Blissfully unaware. Logo design and pilfering.

Blissfully unaware. Logo design and pilfering.

Blissfully unaware. That’s what I’d like to call it. Not ignorant, not naïve, just unaware. I’ve been a designer for a lot of years and have had my work online since 2004, so I know the risks. Or, so I thought.

It really wasn’t until the recent debacle where I had 21 logo designs pinched, that this problem reared its ugly head. My work has been stolen – a lot.

Now, I’ve had work lifted here and there over the years. Some overly inspired logo designs appearing in various logo forum sites and I’ve been pretty swift to address it. Plus, I’ve had the benefit of having others warn me of work they have seen that looks a little too similar – but, this is different. Never this widespread and never this brazen.

Until now, there hasn’t been the search technology available out there to find this stuff. And now, with the release of the Google reverse image search, it’s a whole new ball game.

To be clear, I know enough not to just post work rampantly throughout the Internet. I am very select about where the work goes and what sites they will appear. In addition, I always try to label the work with either my domain name or logo mark on each image. And internally, I make sure that I keep folders of the collections, and what their image dimensions are, in the event of someone copying the files.

Even though I take all these precautions (I know what you’re thinking, they’re really not that much), it’s still the Wild West out there. Most people have no idea (nor do they care) that ALL the images floating around out there on the web were created by somebody, and they are not ripe for the pickens whenever you feel the need.

How did we get here?

The online portfolio – it’s as simple as that. And even more than that, the online presence you need to get visibility in our modern business world.

In the old days, the way to get your work in front of the folks that need it was to advertise. Whether you made cold calls, paid for sourcebook ads, did mailings, got in with creative directors to show your book or dropped promotional pieces – it was all in hopes of a call back for the next great assignment. Back then, it was who you knew. Word of mouth was always your friend and reputation was everything.

You can’t just have a website anymore. To really get noticed there needs to be a presence on portfolio sites, directories, forums, social networking sites, inspiration sites, your own or company blog and whatever else you can think of. The keyword here is visible.

With all that there needs to be content, lots of it. And there seems to be this insatiable appetite for newer and newer content all the time. You can’t have work that is 6 months to a year old on your profile! We want new. We want more. We want it now.

This kind of mentality seems to have fueled another phenomenon – if I can’t get noticed with enough of my own work, I’ll just borrow yours.

Plagiarism has been around forever, but it’s never been this easy to access good work. And to soothe many a thief’s conscience, it’s done fairly anonymously.

Think about it. In the last four years, we’ve had a huge surge of growth in the logo design industry.

Logo design went from a rather obscure sub-set of graphic design, into a vogue little vocation in almost no time flat. Anyone with some time, software and a laptop is cranking out their own little identities.

The established identity designers, like myself, have a classical education in design and illustration and do this professionally. Many of the new generation are either self-taught, or are coming from a web design perspective. And some, are hobbyists – ones that tinker with design in their free time, while they keep the day job.

I blame this rash of theft in our industry on the global economy. I know that is very fashionable these days to pass the blame, but hear me out.

Right about the time the economy takes a digger, several new business models appear on the logo design horizon. First, you have what I like to call the overstock or brand-in-a-box sites. These in their purest form, are sites that help you sell those nifty, misunderstood and never approved logo concepts you’ve got lying around on your hard drive. For the potential client, they get a ready-made logo and possibly a matching domain name, for one tidy little price.

In the beginning, they were doing just that. But, after everyone saw that there was possible money to be made, other designers started to make up these fictitious brands to fill up their lack of inventory – and interest increased. No more pesky clients getting in the way. We’re making money!

Then, you’ve got the crowdsourcing sites.

The business model that puts up a contest to get as many logo concepts as the client can bear to see, and the only one that gets paid in the end is the winner. If you’re lucky.

When the odds are stacked up against you like that and money is tight, people do drastic things. Things they probably wouldn’t attempt without anonymity.

