Blog / 2020 / Making Space for Reconciliation: Kate Powell’s Celebration of a Brand She Adores

February 13, 2020

What happened:

Artist Kate Powell made a still life drawing of one of the simple pleasures in her life and listed the piece in her Etsy shop with this description:

“For lovers and morning creatives, our morning coffee ritual of organic press pot coffee with ginger and brown sugar and milk in our colorful ®Fiestaware. What’s your favorite wake me up drink?”

Kate Powell’s watercolor of a French press full of coffee and some colorful mugs
Kate Powell’s art

HLC Holding, Inc contacted Etsy and claimed this artwork infringed on its trademark. (The Homer Laughlin China Company manufactures and markets the Fiesta dinnerware line.) Etsy immediately capitulated and removed Kate’s listing. The artist is now left trying to get Homer Laughlin’s lawyers to respond to her, and so far this is all she’s gotten:

“You were using a federally registered trademark, FIESTA, to market and sell artwork. You do not have a license or permission to use the trademark.”

Anybody who isn’t an intellectual property troll combing the internet for original art that refers to their clients’ trademarked material understands why it’s not Kate but instead this lawyer who is harming Homer Laughlin’s brand.

The problem is that no one but this lawyer can help Kate get her artwork back on Etsy—this time without the term “Fiestaware” in the description. She now has a black mark on her Etsy account, an artwork that she will have to try to sell elsewhere, and a bad taste in her mouth when it comes to some mugs she used to love.

Why this matters so much:

This story is remarkably common. The players may be different—it could be Nina Shope with Frida Kahlo Corporation or me with TED or every artist who’s ever tried to sell images on a POD site—but companies are wasting artists’ time and damaging their brands like there’s no tomorrow. They’re doing this despite the fact that the fix is remarkably simple.

Pay lawyers to do more than attack. Pay them to search for reconciliation. And don’t tell me you don’t have the funds necessary for making our legal system a little less adversarial. If you have enough money to pick on independent artists, then you have enough money to find real solutions.

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