According to the suit, Tinwood claims to own the intellectual property rights to the quilts produced in Gee's Bend prior to 1984, and, in turn, the company has leased those rights to manufacturers.
While several of the companies involved in marketing products based on Gee's Bend quilts state in promotional literature that the quilters "receive a royalty" for every item sold, Young's lawsuit states she has never received "one penny from these enterprises."
In fact, Young said, she had no idea her quilt designs were being used for anything beyond a book, much less a line of rugs selling for $5,000 a piece. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for "commercial misappropriation of her work and likeness."
"I don't know nothing about them making all those rugs. Most of them are made out of my quilts. They've got them all over the world and I didn't even know they were doing that," Young said. "They didn't explain nothing to me about rugs and bedspreads and coffee pots. All I know was that they were selling my quilts and giving me a little something for them."
We're sure to hear more about this case in the weeks and months to come. The debate will continue .... Is the fame the quilters of Gee's Bend have received compensation enough? Give credit to the Arnetts for promoting the quilts to a worldwide audience and increasing the market value of the quilts? Were any of the Gee's Bend quilters unfairly compensated? Did the quilters really agree to give up their quilt designs to be licensed by others? I'm sure you can list a dozen other debatable questions around race, gender, educational level, income and "ownership" of art. Feel free to leave a comment here.