Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Flattery will get you nowhere.

My father Michael, who happens to be an internationally renowned graphic designer (with oodles of design awards stashed in the closet of his office), once told me that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I wasn't sure what he meant until I saw someone I had never met waltz into a squash tourney that I was playing in wearing a t-shirt with not one but two of my logo designs on it and it wasn't one of my shirts! I laughed about it then and, I have to admit, I even felt a little bit flattered when I thought about how someone half away across the world had liked my design enough to steal it, print up t-shirts and present the design as their own. I thought I was witnessing a "one-off" but then it happened again.

One night a couple of years ago I was at my squash club having a post-game pint when talk turned to graphics and someone accused me of design theft. They had seen a website that had the same logo that I was using for my squash clothing line "S.C.R.U. Squash". They were sure that I had stolen it. When I got home I hopped on the world wide web and finally found the website using it: It was a Malaysian squash academy and they were using a variation of the logo I had created and had been using since 2002. I emailed the academy over and over again and when I didn't hear back I went straight to the top and asked the Asian Squash Federation and the Squash Rackets Association of Malaysia to help me stop them. I showed them my evidence (below) and they stepped in and got the academy to stop using my logo. (My thanks again!) Still waiting for an apology from Mr. Foo. . .

Then it happened a third time: I was surfing the net for squash related info and I saw that a provincial squash association in Mexico was using my logo to represent their group. This time the colours were changed and a line of text added. Jeez. I ended up talking via email to the head of Colima Squash who was very apologetic and told me how they had hired someone to design them a logo and when he presented it to them they loved it! They weren't very happy to find out that their new logo was actually mine and they very quickly switched to a new logo (and a new designer I hope!)

Which brings us to today's example of "flattery".

One year ago I designed a logo and poster for a tournament at one of our local clubs. The theme was "Cuba Libre" and I suggested "Viva Squash" and "Revolutionize your Squash" as two mottos that could be used in the marketing of the event. The former was used in online advertising while the latter was used in the print poster.

Here's the "Viva Squash" logo with my logo in the star.

The event was fabulous and successful and I was very proud of the work I did so imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a poster that was using the photo I had taken of two junior squash friends of mine, Alykan and Ahmad, as the main graphic on their poster. They have also taken the tagline "Revolutionize Your Squash" and used it as if they came up with it. Couldn't even translate it into Spanish?

Judge for yoursef: On the left is the poster I designed. On the right is the poster for Sky Gym's squash tournament. Spot the similarities? (Click on them to see a larger view. Or do you need to?)

The poster in question is for an event taking place in less than two weeks at Sky Gym Training Centre in Naucalpan de Juárez, Mexico, so the damage is done. I'll track them down and let them know that I'm pissed but real drag is that the players entering this tournament have no idea who created the artwork for the event. I bet they have no idea it was a squash-crazy designer in Canada.

I wonder if my artwork will appear on the souvenir t-shirts too? (I'm an XL, Ahmad's a large and Alykhan's a medium . . . just in case.)

My father was right about the flattery part of this but he also had another adage that he taught me from an early age: Give credit where credit is due.

Let me be clear here about credit because I'm not just talking about financial credit. If they had asked me I probably would have let them use the artwork in exchange for a credit line, telling the world who designed it, or for putting my logo on the poster. Easy peezy.

What we're talking about here is plagiarism and the dictionary defines it as copying something without crediting the source.

Plagiarism is stealing and that's not flattering.