Friday, October 26th, 2007

Hey Google! Where’d you get that logo?

Hey Google! Where’d you get that logo?
Email to a friend Comments (37)

Of my daily reads, Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch is one I most enjoy. It’s an amazing look into the new ideas (some great, and some “not so much”) that people have for the web. Today I took special notice of Erick Shonfeld’s post about Google’s search tool: SearchMash. In part, I’m interested in anything “Google”, but this time I also found something a little fishy.

I drew that!

Back in 2000, when we started our firm, we created the smashLAB wordmark. It presented a few technical problems, including the marriage of two styles/cases, and an “h” with an awkward counter and a tricky ascender. I think we resolved the issues well by condensing that counter’s horizontal space, cranking the x-height on the lower-case glyphs and a few other tweaks.

Speed ahead to today, and we find that Google’s SearchMash wordmark looks, well, pretty darned similar. Take a peek at the little comparison we generated this morning, and judge for yourself:

logo comparison
Perhaps this is a simple case of like-minds; however, the similarities are a little disconcerting. That name, the compound word and phonetics, the geometric forms, the x-height and cap height, the character weights and widths… I dunno… It just seems like someone at the Googleplex isn’t doing their own homework.

Now, I can live with this as a form of creative flattery; however, Google’s pretty good at getting their name out there. We, on the other hand, are a tiny little design firm. I have to wonder what happens when their new service becomes wildly popular. I fear that all of a sudden, we’ll look like hacks that copied them, when in fact… Well, you get the picture.

Change the code dummy

All of us find something that looks close to our work out there, but there are some examples that really make your jaw drop. That’s what happened when I inadvertently came upon “violin master” Jay Cayuca’s website.

smashLAB’s new website received a little recognition when it launched last spring. Clearly it caught Jay’s attention; he stripped the site, swapped the photos, and presented it as his own. Clearly not a stickler for detail, Jay failed to go to the trouble of removing our name from the source code. It was a simple Google search (they do make handy stuff, don’t they?) that led me to his site.

My email to Jay was a little catty. I simply noted, “We’re flattered that you like the smashLAB site, but you can’t just copy this. Please make your own site. Do you steal your music as well?”

I never did receive a response from Jay, but two days later he changed the links and source code sufficiently to not have his blunder seem quite as incriminating.

Artists and imitators

We all get inspiration from one place or another; my painting instructor Renee Van Halm used to tell us, “You can’t create in a vacuum.” As a result, I’m always looking. In my mind, designers have to assess and deconstruct as many perspectives, treatments and visual styles as possible, in order to effectively command a pluralistic approach in their work.

So, I might find a great type treatment, and work from it; or, I could uncover a particular photographic approach that lends itself well to a project. I don’t believe many would see this as anything other than good research and development of one’s visual literacy. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by the works of others, but that doesn’t afford one license to steal it.

Over the years, I’ve seen a few sites that have been nearly identical to work we’ve designed for clients or ourselves. Although I sometimes send an email asking for these people to avoid copying our work, I’ve mostly come to accept this as a reality that is hardly worth much concern. That being said, a moment ago I visited Copyscape for a quick look about. Our search there brought me to a couple of sites that resulted in all of us at smashLAB actually laughing out loud.

site comparison
Take a peek at Apriva Creative and Netsolo‘s sites. (Update: Both have been changed/deleted since this post first appeared.) I keep asking the same question, “What the fuck were they thinking?” I bet you’ll share this sentiment. (Interestingly, both of them have statements regarding intellectual property ownership.)

I’m not covering particularly new ground here. Many designers have had these “What the *&%$ ?” moments. As a connected world allows us to find all of these great creative ideas, it also affords less-scrupulous parties the opportunity to profiteer from our hard work.If nothing else, we should do our best to call out these incidents when we uncover them.

And to the folks at Google: If you’d like us to build a new logo for searchmash, just send me an email at: karj@smashlab.com. We’d love to lend a hand. ;-)

Follow @karj to hear about these posts first.

Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Burst Labs says:

    A real shame, to be sure... we deal with it on the music side all the time, too. Too many agencies asking us for Moby or Coldplay... "you know, just change a chord or something."

