How do you deal with plagiarism in the design world?
I’ve spent countless hours trying to rectify rip-offs and never achieved any sort of closure. People will steal your ideas, especially if they’re good ideas. Again, know copyright law.
Plagiarism is a tough thing. Recently I have been questioning who a designer actually designs for. Do they design for themselves? Or do they design for others? There is no point in imitating someone, because if the client wanted that look then surely they would have gone to that designer.
“It’s better to fail at originality than to succeed imitation.” - Herman Melville
This is a very big question. Plagiarism in anything is bad. The problem with graphic design is that it deals in universal symbols, so lots of design ends up looking the same. However, anyone who rips off someone else’s style hurts himself or herself more than they hurt the person they are stealing from. It marks the stealer out as a second rate designer. And even if they get away with it for a while and occasionally fool clients, they always get found out on the end.
Sadly yes. It even wins awards. It’s just laziness.
Some people take it really seriously and get really upset about it. I think it’s unavoiable. Especially now with the internet and how everything every artist does is viewable to everyone around the world.
Know history so you can forget about it. You incorporate the entire past, anyway. Occasionally, you might reinvent something that someone else has done. But, you have to work in your time. I have my own style now. In the 30 years I worked as a professional, I worked in the required styles to satisfy the work that had to be done. There are certain conventions, if you have to design a hospital annual report, you can’t make it look like a show poster.
Sometimes I get cranky. We’ve seen our whole site (www.smashlab.com) repurposed for other companies. The worst instances actually used our code line-for-line, going as far to copy our bios and insert their own names in them.
In this situation I’ve simply emailed asking for them to not do so, but rarely with any effect. That being said, even a boilerplate Cease & Desist seems to be very effective.
There are times when you will be asked to do something in the style of another artist or designer. I think its important that you find a way to make that style your own. If you can do this in the classroom as well, you should. It is too easy to just copy something you see and you aren’t learning anything this way.
There are many ways in which a work can refer to the past: parody, plagiarism, quotation, homage, etc. What makes plagiarism different from all other methods (parody, homage, etc.) is the fact that other methods contain a kind of transparency: they are referring to the past in an open, honest way. Whereas plagiarism is about referring to the past, while at the same time denying it. It is an opaque, less open way of referring to the past. It is about showing something designed in the past, as if it were designed now.
(Although, it should be noted that all these terms are really subjective. What is a clever homage in the eyes of one person, is an act of blatant plagiarism in the eyes of another person, and vice versa).
What we find problematic about plagiarism is not the act of referring to the past itself, but the element of denying the past. In that sense, plagiarism has a lot in common with the ‘cult of originality’, the myth that it is possible to create things ‘out of nothing’. Both plagiarism and the ‘cult of originality’ contain this element of denying the past.
As for the act of referring to the past itself: we think this is a necessity for progress. Other than post-modern critics, who see quotations as empty, ironic gestures, we honestly believe that referring to the past is basically a modernist, progressive practice.
We don’t believe in a one-dimensional linear model of progress, in which everything that is new should immediately be followed by something that is even newer. But we also don’t share the pessimistic post-modern model of progress, in which everything is just repeating itself, in gloomy cycles. Instead of that, we have a more modernist, dialectical idea of progress, in which the new can only be defined through a continuous dialogue with the past.
(This tension, between the old and the new, is already enclosed in the word ‘modernism’. Other than some people think, the word ‘modernism’ has nothing to do with the future, but comes from the Latin ‘modernus’, meaning ‘the time of now’. And how we see it, the ‘now’ has as much to do with the past as it has with the future. In fact, we see the ‘now’ as a synthesis between the past and the future, the surface where the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ collapse. In other words, in our way of thinking, the past definitely has a place in modernism).
We recently came across a few lines that strengthened us in that idea. It’s from ‘Print and Socialism’, an essay by Régis Debray, published in New Left Review, issue 46, July/August 2007. We think it’s such a beautiful text: “The greatest modernizers inaugurate their career with a backward leap, and a renaissance proceeds through a return to the past, a recycling, and hence a revolution. (...) Behind the ‘re’ of reformation, republic or revolution, there is a hand flicking through the pages of a book, from the end back to the beginning. Whereas the finger that pushes a button, fast-forwarding a tape or disc, will never pose a danger to the establishment”.
We just come up with new things, constantly. Laws for fighting it are very relative, it depends on what country you’re living in.
Flip Flop Flyin
It’sunfortunate, but there’s not a huge amount you can do about it. I try not to get worked up about it.
Don’t waste time with that.
As information is more and more accessible there seems to be less and less original ideas and more of a consensus of trends and styles from time to time. I think the most important thing to distinguish yourself from just being a style is to develop your story and keep researching it.
I’ve been ripped off all my life. It goes with the territory. And I’ve had dozens of so-called “homages” of my ‘60s Esquire covers. Doesn’t bother me one bit.
I will not tolerate plagiarism. Saying something is a Homage is just a way of stealing without it sounding so bad. It is true that nothing is new under the sun and that we pull inspiration from many different places, but it is our job to try and present things in different, interesting and fresh ways.
Plagiarism is everywhere and it is annoying. I don’t understand how people think that it’s a good thing to do and that other people don’t see what they are doing. They know who they are or maybe they don’t and they think it’s fine. That’s more worrying.
I borrow and build upon others’ good ideas all the time. There is nothing wrong with it. It only becomes a crime once you publish and make money from other peoples ideas. Don’t do that. It is a terrible thing that should never be practiced and always be laughed at.
You pretty much have to ignore it. I’ve been ripped off a couple times and it stings, but it helps to look at the bigger picture. For one, if you’re being plagiarized, it means you’ve probably solved a difficult design problem in an elegant way, so feel good about that. For another, plagiarizers are usually cowardly and stubborn and have little sense of value, so it’s much easier to just feel sorry for them and move on.
Followup question: Do you think acknowledging plagiarism is a good way to solve the issue? It seems that if plagiarism isn't realized on a public level, it doesn't stop happening. Do you think it's good to confront those that steal your work?
Plagiarism is about as solvable a problem as desperation or lying.
There are always going to be people without honor, and while confronting them may be useful, it doesn't change the fact that plagiarism exists.
I remember a quote from an essay by the French writer Montaigne that has stayed with me since my college days. It was addressed at writers who plagiarized during his time, back in the 16th century and went something like this: “It is improper to regurgitate that which you have ingested in the same form as it was ingested”. We would probably say it differently but the point is a good one.
Please Let Me Design
We don’t care, especially if we feel that our work has been copied but not understood.
Never thought about it. When you do something for the practice or you are teaching, the risk to be confronted with plagiarism is obvious.
Fill/Stroke is a collection of three individuals who have always been good at collecting content, but never really good at sharing it. We formed in early 2008, and have been honored to interview some of the greatest designers of our time.
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