Woolworths fights back in hummingbird row

Woolworths fights back in hummingbird row

2013-10-22 12:37

Cape Town - The buzz about a Cape Town artist's claims that Woolworths [JSE:WHL] stole her design of a hummingbird continues, with the retailer having entered the debate on Tuesday.

Euodia Roets, an artist, illustrator and designer for Touchee Feelee whose art and products have been sold across South Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, Canada and the US, turned to the internet to accuse Woolworths of stealing her design of a hummingbird by using a similar design on one of its scatter cushions.

"This isn’t going to be a happy post, because what’s happened has left me very, very sad," Roets said in her blog post on October 18.

Roets said she had met with Woolworths representatives over a period of months and showed them some of her designs.

Apparently price turned out to be the deciding factor which made Roets decide not to enter into an agreement with Woolworths.

The issue was hotly debated on social media since the weekend. Even photographers joined the debate by complaining about how their photographs are often used by artisans for their designs, but without acknowledgement.

Even in the Roets case, she admits that her design was painted in 2012 from a photograph by RW Scott. It clearly says on Scott's website that the photographs in his range are copyrighted.

“The use of birds and hummingbirds is a global trend which inspired our design,” said Brett Kaplan, managing director of clothing and general merchandise at Woolworths in response to a query by Fin24.
“Images and photographs of hummingbirds in flight in a similar pose are common, hence the resemblance of the designs. It has inspired retailers all over the world, including South Africa.”

Fin24 found examples of the trend on the website of Etsy, a global retailer of independent designers, for instance.

The process

In a radio interview with John Robbie of 702, Woolworths CEO Ian Moir said Woolworths did not steal Roets' design.

"Everything [about our dealings with Roets] is documented. I can see the whole process [on paper] and I am absolutely confident we did not steal Roets’ idea," Moir told Robbie.

"Hummingbirds have been around for a long time. In 2011 we already had a hummingbird on one of our plates. We even wanted Roets to come in and speak to the artist who prepared our hummingbird design."

Kaplan told Fin24 Woolworths had commissioned a Durban artist at Republic Umbrella to interpret this trend in August 2012 and signed off the design in November 2012 for its range of summer cushions this season.

“We develop new cushions every summer,” he said.
“We only met Euodia Roets many months later when we saw her work at a market in January this year. We consider her a talented artist for which we are always on the look-out.”

He said Woolworths met Roets in an attempt to include her as one of its suppliers and considered some of her work for its artisanal range, which supports local artists.

“We viewed a wide range of her work, one of which was a hummingbird,” said Kaplan.
“We currently support 17 designers through the artisanal range. This is a very small part of our business, which we do largely to support local talent.”

He said while Woolworths supports the artists by providing advice on how to commercialise their work, it does make it clear that it can only use their designs if it is commercially viable for Woolworths and the artist.
“Woolworths has a proud tradition of supporting local artists and entrepreneurs and helping create sustainable and profitable businesses,” said Kaplan.
“This is a rather unfortunate turn of events. I have tried since Friday to engage with Ms Roets. We concede that our communication with Ms Roets could have been handled better.

“Woolworths goes through a rigorous process to ensure commercial viability. We have to understand all the cost involved and we try hard to structure a fair deal for artists,” Kaplan told Fin24.
“Regrettably, we could not find a workable model that made financial sense with Ms Roets. We therefore did not pursue the opportunity further with her. This is a rather unfortunate turn of events. We hope to meet Ms Roets to discuss this issue.”

This is the design by Roets:

Trading with Woolworths

Nicole Kingston of Pret-a-pot has been supplying ceramic products to Woolworths for the past 30 years.

“I have built up a relationship of trust with the team I work with there,” she told Fin24.

“From my personal point of view, I think entrepreneurs should understand that getting a product on their shelves is not a quick process. Understand how the system works. It is not about taking a product to them one month and the next month it is on the shelves.”

She said the Woolworths range a product is developed for, would also determine what the price paid to the artist would be, since certain ranges have higher prices.
“Sometimes price points are key. They do drive a hard bargain and ultimately it is what clients want that dictates how the buyers operate,” said Kingston.

She said it was also not the case of all her products always being accepted. Some were rejected over the years.

“Entrepreneurs should understand that if other similar products come out it might be that something is trending. A design of butterflies is an example,” she said.