    Ah, no.

    There are those of us who appreciate genuine and legit design. We've certainly taken the hard (read: expensive) road for our new music licensing site.

    Keep up the great work you guys do and keep calling out those who copy and steal... integrity is the only thing those of us who make our living in the creative arts have left as currency it seems.

  2. amit dixit says:

    Have you shared that font on any website??

    IF yes, than you may be getting over critical about Google’s searchMash logo similarity with yours !!

  3. Hi Amit,

    That's not a font, it was drawn in Illustrator. :-)

    Cheers,

    Eric

  4. Geof Harries says:

    While I agree with your view of the pirated website designs, you're grasping for straws with the wordmark issue. The font (illustration, typeface, whatever) that you drew is not a truly original piece of artwork. Poke around on http://dafont.com for a few minutes and you'll find a number of similar styles.

  5. Mak Gutierrez says:

    I beg to differ on your post about google copycats. While your site examples are something to go on a sueing spree. I

    The type from your logo is way too simple to call it unique on the basis that you made it by hand. Your type maintains the same proportions across the smash part. While google's differs. While I dont really love any of them. I think google just downloaded a font and kerned it enough.

    And believing google went to your site and copied it, i think its a bit egocentric. Imo the forms are not that special, and are not that hard to come in mind when looking for a 'tecno look'

  6. Burst Labs says:

    I do think your case against Google would be stronger if their 'Mash' were a similar font to your 'Lab.'

  7. Wow! Thats incredible! Everyday I am amazed by the level of balls some people have. I completely agree with you views and think that the laws on and around web copyrighting are vague and impossible to enforce. This is why the design community should make it their business to weed out the chaff!
    The evolution of a revolution,
    [e]

  8. Yann says:

    I wouldn't worry too much about your logo type... They're similar for sure, but this font is not super original... I don't mean it as an insult, it looks cool, what I mean is that I can believe someone else would come up with the same... It's somewhat similar to Tetra Bold and quite a few pixel fonts for Flash are also very similar...

    I think it's a coincidence. (I don't work for Google ;)

  9. shawnpetriw says:

    I think the entire concept of copyright has to be re-thought. It's effectively dead in our digital world.

    You may find this interesting:

    The case for the Death of Copyright

    Just look at this current blog site - Wordpress - open source GPL license forces no one to own the copyright or on derrivative works - and that's its value.

  10. Kevin says:

    I also don't buy the claim about the logo. I have drawn similar fonts just messing around in PhotoShop; its too plain to suggest it being completely unique, and the letterforms are not even identical.

    As for the website infringement ... its clear Apriva are using the same photo, but was that created by you? Is it a stock image? Nothing else on the site is really that close.

  11. Hi all,

    Thanks for your comments and insight. Many of your thoughts are ones that we too have tossed about here over the course of the day. I’d like to take a moment to respond to a few specific comments.

    Yann,

    I agree, there are a number of typefaces out there that are rather similar to the glyphs used in this wordmark. It’s certainly a possibility that this was all just a coincidence. Realistically, there are a limited number of variations on a geometric form, and I’m certainly not saying that this is such a unique treatment that it couldn’t be echoed in another work.

    In fact, this morning, when we first saw it, I chalked it up to such a possibility; however, as the others in the studio pulled up around my screen, we found it hard to not be a little suspicious. Without reiterating the specific points (as they are already covered in the fourth paragraph), I have to say the x-height/cap height mix seemed really strange to me. It’s just so “spot-on” to what we built.

    Maybe I’m reaching, but when we overlaid the letterforms in Illustrator and found so many shared alignments, we did think it was a little too close.

    Shawn,

    You make good points, and the article you suggest is thoughtfully written. You will, however, note that the author does indicate the distinction between plagiarism and copyright. Even if we do away with the latter, the ethical questions around the former remain.

    Now, in the case of the searchmash/smashLAB wordmark comparison, it’s conceivable that it’s simply coincidental. There are, of course, limited variations around a theme. That being said, in the websites listed, the theft is explicit.

