Artist chases Paperchase over swiped character

paperchaseallegedplagiarism.jpg Paperchase is 'strenuously' denying allegations of plagiarism leveled after art similar to work by Hidden Eloise was spotted adorning its products. On the left, the original painting. On the right, the design as printed on bags and other items by the British stationery company. (The photo is from iworkatborders' livejournal.) After the topic fired up Twitter, Paperchase posted a statement claiming that it bought the design 'in good faith' from a 'reputable' agency, which itself denies plagiarizing her artwork.
Hidden Eloise responds:

Paperchase seems to think that it is a great excuse that they bought the infringing design from an outside source. Paperchase ignores that they were the ones selling the products. It doesn't matter how you obtained them. What matters is that you had a chance to act upon this matter in November when I contacted you and you never did. Now you are blaming someone else and you are still denying what is in front of your very eyes. Plagiarism that is. Everybody but you seems to believe so.

Actually, let me correct myself in that Paperchase is not "denying" plagiarism. They are just saying that they would never knowingly sell plagiarised material. Which I'm sure is exactly what their expensive lawyers advised them to say so that Paperchse has plausible deniability in court.

Eloise complains that Paperchase has released more products featuring the design since being shown the original. Lawyers ask for "astronomical amounts of money" to go after them, she adds. Chasing paperchase [Hide n Seek] (The artwork is for sale here) Paperchase forced to deny it 'plagiarised' British artist's work after Twitter campaign [Telegraph]


  1. Right. The damages are minimal — perpetual rights to a design like this would be a fraction of the cost of hiring those lawyers — but Paperchase can do better than this.

    If paperchase offered a fair use defense, that would make for a really interesting case — does it make a difference that it’s a big company with easy access to the courts?

    But it didn’t: instead, it denies the completely obvious, revealing that it is acting in bad faith.

  2. Does this mean that if you are a young female with a long black hair and a long flowing dress you are not allowed to lean your back against a large boulder? Surly the original art work needs some uniqueness?

    1. Do you also think that “Under Pressure” and “Ice Ice Baby” are substantially different as well? :P

      It appears unique enough to me. I’ve never seen that girl before. And while it is true that girl reclining against wall-like-object is a well known form, these two are suspiciously similar.

    2. the mona lisa is just a smiling lady portrait but i bet you can tell the difference between a whatever smiling lady portrait and mona lisa ripoffs/parodies/references.

      legal ramifications apart, it is obvious that the 2 designs are almost identical.

  3. This image comparison is much better than the one in the Telegraph — the original image, not cropped, and a stack of Paperchase bags somewhere far away…

  4. The pose is identical. Both the hem line and waist band of the skirt are identical. The proportions of the figure are identical. In the original the figure’s hand rests against a brown wall, in the Paperchase version it’s resting on – nothing. It’s a straight lift with a change of colours and hairstyle.

  5. It’s too bad that a lot of people will dismiss her because they feel it’s not close enough to her entire illustration. The wonderful ‘designers’ at Gather no Moss traced the girl. If they wanted a girl leaning on a mushroom, didn’t they have the basic skills to draw one themselves? Did they trace the mushroom, owl and flowers as well? I feel someone ought to go through their collection and see how many elements they lifted from other Etsy or Deviant Art pieces.

    You might not think that tracing someone else’s design is a big deal, but it is extremely unethical and unprofessional. I sure wouldn’t want to deal with a design company who can’t design their own sh*t (and Paperchase should support design companies with original talent).

    1. Yes, perhaps unethical.. but really just lazy. They lazily appropriated some art. Then they did a lot of other work: modifying it, producing a product, selling that product, etc. Perhaps there are profits, but how much of those profits belong to the originator of the art they originally lazily appropriated?

      1. It’s not all about the money.

        Are laziness and dishonesty acceptable standards nowadays? No matter how trivial one feels the design is, to appropriate it as one’s own is fraud. By comparaison, stealing a lipstick has less financial repercussions than stealing a diamond ring, but it nonetheless theft.

        Lines on paper might be unimportant to some, but to others, it is their livelihood and industry. I rather side with an artist/company who’s NOT lazy and has some standards than one who settles for subpar, questionable practices.

