Cosmetics giant Mary Kay sues former employee, alleging she co-opted copyrighted material

Addison-based cosmetics giant Mary Kay Inc. has sued a former employee-turned-author over the publication of a new book, alleging she used copyrighted materials without permission and falsely implied that the book was endorsed by the company.

Jennifer Bickel Cook, 70, worked directly with Mary Kay’s legendary founder Mary Kay Ash for 25 years, which she details in Pass It On: What I Learned from Mary Kay Ash. Her book has drawn intense scrutiny from the company since it was published on Oct. 5.

The lawsuit, filed Friday but not publicly available until Monday, comes with a lengthy list of allegations against Cook, including copyright infringement, false endorsement and misappropriation of intellectual property. It also said Cook breached a non-disclosure agreement and used her relationships within the company to convince independent sales consultants to promote the book.

“As a result of Cook’s misappropriation, consumers are likely to be confused and wrongly believe that the book is sponsored, endorsed, approved by, affiliated, connected or otherwise associated with Mary Kay,” the lawsuit said.

The company wants damages and an injunction prohibiting Cook from advertising or selling the book. It also wants her to be ordered to contact internet search engines to remove online references to her book that contain Mary Kay’s copyrighted material.

Mary Kay Ash, photographed in her bathroom in 1989.
Mary Kay Ash, photographed in her bathroom in 1989.(Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News)

Cook and her book’s publisher, Dallas-based Brown Books, said the book was overwhelmingly positive about Ash and her company.

In late September, Brown Books founder Milli Brown said she walked over to speak with Mary Kay’s North American regional president Nathan Moore about promoting the book. She said she was told he wasn’t available, so she left a message for him saying she’d like to give him a copy of the book.

She was met with a letter from law firm Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann a few hours later informing her that Cook had legal obligations to the company. It also requested that Brown provide Mary Kay with a copy of the book and delay its publication until the company could review it for “confidential and proprietary information.”

Following the lawsuit’s filing, Brown said she was shocked at the company’s reaction.

“I have been in the business world a long time, and I have seen some bad business moves, but this might be the worst one,” Brown said about Mary Kay’s decision to pursue legal action.

Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann could not be reached for comment.

Before the lawsuit was published, Mary Kay spokeswoman Kelly Medley said the company isn’t concerned about the tone of the book or how it speaks about the company’s founder.

“The question is whether or not Ms. Cook violated federal copyright law and her obligations to Mary Kay Inc. in the process of writing and promoting this book, largely to Mary Kay’s independent beauty consultants,” Medley said.

The lawsuit focuses on several works copyrighted by Mary Kay, including three books and a calendar of quotes. Attached to the lawsuit was a list of quotes and sections used in Pass It On that compares Cook’s writing with the copyrighted passages.

According to the filing, Cook’s book contains “no more than two to three chapters of original content about Cook’s own experiences and recollections.” The rest, it said, is merely a summary of Mary Kay’s copyrighted works.

Brown said the book had been reviewed by a publishing lawyer before being released and that all quotes were correctly attributed.

Jennifer Bickel Cook
Jennifer Bickel Cook(Courtesy of Jennifer Bickel Cook)

The lawsuit accused Cook of making it appear that Mary Kay endorsed the book, citing the book cover’s pink color pattern and the use of Cook’s relationship with Ash in the book’s promotion.

Mary Kay also claimed Cook violated her own contracts with the company, as well as the contracts of company sales force members, who “unwittingly agreed to let her attend sales force events, causing a situation where the members were violating the terms and conditions of their agreements with Mary Kay.”

When asked about the lawsuit, Cook said she didn’t want to talk about it, and instead wanted to focus on the positive message her book had for women.

“I love Mary Kay the company, I love the sales force of Mary Kay and, of course, I loved Mary Kay Ash because she was a mentor and a great influence in my life,” she said.

Jennifer Bickel Cook's book Pass It On is already sold out but could soon become part of a legal fight with Mary Kay Inc.