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Logo theft real story - and why crowdsourcing may be dangerous
  • So, (un)fortunately none of my work is in question here.
    But I found out about 10+ other designers being not ripped off, but completely plundered!

    A few days ago, I bumped into a tweet from my colleague saying "@Logodesignswork If you buy a logo from them just make sure to check it out twice before ending up with an already sold design."
    I was curious and went to see what's going on there. Some of the logos seemed very familiar to me... And about 20 mins of googling later, I discovered >15 logos to be stolen from a popular crowdsourcing site, 99designs. I used "brandname+99designs" as a search term.
    Here is the one I started my search with:

    img src="http://www.pohrani.com/f/2O/AO/w5wFmYX/screen-shot-2010-11-05-a.jpg"/>

    If anyone would care to check more of them, here are 10 direct links (some of the logos are winning designs from the contests, others not):
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    1) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/eltham-baptist-church-graphics-package-23651
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Churches-and-Ministries.html

    2) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/photography-logo-4864/entries/64
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Photography.html

    3) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/logo-business-card-letterhead-peter-klasen-homes-20006/designers/301018#entry-120
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Real-Estate.html

    4) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/stylish-logo-interactive-sports-website-6504?orderby=rating&filterby=
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Sports-and-Fitness.html

    5) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/logo-transportation-logistics-company-12748?orderby=rating&filterby=
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Transport.html

    6) original design: https://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/spiritual-community-logo-10416/designers/244320#entry-19
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Charity-and-Fundraiser.html

    7) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/stellar-accounts-logo-21451
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Accounting.html

    8) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/electronics-website-logo-content-6004?showall=0
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Electronics.html

    9) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/logo-company-divison-please-noblewind-17016?orderby=&filterby=noteliminated&showall=0
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Mortgage.html

    10) original design: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/hr-logo-contest-online-mortgage-calculators-6388
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Mortgage.html

    11) original: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/viper-consulting-logo-design-15523
    rip: http://logodesignswork.com/Portfolio/Industry/Consulting.html
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    Etc, etc... Didn't bother to copy further links.

    So, I was really surprised. Couldn't stop wondering what would make someone do this, while claiming to have "Superior Logo Creations" and "No Generic Designs". LOL.
    In the meantime, I contacted the designers in question (the ones whose logos have been stolen), and NONE of them knew about this. I suggested them to notify the contest holders who, by 99designs' standard copyright transfer agreement, are now legitimate owners of the logos in question. I also advised them to contact 99designs support regarding this.
    I emailed the 99d support personally too - as they should care about their customers, both designers and contest holders...
    A week later, still no response.
    Most of the designers were really shocked - but didn't care to take any real action though.

    So, I decided to at least have some fun, and used the logodesignswork's contact form on their website to send this:
    --------------------
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    from: alex bilusic
    to: support@logodesignswork.com
    date: Sun, Oct 31, 2010 at 2:01 AM
    subject: Your GREAT logo portfolio!

    Hi,
    Your logo portfolio is really awesome!

    I am pretty sure I won't get an answer on this one, but I have to ask...
    Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?
    Taking winning (and highly ranked) logos from the 99designs contests, and then placing them in your own portfolio and claiming to be your work?
    A simple google search I performed found at least TEN (10) logos being not ripped off, but completely stolen.
    Do you think it is going to improve your business?

    Regards,
    -Alex
    --------------------
    --------------------
    and got the following reply (sorry for cursing, it's just copy/paste so I'm trying to leave it as it is):
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    from: tonic micheal
    to: alex bilusic
    date: Sun, Oct 31, 2010 at 1:30 PM
    subject: Re: Your GREAT logo portfolio!

    hi
    we have buy logo from outsource designers, its fuck off its sell another designers logos i will remove asap please send me jpg

    thanks
    david
    --------------------
    --------------------

    As I have previously confirmed that NONE of the original authors/designers has sold/transferred their work in any way to logodesignswork, I had a strong reason to doubt this. However, further googling some brand names in logodesignswork's logo portfolio revealed some posts on elance(or similar?) where someone was asking for "100 logos design, urgent, $5/logo" - so it might be true that some OTHER logos than the ones listed above are acquired legally. But that still doesn't change the fact they stole 10+ logos from 99designs site (listed above).

    As none of my work was stolen (yet!), I didn't have any basis to ask for removal of any specific design. Some of the ripped designers told me they've contacted logodesignswork directly too, but got no response at all.

