Blatant Design Rip Offs or Just Inspiration?

Blatant Design Rip Offs or Just Inspiration?

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Here is another list (first post here) of possible graphic design rips off / homages / inspired work. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether these pieces are plagiarised or just inspired.

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By posting this article, I am not trying to point the finger or join any witch hunt – it is food for thought – where we should draw the line between inspiration and plagiarism?

“Don’t worry about people stealing your design work. Worry about the day they stop.” – Jeff Zeldman

Some resources on how to deal with plagiarism and what to do if your design gets stolen.

The designs that were designed first are the ones on top but who knows where their inspiration came from?

Update January 25th 2010:

Due to a recent outing with our hosts, we lost a lot of files. We are currently in the process of restoring the photos, please be patient while we do so. Thank you.

All images are copyright of their respective owners. Irony much? For more information and more design plagiarism check out You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice.

What is your opinion? Where is the line to be drawn between plagiarism and inspiration? Have any of your designs been plagiarised?

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49 thoughts on “Blatant Design Rip Offs or Just Inspiration?”

  1. I used to live in Philadelphia, also the home of Urban Outfitters. I have my own clothing company and their designers used to steal several of my designs. I couldn’t do anything about it.

  2. Subscribed to YTWWN, so seen them…

    Some are ripped, e.g. Afflictedyard by VP records, Jen Stark by Banana Republic… others are inspiration, or even borrowing. The Ronald McDonald one is even admitted by the artist appropriation, borrowing previous form and idea to create a new message, is common and effective in art.

    What do YOU think Jacob?

    kristarellas last blog post..The Art of Favicons

  3. Charles,
    Is copying the highest form of flattery?

    There is a good mix of plagiarism and inspiration in that mix is what I think and I am also subscribed to YTWWN, but I don’t really read the articles just the pictures..

  4. @ [email protected] Forum – I definitely think the Brightstarr/Charcoal site was a rip, but I’m not sure others were.

    My feeling is that if it uses the same image without the consent of the original artist’s consent then its plagerism(*cough*skull on skateboard*cough*) I think its okay to use other pieces as sources of inspiration, just don’t use any part of the actual source image in your art.

  5. It’s nice to see how designs are ripped, and it is especially interesting to see the original after seeing only the ripped design. Nice list.

  6. I did a project at school where I had to create a magazine article in InDesign. When I presented I was asked where the image was from. I said that it was from the web, but the name of the photographer was on the image. I’m of the opinion that if you use an image/text or anything that you did not make, citing your sources should be OK for school work (kind of like writing a paper). If it’s for anything else it’s a different story, because of legal/ip issues; you should contact the person for permission. We’re always influenced by our senses, so the idea of original thought is kind of hard to prove these days.

  7. i really dont buy most of these as rips as there is no context, take the afflicted album covers how do you know those images wherent purchased. not saying that its not a rip but to just say it is or even an obvious inspiration with no credible evidence is just not convincing for me. like the banana republic one how do we know jen stark if i read the name correctly was not involved in that? probably not but there is no context 😀 nice list though, must have taken a while to compile.

  8. It’s hard to reinvent the wheel. I think almost everything is done before. The art is to take the best of everything you see or hear and put it together to a new piece of art and give it your style.

    Sometimes it’s nice so see some “quotes” in art. So you know the designer likes probably the same art as you do.

    But just copy and past cannot be the solution.

  9. I once heard my lecturer say ‘the only original thing we do these days is a crap!’ Sad but true, with so much stimulation out there, it would be near impossible not to be influenced or indeed heavily influenced by it all. But shameless rip- offs just (speaking of crap) shit me!

  10. appropriation, borrowing previous form and idea to create a new message, is common and effective in art

    Quite true, Kristarella. Just look at Andy Warhol! Koons vs. Blanche was a famous case about this. It’s part of Fair Use and it’s called Transformative Use. Particularly note the judge’s verdict in paragraph 4.

    And how do we know that the original artist wasn’t hired by the company to do a marketing campaign or t-shirt design? I’m thinking about the Jen Stark example. Do we know who was the design firm behind Banana Republic? Links to original articles would be helpful.

    What about the swirly, glowy, flowery look in recent digital illustrations? There has to be someone who did it first (wasn’t it a guy on dA?) and I’m sure they are quite upset that other people took it over. It seems that if enough people copy a style it suddenly becomes a trend instead of a rip. Hmm…

    And the Asian chick with the headphones looks like a stock illustration. Using the same stock artwork is not ripping or borrowing or being inspired by. It’s that everyone uses the same stock art sites! I’ve seen many of the stock photos I’ve used in other industry publications. It’s pretty embarrassing, but it’s cheaper than staging our own photo shoots and the average consumer won’t notice.

    I am not attacking your choices, Jacob. If anything it’s YTWWN assertion that these are rips.

    LaurenMarie – Creative Curios last blog post..What will be the Next Trend in Web Design?

