It is said that ‘Imitation is the best form of flattery’. This is only true if you’re copying the style of your favorite actor or if you’re copying the good work ethic of your elder sister. But, not all imitations flatter people. If you copy a classmate’s assignment in school and submit it as yours, it will hardly flatter that person. Similarly, plagiarism in graphic design – like if you copy someone’s art – will never ever flatter the creator. Instead, you will be called out on social media and, worse, embroiled in legal proceedings.
Schemes of logo design plagiarism
A logo helps a brand differentiate itself from competitors. When a logo is copied, the copied brand gains an unfair advantage by leveraging the benefits that might come with mass recognition of the original. Logo design plagiarism is nothing new. From amateur designers to multinational design firms, they all have been guilty of this theft – the extent of the theft varies, but the practice is more rife than you think. There are many ways to rip off someone’s work and present it as yours, but three ways that are common include:
Logo plagiarism can vary from being a complete rip-off to a copy that shares an uncanny resemblance to your logo. Sometimes, artists claim they only take inspiration from a piece of art, but in reality, the artist might have taken more than “just inspiration” in creating something that resembles eerily with your patented creation.
For example, in 2019, rapper Lil Nas X released a sneaker design in collaboration with MSCHF, an art collective. It had all the rights features, but one thing stuck out like a luminescent light in the dark – Nike’s Swoosh logo. Nike sued Lil Naz for trademark infringement, and the two parties settled, with MSCHF agreeing to recall the sneakers and offer refunds to buyers.
Reflections or similarities
There is a very slim line between inspiration vs plagiarism, and sometimes brands have logos that aren’t a complete rip off of someone else’s work but still share a lot of similarities. It could be anything from the typography to color or even the style, while the intention wouldn’t be to copy the logo, the end product turns out to be something that forces consumers to put both pictures side by side and point out similarities. Take this example of Airbnb and Automation Anywhere.
Airbnb officially launched a new logo in 2014. The iconic A, which we all instantly recognize today was created after a lot of thought. But there was just one problem. The logo was very similar to the one being used by a – then – small startup Automation Anywhere. It got to a point where both companies released a joint statement.
In early 2014 both Airbnb and Automation Anywhere began use of new logos that, by coincidence, have similar designs. Airbnb and Automation Anywhere are working cooperatively to address this issue, and Automation Anywhere is in the process of transitioning to a new logo design that is not similar to the Airbnb logo.
Well, the matter was resolved. Airbnb still uses its iconic A, but Automation Anywhere has a slightly different A now.
If you create a product that turns into something big, you get the right to call dibs on it. It’s yours now. You own it in the sense that none of your rivals can lay claim to that product/ marking in the future. For example, if today you invent a teleportation machine, and name it ‘Telepast’, it will be your trademark. Now no other teleportation device can use this name.
Trademarks lead to certain disputes as well because whatever you are creating, someone else has done it in the past, and some will do it in the future. So, labeling a trademark becomes trickier. Take the example of Apple. Do you know Apple is actually Apple Inc? And did you know before Steve Jobs founded Apple, there existed another company named Apple? Yes, The Beatles had already been running a multimedia company called Apple Corps Ltd. There was a dispute when Apple, the iPhone company, tried trademarking the use of the “Apple” name and logo. After multiple rounds of legal battles, the two companies reached a final agreement in 2007.
Legal standing for plagiarism in graphic design
Laws governing logo plagiarism, also known as trademark infringement or logo copying, can vary significantly from country to country. Trademark laws are generally designed to protect the rights of brand owners and prevent confusion among consumers.
In the United States, logo plagiarism is primarily addressed through trademark law, which aims to protect the rights of brand owners and prevent confusion among consumers. The main legislation governing trademark rights and protection is the Lanham Act (also known as the Trademark Act of 1946). Some of the key aspects of the law are:
Trademark owners can register their logos with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It provides certain benefits, such as a presumption of ownership and the exclusive right to use the trademark nationwide in connection with the goods or services for which it’s registered. A trademark owner can take legal action against someone using a similar or identical logo if it’s likely to confuse consumers about the source of the goods or services.
