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Just because you can’t find the company that was using a logo you really like, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been abandoned..

This issue has come up at the studio so many times I’ve always thought it would be worth fleshing out as a blog post but without an example to wrap it around, it would be kinda dull to write and, I suppose, to read. I’m not going to turn this post into a whiny, shrieky name-and-shame article about “over influenced” logos. Nor am I going to pull a rageathon on Twitter. That’s not really the point of this exercise, so I’m going to do everything in my power to not name anyone (I’ll have to use logo examples, but they’ll be SEO neutral) and as this is (at the present) a rather awkward situation, it’ll remain that way. Let’s begin..

Sticky wicket: a metaphor used to describe a difficult circumstance. It originated as a term for difficult circumstances in the sport of cricket, caused by a damp and soft pitch.

I want a logo just like that.

Like most designers & design firms, we feature examples of our in our portfolio. That way potential clients can see what we’ve done for other companies, and if they like what we do, hire us to develop a logo or brand for them. Sometimes that’s not the way it fleshes out – this is the Internet era and when people are searching for designers they often enter keywords that have to do with their business. They’ll search for categories on Google – real estate logos let’s say – and design websites, their pages optimized for that result (I just did it with that link) will be served up.

Groovy.

The trouble is some people view this as window-shopping for their own logo – they’ll see a design they like in these samples, think to themselves “wow, that logo would be really nice for my company” and want to use it as theirs.

logo-design-templates

There are websites that sell ready-made logo templates using this philosophy – whiz-bang logo generators too – but in the instances where the designs are in an actual “working” portfolio, they’re obviously not for sale.

Those logos belong to someone else.

Having said that, you wouldn’t believe the number of times business owners have seen a particular sample from our logo design gallery and shoot us off an e-mail: “I’d like to buy this logo. How much?”

That’s not a logo “like.”

Or “similar.”

Identical in every way – save the name I suppose – to the logo that caught their fancy. The answer is always no (we get asked so much, we had to add this to our FAQ.) The examples we present are from actual projects at our shop and while I realize when turned down, the potential buyer can simply have someone else convert the logo for whatever purpose they want. We all get that. There are times when they don’t even ask and just pinch the logo outright. I get that too. It is the nature of the beast and pretty straightforward stuff. Then there’s the potential buyer who’s searched the internet for the company that was originally using the logo they like. Their search has turned up empty, the domain that featured the design long since shuttered. Sometimes they’ll find online business filings that indicate a trademark has been abandoned or that the company has closed up shop for good. The buyer is convinced that the logo is somehow “public domain” and it is ripe for the picking. Trouble is, none of this necessarily follows and just because you can’t find the owner of artwork on the internet, doesn’t mean that artwork is up for grabs. In fact, it probably isn’t. Copyright is weird that way..

The Boat Logo.

A poster child example of this would be our infamous Boat Logo – a project for a European marine company – from back in the day.

boat-logo

It was a great little logo that we developed in 2003, featured on our website sometime in 2004, but the company we designed it for had ceased operation shortly after start up. Any search for them would have turned up empty and people assumed that the logo had somehow been rendered “up for grabs.”

A lot of people.

Here’s the thing – that logo wasn’t in the public domain in any way (it still isn’t) and the copyright belonged to us. Because of transfer documents being “return to sender” copyright was never officially transferred and it remained with the creators – our studio – as copyright automatically does. As the creators of said design, we’d really have loved to do something with it, until that is, this happened, a running joke on our blog for a very long time, until we released it into the wild just recently. Bottom line, there are a lot of people out there using a logo they have no rights to and if we were inclined to do so, or had the deep pockets to finance such a thing, we could be hassling them really bad right about now.

Which brings us to our sticky wicket de jour.

Logo Design Pros.

