Woolworths caught in fresh social storm over plagiarism allegations

woolworths logo

woolworths logo

There are the makings of a storm brewing in South Africa’s social media space over a possible intellectual property breach by popular retailer Woolworths. According to a blog post by Euodia Roets, the retailer has copied her design and claimed it as its own.

Roets is a designer by trade and says she had several meetings with the company to “provide printed panels of fabric for napkins and cushions”. After sending her design of a hummingbird to Woolworths, she says, the company told her it had been rejected.

A few weeks later, Roets states in her blog post, the same design along with some unattributed text from Wikipedia were on used as part of a Woolworths collection of scatter cushions. Roets says she has been trying to meet with the company for sometime, following the discovery, but was not successful.

After doing a rather violent double take, I had a closer look. Same size cushion (60cm x 40cm)? Check. Near identical hummingbird design (with what looks like the Wikipedia entry on hummingbirds pasted into the background)? Check. Same fabric? Check.

And, conveniently, it was now part of the W Collection.

(Fun fact: If that text is in fact from Wikipedia, Wiki requires attribution on all commercial use of their text. You’d be correct in assuming Woolies did no such thing.)

combined Woolies hummingbird

Woolworth’s cushion in the middle between Roet’s work

Roets’ post has caused a minor storm on social media with Woolworths at the centre of many unhappy tweets as well as a some sharp criticism on its Facebook page:

The retailer has responded on its site saying that it takes the allegations very seriously and that it is currently investigating the claims:

Today, a serious allegation was made against us, claiming that we stole a hummingbird design, which we then used on some material covering scatter cushions.

Please be assured:

Our hummingbird design was finalised with a Durban supplier mid-November 2012, while Euodia Roets met with our Artisan representative in early 2013.
We are trying to contact Ms Roets via a number of social channels, as we want to meet her as soon as possible.
We are investigating this as a matter of urgency.

This is not the first time the company has been in the middle of a plagiarism scandal. Last year it was accused of blatantly ripping off Frankie’s Olde Soft Drink Company.


A representative from Woolworths sent us a full statement from the company:

The use of birds and hummingbirds is a global trend which inspired our design. 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.

We commissioned a Durban artist to interpret this trend in August 2012 and signed off the design in November 2012 for our cushions which we developed as part of our summer range this year. We develop new cushions every summer.

We saw Euodia Roets work at a market in January this year. We consider her a talented artist for which we are always on the look-out. We planned to include her work as part of our artisanal range which supports local artists. We viewed a wide range of her work, one of which was a hummingbird.

We currently support 17 designers through the artisanal range. It is a very small part of our business which we do largely to support local talent. The work, however, has to be commercially viable.

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.

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.

Woolworths has a proud tradition of supporting local artists and entrepreneurs and helping create sustainable and profitable businesses.

This is a rather unfortunate turn of events. We hope to meet Ms Roets to discuss this issue



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