brand-theft-logo

Sure, we’ve all heard about identity theft. But what about brand identity theft – when someone half-way around around the world pinches yours?

Let’s take a trip back. Way back. And look at this logo:

original-logo-mechanics-logo-cover

The deal on The Logo Mechanics? A few years after our startup. we realized that technical information was an area of designing logos that was being largely overlooked by designers and clients alike. While a decent looking logo is one thing, having one that’s technically sound is another thing entirely. There’s a wide range of media that any logo has to be compatible with and screwed up file formatting is guaranteed to cause vendors and service providers headaches – the logo owner needless expense – down the road. To wit:

broken-logo-bad-formats
It’s always been a major pet peeve of mine (there are times when we take in digital that’s been produced elsewhere only to find the logo file setup – one example pictured above – is nothing short of dreadful.) To that end, we started working on The Logo Mechanics as a ‘love child’ of The Logo Factory proper as a service to fix broken logos. The brand logo for that endeavor was designed internally at the shop by Steve Rodrigues back in 1999/2000 or so, and has been featured in several logo anthologies and websites since then. We launched a companion site (thanks to the Wayback Machine, here’s how it looked in 2001) that was cool and all, but my interest in having multiple brands fizzled – it’s hard enough to maintain one company and website – so it went by the wayside, was relaunched, shelved then relaunched again. The domain is still up. It’s on our box so there’s no real pressure to take it down, the branding is kinda neat and we still get the occasional client or logo repair gig through it. We’ll be retrofitting the site in the next little while and the manual available here was re-branded as part of that enterprise.

Releasing logos into the wild?

Speaking of that logo, at some point in 2004, someone (not us) took it upon themselves to vectorize the art and add it to Brands of the World, a handy repository of logos that designers can turn to when they need a print-ready version of an established brand. Trouble is, it’s also chum in the water for plagiarists and copycats. On the bottom of every logo page is the following proviso:

Downloading this artwork you agree to the following: The above logo design and the artwork you are about to download is the intellectual property of the copyright and/or trademark holder and is offered to you as a convenience for lawful use with proper permission from the copyright and/or trademark holder only. You hereby agree that you agree to the Terms of Use and that the artwork you download will be used for non-commercial use without infringing on the rights of the copyright and/or trademark holder and in compliance with the DMCA act of 1998. Before you use or reproduce this artwork in any manner, you agree to obtain the express permission of the copyright and/or trademark holder. Failure to obtain such permission is a violation of international copyright and trademark laws subject to specific financial and criminal penalties.”

All cool and all I guess, if people downloading the logos actually paid attention to the “I agree” button they’re clicking, but if they did, I suppose this wouldn’t have happened:
budin-ferramentas-shop-frontYep. That’s our little logo mechanic fella on the side of a tool shop in Brazil called Budin Ferramentas (Budin Tools.) Brazil! While it is kinda nifty, we had absolutely nothing to do with it happening – someone just nicked the design and started plastering it all over South America. And the internet apparently:budin-ferramentas-google-plus-header

Flyers and sell sheets too:

budin-ferramentas-flyer-logoI get that imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery and all, but it’s a bit annoying when someone ups and steals your entire brand identity without so much as a “how ya do?” Here’s a pro-tip folks: just because something is available as a vector download on a logo anthology site, does not mean that it’s up for grabs or that you can make it your own. The Apple logo is on there too, but I bet no-one is stupid enough to knock that off.

The Logo Factory Ireland?

Speaking of which, part two: Did you know that The Logo Factory has a shop in Ireland, the southern version of my home country? Specifically in a little town called Nenagh in County Tipperary? Neither did I until I ran across this:
the-logo-factory-nenagh-irelandOkay fine. We own the registered trademark to “The Logo Factory” in the US and Canada, not in the UK or Ireland, so the name is fair game (though we do own the UK site that corresponds with our North American trademarks.) “The Logo Factory” is totally appropriate for a Nenagh-based outfit that embroiders logos on wearable merch and such, so no quibbles there. That’s perfectly legit. Ah, but it doesn’t stop there. Here’s what the Irish version of The Logo Factory’s storefront looks like:
the-logo-factory-nenagh-ireland-storefrontNotice the logo that’s been applied in vinyl to the bottom left-hand side of our Irish doppleganger’s window? Let’s take a closer look:
the-logo-factory-nenagh-ireland-zoomI guess when they say “bringing your logos to life” they meant literally bringing our logo to life. On their shop window. See, the little factory house in their logo was one of the unused concept ideas – rough doodles never meant to appear anywhere outside our blog – we tossed around in a post back in 2008 where we talked about redesigning our own factory house logo.

Here’s what they looked like:the-logo-factory-new-logos

Oh, the Irish version’s been mangled, mutilated and distorted – probably using an Illustrator warp filter – but it’s definitely that house artwork. And the typography on our Tipperary friend’s logo has been cobbled together from the stuff we kicked around here, when we detailed the rather exhaustive rework of our logo into its current incarnation. That was a concept we referred to affectionately as “Crazy Earl’s Logo Emporium.”

