Plagiarism: What to do

So you've found a villan. Someone out there online is claiming your work as their own. Maybe even selling it!  The anger wells up in you and your first impulse is to dismantle this thief all over the internet. Please don't!  Take a breath and think it out.

The phrase "cease and desist" gets thrown around a lot but let's get real. Lawyers and lawsuits cost money (a quick search says between $100-300 for starters). Plus, seeking legal action can get slippery because you can then be sued in return. Is it worth it? What happens when the plagiarist lives in another country? Righting this wrong isn't always easy and there's no guarantee that you'll even get satisfaction.

The Small Fish:

Most people who plagiarize artwork don't even realize they're doing it. I like to take this approach when I find that someone has used our work on their Etsy t-shirt shop/small business logo, etc. A polite email explaining that the image is our original artwork usually does the job. If it doesn't, then further action might be required. In the age of social media shaming, calling the offender out online is one of the last things I'd recommend doing. It can be a last resort, but remember that people's careers and lives can be destroyed. Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Read these cautionary tales before uncorking a genie that can't be put back in its bottle.

The Big Fish: 

Our standard approach when dealing with a "bigger fish" (domestic or foreign) is to try and turn the situation into an opportunity. We contact these businesses and say "Hey, obviously you like our work. Why don't you pay us to make something new for you? Can we develop a fruitful long term relationship?" Since most people don't like to admit they've done something wrong, it's almost human nature, we've found that it's best to sidestep a confrontation. Rather than fighting to be right, leverage a way to make more money together. Turn it into the famous win/win. 

The Annoying Fish:

These examples don't really cover all of the plagiarist experiences we've encountered. Some fall in-between and they're probably the most frustrating. There is at least one guy that, despite being contacted numerous times, continues to sell our repurposed artwork. For years. We've gone so far as to contact the different vendors that he's used to sell prints and asked them to take his artwork down. Some comply, others don't. So, in the end, we try to live with it and let go. Some fish are small but annoying.

Ultimately, your art is driven by ideas and design and illustration are very public mediums. People can connect with it and deep down that's what you hope for as a creator. In this age your work can not only reach people but be distilled from an idea to a meme. Not because it's shallow, but because it's so easy to proliferate. I do think "ownership" of your own work is important, it just takes on a different value when it enters the world. Be fearless when it comes to creating and sharing your artwork, but be savvy when someone infringes. Make relationships whenever possible because being a creative is a business. 

So, breath in, breath out, and make some money :)

The P Word: Plagiarism

By Peter

Earlier this week I was trying to search for some inspiration on a logo project and stumbled onto an image that was ours but wasn't ours. Yup, I found that someone plagiarized one of our prints. The dreaded "P"-word. Sure they did some watercolor overlay in Photoshop but it was unmistakably ours. Ever happened to you?

To date, this Simply Bicycle image is our most ripped-off image!

To date, this Simply Bicycle image is our most ripped-off image!

If it hasn't, take a look around the internet. Go to your site or any site, find an image, right-click on it and copy the image address. Now just type in google.com on your browser, choose the images option, and paste the image address to the search bar or upload the image. When your results pop up you see a list of hits as well as a line at the top that says "For matching images, try search by image". If you click there you'll get another list. Scroll down to see if they're familiar friendly places. Another option on the bottom of that page is to search for "visually similar images". 

It can be fascinating to see how images worm their way around the internet. I usually see a bunch of hits for Pinterest and they all give proper credit. On occasion I've discovered that someone was using our art for a community event, a poster contest, or claiming it as their own art and selling it. 

Olly Moss is a designer/illustrator who has made some very memorable images. His style is widely copied and parodied. Many people have come to his defense when they feel like someone has crossed the line and infringed upon his work. He formulated a very surprising response to such an instance when people claimed a set of prints tread too closely to his style. "These are parodies. There are no legal grounds for dispute. If there were, I would not enforce them." He goes on to say that once you put your work out there for people to see it's fair game. For people that get too caught up in ownership "it brings them nothing but misery and constant frustration." He goes on to say that "imitation and parody as… a reward you've earned" for doing good work. 

