The internet is like a force of unmoderated power. It has ushered in progress yes, but every once in a while something happens that gets us thinking. Last week was one of those moments. The topic was plagiarism and the man of the moment was Jonathan Mak, 19, a graphic design student from Hong Kong.
In August he posted a design of an Apple logo on his Tumblr blog http://jmak.tumblr.com/ as a tribute to Steve Jobs who resigned the same month. Nothing happened, then Jobs died on Oct 5, and suddenly Mak became an instant sensation! His design was shared from one corner of the virtual universe to another, well this is Tumblr after all! - the reblog blog.
Ashton Kutcher posted the design on his Twitter account, it was also printed on commemorative caps and T-shirts sold on eBay, news media reported on it, job offers started rolling in. In short Mak was famous! Then he became infamous. By the very weekend of Jobs death, people started telling him how similar his design was to that of Chris Thornley, a British graphic artist known as Raid 71.
Then the Brickbats.........
On Sunday (Oct 9), Thornley's wife Julia commented on Mak's blog about the similarities in both designs. More bad news flowed from there - negative postings calling him a plagiariser made its rounds on the internet, the media picked it up. He was in the news once more, but for all the wrong reasons.
Mak however denied the accusations. He said he had searched the internet for inspiration and also to ensure he was not copying. He acknowledged that Thornley got his idea before him, but said the design for his concept was not inspired by the latter's.
Julia left another comment on Mak's blog saying Thornley accepts his explanation and does not bear any grudges against him. Earlier Thornley who is being treated for cancer, acknowledged the dangers the digital age presented to creativity, and said Mak had been as honest as he could about the situation.
So is Mak a plagiariser? I doubt it. As it turns out, several other designers have also produced similar designs. It just happened that Mak's design went viral. Maybe the others did not use Tumblr to showcase their work huh? In any case, it's a tweaked design of an Apple logo with a silhoutte of Jobs in it. Anyone could have come up with that idea. It does not require a great dose of ingenuity to do so.
The thing with the internet and the masses that use it is that, they can be quick to praise and just as quick to vilify. It's become a great medium to spread the fire in recent times, remember the London riots?
Mak and Thornley however are not the first designers to be embroiled in such a scenario. Earlier this year illustrator Aaron Wood whose vintage social media propaganda posters became an instant web sensation, was accused of plagiarism too.
It so happened that Aaron's posters closely resembled that of Brian Winfield Moore who has been selling his art work for about two years now. However both Aaron and Brian choose an amicable solution by denying any act of plagiarism.
Check out Aaron and Brian's posters here: http://jothijeyasingam.blogspot.com/2011/08/social-media-posters.html
In fact this is what they did:
In both cases, the parties involved conducted themselves with grace and diplomacy. Many artists, designers and writers are surfing the web everyday for ideas and inspiration. This will not be the last time something like this happens. Let hope all those who are faced with similar situations in the future handle the matter in a way that benefits all parties involved!