Californian court orders H&M to pay for copying Unicolors' fabric

A jury in California has awarded Unicolors almost $850,000 in its copyright suit against H&M, finding after a trial that the fast fashion giant willfully infringed on the LA-based textile company's fabric pattern.

Unicolors (left); H&M (right)

Unicolors brought the lawsuit in California federal court in April of last year. The Vernon, CA-based textile manufacturer claimed H&M copied its protected pattern for both a skirt and a jacket. A day long trial before a jury resulted in Unicolors being awarded a verdict for $846,720.

While H&M is no stranger to being accused of copyright infringement, Unicolors sits on the opposite end of the spectrum as an entity some are calling a copyright troll. ("Copyright troll" is a spinoff of patent troll, the derogatory classification given to someone who is a registered owner of a patent who pursues frequent legal action to protect their patent far beyond the reasonable market value or significance of the intellectual property.)

To that end, Unicolors filed about 100 similar lawsuits last year alleging copyright infringement of its fabric pattern. Defendants included Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Zara, and Ivanka Trump. While retailers occasionally fall victim to copying inspiration too closely, Unicolors has been accused by opposing parties of "legalized extortion."

Despite the harsh words exchanged in legal disputes, very few of these copyright cases go to trial due to expense. It is often more convenient for a company that gets sued to settle.

The recent Unicolors suit against Urban Outfitters was one of the few that went to trial. Urban Outfitters prevailed and was able to show there was no infringement.

The H&M trial had a different result. It revealed that a jury believed H&M had access to the Unicolors fabric design, likely through a converter or shared factory. The jury then agreed with Unicolors that H&M copied their fabric.

While an $850,000 settlement and accompanying legal fees is not going to significantly impact H&M's multi-billion dollar business, the verdict sets an interesting precedent as far as what American juries are willing to tolerate in fashion copyright cases. It will be interesting to see whether H&M appeals the decision or whether it will accept the trial court's verdict.

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