“From my personal experience I would say look at the whole picture. Be pragmatic about it. It is expensive to copyright everything so maybe at least have a confidentiality document drawn up.”

Taking Woolworths to task

Last year Woolworths decided to withdraw a soft drink range from its shelves after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled the "Good Old Fashioned" phrase must be removed from the labels of its vintage soda range.

This followed a complaint lodged by the owner of KwaZulu-Natal based company Frankie's. The owner of Frankie's claimed that Woolworths had copied its product line after it approached the retailer about selling the product in its stores.

- Fin24

  • reggie.reginald.3110 - 2013-10-22 13:05

    Woolworths are old thieves in that they steal your ideas and their rebates make supplying them not viable to the small man

      Foc Us - 2013-10-22 14:45

      I will deal 10x rather with Woolworths than Pick n Pay .... their main is to drive their suppliers out of business!!

      Riaan Le Roux - 2013-10-22 14:52

      all the more reason NOT to shop at them!!

      Timothy Whyte - 2013-10-22 20:50

      Along with their BEEEEE and AAAAAAAA policies,,,,, no thanks,,,Ill shop elsewhere

      Helio Alvaro De Abreu - 2013-10-22 22:06

      I stopped buying at Woolies when the racism started.

  • Douglas James Gass - 2013-10-22 13:07

    Woolworths designers are brought samples to copy all the the time, Mr Price and almost every other big brand do the same... it's nothing new, it's not going to change, it's technically legal if it's been altered by more than 20%. At least Ms Roet's has gotten some exposure for herself out of this.

      Tasneem Sattar - 2013-10-22 13:33

      probably true, but then why pretend like thats not what happened...just because some injustice is prevalent doesn't make it right...80% of politicians are corrupt, should we just allow them to continue unchecked, rollover and play dead cos its unlikely to change.

      Douglas James Gass - 2013-10-22 14:41

      Tasmeen, comparing corrupt politicians in a "democratic" system to the way a large "capitalist" retailer operates is like comparing apples and oranges! The solution to both however: If you don't agree with the way Woolworths does business, don't buy from them. Politicians will continue to be corrupt because WE THE PEOPLE raise them, they come from our communities and are a reflection of them.

      Tasneem Sattar - 2013-10-22 15:10

      the point was you don't turn a blind eye to injustice just cos its prevalent or common practice

  • Michael Williams - 2013-10-22 13:16

    Euodia Roets drew a humming bird that looks pretty similar to all humming bird pictures i have seen? They could've ripped it off from someone else's drawing that AGAIN looked the same as every friggen humming bird picture i have seen. Stupid pointless moaning. Unlike Unlike Unlike

      Chris Gill - 2013-10-22 13:33

      Read her whole story before you comment, it was about much more than just the hummingbird design.

      Michael - 2013-10-22 13:45

      I read the story, and yes they were d!ks to her, but the point is they wanted a humming bird, and shes angry they didnt pick hers, but because the one they picked also looked like a humming bird (surprise!) , she claims it was hers (which she stole anyway from someone else).

  • Ronald Gibson - 2013-10-22 13:17

    Woolies seem to have a short memory. What about the carpenter that received back his sample tables covered with shipping bills to and from China, to then find his designs in Woolies made in, you guessed it, China? And the lady from the Hermanus area that submitted her skin care products with the full ingredient list as insisted for by Woolies, to just have the ingredients and designs copied and in the shops before she even received her samples back? And they think that they can lure disappointed consumers back by advertising that they will soon drop their prices by 30%? I don't think so.

      Tasneem Sattar - 2013-10-22 13:36

      ...and there was that soft drink issue too not so long ago...Frankie's Soft Drink or whatever it was.

      Chris Clark - 2013-10-22 15:32

      and all the fresh produce from Kenya .

  • Arcadia Jane - 2013-10-22 13:18

    Sorry folks but this happens all over the place. There have been many artists etc where content was copied or used wrongly. This design is not an exact copy of her work. The colours are different and the wings are in a different shape - if anyone should be unhappy its R. W. Scott who has copyright on the original image - so for ms Euodia Roets to complain is bollocks - she used someone else's image to create something to sell. Copyright law says you cant take someone els'e image miss Euodia to make money off it without paying the original image creator a fee. So stop whining and go away!