    I also must note that it’s easy to talk of intellectual property rights seeming anachronistic, until it’s your work that’s being stolen. Then of course, college likely would have been much easier if I would have simply copied a better student’s term-papers. ;-)

    Kevin,

    I’m surprised you didn’t find the similarities between the sites more overt. (I think you may have to clean your monitor and take another look.)

    The photo used on the homepage of the smashLAB site is a composite that we created from two stock images: one being that of the hand and test tube, and the other being the lightning.

    You may also note that all of the subsequent images are in fact identical; I don’t mean similar, but in fact exactly the same images. Still have doubts? Well, let me throw this into the mix. Read the text content; on most pages it is copied verbatim. See what I’m getting at?

    Well, with that, I must be off. Thanks again all, I love sharing in these discussions with all of you!

    Good night,

    Eric

  12. Catherine says:

    Hi Eric

    My 3rd year package design at school for an "existing company" so impressed an old friend, that she described it [in apparently great detail] to a colleague of hers that worked for the Canadian division of said "existing company". 18 months later my son arrives home from a skiing trip to Vermont and plunks down "their" version of my design - odd shaped box and all.

    The copyright lawyer I contacted in Toronto said, "yep, they did [copy it] but you haven't got enough money to fight "them!

    Catherine

  13. g says:

    Cat: send an invoice, bill them!

    Eric: I've seen lots of similar ones, the m and other letters are different, but you are right on the x-height, way too similar.

  14. bg says:

    I think on their part, this was a case of, hey, let's do something futuristic: space font!

    ;-p

    Honestly, they look like they didn't put more than 10 minutes into a quick logo study using a few fonts. If anything, they're guilty of being lazy. Did they see yours and pay tribute? Possibly. It does look close. (See the link at the end for what could have happened/happenes when designers 'lift' things.)

    Two points:

    1) Even if you never stole it, copied, saw, etc., I think designers still have a responsibility to be aware of derivative works, even after their own work is done. Yeah, ok, you didn't copy it, but that doesn't change the fact that you still have a logo which now looks like an existing one. Change it.

    It's Google so they have the larger audience to get the name equity built on that thing even though you obviously were there first. Soooo, either get a really good copyright attorney or chalk it up to 'way it goes.' (No way they would sue you or accuse you because you obviously have the date indicated, plus, if they know they 'liberated it' they won't want to draw attention by suing.

    2) “Just look at this current blog site - Wordpress - open source GPL license forces no one to own the copyright or on derrivative works - and that’s its value. ”

    This brings up another issue, which is, what's right legally and what's right from an ETHICAL standpoint. Happens all the time with ad agencies, look at the current Sony spot for Bravia:

    http://eschenck.typepad.com/ernie_schenck_calls_this_/2007/10/bravia-i-though.html

    That's but one example of note lately. Point is, just because you may be in compliance legally doesn't make it right. If it looks like a duck...blah, blah, then if as a designer a person has any ethical code, do the right thing and change the (Google's) logo.

    Something I saw on a website somewhere though by someone outside the industry made me stop and think that this is something important to us, but to the consumer, maybe not so m uch. Regarding whether the spot (Sony) was copied or not didn't matter because it was cool. That happens a lot, where there is a common response we have to something that someone else might come up independent of ours.

    Still, I think while that may be true, you need to at least take an idea and add a new twist to it or something to make it better. That's the least you could do. (Although, anyone being honest would have to say the Sony spot is WAY too close in execution.)

    Funny experiment here also on common ideas pertaining to creativity. It's interesting how even seeing one visual cue for half a sec can inluence you:

    http://cmmnews.blogspot.com/2007/10/making-monkey-out-of-more-creatives.html

  15. Thuy says:

    While it would anger me to no end to find others doing a copy-and-paste job of my code and design, perhaps you will find comfort in knowing that many professionals have an eye for subtlety and an appreciation for thoughtfully designed work; few would be attracted to a company that starts the introduction with lies.

    Despite their complete rip-offs, there are glaring troubles with the others' sites. Rewording the content, changing a color here or there, tweaking the size of a visual element...it all screams of insensitivity to the careful crafting that goes on behind the writing, coding, designing and marketing.

