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Barnes & Noble, Fashion School Sued Over Backpack Design

A student is suing Barnes & Noble and her former school for using a backpack design she says she didn't give them permission to use.
Posted at 3:21 PM, Aug 20, 2014

A former fashion student in New York is suing Barnes & Noble and her former school — saying they're selling a backpack she designed, but not giving her any of the profits. ABC sat down with Diana Rubio.

RUBIO VIA ABC"I feel a little bit betrayed. ... It's a very confusing feeling know that my backpack is my design and seeing people on the street wearing it all the time. And I have not received any monetary value for it at all."

Rubio says the Fashion Institute of Technology and Barnes & Noble kept her design after she created it for a class contest — it was worth 30 percent of her grade at the time. And she says it's unfair the backpack is now making money, but she's not getting any of it. 

Rubio says Barnes & Noble actually sent her a waiver saying she wouldn't receive the profits, but she didn't sign it. Of course with a big-name retailer involved, the story's getting play. 

The backpack is available on the chain's website. The product's overview even says Rubio was the one who designed it.

FIT acknowledges Rubio, too — the school tweeted earlier this year after someone saw a student wearing one of the bags she designed.

But Rubio says she hasn't seen any piece of the profits since it first went on sale. And the question here is whether she should, because she was a student when she designed the backpack.

Barnes & Noble released a statement to several news outlets, including Gothamist, taking the blame off itself and putting it on the school.

"We have a relationship with FIT whereby we pay royalty fees to FIT for student designs. ... This matter is between FIT and Ms. Rubio."

And the New York Post says FIT will investigate the situation. The president of the school has put together a committee to look at student-related competitions. A report from that committee, though, isn't expected until Dec. 1.

This story has brought more attention to a growing question: whether students should receive some sort of compensation for work they do while in school.

Earlier this year, football players at Northwestern University tried to unionize and get paid for playing. The National Labor Relations Board approved the bid to unionize in March.

The players voted in April to unionize, but CBS Sports says the results from that vote still aren't public since the university is appealing the National Labor Relation Board's decision to allow the players to unionize, saying the players are students, not employees.

As for Rubio, she says she hasn't received anything from either her alma mater or the major bookstore. Specifically, Rubio is suing for copyright infringement, unjust enrichment and unspecified money damages.

This video contains an image from Getty Images.