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CASETiFY sued over copyright controversy: How brands can better champion originality

CASETiFY sued over copyright controversy: How brands can better champion originality

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CASETiFY has defended itself after device skin company Dbrand and YouTuber Zack Nelson, also known as "JerryRigEverything", filed a federal lawsuit against CASETiFY for allegedly copying the designs of its Teardown products. 

The Teardown skins and cases, were co-created by Dbrand and Nelson back in 2019. Nelson said in a YouTube video last Friday that he and Dbrand “went to extreme lengths to ensure that every Teardown skin is an accurate representation” of the inside of each device. 

However, the collaborators said CASETiFY allegedly stole their Teardown designs and launched its “Inside Out” product line. Within the video, Nelson claimed that the print quality of CASETiFY's Inside Out cases is “extraordinarily subpar”, with Dbrand’s logo appearing on a CASETiFY case.  

He also said the cases have a replicated version of a label found on Teardown products that features Nelson's catchphrase "glass is glass, and glass breaks.” Within the lawsuit that was filed in a Toronto court, Dbrand accused CASETiFY of infringing upon its copyrighted works with 45 Inside Out products.

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, CASETiFY said it has always been a bastion of originality, and it holds pride in that. The company is currently investigating a copyright allegation against it. It has immediately removed the design in question from all platforms.

“We are also investigating a DDOS attack that disrupted our website around the time the allegation surfaced. All systems are back to normal. All customer information is safe. We thank you for all your encouraging messages during this challenging time!” the statement read.  

Social sentiments 

The legal dispute between Dbrand and CASETiFY has generated significant media attention, with over 80,000 mentions over the past seven days, according to media intelligence firm CARMA. Among the various social media platforms, X (formerly Twitter) stood out as the platform generating the most mentions. Netizens flocked to Dbrand and Nelson's official X page to express their support and address CASETiFY's response and behaviour. 

Many believed one of the strongest pieces of evidence pointing to CASETiFY's design theft was the presence of Nelson's catchphrase, "Glass is glass and glass breaks," on CASETiFY's product, said Charles Cheung, CARMA’s HK GM. Additionally, some individuals highlighted that CASETiFY's claim of a DDoS attack was essentially just a large influx of people visiting their website. 

Meanwhile, social monitoring firm Meltwater saw over 5.33k mentions related to the incident over the past four days, with 33.4% negative and 8.4% positive sentiments across APAC social platforms. In Hong Kong, there have been 48.1% negative and 17.1% positive sentiments online.

CASETiFY's response might be seen as a desperate attempt to save the brand reputation, but it also suggests misses along the process that are damaging for the brand, according to Nikhil Kharoo, former Google and WPP comms professional.

"While CASETiFY claims to be a 'Bastion of Originality', it is at the same time removing products with alleged design copies from the website which directly counters its brand spirit of celebrating individuality," he added.

As a brand built on social recommendation and credibility, and a lot of its audience are GenZs who like the brands to be honest, transparent, trustworthy and ethical in communication, it might lose out on some customers and need to rebuild its connection with its audience, he added.

As the CASETiFY brand stands for originality, creativity and self-expression, it does put a question mark on how much “inspiration” its designers seek from other brands if the copyright allegation is true, said Lulu Raghavan, vice president, APAC, Landor. 

“If it is found guilty of copyright violation and has to pay up a large amount, it may impact its operations and therefore its ability to continue to bring fresh innovations to the market,” she added. 

Furthermore, this crisis may pose potential challenges when CASETiFY looks for collaboration partners in the future, said Ambrish Chaudhry, SEA and India head of strategy and Doris Wu, Hong Kong senior strategist, Design Bridge and Partners. 

“Designers really champion and advocate for originality, and as a result, they may be hesitant to partner with CASETiFY. This could seriously impact CASETiFY's business as artist collaboration is a vital purchase driver for its existing customers,” she added. 

On the other hand, Dbrand’s decision to file a lawsuit against CASETiFY for copyright infringement is a strategic move to protect its intellectual property rights, said Joshua Chu, a lawyer and Coinllectibles’ group chief risk officer. 

By taking legal action, Dbrand is asserting its rights and seeking appropriate remedies for the alleged infringement, he said. 

How can brands further embrace originality and authenticity for their products? 

Companies that have creativity in their DNA must have tight processes related to bringing this creativity to the market through commercialisation, said Landor’s Raghavan. 

“Ideas and other visual and verbal assets must be rigorously checked for trademark and copyright violation before being released,” she added. 

Despite checks and balances, these incidents are bound to happen. She said brands must lean into their vulnerability and be truthful with consumers about what happened and then deal with it swiftly. 

If brands want to champion originality and highlight this as a core brand value, highlighting the creative process and communicating the design story behind the brand is key, meaning more focus on transparency, said Design Bridge and Partners’ Wu and Chaudhry.  

“Originality should be a guiding principle that penetrates all brand decision-making (not just branding and marketing, but also business planning, product innovation and development) to ensure a consistent and impactful brand message that is unique to the brand,” they said. 

Leveraging new technologies such as AI is also a way to clamp down on copycats. While traditional methods of detection, such as manual monitoring, remain prevalent, emerging AI-powered tools can play a significant role in identifying potential likeness to published materials, said Coinllectibles’ Chu. 

On the PR front, Kharoo said promoting and selling "originality" has to be in the DNA of a brand and there have to be clear checks and balances to avoid such situations because the consequences are not just damaging to brand reputation, but to the overall business.

"Lack of due diligence at any level could result in serious legal repercussions as global IP laws are rightly being continuously strengthened. It has to be a collaborative effort of legal, product, marketing and all other functions involved at different stages of the lifecycle to flag any leakages in such process," he added.

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Casetify asks consumers for ideas to repurpose old phone cases   
Nike files lawsuits against New Balance and Skechers for patent infringement

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