Design copyright

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  • The website allows you to ask various artists to design a logo/website/graphic work for you for a certain amount of money. You put up $200, start the 'contest' for a week, then pick the winner.

    Recently I posted a brief and asked for a logo to be designed. In my description of what I wanted, I asked for a logo that incorporated a computer monitor along with some sort of library-related element. One artist submitted a design that had a computer reading a book, but was extremely horrible otherwise so I did not accept it. Later, a different designer submitted a very similar logo with far better typesetting, better image quality (he changed a few aspects of the monitor and made it look better), but maintained the concept of a computer reading a book. The artist whose design I did not like then emailed me, saying that the new design infringed on his copyright, and that if I did use it, I would have to pay him for it, along with the other creator.

    This seems like a bit of a crock, but I don't know for sure. Is there any validity to his statement?
  • I'm not familiar with the website you describe, so there may be something in the agreement that I presume both sides read before participating that addresses this. If not, it seems to me that the big issue is whether or not the second artist came up with the logo idea independently. The idea seems like a reasonable response to your request, so it doesn't seem like a huge stretch to think that they might have each come up with very similar ideas. However, my understanding is that the courts have generally looked primarily at access in determining whether a work was developed independently or is infringing. So, my question for you is whether anyone can see all of the entries before you determine a winner, or not?
  • Yes, the entries are all public and available for anyone to view.
  • Freya asks an important question; access is half of the usual test for infringement. The other half of the test is "substantial similarity." This two-pronged test is used whenever direct copying cannot be proved.

    Since you have seen the two designs, and no one responding on this forum has, you are the only one in a position to judge the issue of substantial similarity, which, unhelpfully, is applied somewhat differently in different courts. So while you have given us enough information, I think, to suggest that the first artist's claim is not "a crock" on its face, we cannot decide if his statement is valid. Like many other things in copyright, that is a subjective assessment that you have to make in deciding if you can tolerate the risk of ignoring him or not.

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