    The small changes send a loud message. Were I a potential client or potential employee (and unfamiliar with smashLAB), I would feel an uncomfortable, gut-level unease. Maybe I could not verbally explain why I distrusted them, but the lingering emotion would remain.

    In the end, karma can be a real *****. I have seen firsthand the backlash that occurs with low-caliber, low ethics companies...and it ain't pretty. :)

  16. I wanted to make one other point regarding Shawn's response.

    There's an interesting piece in this month's Wired magazine, in which Daniel H. Pink explores manga in Japan, and how dojin artists create new material using existing characters. These mash-up artists are fans of the work, and their efforts have positive spin-offs for all of the parties involved. As such, the law is somewhat ignored by those who create the original works, as it's in everyone's best interest to do so.

    --

    Here's a brief excerpt from the article:

    "This odd situation exposes the conflict between what Stanford law professor (and Wired contributor) Lawrence Lessig calls the "read only" culture and the "read/write" culture. Intellectual property laws were crafted for a read-only culture. They prohibit me from running an issue of Captain America through a Xerox DocuColor machine and selling copies on the street. The moral and business logic of this sort of restriction is unassailable. By merely photocopying someone else's work, I'm not creating anything new. And my cheap reproductions would be unfairly harming the commercial interests of Marvel Comics.

    But as Lessig and others have argued, and as the dojinshi markets amply confirm, that same copyright regime can be inadequate, and even detrimental, in a read/write culture. Amateur manga remixers aren't merely replicating someone else's work. They're creating something original. And in doing so, they may well be helping, not hindering, the commercial interests of the copyright holders. Yet they're treated no differently from me and my hypothetical Captain America photocopies. The result is a misalignment between the emerging imperatives of smart business and the lagging sensibilities of old laws."

    The full article can be read here: http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/15-11/ff_manga

    --

    I'm certainly not a lawyer; however, I feel that we can still engage in a discussion around what makes good sense. Fair-use, as I understand it, allows the public a certain amount of latitude to illustrate points using other's copyrighted material. Similarly, creating new works through sampling is protected, so long as certain parameters are adhered to.

    The design of this site (ideasonideas), for example, is in my mind a bit of a visual mash-up between design applications and lined notebooks. My feeling was that this didn't impede Adobe's ability to sell their work, nor would any viewer feel that I was trying to pass this off as InDesign.

    The point here is that provisions should be made to protect the creators of original content, as well as the freedom of the general public to expand upon an idea. On the other hand, if I start ripping DVDs of Lost and selling them to my friends, few benefit from this. In my mind, the laws should protect the interests of the general populace. While my SearchMash example is clearly open to opinion, I'd say that we could all agree that the folks at Apriva Creative aren't doing anyone a service by stealing our work.

    If we do away with copyright, or redefine it, let's make sure we're doing it for the right reasons. Increasing society's ability to engage in a creative discourse would be a good reason; making theft acceptable might not.

  17. Hi all,

    If you enjoy the blog, please feel free to join our Facebook group. You'll find us here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5444098500

    Cheers!

    Eric

  18. Lisa says:

    Hey Eric, Well I can certainly understand your surprise and frustration at finding these samples of your work. Theft on the Internet and off the Internet is pretty pervasive.

    About 5 years ago I had a client steal TWO company id's which I was hired to create. I made several logos for a company named FoxFales (they are still using the logos on their website and all packaging materials albeit they have altered the marks a bit) and another company called Alliance TCC where I created the logo, business papers and website. I made a mistake, I was young to running my own business and I trusted the client. Prior to releasing the files (which they needed right away to send to the printer) I didn't insist on the final payment prior to release. So they got the files and then wrote me to say how unsatisfied they were with my work and guess what... they didn't feel they should pay for unsatisfactory work. I attempted to reason with them to no avail. Within 3 days they had trademarked all my marks. In going to a lawyer I was told "Well congratulations... you are talented enough to have your work stolen."

  19. Nate says:

    Although what happened to you is unfortunate, can we learn from your experience? I'm speaking about the blatant thievery of your website - not the logo example. From my understand, they stole your ideas/work/design (especially with Apriva "Creative" - almost word for word!). Clearly this is wrong, but let's say you went ahead and sued Apriva. You would have to prove without a question of a doubt that: A) You were the original creator of the design B)Apriva Stole your copyrighted material C)Your material is actually copyrighted.

