In the world of audio-video works, it can be difficult to show the substantial similarity between an author's original work and somebody else's knock-off. This is due to the large number of variable and design elements in such works, and the mostly lawful ability of someone to create an homage or 'inspired-by' sort of piece that apes a prior piece's style.
Below is a link to a YTWWN reader's original work, which lampoon's the layperson's lack of hockey knowledge, and includes creative and quirky hand-drawn animation adds. There is also a link to a Luminosity ad that had the author of the first video scratching his head. It is not yet known if little white spiky jagged animated streaks shot forward from his head as he did so. Is the second piece an homage to the first? A rip? To what extent is there a difference?
Last fall I was working at a design studio in Seattle called Digital Kitchen and was able to work on a personal project. For those who know me well, or even briefly, know that I am a diehard Canadian-born hockey fan (Canucks) living in the US. I decided to use this as the subject matter and wanted to get the opinions of some of my fellow American creatives on the sport of hockey, which they may or may not know anything about. I combined that with a simple cell animation style that I had yet to really experiment with.
The project turned out great and I had a lot of fun doing it. It wasn't a style that I invented or even advanced in anyway, but rather a simplified version of some other really magnificent work.
Then last week I got a few emails and messages from design friends saying that they had seen a commercial on TV that looked exactly like my Hockey 101 video and if I had done it? I hadn't, but still checked out the link I was being sent and sure enough it was an almost shot for shot remake with different content animations and people. It was the same simple white drawing overtop of footage as people answer questions or expressed thoughts and the imagry appeared. As opposed to my video where I hand drew each animation, theirs was a cheaper knockoff with looping animations that didn't have the same effect. I didn't know whether to be flattered or angry.
My animation had generated me no profit, nor was I interested in it doing so. I would have been thrilled to have been contacted by Lumosity or whoever was producing the content to create something similar to my previous video and be able to benefit that way. Instead someone basically cookie cut my concept, framing, execution, and animation without any reference to myself and generated a ton of views and is probably profiting from online and broadcast spots.
I may be wrong and just need to toughen up, but I would love to get a few more perspectives or some advice on how/if I should proceed in any way.
I've just been contacted by someone telling me my work has been stolen...
The design which looks very similar has recently won a competition with a $1000 prize, and the winner, Mike Krisza, has said on his site he is currently selling the design on tshirts successfully.
I am sorry to say that I believe my friendly neighborhood cafe ripped off their logo (right) from the Rocket Dog shoe logo (left). Can't say for sure since I don't know how long the shoe logo has been in use, but Rocket Dog predates the cafe as an entity by about 10 years.
What do you think? It's clearly not just a cut-and-paste job but it's so, so similar I can't believe it's just a coincidence.
Okay. So normally I'm quite relaxed when it comes to people using my artwork as reference, stock, or inspiration. But when somebody somewhere roughly slams two pictures together and makes MONEY out of the end result - that's when I get annoyed.
I didn't see much else in the way of good fan art for the game, so I was pleased my little picture was up on the internet for all to see. Whilst doing a quick browse on Google in 2009, the only other piece of art for the game that I notably took a liking to was this one, which was drawn in 2006 as official concept art for the game -
Flash forward to 2011 (just now), and I see an article on Kotaku about the Box art for Braid upon it's release in Russia. -
At first I wasn't sure. I thought whoever did this might have just eyeballed both our pictures and crudely slammed them together. But no, I'm afraid they're traces. Even the base lighting has been traced. Still not convinced? Then look again -
Needless to say, I was stunned that someone got away with showing this to the studio, then selling it in another country. I also wonder if David Hellman knows that his official artwork has been traced by another artist for the same game.
I am contacting Jonathan Blow at Number None Studios (the Indy company that made Braid) and letting him know about my situation right now. But other than that, I'm not sure what else to do about this (other than kick up a polite fuss until something gets done!) So any advice anyone could give me about what action to take next would be very much appreciated. Please leave a comment, or contact me through andyroosteruk"AT"gmail.com
I am especially annoyed that someone can get away with this, as I am a games designer and artist myself; and it is hard enough to get noticed in the games industry without other people leeching your artwork and ideas.
So during the whole Conan/Leno debate, I was on Conan's side. After the "I'm With Coco" graphic was made I thought I'd make one of my own. So I made this:
You can see the original post here: http://timmelideo.tumblr.com/post/331503040/conan-leno-by-me
It got posted on the I'm With Coco Facebook fan page, as well as several news blogs. It was even used by a protestor to make a sign.
Then later, when the TBS announcement was made, I made this:
Then when the official Team Coco website started going up, I couldn't help but notice an extreme similarity to my idea and their new official logo. Which, after watching the first episode of Conan, is in the opening credits!! It's also all over their website.
