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Target Sued by Nix Patterson and Wisnia PC for Copyright Infringement

On May 19, 2020, co-counsel, Nix Patterson, LLP and Wisnia PC, filed on behalf of their client, Kristen N. Cooley, guardian of the estate of Nolan Ocean Cooley, a minor, a detailed First Amended Complaint for Violations of U.S. Copyright Laws and Demand for Jury Trial in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Target Corporation, Target Enterprise, Inc., and others (“Target”). The First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) summarizes the lawsuit as follows: “This copyright infringement action arises from the predatory and profit-driven actions of a corporate retail powerhouse—Target—that exploited and illegally misappropriated the creativity of a child artist living with Autism: Nolan Ocean Cooley.”

The FAC details the remarkable story of Nolan Ocean Cooley, who since being diagnosed as autistic at a young age, has become a renowned artist whose original works of art have received critical acclaim by U.S. media outlets, been the subject of multiple successful gallery art shows, been featured in many major co-branding deals with well-known entities, and otherwise received widespread attention on social and digital media platforms. The FAC centers around Nolan Ocean Cooley’s creative and original expressions in certain of his works of art for which the U.S. Copyright Office has validly registered copyrights. Among the many original elements that comprise these creative expressions in the works (imaged in the FAC) is the unique manner in which Nolan Ocean Cooley “designs and draws imperfect sketch-style dots or circles that he elects to combine, arrange and color into idiosyncratic patterns.”

On the other hand, the FAC alleges that, with full awareness of and access to these copyrighted works, “Target specifically targeted” Nolan Ocean Cooley, reaching out to his family over social media and inviting them to participate at an ostensibly innocent workshop for young artists to be held at Target’s headquarters in Minnesota in the summer of 2018. The FAC alleges, however, that after accepting Target’s invitation, the Cooleys “learned firsthand that Target’s seemingly laudable promotion program was anything but; instead, it was a bait-and-switch tactic that Target used to copy, counterfeit and unlawfully misappropriate the original, creative expressions in Nolan’s Copyrighted Works.” Replete with photographs and quotes from Target employees, the FAC alleges how, after Target’s workshop, the Cooleys “learned that Target had begun selling online and in its more than 1,800 retail stores across the U.S. a line of children’s clothing and merchandise under its exclusive brand—‘Cat & Jack™’—that plainly copied and counterfeited the original sketch-style dot art design in Nolan’s Copyrighted Works and/or were unlicensed derivative works of the Copyrighted Works.”

The FAC alleges that: “Target even publicly touted its new Cat & Jack™ children’s clothing line as having been ‘Designed With Kids, For Kids’ and including items that were ‘specifically designed for kids with disabilities.’ Target concealed from the public, however, the reality that Target had actually exploited a child with a disability—Nolan—and stolen his original expressions and designs in his Copyrighted Works for use in these Infringing Products that Target sold to children across the country.”

The lawsuit seeks to recover damages from Target for its alleged copyright infringement and is pending as Case No. 8:20-cv-00876-DOC-JDEx in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. A copy of the FAC can be accessed and viewed below.

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