The Australian Football League has been accused of ripping off a South Australian design business in an artwork promoting this weekend’s multicultural round.
Tyson Beck, a graphic designer from Adelaide, has previously designed artwork for the US National Basketball Association and National Football League.
The designer turned to Twitter two days ago to accuse the AFL of copying an artwork he had published to social media only a couple of days before.
The AFL’s artwork features a series of black-and-white and coloured tiles that make up the face of an AFL player, which is strikingly similar to Beck’s original piece for the NBA which features the face of NBA star LeBron James.
Beck’s original concept above, and the AFL’s version below
There have been a string of instances this year where big businesses have been accused of ripping off smaller companies and independent designers.
Beck told News Corp the AFL’s artwork went beyond simple inspiration.
“I understand design styles and trends can be mimicked but if you put these two images side by side, the grid is the same,” Beck said.
“The colours are the same and even the banknote style is the same.”
Beck said the AFL’s artwork was clearly an example of plagiarism.
“You can use things as inspiration but then they have crossed over on replications,” he said.
“I do a lot of work for the NBA and stuff can get copied on social media and it is good to see people inspired if they put their own twist on it. But someone else is getting paid to pick my brain, which isn’t cool.”
The AFL has apologised to Beck, saying the work was created by an external agency but admitted the incident “should not have occurred”.
“The material produced for the AFL by the outside agency is too close to this person’s original work,” an AFL spokesperson told News Corp.
However as of this morning the artwork could still be seen on the AFL’s website promoting the 2015 multicultural round, which kicks off today.
When contacted by SmartCompany this morning, Beck declined to comment further because he was satisfied that both the AFL and its design agency have “admitted their wrongs”.
The Adelaide designer will not be taking legal action against the AFL or the company that designed the artwork for the league.
Jane Owen, partner at law firm Bird & Bird, told SmartCompany it is important businesses have a process of checks and balances in place when designing marketing material to avoid being caught up in a breach of copyright.
“In business, the most prudent approach you can take – and certainly one we’ve assisted clients in doing – is if you’re coming up with advertising or marketing copy to undertake legal vetting,” Owen says.
“You would ordinarily have a checklist that would ensure if you’ve used an image from somewhere else you’ve got clearance. So if it’s a stock photo, you’ve got a licence that covers its intended purpose. And if it’s an individually designed and created work, it is certainly individually designed.”
Owen says taking inspiration from someone else’s design is generally a big “no-no”.
“In a small business sense, you’re not necessarily going to have the support or budget to have that checklist and someone to go through that legal checklist,” she says.
“Your fallback position should be when you’re engaging an external agency is to ensure you’re getting some extended warranty about infringement issues. If you fell into this unfortunate circumstance that the AFL is in at the moment, you’ve perhaps got some commercial back-up to deal with the financial repercussions of a copyright suit.”
As for what a designer should do if they suspect a large company has ripped off their design, Owen says good legal advice is of the utmost importance.
“From a designer’s perspective, you probably want to get a lawyer’s eye to look at the alleged infringing work to form a view about whether there is an infringement,” Owen says.
“To establish infringement you have to establish an actual copying, so there needs to be a mental element.”
“Given the apology from the AFL and the stark similarity in this case there would be an inference that could be drawn. The closer the copying, the greater the inference.”
SmartCompany contacted the AFL this morning but did not receive a response prior to publication.