Ex-Student Sues Barnes & Noble for Allegedly Stealing Her School Project

If students needed another excuse not to do homework, copyright infringement might be a good one. A former college student has sued both her school and Barnes & Noble for copyright infringement claiming that her bag, designed for a school project, was stolen.
Diana Rubio was a student at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, a branch of the State University of New York, where students specialize in fashion design and business.  Back in 2010, Rubio claims that as part of her accessory drawing course she was required to submit a drawing of a proposed bag for Barnes & Noble; the drawing would compromise 30% of the class grade.  Rubio claims that she was not informed that the bag design might ever be used by Barnes & Noble when she submitted “The Everything Backpack”.  You can see the actual design on the left below; next to the product that Rubio claims infringes her design.  Sometime later, FIT told Rubio that she won a student competition with her design.  A year later, FIT requested that Rubio sign over the rights to the design to Barnes & Noble.  Rubio claims she didn’t and has never signed such a document.
Rubio claims that Barnes & Noble took her design and created a bag based off her “The Everything Backpack”.  Now, Rubio wants FIT and Barnes & Noble to pay up for using the design without permission.
There may be a couple barriers to Rubio winning this lawsuit.  First, utilitarian aspects of a design are not protectable such as a bag that holds items.  Rubio would need to show that the non-utilitarian aspects of her design have been copied.  Second, Rubio, to prove copyright infringement, must establish that the designs are substantially similar.  You can look at the below and draw your own conclusion.  I don’t think liability is necessarily in the bag on this case but we shall keep it monitored.