand in the long-term. "It has an awful impact on the livelihood of an artist—this is how I support myself, and they are diluting my brand by literally stealing from me. Zara has also stolen the work of Pity Party Corporation, Rosehound Apparel, Mokuyobi Threads, AdamJK, and more," Bassen claimed.
Defending yourself as an independent artist is incredibly difficult. A creative consultant told The Daily Dot that the trademark process can take a long time, and keeping a lawyer on retainer would be "prohibitively expensive for most small brands."
Bassen hopes that if anything positive can come out of this, it's more awareness around the issue. "I hope that one outcome is that I can raise awareness for how often this happens and how few artists can actually afford to pursue it," she said.
Zara did not immediately respond to Complex's request for comment.