Cyberdrum: The Consult website theft

By The Drum, Administrator

March 21, 2008 | 3 min read

Code of ethics

The reason our agency has enough visibility to attract the attention of larger or overseas agencies is that we participate in a large number of online forums and blogs, and submit work to international compendia of design.

Just because we’re a smaller agency in Leeds doesn’t mean we escape attention from quarters which should know better. It’s very flattering that people like our site, but you have to ask what this says about their ability or willingness to be original. At best, this is laziness—at worst, it’s a matter for litigation.

New interpretations

Surely we should all be governed by a kind of ‘honour amongst designers’? We all know there’s nothing new under the sun, but at the same time what our clients are paying for is fresh ideas and new interpretations. If an agency can’t even be honest about its own work, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement of its creative talents. It’s one thing to admire a piece of work and say, ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ – it’s another thing to steal it.

In 2006 we did a website for an accountancy firm in Manchester, only to discover that a company that puts up advertising trailers in fields had copied it right down to the very last jpeg—all they changed was the copy and the company name. When we threatened to take matters further, they admitted they’d been short of time and had cheated.

Colleges and universities have a responsibility to make sure students understand the issues. On a visit to one of the North’s most prestigious art colleges, I’ve seen a fine-art student try to pass off a painting as their own – hoping (in vain) that their tutor hadn’t seen Keane’s latest music video. The character in the painting I saw was a straight screen-grab, but executed in oils.

I acknowledge that, in a global economy, coincidental repeats of the same idea – or developments of an existing idea – are increasingly likely to happen. I remember a report in the design press a while ago about an agency’s campaign for Scottish rugby, featuring a guy face-painted with the blue cross of St Andrew, very similar to Nike’s ad showing Wayne Rooney painted with the red cross of St George. Was it coincidence? Was it an honest, unapologetic and ironic development of an existing idea? It’s going to get harder to tell – but if we’re going to reinterpret ideas, we need to make sure we’ve developed or improved on the original, and that we’re telling a fresh story. There should at least be a polite nod to what has gone before.

Rip off

People may think that if they’re on the other side of the world, the distance makes them immune to being spotted. But while there are some designers willing to rip off other people’s ideas, there are others who are more than willing to report any bad behaviour that they see. We’re indebted to the online design community for their help.

Inspiration and influences are to be encouraged, but there’s a fine line between that and the theft of intellectual property.


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