The interesting thing with these two new opportunities created in logo design, was the amount of spillover that appeared back on sites like In an effort to get cross-promotion traffic to their contests and box brands, designers were posting work on the critique sites begging for likes and floats. And they told two friends – and so on, and so on.

Then, the boom started.

Tweets. Links. Inspirational blog posts. Many, in so much hurry to post the logos, didn’t bother to give credit to the designer.

Everyone’s a logo designer, or so they are trying. It’s amazing. These pesky little pictograms with type are a lot harder to produce than they look. And with a massive glut on the internet, even harder to come up with something original.

It ain’t that easy, is it? Easy money never is.

But there’s a new one on the horizon.

And just like Hollywood, the profiteers come out of hiding. We can’t possibly come up with something new. We’ve got to take a formula and do it over and over again. This time, we’ll tap into a ‘team’ of designers and crank out a massive icon library for our customers to select from! Yeah, it’ll be great. They’ll pick their own colors, their own fonts. We’ll be rich!

But, how do you possibly stock a website with 10,000 icons without tapping a team of hundreds of designers? You can’t. Certainly not without covering old grounds. How much would that even cost? That’s the sad part, probably not as much as you would think.

And, that’s where our story turns to logo pilfering.

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The truth is, we’ve got people willing to ask for 200 logos for $250.00 on Even sadder, we’ve got people willing to do it for less than that.

Someone was willing to go through the database and steal hundreds of logo designs from hard working designers, design firms and agencies, probably because they didn’t have enough time or resources to actually do the work for the price quoted. And they didn’t have the talent, nor the training.

One thing I don’t get, is why do we have to lowball so much? I know that $50.00 in some countries is quite a bit of money, but on the other hand, isn’t $500.00? Why not try for those jobs and up the standards? Eventually, if we try hard enough, those sub-$100 jobs will be a thing of the past.

One would only hope. But, you have to take a stand somewhere.

So, what’s the harm?

There’s plenty.

It’s one of the biggest misconceptions on the Internet. Most people just do the old right-click and copy it over to the hard drive. They never even bother to find out where the image came from. They might rename it so they don’t ‘feel dirty’ about it, because deep down inside they know it’s wrong. And, no one ever thinks they’ll get caught.

Sure, if there’s some genuine interest in your work and it appears on a blog, be sure and let them know you are thankful and remind them to post a link to your site. But, if it’s obviously for their own benefit and it’s led to believe they did the work, be sure and show your displeasure and get it removed.

People work very hard every day to create this work and by doing that and not recognizing the person who created it, you’re taking food off of their table. I work hard to create a brand for my business and do quality work for my clients. When you mess with my work, you mess with my brand and you mess with my business.

Showing design work in my portfolio on my own website is not a digital buffet for which anyone can choose to use anything at their leisure. This is my job. This is how I make my living. Expect me to be upset.

Think about that the next time you do an image search. I hope you adjust your habits and give credit where it’s due and above all, pay it forward.

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So, how can you protect yourself from your own logo pilfering?

  • Keep track of your images. Have a naming convention that you can easily keep going and where they were posted.
  • Use metadata in your images. Include metadata, creation and copyright data information when saving in Photoshop or Adobe Bridge.
  • File for copyrights on your images. You can file for copyrights in groups of images, too and save some money.
  • Be careful where you post your work. Only submit to sites that you know or trust.
  • Be a good neighbor. If you see a familiar image that looks overly inspired, contact the original designer if you know who it is. If not, Tweet it.
  • Scan the image servers. Use Google Reverse Image Search or to see if anyone’s using your work.
  • Cease & Desist letters – Get a copy of a DMCA form and have it ready if you need to send it.
  • Consider digital tracking software. Services like Digimarc can label, watermark and track your digital library.
  • Turn off image links on your website. Although not a big solution, it can certainly deter the casual infringer.
  • Label your work. Let the pilferer know that they are borrowing your work should it end up beyond your reach.