I have brought this up on some other blogs before and some people are with me and think it is a blatant steal, others say that his hair is so iconic that it isn't that crazy for someone else to come up with the same idea. I think that it is too coincidental, seeing the popularity of my image on the internet and it being on places that were seen by the Team Coco people. I'm not really asking for money, but it would've been nice to have been asked or to have some recognition. The "I'm With Coco" portrait image is hanging up in Conan's office. I'm sure he asked that guy for a print.
Some time ago I walked through the city at night and noticed a new shop called "Silberfuchs" (silverfox). Found in Offenbach, Germany
And it's mascott seemed really familiar. It's Tails from the videogame series Sonic which is used/traced.
I tend to just call the shop and say I work at Sega and would like to talk to their buisness managment, or call a horde of Sonic fantards and unleash 'em. But I guess I leave the fun to Sega itself. If it's even worth... Would you recomand to just mail the german Sega support team?
I love this site -- makes me realize there are people out there who KNOW what I'm going through. But I feel a little funny about posting this as the copycat, an artist for a company called Paper Popsicles is um, not so talented and so this problem isn't as glitzy as most of the stuff I see posted here. Still, I need some advice because I put side-by-side pics up on my Facebook fan page and this "company" aggressively reported me to FB for copyright infringement! Now my whole post to my fans complaining (and attempting to educate) about image theft is MIA.
Here are just "some" of the stamps they've copied (My originals on the left, hehe):
So my questions are -- poor technique aside: are these "copies" of my art? Obviously they were not traced, but just as obviously, they are taking my illustrations and trying to change them enough so they don't get sued. I never wanted to bring the law down on them, but this is actually the second company who has done this (the other one nicely took down the copied art and it ended there.)
Is it "fair use" to put up side by sides on FB or other public forums?
Thanks for any advice!
Maurie J. Manning
First a flickr friend warned me that my photo was copied by a painter. Then I found many galleries on the internet where I found Mr Gena Ivanov paintings of my photos for sale as his original artworks. He has never asked any of my permission to paint my photos, neither has given me any credit for it + the model is my best friend, and I am the only one who has permission to use his image publicly. This is what Mr Ivanov wrote about his art:
“I have always found the male body inspiring and coming to England has given me the freedom to paint in the way I want. I aspire to show the beauty of the male body and the romanticism, the sentimentality and the character. My pictures are about colour, life can be quite grey and I want my pictures to make people feel good. I like to work in different styles, particularly in the impressionist style and I prefer to work big. I have always been quite experimental trying different materials, paints and painting techniques but the medium I prefer is oil painting.”
www.studioart.org.uk/ (search for: Dandelion)
and his website: www.matthewkleinman.com/genart/artofman/index.html
Mr. Gena Ivanov has won many exhibition and his work has been exhibited in Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Holland, France and in the UK – Norwich and London. I wonder if he has any original work in his portfolio...
What is your opinion about painters like him?
Here is another good article about copyright and what to do if you have been ripped. It is aimed at web based issues but it is very insightful and could help a few of you out who have had you site ripped.
How do you feel when someone steals your ideas?
At some point in your freelance career, you may find yourself successful at what you do. Chances are, if you’re reading this, that you have or that you’re on your way. Unfortunately, one common indicator of success is the proportion of individuals who attempt to copy, borrow or steal original content from you. Realistically, this has likely already happened to you at some point in the past without your knowledge.
I’ve been frustrated by this numerous times. I’ve had carefully crafted text that I’ve sculpted over the years lifted from my website and used without my consent on a competitor’s site. Occasionally, I’ve stumbled across an entire duplication of one of my original website designs, something that I consider less than flattering.
You’d think that this would get easier with time. It doesn’t. It’s nothing short of a violation of your hard work. Knowing that someone else is benefiting on your behalf and at your expense is a royal pain and, from a business perspective, a serious threat. Knowing how to prepare, identify, deal with and respond to this type of copyright infringement is quickly becoming one of the necessary skills for any serious business owner.
How to Prepare
At a minimum, make sure to include the following phrase at the bottom of your creations, substituting Your Legal Name with your name and the year with the first year that your content was copyrighted in:
Copyright 2009 Your Legal Name. All Rights Reserved.
Making it Legal
If you simply leave things as is, you’re technically using what some people refer to as a “poor man’s copyright”. What you’re lacking is an enforceable copyright. To do this, you’ll need to actually file your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Since some types of intellectual property such as websites change and adapt to demand constantly, you may need to re-file your copyright after each significant change, or simply re-file every year. The cost is low, yet the benefit is significant.
