MN Woman Sues Kohl’s Over T-Shirt Design

Heidi Panelli accuses Kohl's of infringing on her original T-shirt design, which includes a stick figure playing a guitar.

A Fridley woman filed a copyright infringement suit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on Friday alleging that Kohl's Corporation copied one of her T-shirt designs.

Heidi Panelli, who sells T-shirts and other original work through Panelli Design in Fridley and through her Web site, claims that Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based Kohl's infringed on her trademark for her BusyBodies clothing line-which includes original designs of stick figures performing various actions.

Tuesday calls to a Kohl's spokesperson seeking comment on the complaint were not immediately returned.

Panelli first began selling products from her BusyBodies collection in 1999, and she subsequently started selling them online in 2003. She has sold BusyBodies products to customers in all 50 states and internationally, according to the complaint.

One of Panelli's designs portrays a stick figure playing a guitar with the words “I Rock” written beneath the picture. The shirt is registered as part of the BusyBodies 2008 collection.

Kohl's allegedly sells a T-shirt design that is “substantially similar” to the “I Rock” work-featuring the same text and a similar stick-figure design.

Panelli claims to have learned about Kohl's similar product earlier this year when a friend asked her if she was selling her own products through Kohl's-at which point Panelli visited one of the retailer's Minnesota locations and found the Kohl's comparable product for sale.

“The similarity between the infringing work and Panelli's 'I Rock' work is so great that it could only be the result of copying,” the suit alleges. “Not only has Kohl's unlawfully copied Panelli's works, Kohl's has passed Panelli's 'I Rock' work off as its own by using false claims of copyright and trademark registration on its Web site.”

Panelli claims that her business and reputation have been irreparably damaged by Kohl's, and she seeks an order stopping Kohl's from manufacturing, reproducing, advertising, or selling any products “substantially similar” to her own. She also seeks lost profits and Kohl's profits, as well as attorney's fees.