      Michael - 2013-10-22 13:21


      Tasneem Sattar - 2013-10-22 13:37

      yes, power to the corporates, screw the man on the street...whining good for nothings!!

      Tasneem Sattar - 2013-10-22 13:42

      wish people would also stop whining about drugs - all the cool kids are doing it; politicians - most are corrupt, just let them be; crime - so many are into it... nothing new

      Michael - 2013-10-22 13:42

      @Tasneem Power to Euodia Roets, the girl who stole a design from someone else and tried to sell it to woolies! Yeah thats fair!

      Tasneem Sattar - 2013-10-22 13:43

      dunno why everyone was so upset about the chlorinated chicken situation at Pick n Pay either, been done for years, and besides all the chains do the same...bloody whingers

      Tasneem Sattar - 2013-10-22 13:46

      as for e-tolls, well toll roads are found the world over, so just pay up...politicians are only trying to make ends meet

      Tasneem Sattar - 2013-10-22 14:00

      mike, if this was an isolated incident i might be inclined to agree, but its not, its a clear pattern with them and many (not all) of the big retail chains (especially if there was someone with a claim against Roets, as far as i know there isn't, so thats another debate). Would it really cost that much for a big chain like woolies to remunerate an individual who's idea/design they've used? using the 'Roets "stole" the idea from someone else too' argument is also weak...so if Roets stole it then its ok for everyone down the line to do the same? if Roets used someone else's design, then the same applies to her.

  • ProfAndyZulu - 2013-10-22 13:25

    Have followed this. Under all that glamorous, caring, goody-two-shoes façade, Woolworths are nothing more than a bunch of dog-eat-dog plagiarists and crooks. They have done it before and they will do it again and always pretend to be the good guys.

  • Johnny Comments - 2013-10-22 13:46

    Big Corporates operate like this, nothing new. It is on the person engaging with them to have a contract, documents of the engagement etc etc to cover themselves in a case like this. Sad,but true. Also, apparently changing the design with 17 differences makes it a new design and not applicable for a copyright infringement. The problem for me is that new designers need "a break" and big companies like woolies know this. This creates either an opening for exploitation or the death/hesitance of new people entering an industry. Either way the monopoly remains with the big corporates.

  • Helena Rissik - 2013-10-22 13:49

    Big corporate companies are the same worldwide and unfortunately going to the effort of trademarking a design won't help. The designs of the hummingbird has been altered sufficiently to side step the designer's intellectual rights. Moral of the story: as a designer, don't become a sellout. As a consumer, stop being a sheep and buy bespoke goods from small businesses who support designers, or buy directly from the designer.

  • Chris Stuart - 2013-10-22 14:01

    Not the first time that Woolies are the thieves in a story. I think I've had enough of them and will rather close my account with them.

  • Barbara Hadjiapostolou - 2013-10-22 14:18

    not exactly an upmarket design. I would not purchase the cushions anyway.

  • Ahmed Sader - 2013-10-22 14:28

    they also claimed during Frankes episode to be "innocent". They are the Mafia of the retail industry. Shame on you for pulling the "Woolies" over our eyes

  • Nick Steen - 2013-10-22 15:19

    Woolworths would have more credibility if their homeware department didn't also have thinly disguised copies of overseas designs from West Elm, Vera Wang, John Lewis etc. This is not an isolated incident, it is part of an epidemic of plagiarism

  • Chris Clark - 2013-10-22 15:30

    Nasty types , not dinner party guests

  • Telri Stoop - 2013-10-22 15:32

    I support Euodia Roets, one should speak up when big corporates run over independent designers. She did what was right.

  • Mike Purchase - 2013-10-22 15:33

    Im not surprised!

  • Ian Barton - 2013-10-22 15:47

    I had better be carful about what I say as someone very close to me knows what goes on only too well. Why do you think they send buyers all over the world - to have a nice time? No they actually come back with ideas and trends and COPY THEM! Go check the shelves in the food stores and compare so original and knock-off products.

  • Ian Barton - 2013-10-22 15:54

    Yes big corporates do it all the time BUT IT DOESNT MAKE IT RIGHT! I know supplier to WW for 17 years was told sorry we don't need you anymore we are giving your work to our Chinese friends! What's that about WW caring for the suppliers. They don't give a toss!

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