Ukrainian steampunk mask-maker gets plagiarized by Skymall stalwarts Design Toscano

Update: Design Toscano has apologized for this and agreed to pay a royalty to Bob Basset. They blame an unscrupulous supplier who presented the design as its own.

Design Toscano, a wealthy, fast-growing company, is selling a leather steampunk mask that clearly plagiarises the work of Ukrainian leatherworker Bob Basset, a favorite around these parts. As Rob Murdoch points out in his post, Toscano could easily spare the budget to work with Basset to produce masks or designs for them -- the ethical thing to do. Basset, a poor artists living in Ukraine, feels powerless to do anything about it. This ugly business calls all of Toscano's products into question: are all the designs in their catalog unacknowledged rip-offs from independent designers, or just this one?

So having known and loved Bob’s work for 10 years at this point, imagine my happiness for him when I came across a sculpture of one of his masks being sold on this site. I thought “Great for Bob! More of his work is out there and it’s a great paying gig for him!” (Toscano is a multi-million dollar company so they can afford to pay their artists well and they often give credit to the artist). Then I had the horrible thought that maybe this isn’t good and it’s a case of a big company ripping off the little guy, which has happened before and will happen again so long as companies can get away with it. So I popped over to Bob’s personal Facebook page and linked him the online catalogue page with his mask and asked if he knew about it. An hour later, he replied with “Yes, I know they simply stolen our design. But what I can do from Ukraine I don’t know.”

So there you have it. There is no mistaking that the sculpture is a copy of Bob Basset work: his style is so unique. Not only was he not given credit for it, but he was not compensated at all for their using his mask. Now I hate to have to bring this to light because I have loved Design Toscano for years. I have a lot of fantastic statues and art from them lining my walls. But something has to be said. And you have to wonder, why did this happen? Toscano makes good money on the art they sell. They didn’t need to copy this work without compensation. Why not have approached the artist who made the masks they obviously liked and wanted to sell and commission a sculpture from him? Artists live or die by their sales. They need to be paid by people who want to make use of their work, and they need to be credited for their art.

Toscano's catalog copy is an exercise in chutzpah: "Get ready for a little anti-establishment, alternate history with our forward-thinking Steampunk gas mask that boasts a gramophone for hearing and no end of techno-Victorian charm!" They even call it a "Design Toscano Exclusive." Well, yes, they are the exclusive purveyor of the cheap knock-off.

Jaborwhalky Productions • Steampunk art stolen by Design Toscano? When you... (Thanks, Rob!)


  1. Response from Design Toscano
    Design Toscano, 1
    December 19, 2012
    To clear up the issue on the Steampunk piece that has some of our customers questioning our motives we would like to explain. The statue was produced and offered to Design Toscano as one of a portfolio of new sculptures to review. There was some confusion between Mr. Bob Basset and the factory that produced this piece for Design Toscano. Mr. Mike Stopka, president of Design Toscano, spoke directly with Mr. Basset and explained that Design Toscano had been mislead in the creation of this piece. Mr. Basset and Mr. Stopka have worked out a generous plan that the artist will get compensation for his work and Mr. Basset has graciously allowed Design Toscano to continue to sell his fantastic work of art. Design Toscano is appreciative to its customers who informed us of this oversight and as always we celebrate artists and their creative works.

    In the reviews

        1.  Interestingly, just an hour ago, Bob Basset asked on the FB comment thread to be emailed directly with the details of this “generous deal” that they claimed they have already worked out.

    1. My second thought was that it was someone else who ripped off the design and sold it to Design Toscano as an original and they had no knowledge of Basset’s work.

  2. When musicians and filmakers have their intellectual property infringed upon we blame those artists for clinging to their failed business models, but when it’s another type of artist we instead declare that artists “live or die by their sales.” 

