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What's the difference between art, inspiration, copying, and outright theft?

What's the difference between art, inspiration, copying, and outright theft?

by julia • June 2

The artist Richard Prince just made a splash at the Frieze Art Show in New York by selling pictures taken from peoples' instagram accounts for $90,000 a piece. Mr. Prince's role in creating this artwork involved picking an image, making a comment on it, blowing up the image, then showing the work as original art at the show - without asking permission or even a heads up warning to the photo's owner or subject (mainly young women in provocative poses).

Mr. Prince is getting a lot of grief and may have a lawsuit in his future (it won't be the first time), but he's loving the attention and calls his critics "morons." He's also laughing all the way to the bank.

In the branding world, you rarely hear about outright theft like this, although Cody Foster & Co. got called out a couple of years ago for imitating artist's designs with astonishing accuracy for products to be sold at Nordstrom, West Elm and Anthropologie. What is all too common, however, is plenty of "inspired by" design that's so obvious what the source was that you wonder if anyone felt any shame.

The more original the brand, the more likely it is to be soon copied. And therein lies the challenge for brand owners and designers alike - how to stay true to your originality while others are doing their best to rip it off.