Thursday 18 October 2012

Spot the Difference

See that up there on the left of the red line? That's not mine.

Except - it actually is. Used by someone else*, without my knowledge or permission, on cards.

The card appeared on the blog of one of our local decor magazines. I wrote to the designer as soon as I saw it, with photos of my prints, some dated as far back as 2008. (It's one of the reasons I stash photos of prints on Flickr - they're nicely dated in case anyone wants to check.) I asked her to stop selling the cards and to take any reference to the designs off her blog, website, etc. She complied immediately, which I'm very grateful to her for.

I was of course itching to rant about this in public, but I wanted to give her a chance to fix her mistake in private. It's possible that she really didn't know that you can't just take the first image that comes up in a Google search and use it as your own. ('Protea print' - that's the search.) I didn't think it was really necessary to go public.

But a few people had already contacted me about this, wanting to know if I knew, and offering to throw all kinds of nastiness at the original blog post. So I contacted the magazine to explain the situation and to ask whether they'd consider taking the post down. I thought they might not want to be associated with copying, and I also thought the designer might not want her name publicly attached to this.

Their reply was a little unsettling, along the lines of 'grey areas' and 'is it actually a direct copy' and 'who copied who.' I'd sent them the same dated photos (2008, remember? It's 2012 now) and ... well, just count the dots, for goodness' sake! They even said something about not being able to protect products that weren't copyrighted.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I believe that a design belongs to you as soon as you've made it. There's no need to 'copyright' it. Ah, here we are:

Any freelancer producing non-commissioned work owns the initial copyright
The law gives copyright protection in the absence of any agreement specifying copyright ownership rights.
(Source: SAFREA's Copyright Explained page)

Fair enough, the magazine didn't want to rule on the issue. But the designer had retracted her work, and there was definite potential for embarrassment here. Yet I had to ask the designer to email the magazine to explain the situation, and to ask for the post to be taken down. This was starting to feel extremely awkward. Thankfully, she mailed them right away.

Everything worked out fine in the end, but I'm still left with a niggling worry about the magazine's response. They didn't exactly feel like champions of local design, for a few minutes back there.

If only we had something like ACID, an anti-copying campaign. I found out about them in this post about some truly jaw-dropping copying. 

*I'm not naming the designer; she behaved brilliantly as soon as I contacted her, and deserves credit for that.


Linda Starr said...

Wonder if a watermark should be added to all photos on the net? It's impossible to discover all who are copying whose work. On my blog on the right column I put a copyright notice. But I commend you for contacting them personally and not making the information public, someone once accused me of copying them publicly on their blog, they knew me, we'd been a show together, I had visited them at an art show, etc. they could have contacted me personally but they didn't, they actually got the idea for their work originally from my blog post. Not only that but my work doesn't even remotely look like their work. Perhaps some folks like to attack to beef themselves up in the public eye. It's a tricky, sticky world out there.

Carina said...

Wow. I'm stunned. First of all, how can a designer not know that you can't just use any old design.

And the reaction of the magazine is just beyond belief!

Sorry you had to waste your time on this. But go you for handling it with such grace. Atleast in public. ;-)

sakurasnow said...

Dang Jesse, horrible that this debacle was awaiting you immediately on release from all your hectic illustration deadlines! It certainly sounds like the magazine (if not the designer) has behaved despicably - hopefully they have 'grown' as a result of this experience and will behave more conscientiously next time something similar happens (sad to assume there will be a 'next time’ – for someone – but that would seem to be the unpleasant reality…)

Melanie Wickham said...

Wow, not even a try at altering the design!! Great compliment to be copied but...

People can find designs to copy so easily on the internet, but then the whole world can catch them doing it if they then try to reuse them without permission.

Glad the designer did the right thing, hope the magazine has learnt an important lesson too. Well done for such a cool and considered approach!

Mangle Prints said...

Hi Jesse, well done for handling all of this with such dignity. I've had it happen to me, so i can really understand how it feels.
It tough to know what to do, but i'm so glad it worked out well for you despite the magazine's response.

flowerpress said...

