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The blog that helps creatives battle plagiarists

How You Thought We Wouldn't Notice rights plagiarism wrongs

Wrong-righting blog YTWWN helps artists out companies that have ripped off their work. Scott Alan Burroughs tells Jim Thacker more.

What is YTWWN all about?

SAB: The blog highlights the all-too-common situation in the design world where someone is inspired by, borrows, or outright steals the creative expression of an artist. We present examples of these situations, with legal analysis, and leave readers to discuss whether the example is legally and morally improper.

How did you get involved?

SAB: My day job is a partner at law firm Doniger Burroughs. But through Rone, the founder and original editor of the site, who is a very nice guy and a great artist in his own right, I started as a contributor, covering legal issues relating to the art and design world, and answering readers' questions. My role expanded to editing and curating the site.

What have been your most notable 'wins'?

SAB: One great example concerns a reader from Scandinavia. A large corporation had stolen her work (which was an adorable piece of art) and was marketing and selling it through their stores. We posted a piece about the dispute, and it quickly went viral. A few days later, the corporation contacted the artist and worked out a mutually acceptable resolution.

Several of your cases involve well-known companies. Honest mistakes – or something more?

SAB: There are certainly companies out there that have a reputation for being more aggressive in 'borrowing' artistic content from artists, but it is generally hard to ascertain whether the design theft is the product of the company's culture of creativity (or lack thereof) or the work of a 'rogue' designer. It would appear that some of the repeat offenders have made the business decision to steal from other artists with the understanding that the monies they will save in design costs will outweigh the cost of litigation if they are caught.

Is 'appropriation art' ever okay?

SAB: When done right, 'appropriation art' – taking a very minor element of the work of someone else's and adding a large amount of transformative, expressive content of your own – can be OK. Unfortunately, it's often the other way around: too much copying.

What should you do if you suspect your work has been copied?

SAB: The most risk-averse approach is to immediately contact a lawyer, as anything that you say to the potential infringer, or any email you write, can be later used against you in litigation. The lawyer, after the consultation, may suggest an informal meeting to see if the conflict can be resolved that way.

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 247

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