  11. It is hard to know with some of them, and this post just shows the images.
    Having read the original articles: Jen Stark was not involved with Banana republic…
    As for the earrings and sneaker and flying toasters, I don’t think they were rips.

    kristarellas last blog post..The Art of Favicons

  12. Definatley a mix of rip-off and inspiration I would say. Where does the ‘Industrie’ print come from? Looks too rough to be original Si Scott.
    The girl in headphones is probably bought clip art and the ear rings? That’s a common design isn’t it? I took a look at Brightstarr and Charcol, but Brightstarr have made changes now so I guess it was a rip! 🙂
    Funny thing about Jen Stark, my ex did a few of these in October 2006!! Jen took it further and has produced some fantastic work though.

  13. in my opinion it becomes yours if you physically recreate it. so that makes some of the stuff up there blatant plagiarism, but other stuff is just unoriginal… theres nothing illegal about being unoriginal

  14. Jacob,

    The sneaker and the earrings, I question. So many sneakers look alike I’m not sure about that, and the craft that made the earrings is pretty common.

    Everything else is even more blatant than the last rip off post you did! Unbelievable that people can get away with this.

    Thanks for another neat post.



    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: Where Is Your Business Centered?

  15. Some of these designs I’ve seen ripped many times in different forms (the Sugarleaf and Industrie most often). At a certain point, I think it stops being a plagiarism issue and becomes an art form. With that said… some of them, like the James Brown copy, are fairly blatantly plagiarized. It seriously looks like they just flipped the picture and changed some of the words. I do occasionally use other artists’ work as inspiration; however, I try to make it uniquely my own (especially so copyright issues won’t come up!). If any of the artists who created these works are in need of some basic copyright law, this is a fairly comprehensive guide to copyright law (ebooks version).

  16. Dave – that’s awful! It’s a shame because I quite like the way he’s used the design, the header and footer are nice. I hoped maybe if I looked at the code he might have written it himself and just been unoriginal (copying the idea behind the style, but not the code itself), but the code is exactly the same.
    Then, he has the cheek to write on every page “This is my design” (in the footer on the front page and then as headings for the about page and portfolio. I can’t believe this kind of thievery takes place! (I guess deep down I can believe it, but have no insight into these people.)

    kristarellas last blog post..Making Goals and Making Graphics

  17. Dave, do you mind if I post about that rip on my blog? I’m seriously appalled by it. I just took another look at his source code and discovered that it still has the body class “page-author-dave” still in it!!!

    Feel free to either reply to this comment, or email me via my site.

  18. What I hate most is hotlinking. I’m still having problems with people directly linking to images on my site.

    Last week I found out that some guy had gone and stolen my site design. He just plain ripped it off, and changed 2 background images.


    I even had another guy steal my design, who bragged about how easy it was to do as I only had 2 background images.

    It’s very bitter-sweet when your stuff gets stolen.

    Dave Bowkers last blog post..Project storyboard

  19. The ‘this is my design’ comment made me laugh, and there’s even a bunch of links which link to content from my site which he hasn’t removed.

    Dave Bowkers last blog post..Project storyboard

  20. First off sorry for the delayed response replying to comments, been a bit busy of late. I do notice that everyone else has discussed it anyway so that is great. Thank You for covering my back!

    Toon and Zach,
    I believe that there is more information on the source site…

    I wonder where she got her inspiration from if any?

    Yeah it is quite interesting especially in the cases where you are not sure who ripped who.

    Thanks for the link out to that case. How did you hear about that? The hardest part is finding the line between ‘Transformative Use’ and plagiarism.

    I should have put links to the original articles, that was my bad.

    Interesting you say that if enough people copy a style it becomes a trend, I never really thought about it that way but there is a difference between style and plagiarism.

    It is so funny seeing stock photos in magazines, you can pick them straight away especially because most people use istock. The weekly music / club magazines I read every now and then are the worst, they use the same models, brushes and vectors every week on different ads. The worst thing about it is that the ads all come from the same studio but I suppose it is only use designers who really notice it.

    As I am at Uni I can relate to using stock images as well however I do not use any image, I make sure there is a creative license on it that allows you to edit it and use it in your own way.

    Dot Design,
    As my uni professor says, "everything has been done before".

    As they say.

    Steve O,
    You can read more about the stories on the site – I should have put links to the original articles.

    Nice work your wife did on the paper, it looks like you need a lot of patience.

    Well said. There is more information on each design and their context at if you are interested. It may clear a few things up.

    I agree, copy paste is not a solution.

    Haha, good to know that lecturers do have a sense of humour.

    Yeah I have to question the sneakers as well, there are so many types of shoes now-a-days.

    So you have read each article on the plagiarised posts?

    If you copy paste something does that count as physically recreating? Or what about tracing? If I traced a design that means I physically recreated it but do I own copyright over it? I don’t believe so.

    Vela B,
    Lauren mentioned earlier in the comments "if enough people copy a style it suddenly becomes a trend instead of a rip" which kind of relates to what you are saying. And I agree with you about making something your own but getting inspiration from somewhere else – I think nearly all designers do that. I even spoke about it in my CD cover design post. Thanks for the ebook link too.