  6. I completely agree with you Sekino. To the cynics I grant that there’s a fine line, but this is just too close for comfort – the line has most definitely been crossed. It makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

  7. I completely agree with you Sekino. To the cynics I grant that there is a fine line, but this one is far to close for comfort, makes for very uncomfortable viewing. It has crossed the line most definitely, no doubt about it.

  8. Hidden Eloise, register yourself at ACID (Anti – Copying in Design) – for an annual fee they will then go after bigger fish who try this sort of thing and they have won against some pretty big companies. I think it’s well worth the fee, and though I’m in textiles rather than illustration, I know a lot of people who have been helped by them. It’s a deterrent as well – if people see you’re registered they might think twice about copying.

    Good luck, I hope you win — any fool can see this is ripped off! Boo to Paperchase, I thought they were above this kind of thing.

  9. “The wonderful ‘designers’ at Gather no Moss traced the girl. If they wanted a girl leaning on a mushroom, didn’t they have the basic skills to draw one themselves?”

    This. It makes all the difference, to me, that they traced/swiped her work. There’s a lot of complaining over corporate ‘plagiarism’ where its clear that all that was copied was an idea or a concept — but what’s good for the goose (small-timers) is good for the gander (corporations).

    But this is a blatant swipe, by a very well-established and powerful commercial entity, of an artist who has no means to pursue them other than seeking public attention.

  10. I still struggle with this kind of topic here. Is it one of those famous verbs?

    – I do derivative art
    – You do mashups
    – They plagiarize?

    1. I still struggle with this kind of topic here. Is it one of those famous verbs? – I do derivative art – You do mashups – They plagiarize?

      Mash-ups make no attempt to conceal their origins, they’re generally homages or parodies and they frequently drive traffic to the original source material. This is just a rip-off.

  11. It has been proven that it is entirely possible for two seperate artists, writers, etc. to come up with the exact same idea even working apart. Especially this is true when in the same narrow field. (Sci-Fi, Post Nuke Sci-Fi, Post nuke Zombie Sci-Fi, and so on…)

    Bt, n, lks lk bg crprtn s stlng, th ct f th drss s wht gt m whl wld hv ccptd th chrctr typ, ps nd hr. Tht typ f “ld Schl” drss th ll grl s wrng ds mv tht wy, th cpy hs t ll wrng nd mr mdrn rtst r nn-cpyng hck wld prbbly hv t hng lwr snc t lks t f plc nlss y knw hw t’s sppsd t bhv. Lkly thrgh “Sb-Cntrctr” pd nthng nd prbbly Chns wh jst lfts stff. “Flm ch kkldng t h brty, T ch kkldng t h knd.”

    Want a similar story of Copyright infringement?


    Somebody found their “Fan Work” on a “Hot Topic” T-Shirt. H’s gd rtst, s hs pr-qlty wrk mght hv bn ‘ssmd’ by th Chns sb-cntrctr t b “ffcl” rt thy cld s.

    1. Wow, greengestalt, I’m amazed that you managed to make a post as offensive as the original deed. What makes you think the artist was Chinese, and do all Chinese talk that way, according to you?

      Good grief.

      1. —–What makes you think the artist was Chinese—-

        From the earlier incident I cited: The BattleToads art.

        Designer works on shoestring budget for everything, outsources to China, including the Art. Therefore, very reasonable to assume in looking for art to use some computer operator there thought the art was “Official” art and just used it. Or, even that is being too polite, they just used it. I’ve heard some “My art was used for one of Hot Topic’s Temporary Tattoos without me getting paid!” also… He contacted the company, nothing but finger pointing and un-contactable (except to order 1000+ t-shirts) companies in China.

        Really, I see my original post got scrambled. Someone afraid I’d melt all the “Precious individual Snowflakes” out there? Rlly, grw p, y shld s hw rntls mck s tryng t spk thr lnggs, r jst mck s whn w rn’t lkng.

        1. No matter where moderators draw the line, some dickhead will stand right up against the line and stick one toe over it and bitch and whine when he gets “censored.”

          Observe where the standards have been set here and go somewhere else if you don’t like it.

    2. I’m going to have to agree with greengestalt on this one. I am an illustrator and know how irritating it is when someone blatantly rips off your work or visual vocabulary. However this case seems to deserve no sympathy. The original artists work is such a bland reflection of what so many other female artists have been doing recently and before her. Her work is unoriginal. Since when can’t a designer be inspired by another’s work. Paperchase is just doing what the original artist herself did, but at least they created an improved version.