When I decided that I wanted to write about this I wanted a different point of view. So I wrote to one of my design professors from college, Karen Kresge.  She made too many good points to just cut and paste here so I'll post a link to her full piece and try to paraphrase as best as possible. Her first point was that not all plagiarism is malicious. There are people that are simply fans of your work. They get a kick out of trying to make things like you do. They may want to share your work but lack the etiquette to give you credit. There are people that mistakenly regurgitate your work. There are people asked by clients to make something like your work. Some grey-ish areas that any of us could easily find ourselves in given the right set of conditions. Last but not least there are the cheaters. Rotten apples convinced they can do it and just get away with it. The sad thing is that they're kind of right. There's just so many ways to have access to media that you'll never know when someone lifts your work and claims it as their own. Especially if the theft never exists online. Sure it's easier than ever to search for images on the internet and track them down, but you have to also have the time and energy to do it. Who wants to do that? The drive is to make new things and be creative, not make one thing and fight like hell to protect it.

Eleanor and I discussed these things in order to help me flesh out ideas before I started writing. She humbled me by saying that I shouldn't be too proud about being "original". She reminded me that no one is above accusations of plagiarism. A couple of years ago grainedit.com did a profile on Eleanor and her work. It felt like a big deal at the time. A very positive thing. Then came the comments. Many people were generous with their praise, but others were very quick to vilify. The "haters" took Eleanor to task, claiming that she was ripping off Charley Harper. This was difficult to deal with. In our mind the work was unique. Influenced by but very different than Mr. Harper's work. In the end it was a wake up call. It forced Eleanor to take a long look at her own work and her esthetic. It was very difficult to create for a while after that because of the thought "does this look too much like Charley?" ringing in her head. But she worked through it and is better for it. 

Ms. Kresge (always the teacher) left me with a good closing thought: "a thief is a thief and I suppose their career can’t be in a very good place, and can’t possibly be moving in a positive direction if they can’t come up with original ideas. In the end, we can always pity the plagiarist and move our own work towards loftier goals." 

Next time: What to do when someone steals your work

Freelance + Toddler

It's difficult to run your own business. It's also difficult to be a parent. We've all heard this and we all believe it. But how can a person make it work?

Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, my day works out like this in order of priority:

1. Hazel: She's awake for 10 hours and she's home with us.  This is a lot of Toddler time!

2. Sleep: I have to allow 10 hours of sleep these days because it's still interrupted. Hazel wakes up a few times a night :( for a lovely 18 month regression. Once she's back to a "through-the-night" situation, I can get 8. 

3. Work: I realistically NEED a few hours of work in the morning, and then I'll finish things up if needed in the evening. I've become an absolute machine when it comes to efficiency because I have to be. After lunch, Peter takes over on work and I mind Hazel.

4. Some time for me and Peter: I love to get some snuggle/Netflix time with Peter after Hazel is in bed. This is my wind down time. 2 hours.

5. Me: This one comes last for now, but I make sure to get alone time for a workout or an occasional friend date.

So, how can we make this all work? 

First part: time management. As soon as I get an assignment, I start on it. I don't care if sketches aren't due for a week, who the heck knows what a week can bring?  That's seven days of things that can go wrong, so I figure to do the work NOW and let the craziness of life come in at its own pace. Another coping strategy I like to use is breaking large projects down into manageable chunks per day: 60 illustrations over 15 days: that's only 4 illustrations a day!

Second part: flexibility.  With a freelance business as with a little one, each day presents a set of challenges that are outside yourself. One day, there's an unexpected bill in the mail, another, a sick child. It's hard to deal with these things especially when they stack up. It can get a little crazy, but if you keep a sense of looseness and flexibility, nothing can rock you too much!

Third part: naps. Hazel needs an afternoon nap that ranges from one hour to two. This is bonus time for getting things done. Thank God for naps! She's happily well-rested and we're ready to play again after a nice long nap.

And last in order, but really first in importance: Peter. If he weren't home with us this set up wouldn't be possible. I need him to mind Hazel in the morning so I can work. He takes over in the afternoon, and that's my time with Hazel. We figured this out through trial and error, and it's working for now. I'm aware, though, that every day is different and even this loose-ish plan usually requires juggling and re-scheduling. 

Peter often takes Hazel out in the morning for a coffee/treat date so they can have some quality time and I can get a house free of noise to concentrate on work. We have a saying around our house: "a cup of coffee is cheaper than day care!" Since we can't commit to the cost of child care, I think it's fair to let the family have a little fun at the coffee shop :)  He'll often use this time to sketch ideas for upcoming projects and Hazel can "sketch" in crayons too.

The hardest part of working with a little one is probably that constant threat of the unknown. It can be psychological torture if you let it! But, as we all soon realize, the sooner you can go with the flow, the better.