Photog Claims Major Designer Used Her Photo on Clothing Without Permission

Photographer Jessica Nichols‘ most popular photograph on her Flickr account (above left) is titled “Loads of Ranunculus” and has more than 10,000 views. Nichols got a nasty shock a year ago when she discovered that American fashion designer Chris Benz had apparently turned the photo into numerous clothing designs for his Spring 2012 line, without Nichols’ knowing and/or permission. Since July of this year, Nichols has been fighting against the infringement in an attempt to get the designer to pay up.

Here’s a more detailed look at the original photograph:

Two of the designs in the Spring 2012 collection appear to simply be the flowers in the above photograph turned into a repetitive pattern:

The photograph was also used on shoes and extensively in a marketing campaign with Lancome as a women’s bag (which is currently available for purchase on Amazon). Nichols purchased one of the bags for evidence:

Here’s a short video by Chic.TV of NYC Fashion Week 2011 in which the design makes an appearance:

Interestingly enough, as Benz is adjusting some clothing that is allegedly based on Nichols’ photo, he’s asked the question, “Are you struck with inspiration or are you actively looking for it?”. Here’s his response:

I’m always looking, and I think one of the most important things as a designer is to always keep your eyes open and look for inspiration everywhere.

His lawyers are refuting Nichols’ infringement complaint, saying it was inspiration rather than infringement. Nichols writes,

He “gathered inspiration” for his design from sources on the internet, flower shops and street vendors, and while he “is not prepared to say that he absolutely never saw your client’s photograph,” he denies that he copied or manipulated it. In addition, he “respectfully denies” that the fabric is “substantially similar” to my photograph and therefore there is no infringement.

Nichols says that this simply isn’t true:

I believe the photographs speak for themselves about how substantially similar his fabric is to my photograph. My entire photograph is in the fabric! […]

Come on Chris Benz, it is way past time to step up and take responsibility for using my photograph without my permission and without compensation! I know it was exciting for you last week when you tweeted about Sasha Obama wearing one of your skirts on election night, but please take a Twitter break and get in touch with my lawyers.

You can find out more about this story and hear Nichols’ side of things over on her blog post documenting it:

Chris Benz’s Spring 2012 Line [Sweet Eventide Photography]

Update: Reader Kiki the Wonder Mule has created an animated GIF that shows how the original photo was used in the Lancome bag design. Nichols has also added a PayPal donation button to her site in order to collect donations to pay for her growing legal costs.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Thomas!

  • jdm8

    It does look pretty very much like a tessellated version of the photo, many flowers are in the same pattern and the same state of blooming.

  • KK

    Absolutely ridiculous…. That is clearly her photograph!

  • Paul Jay

    Pay up or get sued. She’s got a winning case.

  • Amy Tyler

    I think it’s horrible what this designer did to Jessica Nichols! If you study the fabric you can see that it’s an exact match to her photo. It was outright theft! And the fact that he’s denying it and putting her through this nightmare is unbelievable. Shame on your Mr. Benz.

  • Are you blind!?!

    It’s fairly obvious that the print on the handbag is a direct copy of the photograph, repeated. Chris Benz is without integrity.

  • Sarah

    I don’t know why these big companies and designers think it is ok to steal peoples work without acknowledgement or compensation.

  • Olivia

    Pretty sad when a fellow creative does this to another. Step up to the plate & admit what you did & pay up Chris Benz.

  • harumph

    Or Benz could have simply taken a similar shot himself and used that instead. Lazy and stupid.

  • Libby Stack

    It’s really time to stop robbing from the Flickr people. The thief needs to fess up and pay. The similarities here do not exactly look coincidental.

  • JP

    You can clearly see the image in the Lancôme bag. This is scandalous. I’m sure if someone stole his designs he wouldn’t be best pleased.

  • John Mueller

    Every time I read “inspiration from the internet” I think “stole”

  • Mansgame

    Wow what a jerk. If he looked at the picture and liked the flowers, he could always set up his own floral arrangement and hire a photographer to take the pics. Better yet, ask for permission and pay the original source of the inspiration before doing it.