      1. @57

        What you seem to be saying is that you know how irritating it is when someone rips off *your* work, but you don’t care about somebody *else’s* work getting ripped off.

        Sorry, but people don’t have to meet your artistic standards in order to deserve to not be stolen from.

  12. The rights and wrongs of this case aside, that’s an awful load of bother over a throwaway figure that couldn’t have taken more than five minutes to think up and draw in the first place.

  13. I would expect this to only get worse thanks to the surfeit of “stock logo” and crowdsourced design websites. Coincidentally, well known illustrator Von Glitschka has been twittering today about somebody reselling an illustration of his as original work. The world is full of vampires.

  14. Another angle (I’m not trolling, honest). If this is a blatant rip off, why didn’t they alter the image more so that this type of comparison would never have been made? If the image was created independently then no criminal was intended.

    1. If this is a blatant rip off, why didn’t they alter the image more so that this type of comparison would never have been made?

      Why would any plagiarist not alter images/words/music more so that it wouldn’t be plagiarism?

    2. ‘Cause it’s easier to trace than create a new drawing to work from.

      And since they are not even claiming Fairey use, there’s HOPE.

    3. I’ve seen that line of reasoning in a SMBC comic, but this is the first time I’ve seen someone seriously suggest evidence of guilt as proof of innocence.

  15. Is ‘plagiarism’ the correct word? I think the best solution to this type of crap would be for Paperchase to sue the pants off their ad agency for fraud/misrepresentation/whatever the correct term is for ‘pretending we made this ourselves but actually lifting portions of other peoples’ work.’

    I think it’s also important to remember the old addage ‘imitation is the most sincere form of flattery’ in cases like this – if the design takes off, great: publicity. All that *I* would ask for in this situation is recognition/acknowledgement and the actual damages – market rate for rights to a digital image like this must be, what, fifty bucks?

    If the character is well known or featured in more than one piece, then sure, get an injunction to stop the product from going out if you can/want to spend the money up front, but in the end the agency comitted fraud.

  16. I understand that the artist is in the UK, and Paperchase is a British company, so this will be governed by UK copyright law. (This is an area where it’s meaningful to talk about ‘UK law’, because England and Scotland are governed by common IP legislation).

    The leading case on what constitutes copying is Designers Guild v Russell Williams, and I just cannot see how what has self-evidently happened here would not be taken as ‘substantial copying’ within the meaning laid down by the House of Lords in that case.

    There is no fair use exception here. For starters, we don’t have a general ‘fair use’ defence in UK copyright law; we have a number of narrow ‘fair dealing’ exceptions, but they relate to such areas as news reporting, academic criticism and so on. Commercial exploitation, which is what has happened here, falls squarely outside them.

    It is no defence for Paperchase to say that they obtained the design in good faith. It is well-settled law that this does not of itself prevent copying from being copyright infringement, although it may well limit the damages that could be obtained. (But an injunction against further sales, and an order to deliver up unsold stock, would be in the offing). Paperchase themselves would have grounds to sue the design agency for breach of contract, because even if there wasn’t an express clause in their licensing agreement that artwork was clear of other copyright, then a court would be bound to imply such a term.

    1. Good legal framework described here. That’s how the lawyers are going to think through it.

      To me, it looks like another day in the savage game of commercial art, and probably a waste of Hidden Eloise’s time and energy. Looking at her “original” leaning girl, I feel like I’ve seen a thousand of them before.

  17. it’s a blatant rip off, but it’s beyond me why anyone would notice or care. it’s not a particularly original piece of art, and I’d bet that prior, virtually identical works could be unearthed if one was so inclined. two girls in the same pose – really, that’s a problem?

    and what are we talking about here, 15, 20 minutes of drawing to create the original? and all they’d have to do to avoid all this is kick one of her legs back, or bring that puffy skirt in a bit?

  18. If this is a blatant rip off, why didn’t they alter the image more so that this type of comparison would never have been made?

    That’s a pretty silly question. Have you seen any student term papers recently? So chock-full with blatantly obvious plagiarisms, without any serious attempt to hide it. Then some people grow up further and still never work out that plagiarism is wrong, and that they can get caught doing it. Some people even become deans of universities, and still produce word-for-word copies of other people’s works.

