99designs logo design contest

From the “Here We Go Again” Department. No point in rehashing the dangers of logo design contests, save this simple “spec work is bad” equation:

A whole bunch anonymous people who may, or may not, be actual designers +
A very small chance of getting paid for their design work +
A web-based logo design contest on ANY ‘design contest’ site =
An extraordinarily high risk of copied work.

99designs logoThe proof, as they say, is always “in the pudding“. So let’s take a look at some recent pudding from our old pals at 99designs, this time in a logo contest for the good folks at Storm Factory, undoubtedly nice people who like to think of themselves as an “awesome entertainment company“. The brief for the $270 contest is pretty straight forward, asking for a design that incorporates “a factory and/or a storm in some kind of creative way.” Cool. tanning factory logo originalThis tanning salon logo (designed by our shop back in 2003) features a factory (right), so let’s add some lightning bolts (in a “creative” way I suppose) and we’re all set. Not that this is the contest holder’s fault (other than holding a contest in the first place). They can’t be expected to know every logo in the history of ever. And as 99designs can’t, or won’t, monitor every single contest on their server, identifying knocked-off stuff is left to other contest participants. As is notifying 99designs administrators about the hackery (though “please do this very quietly, lest contest holders realize they’re paying for a bunch of copied logos that they can’t use” seems to be the policy de jour). Not that this “let’s leave monitoring contests to the plebes” concept always works out so well. Anyone remember this spec work parable when it didn’t?

Please sir, pick my logoAs is generally the case, and after being notified, the lads at 99designs quietly withdraw the copied design (or as in this case, multiple variations) from the contest proper, but leave it on their server so that others can be, ahm, inspired by it (or for search engine rankings, whichever comes first). You can’t imagine how thrilled I am to have work that’s been cribbed from our logo design portfolio, being used to promote 99designs and their services. Nor, how positively chuffed 99designs 97 submission averageI am knowing that when 99designs claims they’re a better alternative to our shop, or other designers, because “clients” get “more design options“, some of those “more design options” are ripped straight from our galleries. And those of other designers and design firms. While we’re at it, wonder if ripped designs count in the “97 designs” average submissions per contest these guys claim?

Meanwhile, the would be designer who’s now shown us that he’s not above lifting others’ work so blatantly, is free to enter more contests held by unsuspecting contest holders. He’s active in six right now. Ain’t the first time this nonsense has happened. Or the second time either. Copied designs being entered into logo contests and so-called crowdsourcing sites is a regular occurrence. Or is this just another example of someone being a snooty designer who won’t get with the program?




Related Posts

  1. Yet another 99designs logo contest knock-off
  2. How to enter a logo design contest in ten minutes flat. Without having to design anything
  3. Defending crowdsourcing & design contests. The platitudes of spec work.
  4. The Jon Engle vs. Stockart.com story – an anti-spec work parable?
  5. Snippets: Crowdspring to offer spec writing, NEA holds a spec work contest & other news

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15 Comments to “Spec work hackery redux. More of our work copied & entered into 99designs logo design contest”

  1. Jason Aiken says:

    Hi Steve,

    Apologies – 99designs does not condone plagiarism in any way.

    99designs also did not invent plagiarism – it has always gone on in the design world. The open nature of 99designs makes it easier to spot – which is a good thing.

    It turns out that the project holder was alerted to the offending design by another designer in the project – this is part of the self policing the open community affords.

    The project holder then eliminated all of that designer’s designs from the competition.

    I first became alerted to this when I read this blog post and looked into the matter. I found violation report had been filed against the offending designer by another designer in the community. The report was pending – or in queue to be investigated by the 99designs support team.

    The report has now been processed and that designer has been suspended.


    • ryan says:

      Hi jason,

      your web is sucks, a lot of your designer copying logo around the sites. Dont be stupid and let them always copying. give a respect for us.

