We’ve all been there before….
…Or if you haven’t, prepare yourself as it WILL happen. That moment when you realize that project you poured yourself into was already done, and by someone with more notoriety. Now what do you do?
I bring this up because I recently dealt with a situation like this. I illustrated a piece I intended to use as a print at shows, and was quite excited about it. Minutes before sharing with the world, I found out that a notable t-shirt designer already did the same concept, months prior, so I had a choice to make. First things first, I contacted the T-shirt designer, who was plenty nice and gave me her approval to share/sell it. Despite getting permission, and the fact that my interpretation of the same idea was unique, I still decided against it. While I shared it online for those interested, I chalked up this as a lesson on researching FIRST before you jump on some epiphany you have late at night. Instead I set it aside and worked on a fully original concept that could stand on it’s own… and the key point is, I could FEEL GOOD about that.
Because I’m betting you’re quite interested in what this print design was, and how it compares to the “original” design, it’s probably in poor form for me NOT to show it. However, keep in mind, this article discussion is NOT about these particular pieces or critiquing them, it’s about what to do when you’ve been “beaten to the punch”. Below is a side-by-side of the two pieces.I’d also like to note, as it’s a hot topic lately, that I know many in our community take issue with drawing other artist’s Intellectual Property for profit, or even just to showcase in your portfolio. When you weigh in parodies & fair use, it’s a confusing and interesting debate about the legality of it all, especially with the high prevalence of print artists in Artist Alley. But again, not really the focus on THIS discussion. For more on Fair Use, please tune into our NEXT podcast, as we managed to drag an actual lawyer onto the show! Willingly!
So, why did I opt to ditch my honest hard work and move on, when I was given permission by the original artist? Various reasons, but really it came down to 3 factors.
- It was ONLY a print design. Had it been a full comic or graphic novel story I spent months working on, I may have tried to alter it first.
- The original artist was fairly more well-known than I, and her work is prevalent at many comic cons. My design may come across as the knock-off, or worse, an intentionally plagiarized rip-off. I would be opening my reputation up to these uninformed accusations. True or not, rumors spread fast.
- In the end, my conscience had to sleep at night. It didn’t FEEL right to go ahead with this, in full knowledge that the idea existed already.
Now, some may say “Dawn, to your own knowledge, you didn’t steal this idea. It was just a coincidence.” Or maybe point out “Nothing is original anymore, it’s all been done.. just give it your own touch and it’s yours!”. Or you may try to soothe my concerns with advice like “Your fans will know you wouldn’t do that & support you!” I’ve heard them all. But the final decision was based on the 3 points above and asking myself: Is it WORTH IT?
I went with my gut. Maybe I just needed that peace of mind more than I had the desire to move forward with my own version of “Groot Loops”. In the end, I’m quite happy with the follow-up print I have illustrated, which seems to be the only one of it’s kind (online at least).
But the Question Remains: What is Ethically Right? What is the Best Business Move?
Considering all the possible outcomes, would you knowingly share/publish/sell a concept that has been done already? It doesn’t even have to be so exact it could qualify for copyright infringement… I’m speaking of enough parallels between the two that accusations or assumptions could be made. Do you confidently go forward with it, figuring everything has been done before anyway, so why drive yourself crazy? Or do you consider altering your work, or even reinventing it completely, to at least have a clear conscience?
Go ahead and post your thoughts in the comments!
Dawn Griffin is the resident “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her formative years either playing street basketball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and you can find her portfolio site HERE. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.