Azerbaijani artist Faig Ahmed has accused Topshop of plagiarism after discovering a T-shirt on the company’s website printed with an image that resembles his signature artworks. Ahmed, who exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale, is known for his handwoven carpets that feature digitally distorted versions of traditional designs; a gray top on Topshop’s men’s fashion store, now out-of-stock, also features a rug warped in a similar fashion. Available only in Europe, the shirt originally had a price tag of £25.00 (~$32) before dropping to a sale price of £15.00 (~$20).
Ahmed’s studio and his Italian gallery Montoro12 have reached out to Topman but say that its service manager has refused to provide the contact to its legal counsel. The company has essentially dismissed the issue, blaming its supplier, Globe, and neglecting further discussion, according to Nina Levent of Sapar Contemporary, which represents Ahmed. The artist’s team would naturally like to pursue charges, but legal options are very limited.
“I’m not surprised [about the shirt], as plagiarism is a very common practice among such big companies,” Ahmed told Hyperallergic. “But unfortunately, the international judicial settlement costs a lot of money, and not every artist for this reason can defend their rights. One of the main points in my art is that I’m not doing it for the commercial purposes.
“I have received various invitations to collaborate with designers and large companies, but I always refuse direct involvement in the production of mass products since this contradicts the very principle of art.”
The Baku-based artist first found out about the shirt in early July when he received a Facebook message from someone asking if he had collaborated with Topshop. He does not know how long it has been on sale — and, although currently unavailable online, the item may be on racks in European stores or may even be restocked. While frustrated at Topshop’s dismissiveness, Ahmed’s initial reaction was actually disappointment as the allegedly rip-off design isn’t even cleanly executed.
“The copy was made in a very unprofessional manner,” Ahmed said. “If you will look at their design closely, you can immediately see a huge number of defects and inaccuracies.” The case is particularly aggravating as Ahmed typically donates half of the proceeds he receives from any awards or public commissions to support local artists and other charitable causes, according to Levent. He once sent one of his carpets to a 19-year-old barista who had expressed how much his girlfriend liked his work but did not have the money to gift her with one.
Ahmed’s complaint emerges the same month that over 40 artists and designers condemned Zara for stealing their designs of pins and patches. The fashion brand had responded, stating that the artists’ designs had a “lack of distinctiveness.” While those artists refuse to back down just as he intends to pursue his case, Ahmed believes such thefts will continue to emerge as companies continue to take advantage of their ability to play Goliath.
“Of course, this affects the reputation of any artist,” Ahmed said. “This gives a bad example to other large companies; they just can follow the path taken by Topshop … Since these companies have enormous financial opportunities, and recognizing the fact that the world is governed by big money, it seems to me that this was not the last case of unauthorized use.”