    1. I think this is a bit of an oversimplification.

      On the one hand, I don’t think any of us would argue that it’s acceptable for a company to commercially sell a song or film created by someone else without getting that person’s permission (which would presumably involve compensating them). The same principle applies here.

      On the other hand, existing copyright restrictions aren’t reasonable. It shouldn’t be illegal to copy a CD for a friend; that’s how people discover music. (Admittedly, it gets more complicated when your friend is the entire internet.) Terms are too long and fair use is too narrow. And the collateral damage caused by enforcement is nothing short of appalling.

      1. You mean like when the cartel membership was making all of those compilation albums in Canda and never paid the artists?
        And when they got caught the rough back of the envelope math for damages on the same level they demand from normal people was 6 billion?  Then they settled their oopsie for $54(ish) Million… Oh and one of the cartel members sued their insurance company to force them to cover their share of the settlement?
        Yeah thats tots different.

        If this mask is considered fashion, there is no fashion copyright.  Its why Diane von Fürstenberg keeps lobbying Congress to do something about people stealing her designs… that she has been stealing fair and square from fashion students. 
        Ever notice the ones screaming they are getting ripped off, rip off way more stuff themselves?

        This was a crappy thing to do by this company, and they need to explain themselves.  In the mean time we can roast them on the internet until they decide making things right is less costly than all of the bad PR.

      2. You’re both right. And I have no idea what should be done about it. The only real difference is, music and movies can be digitally shared, physical objects can’t (yet…just wait until every punk-ass teen has a 3d nanoprinter hooked up to his iPad)

  3. What’s the name of the factory, and/or do they still produce anything for DT? At any rate, I wouldn’t call this controversy a product of “confusion.”

  4. As an artist, Mr Basset should be upset that his design was ripped off – not because of any putative lost revenue, but because it associates his work with such a hideously unmitigated collection of poor taste as provided by Design Toscano. It is staggering in the arcane complexity of its tastelessness – no mere absence of discrimination, here, but a real positive ability to flaunt all notions of balance or material honesty or … 

    …oh god is that a Patriotic Eagle? What does that have to do with a creepy dryad face? Why is there is a resin american zombie gothic?

    Is this ironic? Do people buy these things? Do these fulfil the same role as byzantine religious icons? Why is there a sultry angel? Where would one put a sultry angel, anyway? On top of a sultry Christmas tree?

    (… they don’t sell a sultry Christmas tree, thank Gods…)

    I’m going to go and find some stark modernist lines to look at for a while, until my body regains design homoeostasis.

  5. Have a look at the thieving thieves of India/Pakistan that not only replicate fetish designs and products from companies that have produced them for many, many years, but do so for pennies on the dollar AND will put the  photographs from the individuals/businesses they steal from on their sites ! They won’t even bother to take their own photos ! Then pretend manufacturers purchase the crapola in bulk, and represent it as their own “custom” products. 

  6. Ha Ha, exit through the steampunk shop, Bassett’s designs weren’t exactly exclusively original in the first place, and if I read this right, he wasn’t selling cast statues.

  7. Plagiarize seems like a strange word choice; I’ve not heard that used outside of academic contexts.  “Fake” is the derogatory term used in the art world and nobody is claiming this is a fake.

    Every day I buy generic products at the drugstore, grocery store, and even electronics store that are knockoffs of the brand name products.  This is apparently advertised as a replica rather than an original.

    Sure, it’s not a kind thing of this company but I don’t expect companies to be kind.  Shaming them with this article is all well and good but expecting anything better is false hope.

  8. Odd question, the person who pointed out this injustice knows of a Steampunk Cruise using the images of celebrities in order to post pictures advertising the Cruise itself, but says nothing because they may profit from it, but when someone else infringes upon one of their friends the attempt to raise hell about it. Interesting, pot meet kettle. 

  9. By calling it a “Design Toscano Exclusive” they’ve certainly declared their product to be fraud.

    Also note – it’s possible to leave product reviews on their site without purchasing anything…

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