What's The Appropriate Punishment?

What’s the appropriate punishment for designers who steal?

What should be done to designers who crop out credit lines? What should be done to designers who crop out copyrights? What should happen to designers who crop out trademarks? What is the appropriate punishment for designers who do All of the above?

I’ve been dealing with these questions for the past four years, and there doesn’t seem to be a satisfying answer that doesn’t involve four broken legs … two for each of them.

The dirtbags in question did all the above, multiple times, to several artists, without a second thought.

My pilfered work was placed, full page, in a book. Adding insult to injury, the dirtbags who hired the dirtbags used several of the pifered images in advertising and PR releases for the book. Four years later, after being dragged into Federal court, the publisher was fired by their attorneys, who hadn’t been paid. The images still appear on Amazon, promoting the book, and the case still languishes in court.

The designers in question are still teaching at an Art college in Pasadena. The school doesn’t give a shit, and the dirtbag designers have refused all attempts to contact them, and elicit their testimony. They evidently think they will get away with it.

So, what is the appropriate punishment? They have no shame, as well as no scruples.

Should they be hunted down like dirty dogs, dragged into the gutter, and flogged?

What would you do?

their punishment is they MUST repaint the traffic lane lines on the I-5 in Pasadena without the use of lane closures or civil protection from a road crew.
that will learn thems!

i was thinking the same thing why just yesterday, we should applaud the folks here who post stolen art for their design work they need critiqued instead of chastising them, simply because others wont ask and just use copyrighted art without any disregard.

You haven’t contacted Amazon?
DMCA applies to them too.

Early in my career, I had two experiences with suing people who stole my work. Neither instance turned out well.

First case

I approached a local kitchen supply store about improving the ads they were running in magazines and newspapers. The owner sounded interested and wanted to see some ideas, which I naively agreed to work up without a contract. I sketched out a few ideas — literally just ink sketches on paper. He asked if he could keep them overnight and show them to his staff, which I also naively agreed to.

He never contacted me about them after that. Each time I tried to contact him, he was conveniently unavailable.

A couple of months later, I began seeing those preliminary sketches showing up in newspapers and magazines. He literally just used the rough sketches as his ads.

I immediately contacted an attorney who said it was a slam-dunk case and to just file a simple small claims court lawsuit, which I did. On the court date, I showed up, but my attorney said it wasn’t necessary for him to be there. The thief showed up with his attorney and argued to the judge that I had just walked into the store and given the sketches to his client as a gift.

The judge said he was sorry my sketches were used without my permission, but he still ruled in their favor for some inexplicable reason that made little sense given that the judge agreed with me.

Second case

I learned my lesson about not having a contract, so a few months later I was doing work for another client who was starting up a business. Contracts were signed and I started the job — logos, signage, brochures, stationery, etc.

Three or four months went by with no payment, so once again I headed to small claims court — this time positive that I would win. A summons was served on this client to appear in court. He never showed up and the judge ruled in my favor, which I subsequently found out meant close to nothing.

He still didn’t pay me, so I headed back to court to get an order to obtain the money directly from his bank account. The judge issued the order, but the bank said he had closed his account and reopened it under a different name, so they refused to pay.

I headed back to court, and the judge issued another order. Long story short, I never did get paid. The guy was a professional con artist who had dozens of legal judgments against him and had been conning people out of money for years with nothing but unenforceable legal judgments against him. He finally declared bankruptcy, the court erased his legal debts and he started over in another series of con schemes.

Lessons learned

  1. Always get a signed contract, but also realize they’re still no guarantee of getting paid, so always get a deposit before doing any work. Then always get paid in full before turning over any work — even to the point of refusing to leave preliminary sketches or comps with the client.

  2. The courts can’t be depended upon for help. The person with the most money who has hired the most expensive attorney usually wins.

  3. The courts can deliver judgments, but those judgments are often worthless when rendered against professional con artists.

  4. Thieves and con men always have the upper hand and almost always get away with it. There are just too many loopholes they’ve learned to exploit.

  5. Do everything possible to avoid getting lawyers and the courts involved. The hassle, expense, anxiety and results just aren’t worth it most of the time. No matter what, you lose.

  6. Ninety-five-plus percent of people are honest and good, but accept the fact that there are thieves and scum bags in the world looking for vulnerable victims. In today’s digital world, online thievery is commonplace and, from a practical standpoint, it happens and only so much can be done to protect oneself from it. As a side thing, I design typefaces/fonts. I’ve completely lost control of some of my earlier fonts, which I regularly see used, but for which I haven’t been paid. I no longer worry about it since there’s really nothing I can do about it other than send cease and desist orders to the slimy free font distribution websites who routinely ignore those orders.

  7. You’re basically on your own and can’t depend on anyone else to come to your rescue — not the police, not the courts, not attorneys, not anyone. Trust your gut and immediately walk away from people who seem a little off, iffy or give off the wrong vibes (the signals are usually there). Check everyone’s background before agreeing to do work. Always get deposits from new or small clients. Do everything possible to make it difficult for opportunistic thieves to steal your work, but also realize that in today’s digital age, it’s going to happen and that getting too upset over it will not solve the problem — it’s just another unfortunate cost of doing business.

