Who Did What and When?

Yesterday a new anti-political party was announced called “No Labels.” The graphic scheme is arguably an overt copy of artwork produced by designer Thomas Porostocky, originally made in 2004 and titled “We Need More Party Animals,” produced when he was an SVA MFA Design grad student. It was later selected by Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic for a 2005 book, “Design of Dissent,” and that year included in an SVA  exhibit of the same name. It was also featured in GOOD magazine. This time, however, Porostocky asserts he was never contacted for permission.

“I just found about this a few minutes ago,” he told The Gothamist, “so to be honest, I’m still a little stunned at the blatant plagiarism. I hadn’t been aware of ‘No Labels’ prior to today, so needless to say they have definitely not reached out in any way. Considering the names they have on their speaker list (Bloomberg, Gillibrand et al), this clearly isn’t just a simple mom and pop operation, so there really is no excuse for this. There are plenty of politically aware artists out there who they could’ve reached out to in a legitimate (and well, legal) fashion to create something original. There was no need to make a trip down to the Canal Street of ideas.”

Yesterday’s City Room blog by New York Times reporter Andy Newman quotes Dave Warren,  Creative Director of Absolut Vodka campaign, co-founder of Puckett/Frankel/Warren, whose FLY Communications created the graphics for “No Labels,” insisting he came up with the concept completely independently.

“Mr. Warren said that he decided to riff on the donkey and elephant using clip-art animal shapes that are available free of charge or copyright.

“Conceptually, what I was trying to figure out was how to get away from the elephant and how to get away from the donkey,” Mr. Warren said. He said of Mr. Porostocky, “I’m sure his thought process was similar.”

Newman nonetheless points out: “Look again at the two graphics. Not only do they use many — though not all — of the same animals, but in one section containing a giraffe, parrot, dog, seal, stork, hippotoamus and butterfly, the sizes and positions of the animals are, to the naked eye, identical.”

Mr. Warren countered:

“I do my own thinking, man,” he said. “Feel free to come to one of my classes at Parsons.”

He added: “I have a long and storied history on Madison Avenue. I’m not stupid enough to steal anybody’s work; I have too much faith to come up with my own ideas.”

As for Mr. Porostocky, Mr. Warren said, “Tell the other guy to Google my name.

I recall when Mr. Porostocky produced the original image for a presidential election-year project he worked on with his classmates in 2004, while he was in the SVA MFA Design program. Compare the “No Labels” t-shirt above to the original poster below. Then ask who did what and when?

Incidentally, this morning the controversial graphic was removed from the “No Labels” website.

UPDATE: Mr. Warren apologizes.

41 thoughts on “Who Did What and When?

  1. Pingback: Nešto staro, nešto novo, nešto pozajmljeno, nešto plavo, a zove se plagijat. |

  2. Clif Waston

    as a previous TBWA Chiat/Day employee, I was quite frustrated when I saw my concept for an Absolut ad, Absolut Cleveland, fully executed by the artist I had proposed, Alton Kelly. I was not included to work on the project, although that should have been the protocol at the time nor was I told that hey several submitted the same idea but we are going to have so and so work on it. The icing on the cake? When I called the Creative Director’s office, who I am almost certain was Mr. Warren, he would not take my call. It’s never set well with me, be it 13 years later, so somehow this incident and the follow up “sorry” seemed to ease my own mind. 

  3. Donna

    I’m surprised that no one has pointed out that this is for a start-up political organization.  When you launch a new product, you want to create as much hype and advertising as possible to get your name out there.  What better way than to start a scandal?  
    Maybe I’m too cynical, but I see this as a set-up.

  4. Will Terry

    What strikes me as one of the saddest points in this story is how a “Madison Avenue” career isn’t gained by telling people to “google my name” or “come to my class at (insert prestigious college name here)” – it’s gained by hard work. A concept that Mr. Warren seems to have forgotten probably due to his successful Madison avenue life style. I’m always baffled when I hear about an upper food chain type who’s not learned to apologize when blatantly wrong. Dude, even if you have to fake it – use your brain.

  5. Raquel

    A blatant rip off at the highest level. Who is this Madison ave guy never heard of him but I bet if we go through his portfolio we wouldn’t come up with any original ideas. I went to Parsons, and they don’t teach you to rip people off you $&8/;hole!. It’s 100 percent the kids idea from SVA.

  6. Gil Martinez

    While I applaud Mr. Warren’s apology, I would like to see Parsons formally reprimand him, or remove him from faculty. Theft is theft, and Mr. Warren defended the work as if it had been his idea all along. Liars do not belong in our classrooms.

  7. Taylor

    A great example of the dumbing down of design these days. Use clip art to cover your own lack of talent, have no ethics or standards, and blame someone else if you get caught. I shudder to think what Mr. Warren teaches his students. 

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  9. Karen O Lau

    The giraffe’s silhouette is exactly the same, the most first-read of the piece. If they both used the same animal stock imagery then that would be a funny coincidence. There are constant parallel ideas that develop independently, but this seems too blatant to be a mere coincidence. “No Labels” should have done their due diligence before releasing this, ironically enough. When questioned about this, Warren could have been more kind to acknowledge the creative similarity. It’s more the attitude that bugs me most.

  10. Steven Tatar

    Busted!! So, what would be interesting is to re-narrate this object lesson in the form of an Aesop’s tale featuring the menagerie of two-toned animals in the disputed artworks. BTW, Mr Warren, I googled you, and gee, you are hot shit, aren’t you? Are you the weekend meteorologist in Philly, the founding member of the San Francisco Suicide Club, or the former High School Football Defensive Player of the Year who was later cut from the Raider’s practise squad? (all first google page on searching your name).  But not nearly as much of a big swinger as Bernie Madoff, who I also googled, and he blows your pages out of the water dude.

