Etsy Artist Sues Frida Kahlo Corporation After They Claim Trademark Infringement
Artisan Nina Shope from Denver, Colo. is suing the Frida Kahlo Corporation (FKC) after her handmade Frida Kahlo dolls were flagged for deactivation. Last week, FKC lodged a trademark infringement claim with the popular e-commerce site Etsy.
Shope is demanding that the corporation ask Etsy to rescind its trademark infringement notice. The lawsuit also names a Panamanian organization related to the corporation, Frida Kahlo Investments, S.A. FKC is registered in Panama and has an office in Florida.
“I don’t believe that artists should be bullied or threatened into abandoning their art, silencing their voices, and stifling their creativity. That is the main reason why I am challenging the FKC’s alleged trademark registration, that has been used as a cudgel not only against me, but against a number of other creators and artists,” Shope wrote in a post on Facebook.
The complaint asserts that the FKC “submitted a false trademark takedown to Etsy claiming that Ms. Shope’s non-infringing use was in fact infringing.”
Shope isn’t the only Etsy artist selling Kahlo-inspired items on the site, a search of “Frida Kahlo” brings up more than 19k results while a search for #fridadoll on Instagram has more than 5K results featuring various artistic renderings.
The rights to Kahlo’s image expired in 2004, 50 years after the beloved Mexican artist and feminist icon died, and Isolda Pinedo Kahlo, the artist’s niece, placed a trademark on the name “Frida Kahlo,” and assigned that trademark to the FKC.
In 2018 the Kahlo family won a temporary injunction against toy manufacturer Mattel, forcing it to cease sales of its doll resembling the artist in Mexico as part of their “Inspiring Women” line.
“I would have liked her to have a unibrow, for her clothes to be made by Mexican artisans. We, the Kahlo family, are the ones who have the rights to all these things,” Mara Cristina Romeo Pinedo, Frida Kahlo’s great-niece and Isolda’s daughter, told the AFP.
The mother and daughter disputed FKC’s rights to the artist’s name and image, demanding a redesign of the Barbie.
Consequently, FKC filed a lawsuit against Romeo Pinedo, alleging that she — who remains a shareholder and director at FKC — became dissatisfied with the group in 2011 and began a campaign to discredit the corporation and take over its role as the licensing agent for commercial products featuring the artist’s name and likeness.
“The Frida Kahlo Corporation actively participated in the process of designing the doll, Mattel has its permission and a legal contract that grants it the rights to make a doll of the great Frida Kahlo,” the company’s statement said.
Unlike Mattel, Shope and the other Etsy shops selling merchandise with her likeness are operating on a creative basis rather than overtly selling items directly connected to Frida or her work.
Shope’s complaint states, “The name of a doll does not violate the Lanham Act [the federal statute for trademarks, service marks, and unfair competition] unless the name has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever, or, if it has some artistic relevance, unless the title explicitly misleads as to the source or the content of the work. Here, neither concern applies.”
“We believe the doll represents a historical figure—you have to be able to say who that historical figure is without violating trademark. This is a brand new problem in the world of law and the world of art.” After having work removed from Etsy “the only way to get it back up is to sue the rights owner,” Rachael Lamkin, Shope’s attorney, told ARTnews.
In a statement to ARTnews, a Frida Kahlo Corporation representative said, “We have made a significant investment in protecting the Frida Kahlo legacy, brand, and trademarks. We are prepared to vigorously defend our intellectual property and trademarks whenever our rights have been violated, and to stop any confusion that may be created in the market by such infringing activity.”
As of the time of publishing this post the handmade dolls are still available for purchase starting at $68 and featuring Frida’s signature unibrow.
Shope, who goes by SnapdragonOriginals on Etsy, launched a website detailing the reasons for the lawsuit, which she calls a “scary but exciting path.”
“I never imagined I would end up in litigation, especially against such a powerful corporation. However, I believe in supporting the rights of artists (especially those of us who are small artisans and craftspeople) to create beautiful and meaningful works of art that honor the legacy of Frida Kahlo. Although my Frida art dolls and hoops are not the totality of my collection (I have many folk-art inspired creations that I will later include on this website), they are a core element of what I create,” she wrote. “I will let you know how the lawsuit progresses, and hopefully the results will free more artists to share their visions with all of us.”