Finnair Marimekko Design
Museum Director Adriana Vyalets shows an illustration by the late Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko at the National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Art in Kiev Wednesday. Finnish clothing and home furnishings retailer Marimekko admitted one of its fabric patterns was copied from Ukrainian folk art in an incident, which may lead to copyright claims and hurt the company's image. Reuters

Finnair’s highly publicized collaboration with Finnish international design house and fashion retailer Marimekko hit a patch of turbulence last week after the decorative pattern adorning one of its aircraft was found to be an unauthorized replica of a Soviet-era painting by late Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko.

Finnair unveiled the decorated long-haul A330 aircraft three weeks ago with artwork depicting a group of trees in a forest, which was thought to be the creation of Finish designer Kristina Isola of Marimekko. “The Metsanvaki print by Kristina Isola is a strong statement about the Finnish spirit and the forest-inspired energy that makes Finns tick,” Marimekko Creative Director Minna Kemell-Kutvonen proclaimed at the launch last month. “The print combines the majesty and fairy tale-like magic of the Finnish forest. This makes it an ideal greeting from Finland, carried on the blue and white wings of Finnair around the world.”

It turns out the image, designed for Marimekko in 2007, wasn’t of a Finnish forest after all. Yet, it was smooth sailing until last week when Finnish paper Helsingin Sanomat charged Isola of copying the work from the near-identical 1963 Prymachenko painting.

Isola has since confessed and apologized for the apparent plagiarism. "I didn't think about copyright or that I took someone else's creative work," she said in a statement. “Forest Folk felt so close to me, and I wanted to share that forest feeling with as many people as possible. I understand now that my actions were wrong, and I regret and am ashamed of what I did.”

The director of the National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Art, which owns the original painting, said she considered the incident very unpleasant. “We will seek legal advice on this matter, because this is a serious case of copyright violation,” Museum Director Adriana Vyalets told Reuters.

Six years ago, Marimekko was on the other side of a copyright dispute. The company asked German courts to ban the sales of Dolce & Gabbana products that it said bared its patterns without permission. The dispute was settled in 2008.

This time around, an expert quoted by Helsingin Sanomat said it’s open to interpretation whether the Berne Convention governing international copyright was applicable, as Prymachenko’s works were created in the old Soviet Union, which didn’t recognize artistic copyright.

Either way, the row threatens to harm Finnair’s reputation. The airline has painted several of its aircraft with recognizable emblems of Finnish culture before, including Angry Birds and Moomin characters. Spokeswoman Paivyt Tallqvist told the Associated Press the latest Marimekko design would be painted over as soon as possible on the plane, which flies from Finnair’s Helsinki hub to New York and Asia.

Tallqvist added that the incident would not harm Finnair’s collaboration with Marimekko, which includes textiles and tableware for in-flight meals, as well as other products. Calls and emails to Finnair for further comment on the incident went unanswered Sunday.