You’ll also want to make sure that you have an established business relationship with a lawyer who can represent you. If you’re operating as a formal business, the time to find a company lawyer is not when things start to fall apart. You’ll want someone who is familiar with your business and willing to go to bat for you should you end up needing to enforce a serious copyright violation. Your lawyer can also assist with the filing of the copyright paperwork if you’d rather not deal with the process. Regardless, you need a good small business lawyer.
The Psychology of Influence
While having the basic copyright phrase on your content helps you legally, it isn’t very effective at actually preventing someone intent on copying part or all of your website. One common practice is to add a phrase similar to the following below your copyright notice:
No part of this website may be reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of Your Legal Name.
I’ve found that, in practice, this doesn’t really work. And here’s why: This warning is more of a description of what is not allowed, something that is unlikely to be a psychological motivator for someone already predisposed to content theft.
A slightly more effective approach is to use a phrase that implies monitoring as opposed to simply stating the rules. I’m a big fan of Copyscape.com where you can either use one of their embedded badges or simply use the phrase, “Page Protected by Copyscape. DO NOT COPY”. I’ve found that this is more likely to prevent theft than the mere mention of What Not To Do. Regardless of the approach you take, your goal should be to indicate the presence of active monitoring.
How to Stay Vigilant
There are more monitoring programs available than you can shake a stick at. Having said that, I find an effective method is to choose one or more phrases that are relatively unique to your work, place them in quotes and set up a Google Alert to notify you automatically when a match is found. Another option is to manually scan for duplication using Copyscape’s search feature or to sign up for one of their automated monitoring services.
How to Respond
So you’ve discovered that someone has duplicated part or all of your content. How do you best respond? Freelancers tend to have limited resources and budgets, and your response needs to keep this reality in check.
The first step should always involve taking a snapshot of the duplicate content, either as a hard copy, or as a PDF. You’ll want this ammunition should you ever need to take action further down the road. The Internet Archive is another great resource for capturing past website content, however it’s not comprehensive across short spans of time and won’t necessarily include the offender’s website.
Your very next step should be to motivate the thief by the mere act of being caught in the act. Send a short, polite e-mail to the infringer asking for the material to be removed. You’d be surprised at how often this works! What won’t work is if you sabotage your chances for success by sending a nasty, angry or threatening e-mail. Instead of stimulating their “I’ve been caught” reflex, you’ll be triggering a more reactive response. In practice, I’ve found this to work with a significant number of violators.
If this fails to get a response, you’ll need to take things up a notch by sending a formal “Cease and Desist” letter to the owner of the website. If the infringement occurred online, you can typically get the mailing address of the owner from whois.net or directly from their website. Write a simple, professional letter similar to the following:
I have noticed the strong similarity of elements of your web site to my company’s web site, www.example.com. Your use of material from our site constitutes an infringement of our copyright and therefore subjects you to substantial liability under federal copyright law. Please immediately remove that material from your site and refrain from any further use of any material derived from our web site.
We would prefer to promptly resolve this matter without legal action and trust that your prompt cooperation will allow us to do so. Please send me confirmation that the infringing material will be immediately removed from your web site so that this matter can be resolved. Thank you for your cooperation.
You will want to consult your company’s lawyer to confirm that this language is appropriate for your industry.
What if nothing happens?
Your next step should be to file a notice of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement with Google and the other major search engines. This involves a fair degree of work and is not as simple as you’d think. This will, however, remove the offending site from the search engine results, effectively neutering the majority of the offender’s potential referrals.
At this point, you’ll need to ask yourself the Million Dollar Question: Is the presence of this duplicate content more of a financial threat to you than the cost of having your lawyer file an injunction? If the answer is no, you’ve gone as far as you can probably go. However, if it has a potential to seriously disrupt your business, you’ll want to saddle up with your lawyer. Another litmus test for this is likely to be the geographical location of the culprit versus the geographical scope of your service area. If you provide a service regardless of location, then you’ll likely need to take legal action no matter what.
While nothing in life is 100% certain, hopefully these suggestions and insights will be of use to your freelance life. As with all things, your mileage may vary.
- The Internet Archive
- The U.S. Copyright Office
- Google Alerts
- Responding to Plagiarism
- WHOIS Lookup
- Google DMCA Notification Process
- DMCA Notification Process
David Lechnyr is an IT Professional Freelancer providing Internet Marketing & SEO Consultation services to individuals and businesses interested in increasing their search engine presence among the competition. He is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Certified Cisco Network Associate (CCNA), Certified Cisco Design Associate (CCDA) and holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work. You can visit his website here.