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Episode 73: People Copying your Creative Work

Today we talk about people copying your creative work. This is a massive pain point for some designers and can literally make us lose sleep. Without further ado, let’s get into the show!

Watch more of the Honest Designers episodes here: Honest Designers Podcast Playlist   And remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel for regular updates direct to your inbox.

Show Notes for This Episode:

[1:00] This week we’re talking about people copying your work
[1:30] Lisa has experienced this the most
[2:00] There are people who copy work because they want to learn
[2:30] Then there are others who copy, claim it as their own and eventually sell it
[3:30] Lisa’s example of having her work copied by someone claiming it as theirs
[4:30] People messaging Lisa to let her know someone was copying her work
[5:00] Lisa would have liked to be given credit that she was used as inspiration
[5:20] “Good designers copy, great designers steal” – Tom Ross
[5:45] A great artist would be inspired by others work but would put their own spin on it
[7:15] Wondering subconsciously if your work seems familiar because you’ve copied someone else
[7:45] Dustin has been drawing a lot of cereal box characters lately
[8:20] His dilemma of how he came to learn to draw the character’s hands
[8:50] Tom clarifies it’s copying leading to stealing leading to creating
[9:50] He lists a few styles which he used when he did web design
[11:00] Replicating designs to understand how they made it work and look so good
[11:40] “Copy to learn, not to earn!” – Ian Barnard
[12:50] The grey area of copying others work
[13:40] The quest to finding your own style
[14:30] Making small changes to your work to avoid feeling you’ve copied someone
[15:00] Tom asks Lisa if she ever felt inspired by Disney illustrations
[16:30] Dustin lists a few styles that he noticed have been trending lately
[18:30] The hosts joke and talk about someone copying Lisa’s style and doing it better than her
[19:20] Taking bits that inspire you from lots of different designers and adding them to your style
[21:40] Ian copying the concept of putting words on a face but using his own style of lettering
[22:40] Making sure to reference the artist if there are similarities in the work
[23:20] Ian suggests only taking elements and combining them
[25:00] Tom’s example of Serkworks Art Labs’ Zombie Avatar Builder
[26:00] Dustin’s attempt at creating a Retro Portrait Creator
[27:00] Looking at the things you like and wishing they were a bit different
[28:30] They joy of creating your own stuff
[29:00] Jason Carne’s traditional style of lettering and collecting old books
[30:00] How do you know when you’re on the far side of the grey area of copying work?
[31:45] Lisa remembers her journey getting started with illustrations which as a combination of excitement and frustration
[33:00] Lisa’s advice for someone starting up and encouraging them to experiment
[34:50] She used to copy all the characters from Archie Comics
[35:30] Than later realised she needed to find her own style and only used aspects of other’s work
[36:30] The common practice of learning copywriting by writing down very popular adverts
[37:30] Getting in the mind of someone and understanding their technique
[38:15] Tom trying to copy Quentin Blake’s illustrations
[39:00] Dustin showing his character illustrations and how he progressed
[39:40] And telling himself “you’re 100 characters away from being decent”
[40:20] Ian’s lettering teaching technique: tracing letters, referencing and doing it yourself
[41:40] Tom mentions Debi Sementelli’s lettering workshop at Design Cuts
[43:10] Tom would like to touch on the topic of how it feels to be copied
[44:40] Dustin feeling like someone was taking money out of his pockets and putting his family’s wellbeing at risk
[45:30] Feeling sick, frustrated and trapped
[46:00] Lisa’s work is a part of her and it feels like a little part is being ripped off
[46:30] Big companies stealing your work and becoming your competition
[47:20] Lisa reaching out to someone and telling them they’re in the wrong
[49:00] Ian’s loyal fan base messaging him to inform him his work has been copied
[50:20] What are people trying to achieve when they steal another designers work?
[51:00] This was one of the first topics the honest designers covered
[51:20] Ian found his product insight someone else’s product
[52:00] People being let down by the copy product as they’re expecting higher quality
[53:20] Tom gives Rebekah Peluszak @rebekahpeluszakdesign a shout out for the nice mention she gave HD on her Instagram
[54:10] The positive note of your work being good enough to be copied
[55:20] If you’re getting inspired by other’s work make sure to reference them
[56:00] Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode

“A must for every creative freelancer (or those aspiring to freelance). Thank you for being so… honest! Such a wealth of information from people I admire who have ‘been there and done that’. Listening to the podcast every week feels like I’m among friends. Can’t wait for more episodes!”AG_GD

4 Lovely Comments from our Community:

  1. Thanks for another great podcast. I love hearing your discussions. On the issue of copying I think designers and illustrators can be a bit rigid. It is truly impossible for anyone to come up with an idea or style that is totally unique. Most designs and illustrations contain some recycled material. Ian mentioned being inspired by some lettering on a face. I remember seeing it by Sagmeister in the 90’s: Chances are Sagmeister was inspired by something that came before him.

    I like your credo “copy to learn not earn” but I also agree with what Dustin said about after having drawn the same borrowed element over 50 times it does become your own. Somewhere I heard that art is like cooking. You take lots of different ingredients (borrowed elements from a variety of artists) and mix them together into something unique. I think Austin Kleon also talks about this in one of his books.

    Borrowing happens all of the time in music, most obviously when songs are sampled. Some of the lawsuits that come out of this are absurd- for example the Marvin Gaye estate suing over the intro to “Blurred Lines.” In the tech world engineers use open source code so that everyone can learn from everyone else to build something great.

    I agree that outright copying (like what happened to Lisa) is terrible and unfair but in general I’d rather live in a world that is fueled by generosity and sharing rather than protectionism and fear.

    • says:

      Hey Portia, sorry I’ve missed your comment previously and just picked this up now. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the copying other’s work topic. I think your analogy of art being like cooking and using lots of different ingredients sums it up perfectly. You can be inspired by lots of different bits, then add them all in a composition and make it your own. This makes it unique as no one else will take the same bits and compose the work in the same way.

  2. CM says:

    Loved listening to this latest episode! Certainly someplace we’ve all been, and we’ve all experienced.

    Have a follow-up question for Tom, Dustin, Lisa, and Ian if they have the time:

    How do you guys handle situations when your CLIENT copies your work?

    Here’s a couple of examples:

    Create a unique design for an agency/reseller’s client for a project or event. Project goes well and both agency/reseller and end-client are happy. Event is successful and garners a lot of media/attention. Discover a few months down the road agency/reseller has taken the design and repurposed it over and over, reselling same design to other clients.

    Design project starts off with several concepts for client to review. Client chooses one and project progresses, is completed and both parties happy. Discover a year later, client has hired junior designers to replicate the un-used concepts for other needs.

    Branding project starts off with several concepts for client to review. Project is cancelled soon after initial comps for reasons beyond everyone’s control. Kill fee applies and is paid. Discover a couple years later, project has resurfaced, client used junior designer to replicate one of the concepts and is actively using it.

    Agency/reseller hires designer for a large event project for third-party client. Entails a design to reflect the event, and several branding projects including various ads, posters, landing pages, emails, etc. Designer creates initial design, is approved by end-client and initial print project of many is sent to press. Agency/reseller comes back and says project is being down-scaled, the entire scope is no longer needed. Invoiced appropriately and agency/reseller pays. Discover later that junior internal designer was used to complete the full scope initially used to entice designer into project.

    Would love to learn how others would handle such situations. Thanks!

    • says:

      Hi CM, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. It looks like I’ve missed your comment before. I will make sure to send your question to the honest designers and I will get back to you when we have more information. Thanks 🙂

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