    This in mind, how would one do such a thing? Obviously you came up with the orginal website design, but as far as anyone knows, there is no legitimate way to "time stamp" your website and prove you had the design up first. Even if there were a way to prove your site was up first, that doesn't prove you came up with the design. So maybe Apriva stole your idea (I'm playing devils advocate here, for arguments sake :-).

    And what about the copyright? Did you actually have it copyright-en? I'm not sure how that works, but if you did in fact hold a legitimate copyright of your work, besides the fact that you created it, wouldn't that hold up in a court of law? And to copyright something don't you need a lawyer involved - some third party that can put down on paper a time and date that your work was copyright-en as yours?

    I guess what I'm getting at, is in the future, how could you better protect yourself? Clearly putting "All work copyright of ..." on the bottom of your site isn't doing the trick. Is hiring a competent lawyer the answer? Is registering your design work with some third party company/organization the answer? I'm not sure, but there has to be a better way to prevent this from becoming a problem in the future. If a lawyer is too costly, maybe you can download one of those "legitimate looking" legal documents that threatens a lawsuit and/or penalty of death, if the stolen work isn't taken down. Or put up some "examples" of company's you've sued in the past for stealing your work ;-)

  20. Hi Nate,

    Thanks for your post. I'll try to answer your questions as best I can.

    With Apriva Creative's theft, we have records of the creative process, as well as progress files that would prove our ownership of the design solution. (We even have layers files of the composite images.) A search on Way Back Machine would also identify the site's history and go-live date.

    As I understand copyright, it is automatically attributed to the creator who can then license or transfer the rights to another party. To my knowledge, copyright does not require an overt statement in order to exist. The difficulty with a situation like this, however, is connected to the challenges in international law as it pertains to copyright. Even without direct knowledge of this, I can assume that the cost of waging such a battle (with limited potential gain) would be rather fruitless.

    The reality is that these folks are… well… hacks. Although I may not seek any compensation for their theft, I thought it was at very least prudent to call them on it. If they are willing to blatantly steal from us, I should at very least make some fun of them. ;-)

    As for your last question, of how we could better protect ourselves, I have no good responses. In a world with varying stances on copyright law, I fear these are things we may have to simply accept. Sucks though, doesn't it?

    Cheers!

    Eric

  21. Interesting post, I'd have to say I agree with the majority that this is a typical pixel font style. However, some of the characters especially 'MASH' are almost identical.

    I don't really know what to think about it, other than it makes me squirm a bit. Reminds me a lot of Britney Spears new perfume that ripped Mondonation.

    http://www.younggogetter.com/2007/08/21/britney-spears-new-product-stealing-from-mondonation-and-charities/

    Good luck guys, love all your work by the way.

    John

  22. Wil Arndt says:

    From this post: http://wilarndt.com/observations-culture/design-thievery-or-design-inevitability/ (Friday, October 26th, 2007):

    It’s really an unfortunate combination of letterforms is what makes the Google’s SearchMash logo look like a rip-off of the SmashLAB logo. There are only so many variations you can create when working within a fixed set of rules that include: right-angle corners, lowercase forms, a composition focus on thirds, etc. Rearrange the letters and the effect is less obvious...

    If you’re creating design that’s influenced by a culture and created for an audience, you shouldn’t be surprised when others come up with the same thing on their own.

  23. Jeff Werner says:

    An even more blatant bit of flattery happened just this week between your alma mater and the University of British Columbia, in fact: UBC took our poster design from last year and used it this year. Documented:

    http://jeffwerner.ca/2007/10/theft_is_the_sincerest_fo.html

  24. Jason Robb says:

    Wow. Shocked at the level of idiocy. I can't believe people just downright photocopy a web site. Amazing. Stay strong. Keep creating.

  25. Jess S. says:

    Eric,

    Remember, too, that whether or not it's "worth it" to go after an infringement like Apriva's should hinge on your future plans. If you should choose to try and enforce your brand identity using the courts at a later date, prior history of inaction can work against you. That is, if you have a history of knowing about copyright infringement against your brand while doing nothing about it, the court is less likely to find in your favor if/when you finally DO get around to enforcing it.

