Stockart threatens to sue designer John Engle for copyright infringement - on his own designs.

Techdirt has a story that would make Kafka proud ; Designer Threatened With Copyright Infringement Claims... On His Own Work.
Designer Jon Engle is accused of stealing his own designs (site is down at the moment of posting, try googles cache), what has happened is that has somehow gotten a hold of Jon Engle's logo portfolio, and want John to pay $275 for each one of the images they have which John has in logo's that he created for clients, since he has them on his site in his portfolio.
Wait, what?

Thankfully, I have a lot of incidental proof. I would never have thought to plan for something like this, but now I wish I had. Beyond timestamps this becomes my word against theirs to a degree. The logos on LogoPond have a date stamp showing when I uploaded them to the site. This is good, especially if the designs were stolen from my showcase. My submission date will always be earlier than theirs. Even if its only by a day, first is first. Kode ( @kodespark) suggested looking at the meta data in my source files. I didn’t know about meta data before today, but there are timestamps on the files as well. All of the meta timestamps pre-date my LogoPond submissions.

What do they have? A bill and a bulldog lawyer. They refuse to give me upload dates for any of the images in question. If they believe they’re in the right, then why would they hide that from me? I have asked time and again for the name of the artist who uploaded the stolen work. I finally received an email which is less than helpful:

“Sir, it is not a question of one artist, but several. It is quite obvious you’ve been using the site as your personal reservoir of stolen works.”

Now, I don't know John Engle or his designwork but I don't think this story is too crazy to believe. Of course John should counter-sue, and do it at once.

You know what would be really nice though? If file metadata had an unremovable bit that declared copyright, time of creation and license on anything created. Unremovable, as in when you edit something, it would still be there. Will not go away. Hey, even better would be if it was near impossible to edit, much like images of money is in anything Adobe already. But I'm dreaming of course, always have - such a metadata entry would make me believe in the idea of Creative Commons though when you could add the licence straight to the image/file of your work and be assured that it travelled with the file to wherever it ends up. That would at the very least, inhibit people creating creative commons landmines which I see every day (which is when people apply CC licenses on work they don't own the rights to in the first place).

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Neo's picture

I love how Techdirt makes this about copyright being bad . Some people really just don't want to get it, do they?

Allan1's picture

A friend of mine who is a paleontological artist (he draws and paints prehistoric creatures) created a series of life drawings of a set of dinosaurs for the renovation of a local museum's dinosaur hall (ANSP*). These were reproduced and posted on the railing around the dinosaur skeletons. (The drawings were pen and ink, without coloration - I think the ink was colored a dark green).

A locally based (national) convenience store company decided to promote a drink product by giving away 4 different cups when you buy the drink, each featuring a different dinosaur. The pictures on each were my friend's artwork, with color added, and someone else's name on them.

One might argue that they couldn't have known that these were copies, except for 2 things - one is that the museum had re-opened the dinosaur hall over a year earlier and had been promoting themselves with the T. rex picture during that time, and two is that my friend had submitted his artwork to the company for their promotion, and had been rejected.

My friend sued and won, of course. (He told me he got back about 4 times what he would have gotten if they had just licensed the art - plus they had to pay legal fees on both ends).

My advice to Engle - sue and sue HARD.

[* => ANSP = Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia]

malin grön's picture

While I agree with your points on copyright, I do start to wonder if we have really heard both sides of this. It is easy to get outraged on the internet, but what if Stockart are legit? That's a lot of peoples work on the line due to an internet mob...

Neo's picture

You mean, John might be lying? Either way, the ease of shuffling copyrighted works around is really muddying the waters.

Dabitch's picture

Malin - You are right that we've only seen one side of the story, and I was sortof reserving myself with "I don't know John" as I could not find the artwork in question and, well, you never know.

So here's an update of what I know now. John's site is gone, perhaps DUGG to death, in it's place is a domain name holder. The Logo Factory has posted a very long informative post about it all which I think y'all should read.

No, what we had here was a pretty cut-and-dry case of someone using someone else’s work without payment and/or permission. But who did what to whom? The tens of thousands of people now involved in this growing controversy knew who they thought was the ripper and the rippee. But I was starting to have doubts over my original assumptions. Besides, I always like to get both sides of a story, so I decided to reach out and touch lawyers and ask them if they’d like to comment on the deluge of bad internet mojo that they were receiving.

To their credit, they did, calling The Logo Factory studio shortly after reading my email (apparently, out of thousands of e-mails, I was the first one that asked for their side of the story). I talked at length with Jamie Silverberg and John D. Mason, two of the lead lawyers at the The Intellectual Property Group, and found them to be civil, pleasant and quite willing to discuss matters, to the extent that they were legally allowed. Not the “ambulance chasing scumbags” they were beifng called in the latest round of Twitter postings. Firstly, IPG have extensive experience fighting on the behalf of designers and illustrators (as they believe they’re doing in the Stock Art matter). The partners have experience in the graphic design industry itself, helping to organize several chapters of the AIGA. They told me that “nobody” is being sued nor has a suit been filed over the Stock Art artwork, and that rather than ignoring Jon’s pleas of innocence, have been trying to communicate with him ever since the licensing issues became apparent.

Seems Stock Art are ferocious in protecting their illustrators property and copyright (certainly something that I’d demand if Stock Art were representing me). Silverberg denied harassing Jon’s clients, but told me that they had contacted two in order to see if the client’s had legitimate licensing rights to their client’s work. I wondered how likely it would be that Stock Art’s established illustrators would risk their reputation, and Stock Art’s business, by copying some designer they found on the internet. To make matters worse, the issue revolved around the licensing for no less than 65 images to which it appears typography was added and the images uploaded to various portfolio sites like Elance and Logopond (while they didn’t expressly tell me so, the $18,000 bill is likely the result of licensing fees for the 65 images in dispute. Works out to about $275 a pop). I was also told that before contacting anyone, IPG perform extensive research into the background of any disputed images, including creation date, history and when it was added to the Stock Art site, pointing out that some of the images “in question” have been on the Stock Art website for almost a decade. Logopond, the supposed source for the designs (at least according to Jon’s blog), had only been online since June of 2006 at the very earliest. The worst point, from a designer’s point of view anyway, was the dispute involved the work of over twenty illustrators. With illustrations and icons that just happened to mirror their exact personal style. And if that wasn’t enough, Jon had previously been billed for other Stock Art licensed work, after it was discovered that it may have been used without permission. He paid that bill.

Also made sure to send this update out on the front page for those people who only ever read the RSS feed. (thems be missing out.)