Marks & Spencer in copyright storm over wall-frame design


A UK designer is facing a battle with high street chain Marks & Spencer after she accused the store of copying her design in its range of framed wall prints.

Louise Verity, who runs independent art businesses Bookishly, says M&S is selling nearly identical designs to hers.

The designs, which have large messages printed on top of old pages from dictionaries, have been sold by Verity since 2009.

The 31-year-old says M&S, which sells the products both online and in store, is using a similar font and placing the slogans in the same position.

After seeing the M&S products in November last year, Verity asked for legal advice from a lawyer, who wrote to the retailer suggesting that it was in breach of copyright.

In response, M&S’s legal representatives said they did not believe the retailer was infringing copyright.

Verity told WIPR: “M&S keeps saying that I don’t own and cannot claim rights on the idea and that the style is an established design practice, but I never claimed the concept was my idea.

“The problem I have is that it’s a very distinct style and I use the same font in everything I do. The M&S product uses the same font and the layout looks like one of mine.”

Phil Sherrell, partner at Bird & Bird LLP in London, said disputes involving the alleged copying of art are hard for courts to resolve.

“Mrs Verity will feel that a 'Goliath' has stolen her idea, whereas M&S will no doubt argue that superimposing new text on existing printed pages is just a high level concept that is too broad to be protected,” Sherrell said.

“In practice the question of access will be very important – if M&S can be shown to have looked at Mrs Verity's works first and then come up with its own version then it may struggle to get a judge's sympathy."

Verity continued: “I have around 40 stockists and exhibits at trade shows around the country, so it’s definitely possible [that M&S had seen the product].”

Sherrell added that while Verity may feel daunted at the prospect of taking on M&S due to costs involved, the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court may offer “some comfort”.

“The level of costs for which the losing party can potentially be liable is strictly capped at £50,000 and awards are often a lot smaller, but even that level of risk will be outside the comfort zone of many," Sherrell said.

Verity added: “It’s difficult for a company of my size to pursue it further because of the expense attached to it. The next stage seems hugely expensive.”

A spokesperson for M&S told WIPR that it takes claims of IP infringement “extremely” seriously.

“We’ve investigated this thoroughly and determined that the technique of overlaying text on print is a common design practice. We’ve already been in touch with Bookishly directly and we’re happy to follow up with them if they have any further questions.”

Copyright, Marks & Spencer, infringement, louise verity