    That is really disappointing because he is actually selling himself as a designer yet has ripped off someone else’s site. Have you tried any of the things mentioned to get his site down?

    People are not going to learn my copying but the sad thing is that they can still get away with it and be successful.

    His site seems to be down at the moment… saying there is no wp-config file.

  21. Yeah, I read the articles on YTWWN when there is one; with the more dubious ones there isn’t usually much description or evidence.

    I actually contacted Arran before publishing a blog post about the rip. I thought it was a decent thing to do because I’ve some across an alarming number of people who don’t have much concept of plagiarism. He was quite apologetic and took the site down. He wasn’t expecting anyone to see the site; he’s not a designer, but it’s a hobby and he’s still learning CSS. I directed him to free themes by Chris Pearson, Brian Gardner and the Sandbox project that he could use for learning CSS and WordPress, as well as WAMP and MAMP to play with a site without others seeing it.

    kristarellas last blog post..Making Goals and Making Graphics

  22. Not my ex wife Jacob! Heh, ex girlfriend. When I first saw Jen Starks work I thought that maybe she (my ex) had got the idea from there, but it was done a few months before Jen says she started doing hers. Weird how similar ideas propagate at a similar time.
    I’ve visited YTWWN a number of times. Some of the posts can be annoying in that they aren’t rips, but then a lot of the comments annoy me more. Still like to see what they put up though…

  23. Steve O,
    Ah sorry about that Steve O, somehow I thought I read ex wife. Well there are how many people in the word? I am sure at least two would have similar thoughts!

    Nice fake beard 🙂 Glad it is down also and that it is sorted for now.

  24. When I first saw that he had ripped the deisgn I sent an email to him. Still waiting for a reply.

    It’s odd that he replied to Krista and not to me. Perhaps he thought that he could ignore me, but got scared when someone else got involved?

    I’m also doubting his story about practicing CSS, as he targeted the site as a design portfolio asking for work.

    At least it’s down now. Hopefully he won’t find someone elses design to rip.

    Dave Bowkers last blog post..Project storyboard

  25. Thanks, i totally missed the ytwwn site before i commented, shame on me :D, but anyway the line is very fine on inspiration vs theft, i go through it all the time on logopond. it does amaze me what people try to get away with.

  26. I recall someone saying “if you are going to take an idea, make it your own”. If you see a style or image, look at it in a way how you can improve and change it to suit your own design purpose.
    I believe going out of your way to use a piece of work to use for profit or to claim as your own original is blatent plagiarism.
    But I think in some cases, they have to be looked into in-depth and on an individual basis, to establish the guilty party.
    At the end of the day, everyone knows about copyright and IP, just most chose to ignore the fact!

  27. I imagine at least some of these are the result of stock illustrations and photos and some of the others might be re-purposed commissions. It’s hard to know for sure without knowing the back story.

  28. A font designer named Phil Bracco ripped off my font “XtraQueer”. He calls it “Velvet Teen”..
    My other design “Retro Never Dies” was stolen and got ripped of by many many people.. Ypu can find all these works on google..

  29. I think whether those are plagiarized or not would depend on a few things. For one, I’ve had ideas I’ve come up with that have SEEMED like something that’s been done before and I never even saw/read whatever it was. In most of these cases where it’s obvious though, I don’t think that applies.

    Several of them I have to wonder if it’s stock images or a copied thing, mostly just the ones where its the exact same image. It either a stock or a plagiarism.

    In a few cases where the idea is similar but not exactly the same, it’s probably inspiration. The one I’d pick as the best example for this is the toaster one. It seems to me like they were at least trying to make it their own.

    It’s something where it takes a case by case basis to really know whether they copied it or were using it for inspiration. I think that’s something a lot of people have said, but it’s worth restating.

  30. I never thought anyone would bother to copy my humble efforts, but I just found one today.

    Here is the original. Notice the orange / gray combinations for the text, and especially the format of the PDF at the bottom of the article:

    Now look at this article with the same basic approach to layout, color choice, and even inclusion of and format of the PDF:

    I suppose copying is a form of flattery, but I can’t help but feel bummed at having my efforts lifted without reference. But it’s a mixed feeling when I reconsider the Zeldman quote up there.

    Enough was changed so that it’s new, but it’s clearly just a copy.

    I wouldn’t mind in the least if there was a hat tip somewhere in that, like “more resources”, but there is none.

    Oh well.

    There are times where I’ve tried to “borrow” from other designers, and was not successful in distancing myself enough from the inspiration to really call it my own. I always, always, always abandoned those efforts.

    Copying and not making enough substantial changes to an inspirational source is a pathology in the graphic design field with some “designers”.

    There’s just no dignity, and certainly much less joy, in just blatantly copying something without due reference. Maybe it helps cash flow, but that’s about it.

  31. I love watching people cry about stolen designs when there’s not been an original idea in the last 100 years. Everyone rips everyone, it’s been going on since the reconnaissance and probably before. If you look long/hard enough you will find most everything has already been done.

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