This article has 27 comments

  1. Fully worth the read. Well said. I’m tired of seeing logos designs trivialized. 

  2. So sad yet so true and getting worst by the year! I have been selling horse logos (yes, a very small niche) online for about 11 years now and the past few years my business has dropped a lot. I think it is some of the reasons you mention in your article — more, much more people online selling logo designs and cutting the prices. With the amount of time and effort that goes into a design it would be very hard to cut prices and still be able to continue in business. I have had some of my designs stolen — probably many more than I know about. Thank you for this article and the helpful tips at the end.

  3. Thanks for getting this out there. I think a lot of fresh graduates don’t get that work needs to be protected. they also don’t understand the dangers of doing spec work and so on. As designers we have to protect our field to keep value in it. 

  4. Thanks for getting this out there. I think a lot of fresh graduates don’t get that work needs to be protected. they also don’t understand the dangers of doing spec work and so on. As designers we have to protect our field to keep value in it. 

  5. The other item that I think new graduates need to keep in mind is the use of stock or re-purposed vector images in their logo designs. That is a definite no-no. Some of the greener logo designers can get themselves in some serious deep water over that issue.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. If you really want to defend your work, you should take advantage of some of the links I provided at the conclusion of this post. Doing a Google reverse image search can track down the lifted logos and be sure to write them a stern DMCA letter to defend your rights. If we don’t take action now, it will only get worse.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Damn great article Leighton. As we probably have discussed before, there’s really an urge for us to take the stand and continue to do so. Particularly in the field of logo & identity design, I think newer generations also need to be educated more and ‘know’ about the roots of this business, which I still classify, and experience, as one of the most delicate and challenging sub-sets in the Graphic Design Industry, and to play their role up to the hilt.

    Thanks for your continuing support and attempts to open our eyes and take actions again Leighton.

  8. Damn great article Leighton. As we probably have discussed before, there’s really an urge for us to take the stand and continue to do so. Particularly in the field of logo & identity design, I think newer generations also need to be educated more and ‘know’ about the roots of this business, which I still classify, and experience, as one of the most delicate and challenging sub-sets in the Graphic Design Industry, and to play their role up to the hilt.

    Thanks for your continuing support and attempts to open our eyes and take actions again Leighton. 

  9. You’re welcome, Gert. It was one of those situations that is still a bit painful and frustrating to experience first-hand, but something we could all learn from.

    The way I look at it, the more we improve awareness of this problem, the more actions we can take to correct it. Plagiarism will never completely go away, unless we stop creating ideas worth stealing.

    Thanks for your comments.

  10. Leighton, good writing – I can feel your anger (and some hope) in the way you relay your message.
    Sorry to hear about your logo (Intellectual Property) thefts. I never really thought those websites would do that (surprise!).
    I’ve found that while some image searches are easily linked to their creators/copyright, others are so many generations removed (pilfered/borrowed/stolen) from their creators/copyright that it seems unlikely they could be found. I’ll have to check out Google Reverse Image Search and see how it works.
    Thanks for the safety pointers too!

  11. Great post, Leighton! Insightful, and great tips on how to prevent this. I just can’t believe how blatantly obvious some of these “designers” are. Good thing you’ve done your homework. Mind if I link back to this article on my site?

  12. Thanks, Sheila.

    Unfortunately, I’ve done a bit more homework than I would have liked to. :) You can certainly link back to my article. Spread the word. I appreciate it.

  13. I’m glad you got a sense of my anger without it coming off like a rant. Hopeful is a good word. I am hopeful that we can all work this out in the design community to get a better bead on infringement. Everybody wants to run an honest business and do good work, without looking over their shoulders.

    Nice to hear you got something out of it. I thank you for your comments.

  14. Great article. I was unaware how bad this is. Although I’ve always wondered how some online sites can sell logos for a buck or two. Unfortunately, the designers reading your article are invariably not the mental midgets doing the blatant pilfering.