    The only thing that can be going on in their heads is “how would anyone find out? Who’s ever heard of some dumb girl on typepad anyway?”

    Anyway, it’s a pretty silly excuse regardless. “But sir, it can’t be plagiarism. It’s identical, word-for-word! If I were plagiarizing, don’t you think I would have altered it a bit more so I wouldn’t be caught?”

  19. I wish I could glean the underlying principles, if any, in the copyfighting movement. On the one hand, I am told — repeatedly — that art should be available to be freely remixed into new things. A small artist should be able to liberally borrow from big record labels without consequence through sampling and what not. Yet here, a big corporation has — almost certainly — swiped art from an independent artist and now this is bad. I am not trolling, but I really don’t understand what the underlying rules are to what is okay and what is not.

    1. First of all, Bevatron Repairman, you might notice that this story wasn’t posted by Cory — the most consistent advocate of liberal copying. This is a problem I often see: when lots of people are speaking, and there is a general consensus on certain issues, some people think that means there should be coherence and agreement on everything, when there obviously isn’t.

      Second, I think the “copyfighting movement” is about keeping the rights we had with analog content (copying, lending to friends, saving for later, etc.) and thus allowing normal people to be participants in their own culture. It’s not so much about abolishing copyright (though some might support that), but about acknowledging limits to copyright and not allowing those limits to be de-facto abolished with technology.

      If a big company wants to use a design, there’s a simple procedure: pay the artist for permission. There’s no hurdle to that but laziness. As another poster already mentioned, they’ve probably already spent more on lawyers for this than it would have cost to just license the design in the first place. Because they have the resources to use the current system to their advantage, they have a responsibility to play by the rules.

      This might seem hypocritical, but I don’t think it is: it’s about power. Corporations with the resources to pay licensing fees, hire lawyers, etc. are in no danger of having their creativity stifled. Normal people have little or no chance of getting permission from the content producer whose work they’d like to remix, so the power imbalance justifies a different set of rules.

  20. The facial structure and head position are different. Look at the nose. It’s not the same girl.

    It’s certainly not a copyright violation. Is it a trademark violation? I doubt the images would be confused in the marketplace.

    The poses have an uncanny (and perhaps not accidental) similarity. So what?

    1. The head positions are not different. I posted this earlier, but it didn’t make a hyperlink: Overlayed comparison.

      The head positions are the same. The body is the same. The only place where the outer outlines are different are the front part of the skirt (they made it billow out a little more) and the hairline.

      Changing the nose is on par with changing the color of the girl’s dress.

  21. As an artist, I have found that on occasion I have made a drawing that is startlingly similar to another work I happen upon later. Artists often make similar works quite unknowingly. I also believe that remixing is fair use and sampling should be perfectly legal. I’m on Fairey’s side in that I feel his work fell under fair use with the Obama photo. So I don’t I feel too upset that a company uses artwork similar to another artist. It’s not a perfect copy, not even a perfect trace. The company artist may have used the Eloise drawing as reference, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if they didn’t at all. Maybe they saw the Eloise drawing earlier and copied it unknowingly. The subconscious can do that.

    1. Now, I won’t excuse bad behavior or tracing or stealing and I also won’t praise homaging or parodying or appropriating, but if we think about it: the “corporation” didn’t draw that vacant leaning girl, some “artist” did, some artist who probably doesn’t want that crap job where he or she is “forced” (because they took the job) to make something other than their own stuff (because they took the job). The corporation merely approved it (damn). I’ve worked for corporations: they pick curtains and noses, that’s it. Pox upon them for hiring a lazy human with an eye for the glittery stealworthy. (More proof of theft: right foot should have visible toes in both pictures given length of toony metatarsals: neither does)

      Now for real artist-schadenfreude: your brain will betray you. An article that has haunted me for some time now: Lethem on Nabokov stealing Lolita:
      Poor girl just can’t catch a break.

  22. OK this is not a troll but i think that the changes made were significant enough that it is not really a copy. Yes the outline is the same but everything else is very different I’d say the copy is much better then the original and has much more detail. Essentially they are saying someone stole an a shape from them because that is the most you can find in the images that are the same.

