Recently Malika Fabre post on Twitter a clear and blatant (and coarse) plagiarism of one of her magnificent posters for the British Bafta Awards (Twitter link):


In a Design course, as a final work, the students had to make an infography of their professional life: a Life Map. Among so many students it was clear that some similar idea would appear. One of the most recurrent was the design around the personal fingerprint.

Knowing that everyone did the job at the same time and delivered the same day, the general question was: if it's a professional job, is that considered plagiarism?

The answer for the course was that personally, rather than plagiarism I would consider it a lack of conceptual or design search. Stay with the first idea that comes to mind without deepening, neither conceptually or morphologically. What is not wrong, but in a professional is expected a higher level of self-exigence.

This is the 2018 summer campaign of CocaCola drink Aquarius in Spain and one of the great works by Steve Bronstein for Absolut, Absolut L.A. Special attention to the location of the springboard and the pool ladders:


What's the limit: the idea, the design, everything. Can Absolut say the idea of ​​the pool-bottle belongs to them or making an advertising campaign with a pool with a bottle shape is free to everybody?

Note: I don't know if Absolut belongs to Coca Cola.

Edit after the comments

It is obvious that talking about multinationals, the responsible for the advertising campaign is another multinational. These companies usually have countless of well-informed professionals and it's clear that more than one of them knows about the existence of the oldest campaign with the bottle shape pool since, in addition to being highly promoted at the time, it appears in a significant number of sites.

For this I suppose that there is no plagiarism, copy or inspiration, more than the permissiveness of, even knowing of the existence of that design, to accept it as an alternative for the new campaign.

Maybe the designers we are visually over-informed, in my case, when I saw the advertising immediately I said Absolut L.A.! Actually to put the image in the question I had to go back to the place where the new advertising is and read the name of the drink.

Therefore, what is the limit within that permissiveness, if it exists? Or is it all OK?

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    A quick Google found this, so not related to CocaCola - "Absolut Vodka is a brand of vodka, produced near Åhus, in southern Sweden. Absolut is owned by French group Pernod Ricard; it bought Absolut for €5.63 billion in 2008 from the Swedish state." – Tetsujin Aug 13 '18 at 9:45
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    I'm having a bit of a problem understanding what your actual question is. If it's the first sentence of your last paragraph ('what is is the limit of plagiarism?'), then isn't that a very broad question? – Vincent Aug 13 '18 at 10:00
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    I'm not talking about the examples. I'm just afraid that the general answer to the question 'what is the limit to plagiarism?' is going to be 'that heavily depends on each case separately'. – Vincent Aug 13 '18 at 10:30
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    I have a feeling this question is encroaching on legal issues, and as such I am not comfortable with making pronouncements or accusations of plagiarism on a public forum. I am no lawyer/judge, however generally I'd say that when two people come up with a similar ideas independently, then it is by definition not plagiarism, but only coincidence, and coincidences can and do happen. Of course in the case of the students you mentioned, one can't really rule out collusion as a possibility. – Billy Kerr Aug 13 '18 at 10:43
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a legal issue (infringement) that does not fall within the expertise of graphic designers. – Stan Aug 13 '18 at 16:20

Complex issue. This will probably not be an answer, but an insight.

The limits will be subjective... design is subjective. Communication is subjective. Ideas are.

We have an additional problem... several in fact.

We live in the era of globalized communication, in the era of search engines, in the era of exponential growth of ideas.

Some years ago we could say that one work was inspired, or a tribute to...

Example 1

But nowadays this search engines "group" ideas, searches for similar images, concepts, logos, shapes.

Example 2

People are ramping the world with cellphones taking the same pictures because they are standing in the same spots.

"Good artists borrow, great artists steal" by Picasso. Does this still apply? Is this always the norm? Did this apply when Greeks took Phoenicians alphabets or the Romans took Arabic-Hindu numerals?

I am not sure if there are really a board spectrum of tools designers have at their disposal. We can think there are millions of colors in the world... but humans can only name a few dozens of named colors... and can not agree on the names.

The same with font design, abstract logo design, mascots, superhero powers...

Was Andy Warhol a great artist? is Hyperrealism valid? Is photography stealing?

There is also true the proclivity of some people to "sue anyone" and to even"register" natural events!

