Project Runway ended season six with a two part finale and an even bigger controversy.
First, Tim Gunn counsels contestant Irina that using images of Coney Island on her t-shirt, intended as a layering piece in her collection, would be trademark infringement.
Tim advises Irina that she needs to rework the T-shirt "with images that are your own." In part two, Irina shows Tim her revised T-shirt, which is "decorated" with reasons she allegedly loves New York. Tim even quotes one:" 'Reasons to love NY'...is that Madonna is back?"
Here's the Controversy: Bloggers Tom and Lorenzo quickly discover that Irina's reasons to love NY were not her own, but from a 2008 New York Magazine Article, "Reasons To Love New York." A few days later, New York Magazine confirmed that Irina used their words without their permission.
Tim didn't stop her from showing her collection and Lifetime still aired the show, so Irina's conduct is okay, right? UNLIKELY.
The lifted words were printed by New York Magazine and it owns the copyright. This means that no matter how creatively Irina arranged them on a T-shirt, only New York Magazine has the right to use this phrasing. From the post cited above, it does not seem that Irina had New York Magazine's permission.
So why air the finale? Due to the war between Bravo and Lifetime over who had the right to release season six of Project Runway, they certainly had enough time to re-shoot or pull the episode.
Perhaps because the producers and network were unaware of the origins. These seems questionable because in a subsequent interview with Tom and Lorenzo, Irina admits she copied New York Magazine's article, insinuating that the producers of Project Runway were aware of the source. Or perhaps because Irina hasn't actually sold any of her T-shirts, there is no money to recover in a lawsuit and thus no motivation. Or maybe even the PR benefit to New York Magazine outweighs any harm.
But, as a fashion lawyer, I couldn't let this very public copyright controversy pass by without comment. I don't want any of you to become embroiled in a similar controversy.
In sum, taking the work of another without permission will normally get you sued. (and remember there is no such thing as the 30% rule.)