  • Ivan

    Exactly my thoughts. Spending a SUBSTANTIAL amount of money for creating and promoting new fashion line, while what… trying to save a few bucks on a visit to local flower market with a decent point and shoot camera sounds absolutely ridiculous to me.

  • ZG

    It’s not a good photograph, or even appealing in any way, but it was taken from her.

  • Erin Johnson

    Wow, that was really rude. It must have been good enough for him to steal!

  • Jude McConkey

    ZG you’re not only out of line but inaccurate.. that is a stunning photo of flowers. If “flowers” aren’t your thing, that’s one thing.. but as a professional photographer myself, I can say they are beautifully composed and the photograph is gorgeous.

  • eraserhead12

    “he denies that he copied or manipulated it” –> funny thing about images is, you can overlay them..

    $15 worth of flowers to recreate the shoot, or $$$? for the lawsuit. either way, that print makes for a dang ugly jacket.

  • wickerprints

    When one “creative” does such a thing and dares to deny it despite obvious evidence to the contrary, they don’t have the right to be called that anymore, in my opinion. It calls into question their entire artistic career. Who else did he copy, or rip off, or plagiarize, or steal from? Who else did he do this to in order to get to where he is now? That is what I ask when I see such things happen.

  • Ivan

    Just red his tweet from November 9: “Just found $5 on the street in Richmond, VA. Things are looking up”. Are we expecting the guy to pay for a photograph he needs? Oh well… :(

  • wickerprints

    The irony is that fashion designers go to extraordinary lengths to prevent their fashions from getting into the hands of knockoff manufacturers from China. Mr. Benz, being a “major” designer, certainly must be aware of this concern.

    Here’s what I think will happen: after some public pressure, Mr. Benz will simply claim it was an inadvertent oversight on his part and pay some nominal fee to Ms. Nichols. He’ll get off the hook because today’s share-happy society does not regard photographic copyright infringement to be an issue. Many people mistakenly think that it is “fair use” to steal others’ photos–“if it’s online, it’s free for the taking.” There are entire companies built upon this presumption.

    Photographers are waging a losing battle against an ignorant public for the rightful ownership of their work.

  • Robin B.

    It’s terrible when one artist steals from another. Copyright law exists for a reason.The designer can deny all he wants but the law is on Photographer Jessica Nichols’ side. Shame on you Mr. Benz and get ready to pay up!

  • Dave

    Send him an invoice.

  • Eva Ricci

    As an artist I am shocked that he is not admitting it. As an artist I am shocked that he didn’t have a photo commissioned for this collection instead of using images on the web. As an artist I am shocked that he used low resolution quality to create these garments that he is selling at high price points.

  • letsstoponlinethievesnow

    I’ll bet a dollar to a doughnut that Mr. benz believes he did not steal this work.
    He may be thinking is that because a member of his staff did all the work he’s not responsible. He’ll take all the credit-but has not learned how to take the heat of making a mistake.

    I hope Ms Nichols is victorious. ASMP is a wealth of help in these fights.

  • Ruben Martinez

    Take a look at this, indetex, owner of Zara clothing does this in 2011 a lot of times:

    Sorry the link is in spanish but the photos ara pretty explicit

  • helan29

    another lazy yank with no ideas of his own & has to pinch photos, lets hope this range is a total flop & it will teach him a lesson .. pay up .. & admit you stole it..

  • Heather

    Truly disgraceful. Mr. Benz needs serious lessons in honesty and integrity because he is completely lacking. Jessica, I wish you all the best getting credit and compensation for your beautiful work!

  • Poster

    Ugly dress anyways

  • Violeta Ivanova

    My god, this is ridiculous! I’ve seen these designs everywhere, never thought about the possibility they might be copies of actual photographs. Did Zara get any fines for doing that?


