The Steve Jobs Case Study
Compare the following designs:
These two similarly-looking designs created quite the controversy following Mr. Jobs’ death in Oct, 2011 and created a massive debate as to whether originality and creativity can be copyrighted and whether online plagiarism is possible to prove.
The image on the right was created by Jonathan Mak, a university student in Hong Kong shortly after Steve Jobs’ death. Within hours of posting his creation, his blog was hammered with accusations that he had “ripped the idea” off of another artist, Raid71, who had created the image to the left, weeks earlier. Mr. Mak waited a couple of days until responding to the accusations claiming he had never seen Raid71’s design and had come up with the idea on his own.
Following the controversy, thousands of people joined in the debate: whether the idea was ripped off and copied (and if it was, what was the responsibility of Mak to Raid71, the “original creator”), or whether two great artists had simply came up with the same idea and no credit/reference was due.
A Happy Ending?
In the end, Mr. Mak insisted that he had never seen RAID71’s version and had come up with the idea on his own. And there was absolutely no way for his critics to prove that he had stolen the idea. In this case, innocent until proven guilty.
What’s interesting is while this particular tiff went viral (probably because of Mr. Jobs), this type of thing happens all the time. Michael Cavna, Washington Post, has a great article on the controversy, which has further examples of the “idea” in question.
A poster on the original blog summed up my personal feelings on the matter: “Just for the record, I don’t know why anyone would give Jonathan (Mak) any flack over this. First of all, he simply combined two images together to make a statement. Neither of which image does he or anyone else own the right to. As a creative director for the last 25 years, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen this sort of thing – two artists with the same idea, but differently executed? It’s not rocket science – happens all the time.”