  15. I think we all were a bit unaware until very recently. But, through the efforts of myself, the AIGA, Graphic Artists Guild and a handful of other very visible designers, the word is starting to get out. It may not be reaching the pilfering hacks lurking in the shadows, but it has to start somewhere.

    At first, I really thought my spouting off about this whole intellectual property situation was going to cause my online followers to start leaving in droves, but I am pleasantly surprised about their sticking with me. In fact, it seems to have attracted a whole new group of people who seem to be listening.

    As I have said before, there are many that are grumbling that this is the beginning of the end of logo design as a profession. I say they’re wrong. I think that tools like TinEye and Google Reverse Image search are a starting point in evening out the playing field and holding others accountable for their illegal actions.

    I thank you for your comments. Feel free to pass it on. :)

  16. Actually, this article has gotten you at least one more.  Great article.

  17. This has always happened – it’s just easier now. I don’t know that there’s really any way to protect your designs and, I have to admit, I’ve gotten pretty resigned to it. I would rather have my prospective customers be able to find me than risk having my ideas stolen. Thanks for mentioning TinEye and Google Reverse Image Search. I wasn’t aware of them.

  18. Hey at least they like your designs to use em. That’s how great they are.

    As much as I like piracy I can agree against plagiarism and free riding. And that piracy is a hard sell for midrange market goods, stuff that isn’t too cheap that every bit helps but not big enough to garner mass public attention. And if you’re going to make money off something, that money has to go to where credit’s due.

    Though I think the counter is not trying to hide your work but rather proliferate it to a point of being easily recognized and credited. In the end people should be hiring for what you can do instead of buying from what you have done.

    The new gate is now at the point of creation.

  19. I must say I’m not sure I completely understand your comments.

    On the one hand you compliment me on having work good enough to pilfer. I guess thanks are in order there. On the other hand you support digital piracy, but shun plagiarism and ‘free riding’.

    Although they are not exactly the same thing, those positions seem a bit contradictory. You say it’s OK to illegally distribute someone’s music or video streams (creative work) for distribution and usage to an internet-wide network, but not acceptable to plagiarize someone’s images. Either way, the artist is not compensated fairly and has no control over their own content’s distribution.

    I guess it’s the age old excuse of, “They don’t need the money. They’ve got plenty of money”. Well, who gets to decide that? Certainly not the artist. And at what point does the artist or corporation become ‘successful enough’ to not need the money and their work becomes open season to use? That seems to be the Internet’s decision or the average hack that does a right-click on your work.

    I know it’s not all black and white in the world of digital file sharing, but I certainly invite you to take a look from the other side of the fence – the side of the creators of content. Perhaps you’ll see it a different way once your work gets pilfered, whether you want it to or not.

    No, I’m not going to hide away my work, but I am certainly going to be much wiser about where it goes in the future.

  20. Well I see a difference between piracy of consumption and piracy for financial gain. With digital distribution there will have to be a new definition of “fair” when it comes to distribution and compensation.

    From your situation these companies are taking your work that you create and use it as their image for their company, thus in a sense profiting off your work. In that case I say any money earned deserves to move to all contributing parties, since the offending party intends to profit off your work. That would be the responsible thing to do. If this were some kid that didn’t want to resort to MS clip art for a school project I’m sure that can slide.Control over distribution is essentially gone with the internet, and that comes with a cost and benefit (in terms of public good). Arguably it’s always happened, it’s just now you can more easily notice it. I think the mentality change needs to be from creating a product to providing a service. Those that would have a vested interest in your ability to create will properly compensate you for it. This also means you don’t make something until someone wants it. 

    Piracy in this sense then moves your work at no cost to you, but it requires that they at least attribute that work back to you as so people can find you for more work. If you are recognized for the work you do, then it becomes harder for someone else to claim ownership.

    But course this does nothing in terms of allowing you to profit from still existing works. And that seems like it needs more direct intervention. 

