Blast from Past mines the back catalogue of Applied Arts Magazine to revive articles from years gone by. It’s our attempt at bringing to light the figures, firms and events that shaped the Canadian visual communications industry. Revisiting the stories and giants of yesteryear gives us an appreciation of where we came from and, perhaps, an indication of where we’re heading.
This feature article looked at the growing concern of design plagiarism with the aid of advanced technology – a concern that still resonates in the creative community today. It was published in the Spring 1990 issue of the magazine.
In the print community, the difference between an original paragraph and a copy is obvious to anyone who can read. Where graphic design is concerned, plagiarism is often difficult to determine. When one stylized G, for example, looks like a dozen others, who is to say which, if any, is the original? An abundance of ready reference materials and advanced technology, such as fax machines, give artists quick access to a vast supply of graphic information. Copying is easier than ever to do. But labelling any piece as “stolen” – and making the label stick – is virtually impossible in all but the most obvious cases.
Still, accusations are flying. Whether they can prove the charges or not, a growing number of self-appointed industry watchdogs claim that plagiarism is rampant. And they don’t mean work that has been influenced by a certain school or movement. They are not talking about the incorporation of borrowed elements or even the unconscious implementation of an idea recorded somewhere deep in the psyche. What they are pointing to is the practice of reproducing visuals intact, or almost so, from an uncredited source. Angered by the dearth of creativity in a profession that should depend on originality and simple hard work, these professionals want copycat design stopped. At the other end of the ethical spectrum are artists who regard lifting layouts or logos, or even entire magazine designs, as a perfectly legitimate way to do fast, smart business. Between the two positions lies a vast grey land populated by semanticists.