    A quick search on domaintools.com revealed that "logodesignswork.com" domain name owner is "Domains by Proxy, Inc." - so no actual info about the real owner.
    At this moment, I felt unhappy that none of my work was there, as I would definitely dig a bit deeper here... :)


    So, as most designers aren't planning to take any action here, and 99designs support seems pretty uninterested in this matter (very sad!), I can only suggest to all designers/illustrators who use those design crowdsourcing sites (there are plenty of them) to:

    1) register any work as soon as they create it - on Myows
    2) withdraw all the entries from the contests (except the winning entry)
    3) regularly check (google search) for their logos.


    I'd also like to know your opinions about this (other than the usual "spec-work-sucks" part :) ). Thanks and sorry for a rather long post.
    freelance graphic designer from Zagreb, Croatia
    suite48 Nov 5th 2010
    Nice Post Alex,
    I had that exact problem twice on 99designs and just decided to stop using the service. Ran a contest, chose a winner, got the files, a few weeks later I get a demand from another company who claimed ownership of the logo, so we removed it and the designer refused any involvement in copied work. So we ran another contest and to no surprise the same thing happen, only it took about 3 months to get a demand letter from a lawyer.. with that being said, we're not surprised all of this is going on.
    alexbilusic Nov 5th 2010
    Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately these things happen a lot, and 99d (as well as other crowdsourcing sites) has a pretty strict policy regarding such infringements although the most they can do is suspend the designer in question. And they mostly rely on other users (designers) spotting such content and reporting it.
    Here's their copyright/IP help page: http://99designs.com/help/copyright

    Based on my experience as a designer there, it depends on who (from the support staff) gets such report (filed by another user). Sometimes they remove any and all "suspicious" entries at Mach 3 speed - but sometimes they just answer with generic "There are clear differences there, so there's nothing we can do". IMHO no consistency there, but it's nice they do react at all.

    I am saying this as a freelance designer who works there when I have no other jobs available. If I was in your shoes, I'd hold the winning designer responsible and rely on 99designs to at least restrict him further access to the site. There is no way he/she can "refuse any involvement".
    Keep in mind that 99designs (as 99% of other design crowdsourcing sites) has no user registration restrictions, so basically everyone can register as a designer and start submitting designs (and "designs").
    I believe that every client-to-be needs to investigate a bit on his own during the contest, at least google images search for specific keywords describing the logo. Or - hire a reliable designer.

    freelance graphic designer from Zagreb, Croatia


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    Chris Nov 9th 2010 edited
    -----------


    What a fantastic contribution to this forum and a very interesting read, thanks Alex!

    Seems like 99Designs is part victim and part perpetrator here in that sometimes work seems to be stolen from the site and other times stolen work is submitted on / contributed to the site.

    I'm half wondering whether this shouldn't be developed into a blog post after a little more thorough investigation? This with your permission of course (it would be ironic if we did it without your consent!). What saddens me most is that the creators of these logos didn't seem interested in protecting their own rights. Essentially the result of this kind of attitude is a devaluation of creative value.

    Personally I believe we have a duty to chase up on copyright thieves even if it's a pain in the ass. But - thanks to Myows, IT ISN'T!

    Like you say, it all begins with registering our work before we release it - however you choose to do this. Please let me know how you'd feel about contributing this (and any other insights/intel you may have) on the blog Alex an please keep us posted on whether you hear back from 99Designs.

    Perhaps, as creatives, we can all apply a little pressure in that regard?

    Cheers!
    Myows co-founder and Brand Strategist
    PS – ALEX, I must just say that this email paste made my day. It really did! Thank you. Lol.

    from: tonic micheal
    to: alex bilusic
    date: Sun, Oct 31, 2010 at 1:30 PM
    subject: Re: Your GREAT logo portfolio!

    hi
    we have buy logo from outsource designers, its fuck off its sell another designers logos i will remove asap please send me jpg

    thanks
    david

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    alexbilusic Nov 9th 2010
    ---------
    Well, Chris, thanks! I had a nice laugh then, too.
    As I own the copyright of the first post here :), I now publicly give you, Myows and it's staff, an exclusive licence to turn it out into a blog post and use any information from it as needed. Will this be fine?
    Still, no reply from 99d on this matter.
    freelance graphic designer from Zagreb, Croatia

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    alexbilusic Feb 1st 2011
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    -- update: still, no reply. I gave up on expecting it. :)
    Fearless web designer, copyright consultant and startup owner on a Quest for Simplicity.