Jesse, I agree it sounds like you have been very generous towards the other person. I think you need to put the word 'designer' in inverted commas when you refer to her though as copying another's artwork doesn't really make her an artist.
She should be ashamed.
And the magazine should be ashamed too.
The internet makes all our work available to anyone out there but I comfort myself knowing it also makes us lots of friends who help find these infringements and bring them to justice.

painted fish studio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
painted fish studio said...

i'm so glad it ended ok, and i'm so glad i haven't had to deal with that yet. i think as designers/artists/creators, it's easy to forget that there are a lot of people out there that really, honestly don't understand that it is NOT ok to "borrow" images or illustrations or text or art... not trying to defend them but sometimes we forget that others are not as brilliant as the rest of us!
; )

(that was me deleting the post above, it needed editing)

Billy said...

Hi Jesse,

Too bad you had to deal with this issue but now you know the true character of all the parties involved. Who would know the copycat designer would be cooperative but not the magazine?

Hugs from the tropics!

vervlogen dagen said...

I think you handled this situation very gracefully. You must have been angry when you first discovered this. Inspiration is OK, but this is an exact copy!

andrea Mckeen said...

Hi Jesse....I've done a bit of reading on the whole copyright issue in the past and yes, it's my understanding that the design is yours the minute you make it and furthermore, it's an extra protection once it is published on your blog! You handled this situation with class and I am glad you got a respectful reaction from the designer.

Sonya Philip said...

I cannot tell you how many times I have read a blog post so similar to this. And unfortunately, the magazines attitude seems to be the standard thought process of large companies. It's like etsy, flickr etc is the equivalent a smorgasbord of ideas free for the taking. Intellectual property and copyright is such a thorny issue, especially when you have the big players like Disney or the Olympics utilizing it for massive profit gain and then the smaller artist and designers getting stolen from and walked over. I'm so glad that everything got resolved. But icky icky feelings.

Ruby in the Dust said...

my heart drops every time this sort of thing happens. I can't believe that any creative person doesn't know what they're doing when they use a design they've found elsewhere. shame on the mag, and lets hope the 'designer' has also learnt a lesson...

Keri said...

Jesse - you are so professional in your handling of this. Well done.

After a week at Kamersvol with every second person taking photos of my stand and generally not even being polite enough to just ask if it's Okay, I am feeling slightly battered and a little annoyed at people to be honest.

People just seem to think that everything out there is for them to take (and use and copy!?!) and they have no interest in even getting ones details to credit it. Grrrrrr.....

Maar, more is nog a dag :-)
Onward and upward!


Alisa : Ink Caravan said...

Oh Jesse, it's scary! And happens way too often.

Last year I stumbled across a fashion design company, Scotch and Soda that had a design in their range that looked a lot like Mimi Kirchners work. I emailed her to ask if it had been a collab - she knew nothing about it! Luckily she and they company worked it out, but sadly not before the anguish.

I'm so glad the girl did the right thing by you in the end. xx

Anonymous said...

Oh really. How smug you must feel. Sorry everyone else has just kissed your ass here, I guess they too are just as scared as being exposed as you are. Design, original? Please. I supose you got permission from god to use the flower images you do? There is nothing original in design, yes it can be adaptive, creative, but original? Get off the grass. Your designs are no more original than the millions and millions of other prints out there. I did think - when I saw your design images on a google search, were nice. Now that I see the true colours of the designer herself, they are no longer beautiful. They look try hard and pretentious. Clearly to post such a thing on your blog you have issues with your on self worth as a designer, your products and your own originality. With this post you have done nothing but shown your weaknesses, disguised as an attempt at courage. You are all that is wrong with the design industry. Pretentious, scared and full of shit.

Jesse said...

Dear Anonymous

I have no issues with other people doing designs with proteas. I do have an issue with someone else using an exact copy of my drawing without my permission.

Please don't post anonymously when you have such strong opinions - you really should put your name to them.