  11. Yael

    Warren certainly could have shown a little more class, and just looked into the matter first without shooting off his mouth. But let’s say Warren really was duped by a staffer, who presented it as sourced from clip art: let’s see the proof.  Show us the source of the so-called clip art.

  12. Pingback: Tales of the Obvious: Don’t Plagiarize « Straight, No Chaser — The Personal Blog of Colin Parks

  13. Linda Joy Kattwinkel

    In copyright law, there is a concept called “strikingly similar” – it means infringement is proven just by comparing the two works, becuase there is no way the similarities in the second work could have been a coincidence.  This is a good illustration of that doctrine, especially when you find out there was no common source clip art.  Infringers often try to say that they came up with their work independingly.  But sometimes, the plagiarism is just too clear. – Linda Joy Kattwinkel, copyright attorney

  14. rjleaman

    “Tell the other guy to Google my name” – really? So, being a Madison Avenue bigwig is now a valid justification for ripping off someone else’s creative work?? It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

  15. Lita

    As a creative professional (which you so adamantly profess) you should never have done this.  What amends are you prepared to make to the real artist – Thomas Porostocky – now?

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  17. Patrick JB Flynn

    “I have a long and storied history on Madison Avenue. I’m not stupid enough to steal anybody’s work.” —Dave Warren
    Laughable, since when did advertising (Madison Ave indeed) stand for anything close to credibility? The industry was/is built on lying, duping, and the less than fine art of deception. No surprise here.

  18. marian bantjes

    For anyone who is stupid enough to believe it could be a coincidence, the smoking gun is in the details. While it is well within possibility to come up with the same idea, and if both are using stock imagery, that perhaps one or two of the same animals in the vast range of stock illustration could have been chosen, it is impossible that most of the animals would be identical, placed in the same relationships to each other, divided at exactly the same point and with the same number and position of stars. Impossible.
    The most shocking thing about this is not so much that it happened, but that Dave Warren is such a blatant and arrogant liar about it.

  19. Steven Heller Post author

    Tempest in a teapot? Not at all. Public opinion has forced this issue into the open and triggered a well-deserved apology from Mr. Warren.

    But this should not have happened. While he says he was ostensibly deceived by a staff member, it is the creative director’s responsibility to exercize oversight. Where Mr. Warren must be faulted is for standing firm against evidence showing this work was copied. As Andy Newman wrote, it was obvioius to the “naked eye” that the work in question was a direct steal.
    Embarassing situations happen all the time. And contrition goes a long way. But this is symptomatic of a large problem in design and advertising. Mr. Warren’s initial arrogance was a stonewalling tactic. “No comment” would have been valid while he investigated the charges, and a show of concern for a fellow designer who was wronged.

  20. Julie

    This is more than a coincidence, this is blatant plagiarism.  If this was a student in my Graphic Design class, he would fail the project, and face disciplinary consequences.  Mr. Warren has failed my class, his colleagues and his profession.

  21. Anne Kerns

    In the comments section of the NYT blog, Thomas Porostocky weighed in with the comment that the animals were drawn by him, with witnesses present (in class); they are not clip art. I simply do not believe this is coincidence. 


  22. Bryan

    Coincidence in design. It happens. This? Damn. Just damn.
    And since Mr. Warren likes Google so much, I’d recommend Google Goggles. It’s a really handy app to add to one’s arsenal of research during concept development.

  23. Cindy

    Was the work copyrighted? It’s an added expense to copyright everything, but in this case, it would’ve been worth it. It’s a shame we have to copyright everything and people can’t think for themselves.

  24. Seth

    I get a sense of excessive confidence from Mr. Warrens comments, and it is blatantly obvious from the side by side comparison that it’s an elaboration on top of Mr. Porostocky’s original work. Mr. Warren can think of himself as an original thinker all he wants, but he evidence it overwhelmingly against him. It’s one thing to have a couple of similar objects in similar locations with similar a design treatment/color(s) to them. This on the other hand is far more than a coincidence, and is simply plagiarism. The original design and the copy share 17 of the same animals in almost exactly the same locations, designed the same and everything. Mr. Warren simply added in some more animals around the edges.
    Perhaps someone else copied the original work and sold the vector graphics through an online source and Mr. Warren was unaware of the origin of the graphics he was using. In the end though, it’s still a copy and hardly original as Mr. Warren is claiming. It does not look in anyway like original thinking, man.
    I think this is a situation where Mr. Warren is too proud to admit what he’s done here, but in the end he’s already caught up in this lie and it will only get worse before he finally breaks down and admits to what he has clearly done.

  25. Deborah Budd

    Don’t know which I find more pathetic — the blatant plagiarism, or the sad attempt to claim it didn’t happen when the perp was caught in the act.  And we wonder why designers are given so little respect.  If we had membership cards, we’d have to rescind Mr. Warren’s.  As for the No Labels organization, great launch, guys.

  26. Rick

    I don’t like to jump to conclusions about copying, since usually it’s not as obvious as this (and since we all take inspiration from the work of others), but this is so clearly copied.  Not only are they arranged identically, the colors are split the same, stars added almost identically.  The odds of this happening by chance are slim.

  27. christy hackenberg

    Designers are visual people. We see things and file away in our brains. There have been times I’ve designed something then later flip back through a magazine and realize where my idea had been influenced. Of course, never as blatant as this! The forms of the animals are too exact.

  28. Laura

    That’s ridiculous, how did he think he could get away with that? Looking at the images, the only bit even _slightly_ different is the fact that the little chicks are missing on the t-shirt underneath the elk/moose. A blantant rip-off!