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Should Pentagram Sue? Would it do any good?

by | Oct 22, 2010 | Articles | 2 comments

I recently came across a case involving Pentagram, where one of their designs were blatantly ripped off by a famous clothing company Sean John, owned by the famous rap artist known as P Diddy. Sometimes you can argue that a work is inspired by someone else’s work, and can be considered a tribute to their design work, but in this case, the t-shirt design is an absolute rip-off of the original. I cannot believe that there isn’t more of an uproar about this in the design community. The Seduction artwork is a unique, illustrative typeface. If you do a side by side comparison, it is easy to realize that Sean John’s work is not inspired by anything, but it is simply a copy of the original, with a couple of letters rearranged.

I am not sure if P. Diddy actually knew about the rip-off, but his clothing company is still directly responsible for creating their own original artwork. Should Pentagram Sue? I definitely think so, and I would bet a week’s pay that they would win, too. Suzanne Labarre, Senior editor at Co.Design, disagrees with me about the legal repercussions of Jean John’s actions. She had this to say:

“Is the kerfuffle headed to court? Bierut says probably not. “In every fashion design studio I’ve ever visited, there are overpopulated pin-up boards just overflowing with ‘inspiration’ from all kinds of sources,” he writes in an email. “I understand that ‘borrowing’ — even as blatant and literal as this — is hard to bring legal action against beyond cease-and-desist agreements, which which appears to have happened already. No matter what, it’s amazing that a poster for an esoteric academic conference at an Ivy League school somehow gets turned into a t-shirt endorsed by P-Diddy. What a world.”

Marian Bantjes is the creator of the original poster design. Even though I can’t do much in the way of fighting her legal battle for her, I can support her design work by creating a link to her portfolio site here. She is a terrific designer, having already created various magazine covers, including one for Creative Review. Be sure to check out her work, and if you like it, hire her.

How can it be that someone can blatantly rip off a design and see no legal consequences from it? How do we stop others from blatantly ripping off our work? The sad truth is that we do have the ability to copyright all of our designs and artwork, but few of us take the time  to do so. It does cost a little money, but it is much better than the sickening feeling that I would get if someone stole my work and made thousands off of it.

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