  23. A doctor spends many years in school to be able to make a five minute diagnosis. He charges accordingly. An artist spends years to be able to draw well. He deserves the same compensation. It doesn’t matter how long it took the artist to draw the sketch. What matters is that the company traced it. It doesn’t take skill or creativity or education to trace. They should make an offer to buy the rights from the original creator and not use that design company any more.

  24. Also bear in mind that the photo here was taken at an angle. There’s an overlay at the artist’s site which seems line-for-line identical except for superficial details.

  25. I’m always baffled by the people who defend this garbage; it’s clearly a direct rip-off, the proportions, the pose, the hand position, the socks! nearly everything about that girl is so clearly identical – why would you bother defending this as “well, it could just be coincidence” when it’s so clearly not.

  26. The art on the bag look like it was made with the rest of the illustration and (the simplified girl)actually fits this style of art and composition. Whereas the art on the left seems like someone still learning inking. I mention that because her linework in the drawing A) doesn’t flow with the forms as the “knock-off” does and still B) seems to be struggling against the inking despite her experience.

    So, given the style of the claimant I’d say she was inspired by this style of artwork and unknowingly homage’d this as part of her own emo-classical style development and eventually this work. It happens in cartooning and illustration all the time. Its completely benign and most artists don’t realize it until someone else points it out to them – its subconscious.

  27. Greengestalt, you were probably disemvowelled for being impolite. You can make your points without being rude, I’m sure.

    If any of the words I’ve used are unfamiliar to you, such as ‘disemvowelled’ or ‘impolite’, you should read the

    Er, um, just for the record–it’s stationery, not stationary. Although there could be a stationary British stationery company. Come to think of it, most of them probably are.

    Just putting my English degree to work!

  28. The real key that shows this was copied is the arm position. The arm makes sense for the girl leaning against the wall. In the other picture it looks forced.

  29. The law is meant to protect crappy art as well as good art, like First Amendment rights applying to jerks like Rev. Fred Phelps. How many extenuating circumstances does it take to excuse away out an obvious case of plagiarism?

  30. It doesn’t seem like a blatant rip-off to me, but I don’t have a trained eye for these things. I thought the Fairey poster should’ve been permitted, too (it was sufficiently transformative to not be a copy, in my mind).

    But that doesn’t matter. That’s the sort of thing court is for: determining guilt or innocence, with people who do have trained eyes, and who can enforce the law. Even more than the possible rip-off, the real problem here is that she can’t get someone to fight this for her. She should be going after Paperchase and the agency, and she should have all the legal backing required to pursue this. Boo for a capitalistic legal system.

  31. Bevatron Repairman:

    It is not OK to rip this off because it is a drawing, and not a song nor a movie.

    Everyone commenting here has drawn pictures, while hardly any can make a film or album.

  32. Pretty sad state. Paperchase needs to reconsider their relationship with the company that sold them the image in the first place.
    Eloise needs to be compensated or maybe Paperchase can get some of that egg off their face by offering Eloise a job.
    They like her designs well enough to copy and reissue it on a variety of products….

    It looks like a TRACE to me.

  33. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are people on the Internet who will vociferously defend even the most absurd position in a comments thread. Many of them.

    I’ve seen people argue that Disney deserves the rights to Jack Kirby’s characters more than his heirs do, and yesterday I saw two separate comment threads where people defended a Texas gubernatorial candidate’s refusal to deny 9/11 was an inside job.

    And in this thread, we have, what, a dozen posts saying that tracing somebody else’s art and then selling it is just fine. Or that it isn’t traced at all and it’s just a coincidence that if you set one on top of the other they line up exactly. Or that it’s clearly a completely different piece because the curls of her hair are slightly different in the second version. Or that it’s okay because they don’t personally think it took a long time to draw.

    WTF, guys?

    1. WTF, guys?

      Some people have almost no pattern recognition skills. And to compound the problem, they can’t acknowledge that anyone else might have brain functions that they lack.

  34. Sure looks like plagiarism, but (yikes!) there also seems to be just a slight uncomfortable amount of similarity in Hidden Eloise work to Marcel Dzama. (Especially her piece “Mom, this is the friend…”)

  35. Hey guys, if you click through to the artist’s website, she has now received an apology from the indie designer who admits stealing her Eloise character. Actually she just admits to stealing the pose, but still. Paperchase has refused to do anything but point fingers so far.

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