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May 18 2015

Small Businesswoman Stands Up for Her Intellectual Property Rights

Hadley Heath

Last week, Melissa Lay, a mom and small businesswoman in Oregon, raised concerns about a shirt for sale at Target. What was her problem with the shirt? Well, Lay is a designer and owns her own Etsy shop, and the design on the shirt was hers. Target didn't have her permission to copy it. The black tank top has a silhouette American flag and the word "Merica" on the front. 

Now Target is responding as it should, by taking the shirt off of its shelves and stopping all future sales of the shirt. The retail giant issued a statement saying it didn't mean to sell something that was stolen. It's certainly plausible that Target didn't know; it contracts with many different designers and third-party vendors and would normally have no reason to doubt that each vendor's work is original. Still, the design belongs to Lay, and Target cannot and should not sell the shirt without her permission. 

Lay sells her tank top for $25 on her Etsy shop. Target was selling the similar tank top for $12.99. It would be easy to see how Target and other national retailers could push small businesspeople out of the market simply because of the scale of business that they do. 

But importantly, they can't do that. Americans like Melissa Lay have a right to their own intellectual property, like their ideas, their designs, their artistic creations. Good for this mom and businesswoman for standing up for herself. Surely Lay could have filed a lawsuit over this matter, but she has told the media that her main concern is bringing attention to the intellectual property issue that is so important to her business and many others. 

Etsy has become a great outlet for small business owners, including many women, to market their products widely, outside of the local area where the business owner lives. I order products from Etsy often. We should celebrate that so many women have the opportunity to start and manage their own enterprises through this marketplace. But we should also keep in mind that the diversity of products and options available to us are in part due to our legal protections for intellectual property.

Way to go, Melissa Lay, for standing up for your IP and for many other business people like you. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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