  2. Interrupt says:

    99designs and other crowdsourcing sites may not “condone” plagiarism, but the business model certainly propagates it.

    Its the open nature of the internet that makes these things easier to spot. It has nothing to do with your site or your community other than the fact that this is where the plagiarism is currently being found.

    It’s great that your company is looking to address these things quickly, but that doesn’t improve the ethics or value of the business model as a whole. Treating design like a commodity will increase this problem not reduce it.

  3. Steve Douglas says:

    Jason – appreciate the comment. Not sure where I claimed 99designs invented plagiarism. Or condoned it for that matter. See, I can imagine that these ‘flare-ups’ are a monster pain in the ass for you, as 99designs “damage control’ go-to guy. But no mind. What I did allude to is that plagiarism is a risk or the contest business model itself. That’s ANY design contest site. It’s just that 99designs participants seem to be particularly fond of cribbing our stuff. And you lot are a little slow when it comes to removing our designs from your database, despite this happening on a fairly frequent basis.

    As for plagiarism occurring throughout the design world, you sorta have a point. Though I don’t remember any blog post where someone was carping that we pinched something from 99designs. Too, someone would have to be particularly dense to believe that paid designers would run the risk of losing a gig, their job or even their career, with as much gusto as some anonymous user, on some design contest site, who’s not getting paid at all. Especially when they risk losing, ahm, nothing, should they get nabbed. So you suspended the designer? That’s nice. So what, a couple of weeks, he’ll be back at 99designs, cranking out spec work for your contest holders again? Gotta keep those community numbers up I guess.

    In the real world he would be fired faster than your head can spin, and if he was an independent contractor, running a very real risk of being taken out to the legal woodshed. In traditional avenues, the risks for supplying knocked off work to clients is so much higher than on sites like 99designs. While it’s true we’ve been knocked-off by traditional agencies before (here’s one example), the voluntary legal settlement for that was in the low 5 figures. And if you haven’t already, you should read your terms and conditions that completely waive any responsibility should this happen. You’re but a “middle man” remember? In the real world, designers are design firms are completely responsible for knock-off work being presented to clients. For some reason, you lot think you’re not. And have a multi-monitor deep waiver that tells us why you’re not. That alone demonstrates why logo design contests are a vary bad idea for small businesses looking to get an original logo with which to market themselves.

    Your point about ‘open nature’ making copied designs easier to find is an interesting one, though you’re not the first to make it. Alas, it’s a bit of quackery as there’s numerous occasions where copied work and stock art submissions have won logo design contests. In terms of your “pending report”, this knock off was reported almost two weeks ago, and as of this afternoon, it was still available on your server. In fact, some of the actions you claim (removal of the images for example) took place AFTER this blog post was published and hit Twitter.

    Strange coincidence that.

    And oh yeah, while I’ve got you here, was wondering if you’d like to make an official comment on the children designers that are working on your site? I’m still kinda interested about that.

    Cheers back.

    • Jason Aiken says:

      Steve, I apologize about the delay in processing the violation report – we definitely dropped the ball there.

      Truth is – 99designs is growing by leaps and bounds. We have record numbers of projects being launched and have needed to hire new staff to help us keep up with the growth.

      I am training two new support members as we speak – so in the future we can expect a much more appropriate response time.


  4. @Jason Aiken,

    I, like Steve, would like an official position on the children designers of 99D, especially since 99D, being based in Victoria, Australia, will fall foul with not having a CEP for any child working with them.


    Furthermore, as artistic endeavour / production of creative falls under the entertainment industry not only does 99D have to honour the CEP, but also the Mandatory Code of Practice for the Employment of Children in Entertainment.