    Pay day! There’s not a court in the world who would side with Scumbag Benz on this. And his lawyers know it too. Expect an out-of-court settlement in the millions for Jessica. (on a personal note, I sometimes wish this would happen to me)

  • eraserhead12

    ironically, Mr. Benz probably thieved the stolen photomanipulation from some low-level intern.

  • eraserhead12

    imo that’s a little more of a grey area, since they’re actual sketches “inspired” by fashion bloggers.

  • Lisa

    I believe the fashion designer used her photo to create his design and I hope she wins her case. However, to play Devil’s Advocate, I’m curious as to whether she actually copyrighted her photo. In America it’s not enough to say “the photographer owns the copyright to all photos taken [by said photographer]”. You actually have to register them with the copyright office. Not to mention there are a lot of other glitches that come along with proving copyright infringement.

    However, the mere fact that David LaChappelle was able to file a suit and get a judgment against Rhianna for copyrighting a video of his (which, IMHO, was a BS lawsuit), then Ms. Nichols should have no problem winning her case.

    It makes me sad that people have to steal others’ artwork, but it’s worse when they don’t fess up when they’re caught. As I said, I hope she wins her case or gets a decent settlement from the guy, but she has a long road ahead of her to prove it.

  • cavale

    Fashion is the worst.

  • Equal rights

    Jude, it’s ZG’s right to say what he wants abotut he photo. It’s his opinion. He can say its not a good photograph, you can say its a stunning photo. Why is he out of line?

  • bob cooley

    Lisa, Sorry, but a little copyright education for you.

    US Code Title 17 (the copyright law) explicitly states that copyright is automatically assigned to the author (paraphrased) when the media is fixed to a medium – which in the case of film would be negatives, or slides – and in the case of digital is the storage device (SD card, CF card, etc.).

    Copyright in the U.S. is owned by the author (photographer in this case) upon creation of the fixed image.

    Registration of copyright with the Copyright office is only required if the author is going to enter into litigation over their copyright. So the image is ABSOLUTELY copyrighted by the author, she just must now register it before taking the case to litigation. The Copyright office even has expedited service for this (you just have to pay an extra fee to get your file pushed further to the front of the Copyright office pile).

    I agree that this is a horrible case of theft, but her copyright standing is solid. Getting a settlement on the other-hand is a more difficult matter…

  • bob cooley

    I am in total agreement that this is a ripoff- and easily provable.

    Litigating this is a little more difficult. Before being able to receive damages for copyright infringement, the photographer has to prove that they have lost income because of the infringement (and not just “if the infringer would have purchased the image instead of stealing it”), Copyright cases are never ‘open and shut’ – even if one party is 100% in the right, it’s still very tedious and expensive to litigate, and you often have to out-spend the person you are suing to keep the case alive (a wealthy company can simply beat you through attrition).

    The bright side of coming out on the winning end of these cases is that in copyright cases, the infringer must also pay for your legal fees if you are able to successfully win your case.

    I’m not trying to be discouraging, but I’ve been on the ‘infringed’ end of a few cases, and they tend to be very difficult to win (I’ve won 2, and lost 1 when the infringer was a huge company that buried me in paperwork and legal fees – in the end, it just wasn’t worth pursuing).

    I wish Jessica (sincere) luck, and hope she is able to see this through to victory.

  • Albert Zablit

    lazy capitalism.

  • Canning1

    “Inspiration” rather than misappropriation of someone else’s intellectual property. Good luck with that one. I’d say the flowers would be as good as a finger print. How could anyone replicate the intricacies of petals etc? If the print fits the photo then the case should be proved beyond any doubt.

  • SaintSuelle

    wow… blatant ‘drag-n-drop’ lifting of someone else’s creative work plaster as a pattern in fabric media… and disavowing any compensation for usage/credit, etc.

  • On His Head

    What is a professional photographer doing on Flickr in the first place? No business sense?

  • Jessica Nichols

    “when the infringer was a huge company that buried me in paperwork and legal fees” — exactly why I still haven’t decided to proceed with litigation to this day. Lancôme and Saks are each multi-billion dollar companies.