"Monday morning I received an email from a woman who keeps track of as many rip offs as she can find," illustrator and artist Lisa Congdon tells Yahoo Shine. The email contained a photo of Congdon's Nordic-themed drawings of reindeer, polar bears and other animals, alongside Cody Foster's look-a-like baubles. The details are the same down to the intricate patterns on the beasts' saddle blankets. "It made my stomach turn. It was pretty obvious it was a blatant copy," says Congdon.
A quick Internet search revealed she was just one of the many artists accusing the knick-knack giant—whose items have been sold by Anthropologie, Madewell, Nordstrom, Fred Flare, as well as many smaller retailers—of swiping their work. "It's a completely dishonest way of doing business and they don't deserve a penny of what they'll have earned over the years from the talented artists they've stolen from," says Abigail Brown, a British artist who also recently discovered her work had been copied without being licensed. Brown tells Yahoo Shine that a few years ago, she saw knock-offs of another artist's work being sold "in shops all across the U.S. for a few dollars each with 'Made in China' tags stuck on the bottom." She describes the artist as "heartbroken." She adds, "Turns out, this is the same company that did that."
The whistleblower (who prefers not to be named) alerted both Congdon and Brown after keeping her eye on Cody Foster since 2010. She's compiled a flickr site comparing the artisans' items with photos she's been able to obtain from the Cody Foster wholesale catalog (which is only available to retailers). "My goal is to educate buyers, makers, sellers, and others to the laws of copyright in the digital age," she tells Yahoo Shine. "People seem to think lines of ownership are blurred now that it's so easy to share images on Facebook and Pinterest, but an artists' intellectual property is always their own unless they express otherwise."
The artists Yahoo Shine spoke to point out that they have to charge significantly more money for their handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items to simply keep afloat financially, compared to a company like Cody Foster that mass produces goods in cheap factories abroad.
Another artist, Cassandra Smith, says it's particularly galling that Cody Foster presents itself as a mom and pop operation. "They market themselves as this small, hometown little company," she tells Yahoo Shine. The company did not respond to Shine's request for comment, but their website reads, "Starting with holiday ornaments—and with the support of my mom as my business partner—I started our company while still in high school…Cody Foster & Co. has grown and prospered over the years but we remain a small, family-run business and retain our small-town roots."
The company's catalog is closed to the public, their blog and twitter feed are also accessed by subscription only. According to the whistleblower, Cody Foster became virtually opaque three years ago after she began to post pictures of the items that resembled the work of the artists, identifying the possible rip-offs, and some artists began sharing the information via social media.
Smith paints deer antlers, transforming them into wall art, and says she was stunned to discover Cody and Foster's miniature antler ornaments "used the exact same patterns, colors, and everything…It's so bizarre they didn't change a thing," she says. Smith thinks it's obvious copyright infringement and has contacted a lawyer. While Congdon is also proceeding with legal action, she says that she's not in it for the money. "My main goal is to expose them." She adds that for many artists, who are living on a shoestring budget, pursuing a major company is simply impossible. "Its just not worth the stress or the financial commitment." Congdon's blog about the alleged rip off has received over 12,000 likes on Facebook, and she, clearly, is not discouraged.