    The problem I see is this dynamic means good things will always make money, and those  small enough to say any exposure will make them money, those in between that require a minimum amount of success but lacks the exposure end up losing out. That, I have no idea how to solve. 

  21. Thanks for your feedback and clarifying your comments, but I think you are perhaps missing something about my business model. The work stolen and appropriated here was never made available as off-the-shelf logo design.

    As I mentioned in the article, there are several new entities on the internet that offer those services, but I am not one of them. I create custom logo designs for each of my clients on an individual basis. There is no selling of overstock and no clearance rack. Somehow that business model is getting lost in the logo design business. Logo design is not a commodity, it is a custom-tailored service.

    Every piece stolen here was posted either on a portfolio site or on my own sites for purposes of self-promotion. They were all client commissioned projects. Some were used. Some were not. The ones used are copyright protected by the client, the remainder of them I retain copyrights to the work. For infringements like that, they will pay damages.

    If the work was posted in an inspirational blog article that is one thing, especially if they are courteous enough to include a link. But grabbing it and using my work for their own company or design business without my permission is attempting to profit from my hard work and I will not tolerate it.

    No, my business model doesn’t necessarily need adjusting, it just needs some more awareness. There is no inventory to move and no reason for my files to gain more exposure, especially to the piracy crowd.

    I know plagiarism has been around forever much like termites, but someone’s got to address the problem and do something about it before the whole house caves in.

  22. Well I guess the last bit is do we want to see these people as thieves or potential customers? And which would benefit you more? 

    I would say any business needs to know how and when to adjust, and something like this would probably warrant it. Just from a general business perspective.

    In either case, I really can’t answer this without possibly missing out on something. I can say even more exposure in the piracy crowd as it were means your work will start to stand out, if it’s good, and these people will then need something new they haven’t seen before, and if you step in then then they would now have discovered you. But this doesn’t address the fact there are works that are technically owned by someone else, and I don’t think you want to just let it go (considering it’s China, there’s already a habit to do things like that and that practice won’t just go away). Or that logos are a thing that can reach such a critical mass.

    I just don’t think the internet intentionally does harm without doing some good at the same time. Or rather it exists at such a scale you’re better off engaging with it than trying to dismiss it. And to do that you’ll have to put up with the good and the bad, because they’re all in the same basket.

    PS. It does look like you could have some good business in China.

  23. Why would anyone want to start out a business relationship – mind you a sustainable business relationship that begins with intellectual property theft?

    These people are not potential customers. They did a web search and took it. Is it any different with getting into someone’s car and driving around for awhile until the owner found you using it? Without permission, that’s still called theft.

    In addition, how can you expect to be paid what you’re worth when you’re negotiating with someone who’s not willing to pay for it in the first place? You can’t, because it has no value to them. They’ll just steal something else.

    Yes, I understand that the internet has evolved our lives in many ways both positive and negative, but piracy and its many facets is absolutely not the answer. Certainly not for me nor the design community at large.

    If we don’t take a stand against content theft and pilfering online, than what’s the incentive to produce anything new?

  24. Because good things still make money. No good idea was or will be pirated out of existence. 

    Because these businesses that stole these logos still need a logo, or else they would not have stolen one in the first place. 

    And really, you can’t relate the internet to anything in the analogue realm, that’s just a misrepresentation of how the internet works. 

    People have made good use of piracy. I can’t figure out how you will, but trying to hide from it has not really worked before. It’s that idea that will have to change. 

  25. Great Illustration ! Creative work always looking adorn and plenty attractive. It helps to give entertain to people. I amazed to see this too much extraordinary stuffs.

  26. […] For more details on the Leighton Hubbell/ story please feel free to read up on it at Leighton Hubbell’s blog here. […]

  27. […] For more details on the Leighton Hubbell/ story please feel free to read up on it at Leighton Hubbell’s blog here. […]

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