We’ve been at this for a long time and over the years have amassed a lot of web domains. Most of them to do with logo design in one way or another, some for hair-brained website ideas, some are for concepts that died on the vine and others were for SEO benefits of the time. One of those domains was a hyphenated URL – logo-design-pros.com – that was keyword soaked enough to perform well in Google when that kind of thing worked. We had built a directory of sorts on it – it was a spammy mess to be honest – but like everything at our shop, it needed a logo. Didn’t want to spend too much time on it, so we utilized an unused concept that had been shelved from an earlier project, tweaked it a bit and reverse engineered the “concept.”

logo-design-pros-icon
It was an icon of a hand wrapped around an eyeball. As in searching for something, in this case design firms that would be featured in our directory. We used green for “go” – the icon was originally a pale blue and added a nice clean typographic treatment for the name.

logo-design-pros-text-logo

Even though the back story was goofy, the logo was quite nice and we added it to our Daily Logo on our old blog as an example. The directory was an old PHP driven platform that was almost impossible to customize (CSS wasn’t such a thing) but we did what we could.

Here’s how it looked:
logo-design-pros-index-pageAlas the directory was server intensive, prone to really bad spam attacks and simply didn’t perform in any appreciable way for SEO – Google started to clamp down on directory sites almost on the day we finally got the front-end skinned. Not to mention the site was very similarly named to another design firm from Pakistan who weren’t very good at client follow-up and we were routinely deluged by rather nasty email complaints aimed at our info mail account. All in all, the ROI on time wasn’t worth it, we shuttered the site (we still own the domain) and forgot all about it. The logo was filed under “cool concepts to use for something else” – we added it to our gallery – but other than that, it was forgotten about too. Until this weekend, when a related image search on Google led me to this:

logo-design-pros-similar-icon
Ahm. Okey dokey. That’s pretty close.

Is it exact? Not precisely. It could be complete happenstance and coincidence but if you spin the original icon, it would appear the symbol portion shares some DNA. Sure, the eyeball’s missing (for obvious reasons,) but the green is almost identical in the RGB mix of the original (though to be fair, the doppelganger’s ancestor was also green.) As the logos potentially share a similar ancestry, the question would be, which ancestry started first? Well, the Logo Design Pros design has been on the internet since around 2005, while the other was part of a re-brand, as far as I can tell, around 2012/13. The outfit using the logo is a very big deal from what I’ve been able to find out, and the symbol is featured on everything from signage (a lot of them) to letterheads and business cards. I’ve pinched this image from the portfolio of the agency that claims ownership of the rebrand.logo-design-pros-similar-letterheadWhich brings us to..

Our sticky wicket.

We have a situation were designer of logo A can either a) kick up a fuss, b) slink quietly into the night muttering about the “unfairness of it all” or c) ignore logo B and use A as planned. That would lead to the owner of logo A sharing a logo with someone else, something they’re probably loathe to do after shelling out what one supposes is a considerable amount of dough for their rebrand to some fancy schmanz agency. It’s always a bad idea for two very similar logos to exist in the same universe because the resemblance of the logos taints and devalues both, but I’m an stubborn absolutist in the ownership of intellectual property so I’m going to use my logo come hell or high water. And there’s nothing anyone can do about that either, because I can always prove who was first.

That would be a stalemate.

Lessons.

There’s a few here. It you’re a client, always do a thorough search for the originality of your logo before signing off. If you’re a designer, do the same, lest you design a logo that looks treacherously similar to something else, either by accident or subliminal visual memory. If you’re going to knock something off, keep in mind that the Internet exists, and you’d be amazed the random way images are served up, so even the most obscure logo “inspiration” may get picked up at some point. I found the example above by searching for another client of ours, and their name showed up a portfolio image of the designer – apparently they had crossed paths with our old client on another project.

And we’ll end where we started. If you find a logo on the internet that you really, really, really like but can’t find the original owner and by all appearances they’ve gone belly up? Don’t assume that art is unencumbered with ownership issues and that it’s yours for the taking. As we told you in the preamble upstairs, that assumption is a risky proposal. Better use this logo as an example of the “type” you like.

Then have an original one designed.

FWIW, before writing this, I reached out the designer who claims authorship of the similar logo to find out what’s what, but they decided to keep mum on the matter. I’ll update if I hear anything.