The Act of Stealing.

This is a story about that one time I almost stole someone else's design from the Internet. 
It started with this image on Pinterest:

http://eighthourday.com/work/manifest/ 

I was enthralled by the clean lines, and I loved how each symbol related to a keyword.  The image was originally pinned for an idea for a tattoo, but I thought the symbols would be amazing as embroidered hoops, singular or in combination, as it certainly would be both interesting and unique.  I envisioned them to be a major seller, and within minutes had already developed a plan of attack in my head when I decided to go in search of the source, hoping the glyphs came from some ancient language and would therefore be usable, but naturally, the image was sourceless.  So were the other nine or ten pins of the same image that I clicked on, but thankfully one had a caption that sent me to Google and lo and behold, I found the source.  Eight Hour Day Design & Illustration features the work of Nathan Strandberg and Katie Kirk, creators of the glyphs shown above, and for a brief few minutes I almost stole their work.

It all happens so easily.  You see a striking image or idea posted out there on the Internet and think you can easily copy it, replicate it, or use it in some other creative way to make it your own.  That was my exact plan- take these symbols and turn them into something I could sell.  The problem is, these symbols are not universal (as are, say, the structure of the constellations)- they were completely developed by someone for a specific client, and I'm sure it took them a very long time to perfect their concept.  Using those glyphs in any capacity without permission is stealing their work, flat out.

When it came down to it, after searching multiple pins with no results and getting frustrated, I was ready to give up on trying to find the source, ready to just use the glyphs.  Use them now, explain later.  Except that felt wrong.  Really, really, wrong, because deep down, I knew that someone must have created them, and by using them I would be (really) knowingly stealing them.  I may have been able to sell some hoops but I would have felt guilty every time.

In the debate on "inspired" design, there are obviously exceptions to the rule: common processes, techniques, and materials that used again and again cannot entirely be considered original.  You can't stop a person or company from using the same fabric as you, or wrapping gemstones in the same way.  If I wanted to come up with my own glyphs to use, for example, I could do that.  It would be playing off their idea, but the actual symbols would be my own.  I would have been inspired by their idea but the actual work would be original, which is the basis of how most fonts are created.  There is, however, a huge difference in taking an idea and creating your own, and using something that someone else has created in entirety.

The moral of the story: always err on the side of caution.  Check, check, and recheck for sources.  Make sure that an idea does not come from someone else's hard work, unless you have express permission to use it.  When in doubt, or when something is sourceless, don't use it. Make your work as original as possible.  There is a fine line in design between an original idea and an inspired one.  You may play off a color scheme, a common phrase, or use a similar technique, but the heart of the idea should be your own.  Using something word for word, or in this case symbol for symbol, or even copying a signature design style is indeed stealing.  I would have felt horrible knowing I took someone's work for my own, and I would have been horrified if they found out.

Have you ever almost had this happen to you?  Do you check for sources, or has taking what you see become a common thing?

13 comments

  1. Paige @ Little NostalgiaJanuary 6, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    It drives me BONKERS when people don't correctly credit an image on Pinterest. Sometimes I don't catch it right away, but if I ever notice a mistake when I'm doing one of my roundup posts, I do an image search on Google by dragging the picture over. 90% of the time I can find the original source. I don't think a lot of people know how to do that, though, so maybe I'll write about it.


    Did you hear all the nonsense about how Shia LaBoeuf plagiarized a comic book recently? I guess he not only stole the dialogue for the movie he made, but he even based the camera angles off of how the comic was drawn. And then he tried to cover his ass by saying that he was "a big fan" of the original artist and "just forgot" to credit his work. I'm sorry, but that goes above and beyond someone inspiring you. That's just stealing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I forget that you can drag images to Google to find them! But really, it's not that hard to link to the right source. Just pin it FROM THE ACTUAL SOURCE! I felt so bad when I found the designer's website, and was totally bummed because those glyphs are so cool. Oh well. :) Bummer about Shia- that's totally wrong. What a hack!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Exactly! And like I said, while it may be ok to use the same phrase or color scheme, you totally don't want to have the exact same product as someone if you can help it. I mean, there are certain products you can only make one way, but the materials or embellishments you use are what make it yours!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is an excellent post! Sometimes ideas crop up a week or so later that we saw somewhere else. It's so important to keep track of where these ideas come from so that we can make it inspiration, not copying. I think any artists has probably been guilty of this sort of time at one point or other even if it was inadvertent. The biggest thing for me is just trying to sort through everything that is out there and trying to find my own creative niche.

