Q&A: Nude-Photo Artist Accuses Zappos of Ripping Her Off

'It's not cool,' says Erica Simone

• Note: One of the images below features nudity. NSFW.

When Zappos unveiled its "More Than Shoes" campaign earlier this summer, featuring naked women on the streets of New York, it certainly turned heads—none more so than Erica Simone, a photographer who had taken some remarkably similar photos as part of her "Nue York" project. (Site is NSFW.) She believes the marketer and its agency, Mullen, ripped her off—that the shots are simply too similar and almost certainly not a coincidence.

     Mullen denies this, telling AdFreak: "The 'More Than Shoes' campaign we did for Zappos is an original idea. It was not influenced by anyone else's content." The agency further points out that Zappos did an online video in 2007 with a naked couple walking down a street. Plus, the current campaign has included online executions with naked men, not just women.

     Earlier this week, AdFreak spoke by telephone with Simone, who is currently vacationing in France and weighing her legal options.

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom to read a lengthy response from Mark Wenneker, chief creative officer at Mullen.

What did you think when you first saw the Zappos ads?

I had a friend who posted on my Facebook wall: "It looks like Zappos ripped you off." And the first picture that popped up was the one with the girl jogging. And it was almost identical to my shot. I was like, "Oh shit." And then I looked at a couple of others. There's a couple of other similar ones. They haven't come out with the full campaign yet, so I haven't seen the full set of them. But the first two that I saw were very similar. I mean, the jogging one is blatant.

There's the moped one, too.

Yeah, there's the moped one. I mean, there's enough differences, but it's a rip-off, for sure. It's just the whole concept. I'm obviously not the only person who does nudity in the street. But it's just the fact that the whole style is so similar.

So, you feel like the composition of the photos is too similar to be a coincidence.

The composition and the whole concept.

What did you do? Did you contact Zappos?

I haven't contacted them yet. I'm still waiting to hear from different lawyers on what they plan on doing.

And what are you being told so far by the lawyers?

They're saying different things, but it seems that there's an obvious infringement. I'm not sure how it plays out in the courts. This is something I'm obviously not familiar with at all.

What kind of action would you like to see from Zappos that would stop you from filing a lawsuit?

I guess ideally it would be great if they altered the campaign. I can't ask them to pull it completely. I can't ask them not to be inspired by a certain concept or idea. But it would be great if they changed it a little bit, so that people aren't calling me and going, "Oh hey, I saw you shot the Zappos ads!"

You're getting calls like that?

Yeah, people are completely confusing my work with the ads, and it's totally bringing my collection down a level, which is not cool.

What do you mean by that—bringing it down a level?

I've spent the last two years putting this collection together. It's taken me a lot of time. It's hard work, and I've been through a lot with it. And just to see this big company come in and steal the whole thing and capitalize on it—especially for clothing, when my whole collection is about being yourself and not having clothing as an image to speak for yourself—it's just frustrating.