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 Logogarden.com 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 Logopond.com. 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.
The truth is, we’ve got people willing to ask for 200 logos for $250.00 on Elance.com. Even sadder, we’ve got people willing to do it for less than that.
Someone was willing to go through the Logolounge.com 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?
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.
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 Tineye.com 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.