Home Others James Charles: Copycat or Copyright Lawsuit Emerging?

James Charles: Copycat or Copyright Lawsuit Emerging?

19th October 2020

Mona Mosavi

  1. The controversy

James Charles is no stranger to online criticism. The 21-year-old media sensation first rose to fame as a YouTube beauty vlogger and is now a makeup mogul with his own makeup line for Morphe Cosmetics. [1] None of this came without controversy, especially last year when James accused Wet N ’Wild of ripping off his Morphe eyeshadow palette. [two] Recently, Teddy Fresh brand accused James of ripping off the sweatshirt designs of Hila Klein, one half of Youtube duo H3H3. [3] Both James and Hila designed sweatshirts with color blocking and released them this year, leading to the following allegations against James. [4]

In an intricate Twitter exchange, Ethan Klein, Hila's husband, stated, I know we didn't invent color blocking, but I'm having a hard time with the new James Charles merch, it's exactly the same design as Hila's. Combined with the fact that his audience is so large, a lot of people will assume he designed it and accuse us of plagiarism…. [5] In fact, in direct messages between James and Ethan, James went so far as to say, Oof, if I take a closer look at the screenshot you just sent me, I'll point out that one of the color variations we're making is actually one exact copy is of the purple Tan Pink & Teal hoodie you have ... but then he pulls back and says, I can only tell you that I've never shopped on your website before, so I haven't copied your brand. [6] Fans defended both James and Hila, with some saying color blocking was a common pattern while others claimed that James was clearly stealing his opponent's designs. [7]

  1. Is there a remedy?

The Kleins may have a legal claim against James Charles, especially given the recent Supreme Court ruling Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc . [8] According to the Copyright Act of 1976, a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work is protected by copyright if it is an original work of authorship that is fixed in a material means of expression. [9] While clothing has traditionally not been copyrighted, clothing designs can be copyrighted. Under Star Athletica , the court ruled that fashion Designs , as a work of authorship, can be protected by copyright if: (1) the clothing can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the commodity, and (2) if the design could be considered a protectable pictorial, graphic or sculptural work, either on its own or fixed in a tangible means of expression. [10]

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Assuming Hila owns a copyright, her color blocking can be considered copyrighted if it is enough for both prongs. On the one hand, the color-blocking design can be easily separated from the useful article, the hoodie. It has a distinctive pattern and a clear color scheme that was clearly coordinated and consciously chosen by the artist. The Twitter exchange between James and Ethan shows this, as Ethan even goes so far as to show that his wife has been creating this design since 2017. [elf] Second, color blocking can be considered a work of art by itself if it were pasted onto a canvas. Hence, the fashion design is likely to be protected by copyright.

Still, James may argue that the Klein's design wasn't original enough to be eligible for copyright, especially because that design could be considered generic. Many of his fans have been spotted on Twitter coming in his defense for that very reason. [12] Additionally, James alluded to this in his Twitter exchange with Ethan: I designed the pastel-colored [hoodie] based on the Nike hoodie ... and implied that even if he copied someone's design, it was generic enough to not be copyrighted to be protected. [13] Even so, James can still be in hot water because Star Athletica found a simple, angular, two-tone cheerleading apparel design that is copyrighted. [14] Assuming the Kleins own copyright to their design, James could potentially face a lawsuit for infringement of their artistic work.

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For reference, the first picture is Hila Klein's design. The second picture is the design by James Charles.

[1] Sara Spellings and Kathleen Hou, Who is James Charles? , The Cut (13. Mai 2019), https://www.thecut.com/2019/05/who-is-james-charles-beauty-youtuber.html.

[two] Sandra Lied, James Charles is accused of tearing down merch designs from another YouTuber , Paper (19. September 2020), https://www.papermag.com/james-James-h3h3-2647713730.html?rebelltitem=22#rebelltitem22.

[3] Margot Harris, B Beauty guru James Charles is accused of stealing clothing designs from Youtubers Ethan and Hila Klein , Insider (21.09.2020), https://www.insider.com/james-James-accused-stealing-merch-designs-by-ethan-klein-2020-9.

[4] I would.

[5] I would.

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[6] I would.

[7] Sandra Lied, James Charles is accused of tearing down merch designs from another YouTuber , Paper (19. September 2020), https://www.papermag.com/james-James-h3h3-2647713730.html?rebelltitem=22#rebelltitem22.

[8] Star Athletica, L.L.C. gegen Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 U.S. 1002 (2017).

[9] 17 U.S.C. § 101.

[10] Star Athletica, L.L.C. gegen Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 U.S. 1002 (2017).

[elf] Margot Harris, B Beauty guru James Charles is accused of stealing clothing designs from Youtubers Ethan and Hila Klein , Insider (21.09.2020), https://www.insider.com/james-James-accused-stealing-merch-designs-by-ethan-klein-2020-9.

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[12] I would.

[13] I would.

[14] See Star Athletica, L.L.C. gegen Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 U.S. 1002, 1016 (2017).

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