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Welcome to rachelsays... The blog of Rachel Lewis, containing my thoughts and musings on illustration, design, fashion, music, cakey-bakey goodness, culture and things that I generally find cool. There's also a good chance my own illustration work will pop up on here.

All work on this blog is copyright to me unless I state that it isn't. Obviously. Don't do stealing, kids.

So come on in, have a look around, and leave a comment if you like what you see.
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Friday, February 12, 2010

Paperchase: Mockery is Not the Highest Form of Flattery

This story has been all over twitter in the last 24 hours. It's an interesting one, and also quite alarming to the illustration community. It all centres around the accusation of plagiarism; more specifically, Paperchase (or the design studio they buy their design's from) copying an illustrator's original work. The illustrator in question is Hidden Eloise, and it's one of her characters that is a reccuring theme in her work, that seems to have been ripped off. And in my opinion, extremely obviously:

Take away all the details and focus on the girl, and she is in exactly the same pose. For god's sake, they haven't even flipped her horizontally (a classic trick which I used to use in college aaalll the time before I knew better) all they've done is added a few hair curls and change the colour of her dress.

When I read about all this, I was quite shocked that Paperchase could behave in this way. As you might now if you read my blog, I love Paperchase and shop there a lot; I always used to think it would amazing if I ever got commissioned to design something for them. Now this has come out it's very worrying. Read Hidden Eloise's blog post for the entire story, but this is the part that surprised me the most:

"...the lawyers ask me astronomical amounts of money to deal with this seriously in the courts and I suspect that is exactly the reason why Paperchase ignores me in the first place.
Since I have written to them, Paperchase made sure to put up even more items for sale with my plagiarised art! I'm sure Paperchase think that there is nothing that can make them stop. Proof is that the albums in the link above are actually freshly listed after the notebooks that I had written them about have apparently sold out!"

It seems that she contacted them with her concern, she got brushed off, couldn't afford lawyers, wrote that blog post, caused a huge stir of outrage against paperchase, and they then released a statement without informing her, which you can read here.
So it's still going on, but it's safe to say that Paperchase has had it's reputation damaged badly and many people, including illustrators, have lost faith in them. It's amusing that they have now joined Twitter themselves, it would seem in a strange attempt to stop the Twitter-storm that happened because of all this while they were absent from that social media. You can now follow them @FromPaperchase. An interesting sidenote that large companies really really need their finger on the pulse of all instant social media like this. It's really not enough to have a facebook page, or even a twitter page that never gets updated. There's no point being 'on' social media if you don't actually utilise it properly. You just look like a band-wagon-jumper-onner. I don't think this couold have been averted if Paperchase were active users of Twitter, but it certainly may not have escalated to be a Trending Topic.

The real question is why Gather No Moss (the design studio Paperchase uses) thought they could get away with blatent plagiarism like this. The beauty of the internet and the almost disease-like ease that information gets spread through social media and blogs etc, means that if an artist/musician/etc gets ripped off, someone will know someone who is following/friends with/linked to the original artist and they will find out. I see it a lot on my twitter stream: tweets saying 'Look at this, do you think this person has ripped off my style'. One of the most recent ones I saw was from Gemma Correll, who is has such a unique and distinguishable style, and is literally everywhere (seriously, that girl gets around, she must have such a business head, she's so in vogue right now), and she tweeted that someone had ripped her off and those designs were selling at Urban Outfitters! They have since dropped the shirts because of the bad publicity - something which Gemma could not have got without the use of twitter and flickr etc. It really can be an invaluable tool. She has withdrawn the image comparing the 2 designs so I can't show it here.

Plagiarism is always going to happen. It's horrible but it will. All art is inspired by other art - and you can have influences, obviously. But where is the line between influences/inspiration and direct copying? How do you develop your own style without being too influenced? Massimo Vignelli, the legendary modernist designer says:

"A personal style is like a handwriting - it happens as the byproduct of our way
of seeing things, enriched by the experiences of everything around us."

This is something I try to live by and I think sums it up perfectly. Just like the person you are as a whole has been shaped by everything that has happened to you in your life, so your art should be a complete mix and personal interpretation of everything youve ever seen, watched, drawn or made. Influences are fine. Directly copying an artist you like (or envy) is not. In this case, mockery is not the highest form of flattery.

So what happens if you don't copy another's style as a whole, but use copyrighted elements in your work? This is a continuously raging debate, especially within the field of collage; even I cut up fashion mags etc for personal work and technically, that's not allowed. That photograph is copyright owed by the photographer and you don't have permission to re-use it in commercial work. But so many do. Collage by nature is an assemblage of recycled imagery. A massive grey area. But let's look at the recent Shepherd Fairey debacle, which is still rumbling on:

Taken from this post at the AOI blog, read it.

In this case, the original photographer is suing Fairey for use of this photograph (left) without permission for his election poster (right). It's a massively famous image but now it has this complicated law case around it. The whole case is detailed better here. You can see the source material clearly is this photograph, and as the AOI say:

"At the AOI, we frequently get asked these sort of questions. If I use a
photograph as source material, then am I violating copyright?
The answer is YES everytime. Even if you treat the photo, distort it and
colourise it as Fairey has then you can still get significantly stung a few
years down the line."

So, to sum it all up, copyright is super tricky. The best thing to do is, if you know you are copying someone's style/elements of work, just don't do it. Especially in this age of instant internet. You will get found out it seems. I wish loads of luck to Hidden Eloise and hope it gets sorted out. It's just sad it's come to this and Paperchase have worked with a company that obviously plagiarises. Perhaps in their defense they were completely oblivious, perhaps it's Gather No Moss we should be angry at. But really, who knows. It just shouldn't have happened in the first place.

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