    ReplyDelete
  5. PamelaJBates/Mercantile MuseJanuary 6, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Love this post. #1. love the glyphs too #2. I think this has happened to just about everyone. I dare say, the glyph creators- Nathan and Katie, have probably had this happen as well. I think it's something that humans do subconsciously- seeing things we like, tucking them away inside our heads and then comes an idea, perhaps minutes later like you or even many moons later. As a designer I'm constantly questioning things.......how I came to a certain design in the end. I've had people say 'can you create a logo just like this'? Well, know, I'm sorry, I can't. That would be stealing someone's work. And why on earth would you want a logo that looks just like someone else's logo? As 'creators' of things, I think it can be hard to avoid this, but as you said- we must do our best. There is also the question of intent- there is rarely an idea (even if you think it's all yours and it's brilliant) that hasn't been thought of before. BUT if you knowingly create something that someone else has done, that is something all together different. #3. It drives me bonkers on pinterest, on other blogs, on facebook, on the internet in general- when things are not sourced. I just don't get it. To me, it's common courtesy. If it's not something you created, it needs to be sourced. It's just that simple. Otherwise you are stealing someone's work in a different way. I totally agree with creating as much original content as possible and to err on the side of caution. If you can't source it, don't use it. Doing that has cause me to restart entire post graphic layouts using up much more time than I even had to start with, but in the end- I still have my integrity.

    ReplyDelete
  6. PamelaJBates/Mercantile MuseJanuary 6, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    LOL....................just reading your reply now and apparently we're both driven BONKERS by lack of sourcing on pinterest. BTW, I just read the who Shia LaBoeuf thing this morning and it gets even worse, then while 'apologizing' on twitter about the comic book thing.........he plagerized a tweet from some rapper. No kidding. I think he's got a problem. So weird.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am usually good about checking my sources these days, but I really need to purge my pins from my early days of pinning - there I just pinned anything that looked cool and repinned with abandon. And I never realize it until I want to check out that fashion idea or make that recipe and find it goes right back to a Tumblr site who reflagged it from this person who reflagged it from that and down and down the rabbit hole. Aarrgh!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yes, exactly! It's hard to not pull some bits and pieces since there is so much out there, and like I said- it's hard to not copy some elements of design if it's a standard practice technique. But, like you said, file those things away and when you go back to ponder on them, try and change them up and make them yours. The thing I hate is when you have a great idea and find someone already doing it. You're not really copying then, but it seems like you are.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree- I really need to do that too. I have so many good pins and it is so so so frustrating to finally click on something and find yourself on Tumblr. For one, it's not sourced, and for two, you are likely to never, ever even find the image anywhere else with the source.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I hate it when the perfect pin that is the ONLY image that will work for a post comes up unsourced. You're right- it takes so much more time to then have to revamp everything. I know what you're saying, though, about the ideas being recycled- it's just the way that we work, and as long as you can honestly say that it's something you came up with yourself, then you can be okay with it deep down. It would be so very very frustrating to me to have something blatantly ripped off from me, so I hope that I wouldn't do that to someone else. I think designers have it the worst because their graphics and styling can be applied to so many other things. It must be incredibly frustrating.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Sometimes I get frustrated trying to find a source for a great pin, just so I can give credit in a blog post or article. I feel really bad even linking straight to a pin when I can't find the source. It upsets me that so many people don't think anything of doing that, much less stealing an entire idea and making money off of it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Yea, I really want to try and check on all of my old pins and make sure there's nothing there that is sourceless. I hate having the perfect image, or want to check out a project or recipe, and then not having an actual page to go to. Think of all the views that person is missing out on!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yes, I know! I want to give credit where credit is due and make sure that person is getting their deserved views.

    ReplyDelete