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AntiVJ's Joanie Lemercier Discusses Inspiration Vs. Theft Within The Artistic Community

Joanie Lemercier is one of the most prolific members of the visual label, AntiVJ, and his work has appeared frequently on our site over the years. In this article, which was just published today on the AntiVJ blog, he tackles the complex issues surrounding inspiration and imitation (and downright plagiarism) that plagues so many visual artists today, especially those who work open source and give their code away for free online.

While we all know that creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum and many terrific sources, such as the Everything Is A Remix series, do a great job of documenting how all works of genius were informed by equally great predecessors, there are instances where the work is so derivative as to make us cringe. In many ways, the digital era exacerbates this problem, as work becomes more easily mutable, copy and pasted-able, and remix-able. Lemercier takes a look at a few recent examples where the similarity between projects was a little too close for comfort.

From his blog post…

Inspiration is key to creative work.
Watching, digesting, and reinterpreting other artist’s work is a common thing in our internet age. We have instant access to an almost infinite library of work by other artists, researchers, developers, and it has become one of the most efficient learning tools, allowing anyone online to understand the different steps or parts of a creative process.

Of course nothing is ever completely new, and taking a route others have taken before helps to go further and push things forward. Making variations, editing, adding, swapping, adapting an idea by changing elements and variables, mixing influences—when enough time, effort, and new inputs are put together—will often lead to new concepts and emerging ideas.

Fair use.
For a small independent project, the common “fair” behavior when a large part of the work clearly appears to be related to another, is to state as such. Explain its conception, and credit and link to the original artwork. Both the original creator and the “inspired” one can gain from this mutual respect, and many pieces can be seen as an “homage” to a previous work.

Commercial work.
When you enter the commercial world and when money is involved, the legal questions become a different story. Copyright laws are applied on a stricter level, with a set of rules, ownership waivers, commercial licencing, royalties, and lawyers. Most professionals understand that it has to be played “by the book."

I am always amazed when a large commercial corporation is literally stealing someone’s work, and taking both credit and money for it, while being proud of enlarging their portfolio with an idea they ripped off.

Lemercier goes on to dissect, in detail, several instances where brands appear to be shamelessly ripping off the work of artists. For instance, the project Forms, created at Nexus Interactive Arts by Memo Akten and Quayola, inspired a curiously similar commercial from Publicis. Compare the two videos below and go and read Lemercier’s play-by-play account of what exactly went on here and the artists and brands reactions.

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