When I read about the design theft of Joyent and Corkd by Falkner Winery I sent the owner an email with links and information pertaining to the evidence of the pirated design. I continued that I was sure he was not aware of the piracy and that Airbag could be made available to assist in getting out of an uncomfortable situation and provide an original design.

Hours passed without a reply so I decided to call and follow up my email with Ray Falkner, the owner of the winery (I’m an aggressive ambulance chaser). He got on the phone quickly and said that he had received my note from this morning, that he did pull up the sites referenced and failed to see what all the hoo-ha was all about. As far as he was concerned his new website was completely different from Joyent’s. I told him that these sites were practically identical and that his web development company merely changed a few colors. After a long pause Ray interjected that on his site there were photos across the top while the Joyent site had no photos. No photos?

Ray continued to tell me that all designers borrow ideas from other designers and that his web site design was no different. That line of thinking is the biggest cop-out, bullshit excuse (can’t think of a more appropriate term) used over and over by those who simply don’t care about how this affects the person who’s work has been copied. Now I don’t think everyone cares about these matters as much as I or other designers do. Everyone has different interaction and appreciation for design but for a man who makes money from a product that requires a hefty amount of creativity to both create and sell I was shocked at his lack of empathy.

Look, design doesn’t just happen. It’s a process of creation and deconstruction that can take days-to-months before every element, color, and bit of typography is in the right place. It’s not uncommon for me to go through twenty-plus revisions of a design (ask my friends, I bug them with show and tell all the time) before I show anything to a client, and by revisions I mean up and down, all around, starting over, building up, demolishing, it’s a circus of insanity. The final result is design that reflects my style, one that I have been working on for two decades and will continue to mold and shape for as long as I can. Every mature designer has his/her style and we are hired based of that unique look.

We designers catch a lot of crap on the web for crying foul over events like this but our food comes from the money we earn by being creative (some more than others). When someone “borrows” my work s/he is cheating because they didn’t have to go through the love and hate process that it took for us to create that layout or element detail or the whole damn thing. Where in the hell were they when I put in two weeks of fourteen hour days to get through the design phase of the project they just cut-and-pasted? When do I get my royalty fee? I’d go back and copy their work and resell it too only, uh oh, it doesn’t work both ways because the “designers” who repurposed my work suck. And if I was to try and rework their intellectual property and resell it back to my clients I’d be fired.

Let’s not confuse job titles here. A real designer does not cut-and-paste the work of others, change some colors and resell it (nor do they buy type in bulk packs of one-thousand but that’s a topic for another entry), that would be called a hack. The web is filled with hacks because the web makes it easy to hack. Hacks have about as much talent as the guys who “create” stickers at mall kiosks typically featuring Calvin either pissing on an auto manufacturer’s logo or praying before a cross. These same people have company websites that look like Kinkos meets NASCAR crashed into Google, it represents their lack of any real talent other than they know how to get around in Photoshop.

Hacks like the ones Falkner Wines hired have no talent, they exist only because they are able to steal the ideas from others and resell it to those who either don’t know or don’t care.

If Ray’s website had “borrowed” ideas from Apple he would receive terse faxes, email, and phone calls from lawyers who threaten to take possession of Falkner Wines if he didn’t take down the offending work. And it’s likely that Ray would comply because he doesn’t have the resources to wage the type of legal war that Apple can.

Unfortunately for most designers even though we own the intellectual property of said design we do not have the power of a legal team behind us to help defend out work. Our only course of action is to contact the offender, point out their infraction and request they take it down. If they don’t comply some of us have lawyers who will send the same message but on different, thicker stationary which doesn’t do much more than, hopefully, demonstrate that you consider the matter important enough to hire an attorney, Oooo scary. But unless you’re willing to sue, nothing much will happen.

Selling creativity is a tough business made even more difficult when the deliverables are so easy for others to copy, repackage, and resell as it can be done on the net. And all we are left to do is kick, scream, and try to cause enough negative noise that the infraction is reversed.

Ray Falkner should be ashamed not only because it has been made clear that his web site’s design is an obvious copy of work done by others but more importantly because he doesn’t seem to care.

Update: The Net Detective of the Month Award goes to Ryan Merket who found the “designer” responsible for the work. Third & Grand is owned and operated by Sean Alsobrooks. From his website: “We design every website from scratch and never ever use templates.” Wink! I have it on good authority that after being contacted Sean insists that all of his work is original. What an asshat.

For the sake of the conversation: a side-by-side comparison of the work in question (another one here).