Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A painful lesson in copyright and graphic design – inspired by Steve Jobs

Social media has changed the game; in more ways than one. Let’s look at the case of Mr. Mak.

Mr. Mak, a university student in Hong Kong who is an aspiring graphic designer. Upon the passinga way of Steve Jobs, he designed a graphic of the Apple logo with a silhouetted profile of Mr. Jobs. It went viral and was even picked up by news media. Even actor Ashton Kutcher posted the design on his Twitter account. So far, so good...

But then, it was noticed that his design has an uncanny resemblance to the design of Chris Thornley, a British graphic artist.

Mak developed his design in late August using a white Apple logo on a black background. He used a black silhouette of Mr. Jobs indented in the apple as a tribute to Mr. Jobs after he stepped down as chief executive of Apple.

Although Mak said he had searched across the Internet both to ensure he was not infringing on another design, he did not come across Mr. Thornley’s design.

But his design turned out to be similar Mr. Thornley’s. Thornely designed a black Apple logo on a white background, with a white silhouette of Mr. Jobs. The angle is slightly different from Mak’s design.

A shocked Mak said he had received notification from Mr. Thornley’s wife, Julia, about the similarities of the two designs.

In the world of graphic design, similarities between images are quite common. This case illustrates once more how easy it has become to unearth similar images or outright copies. Mr. Thornley, a 40-year-old living in Darwen, England, acknowledges the dangers the digital age presented to creativity.

He is following the controversy while receiving treatment for a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He stated that he first developed his design in May 2011. He wanted to celebrate the fact that someone who had cancer was still working, still driving forward and still thinking positively about the future.

The Internet can be a double-edged sword,” he said. “You need to use the Internet in order to promote yourself, but in order to do this you are making yourself vulnerable to these situations.”

Mr. Thornley went on to say that he hoped to speak with Mr. Mak soon about the two designs.

J. Mak has been as honest as he can about the situation, I think,” he said. “It is important to have the debate about this, and J. Mak has to be credited for opening up the debate and not hiding from it.”

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