Plagiarism 101: knowing the line

As a creative person living in the internet age, I’m not going to lie, it can be pretty hard to figure out the line between using someone’s art as inspiration, and straight up stealing it. Not only has the Internet given us the opportunity to find tons of inspiration at our fingertips, it’s also made it incredibly easy to ‘borrow’ ideas.

Although you may think that no one will catch on to the similarity between your logo and the one from Argentina, eventually, someone, somewhere, will. Now, does being publicly shamed, losing the trust of your clients, and in some cases even being sued really seem worth the adorable little dog icon? Probably not.

The thing is, stealing is bad. Obviously. However, there is a line, and using each other’s ideas for inspiration is how we have advanced as humans. Artists, musicians, and even scientists look to the past for inspiration and use previous work as a building block for new and innovative ideas.


So, how do we manage this grey area?



You’re going be really amazed at how simple it is. Drum roll, please… it’s emotion. Crazy right? The cool thing about emotion is that it’s not owned, it’s intangible, and we all experience it. I know, it sounds a little spacey perhaps, but the thing about art, or at least good art, is that it’s effective because of the emotional response it creates in its viewers.

SO if you begin your creative project with an emotion as your starting point, instead of a shape, color or font, you can rest assured that you are truly using the found image as a source of inspiration, and not risk crossing over into theft territory.

Plus, when you design based on an emotion, then every choice you make regarding that project will stay cohesive, and thus it will always communicate what you want it to. Sounds perfect, right?


Ok, here’s an example.

Say you find a logo that you love, and wish you had created yourself. (This happens to me ALL the time)

Now, instead of giving up, throwing that image away, and staring at a blank page, take a look at it and ask yourself: Why do I like this image? Is it the colors? The typography? The layout? What does it make me feel?

Really take a look at the image and break down the aspects of it that you like, and figure out WHY you like them. Once you’ve identified the emotion that this specific image gives you, you can then begin to research other logos or images that induce that same feeling. And why stop there, you can even look at poetry, architecture, food, anything that gives you that same emotional response to help you to create something completely new and unique.

Just remember, using other’s work as inspiration is a natural part of any creative venture, but focusing on an emotion is where the magic happens. You always want whatever you create to truly represent you and your brand, and who knows what that is better than you?


Until next time,

Written by Stephanie Butler