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I think the point here, B, is that these particular slime balls are teaching. The field is corrupted enough as it is without that going on.

Yeah, but it’s part of a bigger, related problem that involves not only clients, but designers themselves — even those who teach.

Way too many so-called designers don’t hesitate to use pilfered fonts and various copyrighted things they’ve found on the Internet. Many of them don’t even seem to realize (or care) they’re doing something illegal and unethical. We constantly get posts here on this forum from these kinds of mostly naive people who think it’s all good and fine.

If instructors at, I’m guessing, the ArtCenter College in Pasadena are engaging in this sort of thing, they ought to be immediately fired. This is one of the best design colleges in the country. I can hardly imagine the administration there doesn’t care.

Aside from all that, though, my bigger point is that this kind of behavior is rampant in many forms, and there’s no use agonizing over it. All that can usually be done is to take precautions to minimize the risk of being the victims of these lazy slime bags, like what apparently happened to the original poster. Sometimes when I see my own work being stolen and used, I rationalize and temper my anger by saying these people would have never purchased the work in the first place, so despite my disgust with them, it’s not as though they broke into my car and stole something.

Even if the school doesn’t give a shit, the temptation would be to let everyone know starting with the students, the parents, the sponsors and the colleges that send students there. Unfortunately, if the case is still in court, you could be found in contempt.

Be very careful about dossing anyone in this kind of situation. If the courts aren’t on your side you may find yourself on the wrong end of a defamation/libel suit. Don’t do it.

Whenever anyone considers taking a case to court—any kind of case—even a passing notion that a particular outcome can be predicted, or expected, or the result of ‘justice’ is a mistake; 100% of the time.

Not going to court is so often the better option (albeit a conclusion ususally only reached in retrospect), it’s a wonder that it even comes up. You think you’re frustrated by the stuff that leads you there? Wait 'til you’re on your way out.

I’m confused. How did they obtain your work? You seem to imply it was stolen, but you are upset about not receiving credit. Did you share it through Creative Commons?

Have a lawyer send them cease and desist letters for each design. If that doesn’t work, file a lawsuit for damages, copyright, and/or trademark infringement.

If you don’t plan on going down the lawsuit route, I’d suggest ignoring this and focus on growing your business. There will always be snakes; trying to punish a select few of them won’t prevent them from existing.


They share some of the blame, but Amazon isn’t the problem.

The reason we left some of them up is that if there’s a settlement, and the content isn’t taken down, we can sue the publisher all over again. The US site is clean, but some of the foreign branches still contain the infringing work.

Absolutely right.

I brought the ethical question up with the Provost of the school.

The prospect of ethical violations wasn’t his concern.

He did deliver letters addressed to the dirtbags, asking them to fess-up and rat on the publisher.

They refused to respond, but we know where they are, and when … their class schedules are online.

That is still a possibility.

( There was enough to do just to get this far. )

It probably wouldn’t take too much research to find out who to contact.

Be assured that the behavior will be reported up the line, when this is over.

The original photo was published in a national magazine.

I had sold several other images to them previously, on a one time use basis.

As an A.S.M.P. member, I used their contracts, which were state of the art at the time.

As published on the image itself were a credit line, a copyright notice, and a trademark.

Decades later, the magazine published an anniversary issue the included that image.

The designers used it full-page, but cropped it severely, including the copyright & credits.

Evidently, the designers were given access to digital files of the magazines back issues.

They did the work vis the internet, since neither lived in New York at the time.

When they were caught red-handed stealing from me, and at least two other people, they refused to pay us a dime. Claimed they had releases, and then made other lame excuses.

The attitude was “go ahead and sue us”.

So we did … four years ago.

Thanks for the tip.

I’m no longer in active practice, but was a Certified Paralegal for decades.

They don’t have a leg to stand on as far as defamation.

The case I’d bring, aside from Copyright, would be fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Their names are the only ones in the book taking credit for it.

Here’s the biggest reason that this behavior is rampant:

It is never prosecuted as a criminal offense!

Even if the case meets the Department of Justice guideines for prosecution, as this one does, they refuse to prosecute and force you into the Civil system.

I checked with the US Attorney office with the baddest-ass reputation, in New York, where so much of the publishing industry is located.

The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York has Never prosecuted an American company for violating the DMCA. Never!

Death by firing squad, obviously.

Practically everyone here gets hosed on copyright too. You have our sympathy.

What does your lawyer say about you contacting these designer’s employer and soliciting them for incriminating evidence? Or contacting their students? Are you confident in the legal advice you are getting?

You should post your story over at https://www.reddit.com/r/legaladvice/. You’ll get some different perspectives.

Unfortunately, that can only be done once, and there is little residual effect to dissuade a repeat performance by others.

Crutches or a wheelchair would be much more effective.

Even better, forcing them into bankruptcy, or garnishing their wages for the next 20 years.

There’s a range of options.

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