    Either way, creative firms that steal work are pretty much the bottom of the barrel.

    Best,
    J.

  26. Graham Taylor says:

    Don't know if you're aware of this one, but something is being done...

    http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/blog3/

  27. Dani Nordin says:

    Man. Oh, man. Dude. Just. Dude.

    I'm trying to find words, but I can't. I can't figure out if I want to laugh or scream.

  28. tre says:

    jess s.,

    (disclaimer: i am not a lawyer, but here are my two bits anyway):

    i believe what you are referring (in regards to actively defending your work) is trademark / patent law, not copyright.

    the two are often confused. copyright is statutory and as erik remarked earlier, is attributed to the author as soon as a work is created. no statement of copyright is required; no court filing is required. the trick comes when an author seeks compensation for a violation of copyright law -- then you need proof (that can be a difficult task or some cases), but an author does not lose ownership to that copyright if they do not pursue legal action.

    trademark / patent law, however, requires companies to actively seek out and protect those trademarks/patents through legal action. i am unsure why this is (but i know it is an integral part of the trademark / patent law) -- it's an unfortunate part of the law because it sends companies on ridiculous fishing expeditions (i.e. ludicrous patent suits for hyperlinking, docked palettes, embedding objects in web pages, etc.)

    both laws are antiquated and definitely need revisiting -- but as far as i know, you don't lose your copyright if you don't pursue legal action.

  29. Jess S. says:

    Yep, tre, you're certainly right about the differences between patent/trademark and copyright infringement.

    I definitely wasn't trying to imply that one might "lose ownership to that copyright..." My understanding, though, is that courts look to history of enforcement on infringement suits when rendering decisions.

    Best,
    J.

  30. none says:

    honestly, it just really looks like a large version of the hooge font found on miniml.com

  31. Tim says:

    I am sure I saw very, very similar letter forms before you came up with your wordmark, but I would not go as far as implying you plagiarized them either.

    The "violin master" website, of course, is a different thing altogether.

  32. Daniel Reeders says:

    The substance of your concern isn't that searchmash used a similar font, it's that they used a similar font with similar modifications to represent the same syllable in a LOGO.

    Anyone who can't see how that's a problem probably shouldn't be reading this blog...

  33. Jon says:

    I found one of my logos plagiarised last year after the piece had shown up on Digg in an article on Logo Design.

    At first I was pretty pissed off...and then I resigned...and now I am a little flattered.

    What pisses me off now is that idiots who would willingly plagiarise another designer's work for profit feel that they have any business in this business. While it's not uncommon to find companies (especially small ones) cribbing pretty heavily from successful designs, it's troubling that your examples are all supposed design professionals.

    BTW - I totally think the searchMash logo is cribbed from yours. The X-Height and repeated syllable are too much of a coincidence.

  34. I agree with Jon, nothing gets under my skin more than when a designers website says something like they are extremely "ethical" and have great "attention to detail" only to realize that their whole site is just a template from Monster Templates, or worse, a rip-off from another designer's website.

    Eric,
    definitely the x-height is your ace card. its ways too similar. the probability of a designer making that x-hieght almost identical to yours AND having the same style of characters is probably a trillion to 1

  35. Alan Stuart says:

    amazing. you guys are good at finding crooks. fuck them, but you should be very flattered.

    keep it up, the copy is never as good as the original, even if it is google.

    -A

  36. Pingback: When logos look alike | Logo Design Love

  37. czesco says:

    I'm totally against the blatant copying, as in the website example, but I have a problem with the idea that if there are common elements between two or more creations that is somehow 'wrong', as in the searchmash case.

    It's ridiculous to argue that anybody creates anything truly original ex nihilo. You see things and you take elements and twist them and mix them together with other ideas and create something new. People who create always are influenced and borrow from other works. You cannot copyright an idea, only an execution, and how much do you have to change something before it is a different object? I don't know the answer to that but I think it's dangerous for creativity to assume that any similarity is inherently 'wrong.'

    I will state, again, that I am totally against wholesale copying; that's not being creative, that's being a hack.

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