Thursday, 29 January 2015
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Has anyone ever copied one of your designs?

Has anyone every copied one of your designs – and if so what have you done about it?

Sebastian Conran

‘Once, while working with Villeroy & Boch on a huge bathroom range in 2003, Alessi launched a similar looking range just months before our planned launch. Much paranoia ensued regarding who copied who, but in reality we were both reacting against the same generic-geometric trend. This is a surprisingly common occurrence. Some of the work we did for Mothercare was very “influential” to some competitors. However the “most blatant copy” award goes to company that apparently had intentionally ripped off the Anywayup toddler cup we designed for Mandy Haberman - she courageously pursued them at huge personal cost and eventually they relented and paid up on the court steps.’

Sebastian Conran, founder, Sebastian Conran Associates

Craig Oldham

‘A student once copied a design of mine verbatim. Every single word barring the name (which they naturally changed to theirs) was set exactly as it was in the original piece. Same typeface, colours, the lot. Best thing was they came to see me for feedback on it. Alas, there’s no point getting caught up in it, it’s how we all learn, isn’t it? It’s like I always say, good artists copy, great artists steal.’

Craig Oldham, creative director and founder, The Office of Craig Oldham

Kevin Palmer

‘Last year we created an interactive table for the new Denim Studio at Selfridges. The table enabled customers to look through the full range of womenswear denim, browse images and movies, create and email a wish-list, and post to Facebook and Twitter. We also created six stop-frame animations with tips on how to find your perfect fit, which appeared on the table and on the Selfridges website. Around two months after launch, another major retailer launched a Denim Department also with stop-frame animated movies online that were identical in look and feel. We informed our client and they looked into legal proceedings. At first I was annoyed, but also strangely flattered as it was the first time we had been directly copied in such a way. We have often been asked by clients to copy other designer’s work, usually stuff they’ve seen in Minority Report or the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but we are proud of our ethical policy at Kin and do what we can to educate our clients that striving for originality is key. Don’t replicate… innovate (but if anyone out there has managed to replicate the R2D2 Princess Leia holographic projection - and I mean replicated it properly - then I’d love to see it :).’

Kevin Palmer, co-founder, Kin Design

‘We have been copied on numerous occassions. The first time I was indignant - we now have a good lawyer. Plagiarists have ranged from local designers to people on the other side of the world and even the occasional client, which is weird to say the least. Life is too short in most cases to feel more than mild irritation and in general the biggest loss is to the person doing the copying in terms of credibility. We might add a most-copied section to our website just for fun!’

Luke Pearson, co-founder, PearsonLloyd

Readers' comments (16)

  • I was commissioned to produce a logo and website for a client in 2009 (less than a year after starting my own business). On presentation of the visuals they said they were no longer going ahead with the brief... so I thought no more of it. Then 3 months later the same logo appeared online in a search. The client had passed the logo on to a friend who was a designer so it could be implemented for free. When I challenge them about it they said it had been changed enough to "get away with it". It was exactly the same.
    It was pointless pursuing the matter further. It taught me a valuable lesson about business as a whole.

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  • Craig Oldham comments – I don't think you can learn anything by tracing other people's work (and I can't understand why they asked you for feedback!?)

    As for Phil above – They commissioned you to do the work and they used it (even if it was the concept) – you own the copyright.

    Good artists inspire, innovate & create, wannabe artists just steal!


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  • My questions is, how do you you're the first? Truly.
    Can you know? I don't think so, no. And i don't mean who was the first to pass a bill on it. Cause that's just mean! :) Often i think it’s a case of owning a brand new car, once you start driving it, suddenly everyone drives that particular car!

    @C G, Copying or its evil sister, plagiarism are academic words used and taught in school and colleges as Do-Not’s, and as a bad thing. But tracing / copying is the only reason you were granted your college diploma/degree in the first place, I think. A good student copies from their tutors. And a bad student apparently doesn't do so.

    Copying are steps. You copy to understand it. Not to cross someone else's name off it.

    Besides, you can never really and truly copy something exactly the way it is? I don’t think so. Unless, maybe you biologically reproduce it.

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  • As a student in my third year, I created a new type of Ice Skating blade, which fitted in with my hobby at the time. It was made of composite materials, which was revolutionary in that industry.
    I took it to a major manufacturer who said they would help me in making the prototype for my degree, but they would own all the rights; I walked away and paid for it myself, but could not afford any form of patent protection. A few years later, they brought out very similar ideas onto the market, which are now beginning to gather pace and be sold worldwide...gutted doesn't even come close!
    I am now working to build my reputation and career as a Product Design Engineer in manufacturing. Some recognition would have been good for a leg up in interviews!

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  • @Maxwell Davies – Do you know me, as your comments suggest that you do!?

    I can categorically state that I wasn't (nor anyone I know in the industry) granted a degree for copying or tracing other peoples ideas!

    There have been influencers, ways of seeing and inspiration which have all helped me to develop – but it never involved tracing as for me, that would take the creativity out of it; which in turn would mean I wasn't doing my job!

    If that's how people learn then I think they would be better off working on a production line where their skills would be better suited.

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  • Reply to: C G, You're from the alphabet are you not? Than I do not know you, I was making a general and opinionated observation, and Yes, I think most people DO learn by copying. We (not you but most people, including myself) merely instil our knowledge/taste and other influences to make it "us". Try copying my name next time.

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  • Yes, apologies MD, I had better get your name right, in case you apply for a job with us – as unfortunately our company only employs original talent.

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  • If (like with Craig's comments) a designer came to me with something that was a replica / rip off et al (let alone something I'd created) then I would question their understanding of the project, the requirement and their ability!

    There is always inspiration, ideas and influences (as C G said) which help to form the solution – but that should never be taking something that already exists and adding your own tastes!

    I'd also question Maxwell's 'make it us' comment – graphic design is objective not subjective – providing effective visual communication which solves a problem.

    That comment suggests you are just 'putting your stamp' on other people's work!

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  • Matt, it's a statement about learning, and yes agree to an extend that graphic design is objective.

    C G, good for you.

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  • “Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.” Yohji Yamamoto

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