Stealing artwork is nothing new by any means, but recently, I've seen a number of high profile designs get blatantly ripped off by not-so-subtle thieves. Unfortunately, the way that copyright law is written in the US, it is very hard to protect your own artwork, as long as the thief is either in a different industry than you, or if the theft does not bring much profit. In each of the three cases I've seen this month, the circumstances were quite different. In the first, involving a local screen-print shop and a large media company, a newspaper had taken an illustration drawn by the screen printers, removed the logo, and was printing that same illustration on free handouts to the public.
In a second instance, an extremely popular video game company published an illustration that was stylistically similar to a very famous poster designer, and actually used one or two of the exact same elements from the artist's most famous poster.
And finally, in a third case, a well-known illustrator found one of his pieces (originally drawn for a HUGE athletic brand), traced to nearly 100% accuracy for sale on a stock-vector graphics site.
As far as I know, in none of these cases was any legal action taken. And while some folks are up in arms about how artists need to fight for their copyrights, unfortunately it is usually an impossible battle. In every case here, the thief was actually a much larger company, complete with much larger legal teams, that could easily bankrupt any self-employed artist through the long drawn-out process it takes to fight these things. Additionally, is it really in our best interest to fight such thefts? Maybe we, as artists, are better off in a world where stolen art is not only brushed under the rug and ignored, but commonplace. Of the millions of companies in the world, what are the chances that the last logo you sold to a client is somewhat similar to a design someone else created years ago? How many folks would be left in our industry if every single design we tried to publish, or every idea we tried to convey, or every style we used had to be 100% original?
The bottom line is that we, as artists, borrow things. Since there isnt a clear line drawn in the sand between borrow and steal, it is hard to ban one thing, without banning the other. So I applaud artists who continually let their artwork to be stolen, and take it in stride. It is going to happen to all of us. Someday, something you have done will be stolen, or borrowed by another artist, or at the very least, your work is going to inspire someone else's work. I'm sure it is infuriating, or even frustrating, that some people can't do their own thing. By all means, send a seize-and-desist over that blatant theft... but then take a good hard look at your own work, and realize how you got to where you are today thanks to the work of others.