I just hope for the sake of humanity the line is not very stiff.

I am going to steal Emilie's link... https://waxy.org/2011/06/kind_of_screwed/

And some laws will probably find posting a link a law infringement to "protect" the rights of the authors... Yeap we live in a crazy world.

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  • Really crazy, without going so far, look at the list of comments my question has generated, and just for putting Coca Cola in one of the examples! If I would have put two logos from the hardware store and the butcher shop in my neighborhood I would have had fifteen answers and no comments! I appreciate your answer. – user120647 Aug 13 '18 at 19:25

I am going to make an attempt at an answer, although this is a controversial subject. It has certainly generated quite a few comments! I don't think it's a bad question as such, however it does kind of have the smell of a legal question, and since I am not a lawyer, this answer doesn't constitute legal advice in any way, shape or form. It's merely my own opinion.

I think the initial premise of the question may be a little faulty, i.e., the assumption that there are in fact guidelines/rules to define the limits of copying/plagiarism. Of course blatant copying/plagiarism exists, but anything else that isn't "blatant" might be a rather grey area.

From the copyright infringement cases I've read about which frequently make the news, it's no exaggeration to say that aside from blatant copying, there doesn't seem to be any consensus on what the limits are when considering whether something amounts to copying/plagiarism, or whether someone has merely built upon existing ideas, essentially a remixing of ideas - which is something which has been going on forever, probably since the dawn of artistic creativity. Clearly courts take such decisions on a case by case basis.

There have been court cases on copyright infringement where the outcome has been controversial. The one surrounding the red London Bus photo is interesting, and the implications of the judge's decision are certainly something to think about.

In the case of the students you mention, it sounds more like collusion between them, rather than plagiarism. To me, it doesn't sound like the kind of idea that several people would come up with independently. I can't honestly say I can see the link between "a Life Map" and fingerprints. To me it seems more likely that several of them discussed this.

It would be quite difficult to prove if several students were colluding, and also very difficult to decide if some other student was the victim of plagiarism. Even so, what could a teacher do about this? Disqualify all of students involved (including the victim, if any)? Subtract marks from them all? Or accept that they had perhaps been talking about approaches to the problem amongst themselves? Also, I think I would want to know whether the students were told specifically that they were forbidden to discus the project with each other - for example, was this project given under examination conditions? If not, then their collusion should come as no surprise.

I think as long as the designs are not identical, even considering the fact that several students used a fingerprint in the design, then it isn't plagiarism or copying. Plagiarism is the use of someone else's work, and passing it off as your own. The scenario you described doesn't seem to fit that.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Feel free to disagree!

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  • The fingerprint is a practical example to show the lack of deepening or searching for a design basic concept or the way of making it. It's an anecdote, it could have been the red London bus. With the students we used to have long discussions about their jobs, in particular the subject of designs similarities was a very interesting topic to define it in some way. The fingerprint jobs from the question were in different courses and years, I used to show similar examples to get into topic. And no, there was no contact between the students involved, it's a postgraduate master's degree. – user120647 Aug 13 '18 at 19:16
  • My question is not about legal issues, however much you read about them here or wherever, they are too complex and apply to each case in particular. On the contrary, the doubt, or controversy, or issue or whatever, is an attempt to reach a consensus on the "rather gray area" you mention. I appreciate your response, every positive reading is always welcome. And of course not, I never disqualify a student for such a simple stuff. All my life I have been very respectful with Graphic Design and with anyone interested in the profession, much more if they are students πŸ˜‰ . – user120647 Aug 13 '18 at 19:16
  • @Danielillo In the case of your hypothetical student question, with the addition of information that the students had no contact, then the options are either that the similarity is down to pure coincidence, or the students used an idea they found somewhere. The problem is there is no consensus whether using ideas (not direct copying per se) constitutes copyright infringement. I suppose it really depends whether ideas are copyrightable, and the link I provided discusses that problem, and the controversy surrounding the judge's decision. – Billy Kerr Aug 13 '18 at 20:29
  • @Daniellilo - I also found this image which might interest you - I wonder which one is the original concept? – Billy Kerr Aug 13 '18 at 20:30
  • It is obviously a more recurrent resource than I thought. – user120647 Aug 13 '18 at 20:40