Concept Copying – A Primer (Part 2 of 3) Ross | June 12th, 2008

In part 1 of our discussion about concept copying, we defined concept copying, and illustrated an example, from an Apple patent application.

Concept copying is a very important subject in the design community – both for professionals and non-professionals. After all, while it’s commonly accepted that all design is inspired by other design, mere copying is NOT inspiration. But it also should be said that not everything we create is unique. We are influenced by our culture, our history, and our environment. But there is a very clear difference between inspiration and influence, and outright stealing.

Let’s continue our discussion by looking at an example – the logo design for askville, a question and answer service from Amazon that was launched to compete with, among others, Google Answers.

Long before Amazon published the above design, another company, eventful (an events website), had already been publicly using, for some time, the following logotype:

Did the designer who created the askville logotype simply copy the eventful logotype? After all, both use arial rounded fonts, both use lowercase type, both use two identical colors, and both switch colors for each morpheme. [NOTE: the original logo for askville had the term "ask" in blue and "ville" in green].

There are differences – the eventful logotype uses more compact letter spacing and a brighter blue, as well as a darker green color. There is also Amazon’s branding on the askville logotype. Are those differences meaningful?

Could we agree on ANY of the following?

  • that the eventful logotype is the first ever to have each morpheme be a separate color
  • that the eventful logotype uses an original font.
  • that the eventful logotype is the first ever to use all lowercase type
  • that the eventful logotype is the first ever to use green and blue colors
  • that the eventful logotype is the first ever to switch colors for each morpheme

I believe that two people couldn’t agree on any of those things, because the eventful logo was NOT the first design ever to have those elements. And it’s perfectly plausible (but not very likely) that the designer of the askville logo had never seen the eventful logo.

What do you think? Is this a clear example of concept copying? Or does this example underscore the real complexity of concept copying?

More on this issue, and some suggestions, in part 3 (early next week).

Need something designed? Name your price. Pick from 110+ entries. Love it or your money back.

Like our blog? You’ll freaking love our Twitter updates. Oh, and you’ll dig our Facebook page too.

  • DWNees

    I have a situation that I think adds to this discussion. I was very excited to hear that a buyer really liked my design and that was lessened a bit as I read the comments asking for me to amend my design with elements of another design. I know that the buyer seems to like both designs equally well and I know similar things can happen on projects — for example, a buyer could say I like this unrelated logo’s color, or font – could you use it, but I would imagine this is not really appropriate among designers vying for the same project.

    So I have said that although I could do some revisions, I would not be able to take an element of design from another designer unless the buyer has rights to that design to do with as he/she pleases.

    Am I alone in this, being a goody-two-shoes or what?

    David (DWNees)

  • http://www.crowdspring.com Ross

    Hey David – very nicely said. And your response was spot on, in respecting the work by others. While buyers certainly might suggest that elements of someone else’s work be used, the intellectual property to the entries is at all times owned by the creative who submitted – until the buyer pays for it. It’s perfectly OK for a buyer who purchases multiple entries to have someone combine them – because the buyer would then own full rights to the multiple entries.

    There is a difference in scope, however. And ultimately, if the change is very small – such as a color change, this becomes much more of a gray issue. But, if everyone respects some very basic principles, as you’ve nicely articulated here, then there should be very few instances where this becomes a problem.

    So, David, we commend you on taking the high road – this is a really good example for others.

  • http://www.crowdspring.com Ross

    Hey David – very nicely said. And your response was spot on, in respecting the work by others. While buyers certainly might suggest that elements of someone else’s work be used, the intellectual property to the entries is at all times owned by the creative who submitted – until the buyer pays for it. It’s perfectly OK for a buyer who purchases multiple entries to have someone combine them – because the buyer would then own full rights to the multiple entries.

    There is a difference in scope, however. And ultimately, if the change is very small – such as a color change, this becomes much more of a gray issue. But, if everyone respects some very basic principles, as you’ve nicely articulated here, then there should be very few instances where this becomes a problem.

    So, David, we commend you on taking the high road – this is a really good example for others.

  • EmLiam

    As far as the above topic is concerned, I do not see any problem with color concepts, as they cannot have copyrights. Also, as they do not share the same market!

    Btw, just wonder how these kind of issues would be settled, if at all brought to court.

  • jmill

    I think concept copying is hard to figure out in a lot of instances. For me, it’s just something I know. Like I know it when I see it, or I just design and instinctively avoid concept copying. I think it’s just one of those things that needs a book. A little cute booklet on examples of concept copying. That sounds nice.
    J

Hey, it's crowdSPRING!

Tens of thousands of the world's best and most successful entrepreneurs, businesses, agencies and nonprofits use crowdSPRING for affordable and risk-free custom logo design, web design, a new company name or other writing and design services. More than 158,000 designers and writers work on crowdSPRING. We create designs and names people love. 100% guaranteed.

Get Blog Updates

Free E-Books

12 Question Interviews with cS designers.
Get it »

Contracts for designers who hate contracts.
Get it »

Contracts for software developers who hate contracts. Get it »

More in Marketing and branding (214 of 222 articles)

/** chartbeat **/