lawsuits | Mar 28, 2024 |
Kim Kardashian and her designers are sued over alleged knockoffs

Another knockoff controversy—this one with serious star power. Earlier this week the estate of artist Donald Judd sued Kim Kardashian and AD100 firm Clements Design. The complaint alleges that mother-and-son team Kathleen and Tommy Clements produced a copy of Judd’s La Mansana Table and Chair 84 for the offices of Kardashian’s company, Skkn by Kim—and that in a video about the office’s design, the celebrity claimed the pieces were authentic.

“As an artist’s foundation, our primary mission is to protect and preserve his work,” Rainer Judd, president of Judd Foundation and daughter of the late artist, said in the complaint. “Ms. Kardashian’s furniture is irrefutably fake. The existence of inauthentic furniture undermines the integrity of his original work, which includes specifications of design, craftsmanship and materials. … If creators’ works can simply be usurped with no repercussions and exploited by other people, what will be the protection for artists and designers to further create in the future?”

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in California, details a back-and-forth between the Judd Foundation, Clements Design and Kardashian that stretches back to August 2022, when the video was originally posted. In it, Kardashian gives viewers a tour of the offices and, pausing at the long, minimalist table, says: “If you guys are furniture people, and I’ve gotten really into furniture lately, these Donald Judd tables are amazing.”

Soon after the video went online, the Judd Foundation reached out to Kardashian, asking her to remove it. Since the suit was filed, the video has been made private, though the complaint alleges that it was viewed 3.7 million times before then. The foundation also claims that it tried to resolve the matter with both parties through counsel “for several months” but that no attempt was made by either party to correct the “misstatements” or recycle “the fake furniture.”

In a statement, Clements Design said there were “obvious key differences” between its furniture and Judd’s work and that the firm was “blindsided” by the lawsuit. (The claim also mentions a second AD100 designer, Waldo Fernandez, who collaborated on the design and is mentioned by Kardashian in the video but is not named as a defendant.)

In the lawsuit, the Judd Foundation counsel includes copies of Clements Design’s proposal to Kardashian, listing dining tables and chairs “in the style of Donald Judd” alongside images of the La Mansana Table and Chair 84. The document specifies that the furniture would be made in plywood, a material that the foundation claims the artist wouldn’t have used for the pieces.

The controversy taps into a long-running design industry conversation about knockoffs and authenticity—a subject that has produced heated debate and some notable accusations in recent years. (The anonymous poster behind copycat-callout account Design Within Copy emerged from a long hibernation to post about Kardashian’s table.)

The reality star’s fame has catapulted the issue into the froth of pop culture discourse. Media outlets ranging from TMZ to The Daily Beast have covered the lawsuit, and commenters have taken to posting on Clements Design’s Instagram account, calling out the duo for copying Judd’s designs. In the court of public opinion, the Judd Foundation might already have won. But the lawsuit itself may face significant challenges.

According to David Adler, a lawyer who specializes in design industry intellectual property, many of the claims rest on shaky legal ground.

For example, though the foundation points out that a copyrighted photo was used as inspiration for the alleged knockoffs, the furniture pieces themselves do not have a registered copyright or trademark. Much of their case rests on the claim that the table and chairs are protected by “trade dress,” a weaker legal framework sometimes granted to products that have a distinct visual appearance.

Moreover, Adler points out, though the incident may be infuriating for Judd’s heirs, it’s difficult to pinpoint what commercial damage Kardashian has caused by referring to a knockoff as the genuine article. “I think [the foundation] has a long row to hoe,” adds the attorney. “This sure looks bad and unfair, but it’s not necessarily illegal.”

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