  5. derived says:

    If i were you or the owner of 99designs i would do the following:
    -do a trusted / verified sign up using real names and credentials
    -take a very serious and professional approach regarding the copyright infringements. I have forwarded you a couple of reports in the past and i only received some stupid e-mails saying that although you can see that they are similar you cannot take any further action because according to 99designs rules this is not a violation. How stupid should someone be to say such a derailed affirmation in a copyright infringement?
    -take an account filtering and keep the best designers on board.
    Right now even there are too many designers coming from countries where a law pursuit regarding any copyright infringement could not take place due to the country laws instability or simple because you want to ignore completely this issue and move on with your commissions cut from the contest launching fees.
    -at 100.000 designers you need a couple of floors full of 99design staff to stay in touch with the submissions, keep the forums calm and BAN rapid / quick smart ass designers doing bad things with logos that are not even theirs. Do you have those couple of floors full of people?
    - CHANGE your rules about plagiarism. Make a better report system, ask OTHER people’s opinion about this matter.

  6. It couldn’t be the case of Copied Design. People always see the design for inspiration & innovative ideas. This might the point to create new design from old design concept or get the new idea from old design. I don’t think so 99design do this stuff, Not at all. Always think twice before blaming anyone.

    • Steve Douglas says:

      Inspiration is fine. These logos are exact clones of the majority of the original. Innovative ideas do not come from knocking off other people’s work I’m afraid. That sort of misses the point about being innovative.

  7. Jamie says:

    Hi Steve.

    I know you’re not a fan of these websites but I would like to mention that we have taken the IP theft issue very seriously when building our new website http://www.klick360.com. We allow any registered user to report a violation on the fly which locks out that design within the contest page and remains clearly visible to all registered users and cannot be chosen as a winner. Then registered users can vote on that design right within the contest page with a “yes” or “no”. Only the client/buyer can unlock the design. The person that reports the issue has their name and the nature of the violation reported in plain view in the comments section at the bottom of the contest page.

    We know it is difficult to prevent IP violation theft 100% but we strongly believe our system is heading in the right direction.


    • indignant says:

      Jamie, your voting system is ridiculous. Do you actually think that allowing competitors to vote on whether or not a design is infringing on a person’s copyright would negate copyright law? This is the failure method at logomyway where they have “designers” with up to 30 copyright violations STILL submitting designs with Joe Daley’s blessings. For your information, that is infringement with intent to profit. Why on earth would a crowdsourcing site even allow known infringers to even vote? I know that 99designs is very well known for allowing copying, but I have looked into both sites and logomyway is far worse. Daley proudly displays the number of disputes of copied work right there on the designer’s portfolio. It just screams “Hey look, I copied 30 designs (that I got caught at and I am STILL submitting and winning”.

  8. rococo queen says:

    Flash news! the world is changing rapidly, don’t be surprise when you found yourself doing spec work.. (or maybe as a client asking for spec work) business is business afterall

  9. Dark Arrow says:

    The 99 is a big shit!
    I won the contest! We also started the suggestion!
    Then they banned me!
    What will be the money? Get or keep for themselves?
    This is not correct

  10. Just a few weeks ago I found out that one of the designers illegally used one of my photos of one of my original paintings for a book cover contest and it was the winner. It was on 99 Designs site since last August and I had no idea until a fan told me about this. The designer won $200. and 99 got $99 for this winner.

    After contacting them they took it down immediately. Then I found out that they also sold the copyright of the cover with my work to the author that requested this project.
    So, they take my copyright photo and sold it as a copyright!

    They have stated that they will supply the author with a new copyright and will also supply me with a copy of this and also the name of the designer. Yeah right….I am still waiting. They will not give me the $300. that won because of my cover and tell me I have to get it from the designer but they won’t give me the designers name so they make this impossible. His screen name and the name he uses at 99 Designs is Daliborka, tells me nothing!

    Watch out for these people, especially artists. They will steal your work and they think that is just ok. So they are making money off the backs of artists and don’t care how they do it! Total rip offs!
    Customers should know that they be holding a copyright of an exhausting copyright!!! Don’t think this is a big deal? …check the copyright laws!