Here’s what that looked like:crazy-earls-logo-emporiumWhat all of this means is that when it came to designing a logo for a company called The Logo Factory in Nenagh Ireland, somebody actually did a Google image search for “The Logo Factory + logo” and found ours. They decided that since we weren’t using them anyway (if they took the time to read the blog post) they’d take our unused logo art for their own (or worse, they just pinched our identity lock-stock-and-barrel.) Hell, I might have even given these logos to my Irish compatriots if they asked.

Trouble is, they never did.

The Tanning Factory Redux.

Speaking of Brazil, there’s an outfit called Fit Food Factory. They have a logo that they’ve plastered all over the web, stores, posters and packaging. You can see it in this storefront photo:
fit-food-factory-logo-poster That looks like a pretty sweet logo. Let’s take a closer look:fit-food-factory-logoYeah. That is pretty sweet. Only one small hitch – that logo is a total carbon copy of a brand we developed back in 2004 for a company called The Tanning Factory and it’s been in our logo design gallery ever since. It was the design that we used as an “inspiration” for the unused factory logo we looked at earlier. Let’s review:

the-tanning-factory-logo-colors

Yeah, that’s not “inspired by.” Nor is it a “homage to.” Nope, that’s a good old-fashioned, flat out find and pillage knock-off.

A reality of the web era.

I used to lose my mind about this kind of thing, but now I just find the whole thing kinda sad (and file DMCAs if the situation requires it.) As designers we like to write about our design work and post our ideas freely – hopefully to spur discussion, inspire others and give people a peek into our actual design process. With the rise of such sites as Fiverr (who are awful,) the endless demand for new pitches on  design contests and everyone and their brother rummaging through Google, not only for raw ideas but actual artwork that they can pinch, that’s no longer as appealing, or fun, as it once was. In fact, we only put stuff in our logo design gallery when it’s:

a) really old,
b) well and truly protected and in use by the client or
c) the original owner is no longer in business.

At the end of the day – and as much as we love showing people our work – I simply don’t want to risk having our client’s identity pinched from under them. Here’s the thing too – even if we can’t find the original logo owner on Google, it’s still not a good idea to knock any design off. You don’t know if the original owner still claims copyright and it’s always up to us to find the owner of any copyright and ask them permish. So how does one find knock-offs?

Glad you asked..

Using Google to track down knock-offs.

Take a few seconds to watch this little video:


It pretty succinctly describes the features of Google’s Image Search and how you can use it to find images that are similar to one another. Pretty slick claims. But does it work? And what are the practical implications? Well, yes it does work. With almost magic-like precision. As far as practical implications go, there are tons. Designers, and owners of intellectual property can use Image Search to track down unauthorized use of their design goodies – in this case (obviously) knocked off logo design.

Let’s take a look at how a search shakes out by first visiting the Google image search home page. I’ve found that you get best results from images that are already included in the image search index, so I picked The Tanning Factory again:

google-image-search-tanning-factory
I’ve found that you get best results from images that are already included in the image search index, so I picked The Tanning Factory again:

google-image-search-results
To make Google image search do its thing, we simply have to ‘drag and drop’ the image into the ‘Search by Image’ field (you can also ‘drag and drop’ from any web page using another browser window):

google-image-search-results-drag
That brings up a ton of related images that Google ‘thinks’ are similar. The results are nothing short of uncanny:

google-image-search-results-narrow
By drilling down through the index, we can find all sorts of logos that have been appropriated from The Tanning Factory original. There’s a music blog:

Melkarr music blog
There’s a T-shirt company:

The Studio Factory
There’s a modeling agency:

image plant
There’s this so-called graphics factory (removed):

The graphics factory
Then there’s this one – The Restoration Factory, part of the Texas Museum of Automotive History that’s using a knocked-off version for their new student program (removed):

The Restoration Factory Texas
Googe image search can also be used for tracking down knocked-off photographs. My daughter was able to find a picture from her anti-smoking college project being used, in all places, on a website that’s marketing tobacco products to teenagers. She proudly told me this morning about sending her first ‘cease and desist’.

Atta girl.

A more drastic solution.

Eventually, policing your logos and what-not becomes an ever expanding game of whack-a-mole, so if you grow tired of chasing morons around the internet, there’s always a more drastic solution to the malarkey. That’s simply to tell Google not to index any of your images at all. Though that kinda defeats the entire purpose of having a website in the first place and people determined to pinch your artwork will simply come to your site instead.

Footnote:

It was Amy that questioned the irony of using the image at the head of this article. Obviously, it’s a knock-off from the cover of Grand Theft Auto so it’s a copycat too, right? Not exactly – it’s a parody (fair use) and we’re not claiming we designed it, nor are we marketing ourselves under the banner. See, we want people to be reminded of the original, rather than absconding with the brand and making it our own. That would be Brand Theft Logo.