This one is a doozy. It all started when Taylor Swift took to Instragram to post a picture of some really sweet fan art that was sent to her by an adoring fan:
There was one pretty big problem, though, with this “original” fan art. It was not original nor was it created by the fan that sent it to T. Swift . (I guess that is two problems, not one.) In any event, the actual artist behind the foxy image, Ally Burguieres, was not too jazzed to see her artwork all up in T. Swift’s account under someone else’s name. It only got worse when the “likes” came pouring in. She objected to the post in a comment, and one of her supporters took to the web to point out the utter lame-ness of this art thievery:
Taylor Swift has yet to comment on the fracas. If you want to support the real artist behind the original work above, you should check out her website, located here: www.GalleryBurguieres.com
Graphic designers face certain unique issues when they discover that someone has knocked off their work. The first is that the copyright laws do not grant protection to fonts. So, if a designer cooks up a fabulous-looking new font, full of embellishments and creative flourishes, that font can basically be copied verbatim by any lazy designer snooping through Google in search of a cool look (there is a narrow carve-out that allows protection for elements of a font that are themselves sufficiently creative and separable from the font). And, layouts used by graphic designers are often not unique enough to afforded protection. So, that lazy designer that has copied your font could also copy your layout, creating a piece that looks a lot like yours without running afoul of the law.
Below we have an allegation of a lift by a Texan company of an Australian’s graphic art. Is copying afoot in the Lone Star State?
It looks like a US promoter of rock shows has completely knocked off a graphic designer in Australia that created the below artwork for the ROCK THE BAY that has taken place in Melbourne for the last 6 years.
This lazy Texas promoter appears to have copied the Australian promoter’s artwork lock, stock, and barrel.
The Australian promoter’s artwork is on the left, and the Texas company, Din Productions’, artwork is on the right:
Time to again take note, dear readers, of the idea-expression dichotomy. Ideas are as free as air under the Copyright Act, and it is only the expression (in a tangible form) of a particular idea that is protectable. Stated differently, you are free to express my idea in your own way, but may not exploit in any way my expression of that idea without my permission.
The distinction is easy to state, but difficult to apply, especially in the context of audio-visual works. Consider the below – a commercial created by Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo for Google in Japan and a startlingly similar video created by persons unknown to advertise a Korean beverage. The concept has almost certainly been taken by the Korean beverage company, but the expression-taking is more difficult to nail down, depending on the level of abstraction that you apply to delineate what is expression and what is the idea being expressed.
When it comes to art depicting the animal kingdom, certain limitations on copyright protection apply. The naturalistic appear of the animal, and the basic components of its corpus, are not protectable. If you draw an owl atop a tree, you will not be able to stop others from drawing owls or trees. Nor will you be able to stop others from drawing wings, beaks, talons, and all those other parts that we all know owls to possess. You can, however, protect your creative twist on these elements, and the fanciful way in which you depict the creature. The more fanciful your depiction, and less technically accurate, the stronger your copyright protection.