To establish a trademark infringement claim, the owner of the original logo needs to demonstrate that the alleged infringing logo is causing or is likely to cause consumer confusion. This might involve showing that consumers could mistakenly believe that the products or services associated with the infringing logo are connected to the trademark owner.
If a trademark owner successfully proves infringement, they can seek various remedies, including:
Injunctive relief: A law court can issue an injunction to stop the infringing use of the logo.
Damages: The trademark owner can claim monetary damages, which might include the defendant’s profits from the infringing use or actual damages suffered by the trademark owner.
Destruction of infringing goods: In some cases, the court can order the destruction of goods bearing the infringing logo.
How logo plagiarism hurts brands
Brands and companies stand to lose a lot in the case of logo design plagiarism. From the loss of credibility to a financial hit, the copy of a company’s branding elements can significantly impact its business. Here are some ways businesses stand to lose in case of logo plagiarism.
Damage to brand identity
Logo plagiarism can have a significant impact on a brand’s identity and reputation. A brand’s logo is not just a visual representation, it’s a symbol of the brand’s values and personality and is its overall identity. When another entity copies or plagiarizes a logo, several damaging consequences can occur.
Any case of logo plagiarism brings with it a set of legal consequences. It depends on whether you are the victim in the situation or not. In case you are aggrieved by intellectual property theft, you can take a number of actions to not only stop the use of your graphic elements but also recover the cost of any damage caused to your brand’s reputation or finances.
The brand can send a cease-and-desist letter to the infringing party, commanding that they stop using the copied logo and take corrective actions. The company can also file a trademark infringement lawsuit against the party that copied the logo. If the court determines that infringement has occurred, it can order the infringing party to stop using the copied logo.
The owner may seek monetary damages to compensate for any financial harm caused by the infringement. Damages can include the brand owner’s actual losses and the infringing party’s profits gained from the infringement, and even the legal fee accrued by the victim on legal proceedings.
Loss of trust and credibility
Logo plagiarism tarnishes the reputation of brands and results in the loss of customer loyalty by creating confusion and diminishing trust. Consumers may become confused by the similarity of logos, questioning the authenticity of products or services. This confusion erodes consumer trust as the genuine brand’s reputation is jeopardized by association with potentially lower-quality imitations.
Logo plagiarism can seriously generate negative publicity for brands and leads to a slump in consumer perception at a time when this perception is a valued asset for any brand to stay relevant and popular. According to research, 88 percent of consumers say authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support. So clearly, in this day and age, no brand can afford to take a hit on its reputation.
But the logo of a popular brand on any shoddy product can seriously dent consumer trust and cause significant harm to the business. This puts doubts in consumers’ minds about the brand’s commitment to delivering genuine, reliable products or services. This negative attention can damage the brand’s reputation and public image, leading consumers to view the brand in a negative light.
Lost business opportunities
The losses incurred by a brand victim of plagiarism in design are short-term and long-term, while in the immediate aftermath, the brand might see a hit in reputation and financial losses, in the long-term future, it leads to a permanent loss of credibility and missed business opportunities that would have otherwise resulted in accelerated growth.
Plagiarism in graphic design leads to confusion among consumers about the authenticity and credibility of products or services. Consumers may hesitate to engage with a brand if they are uncertain about its legitimacy, leading to a loss of potential customers and business opportunities. Moreover, the decision to fight it out in court can also lead to legal costs and financial liabilities, diverting a huge pool of resources that could have otherwise gone into R&D or growth.
Another way logo plagiarism stifles a brand’s growth is by breaking the bond of trust. Brands spend a large amount of time cultivating trust with their business partners and customers, and any loss of reputation can break down this mutual trust which then takes a lot of rebuilding and results in loss of potential business opportunities.