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Copy or Compliment?: Exploring Plagiarism vs Creative Coincidence

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Hi there. Daniel here.

Today my blog theme is plagiarism - or rather, how I discover from time to time that other artists' works in character art, illustration, or graphic design can be uncannily similar to my own... and how that makes me wonder if other people are stealing my ideas. Its a controversial topic, and I'm sure all artists may experience it from time to time. I wonder if they find plagiarism as much for themselves as I do for my work.

Well hey, though some are unabashedly ripping off great ideas from relatively unknown creative minds, the majority of artists probably aren't, right? I'm not famous. Even though I've been using the web for portfolio exhibition since 2003... to my knowledge my work has held only a limited amount of exposure in the USA or the world. I have, however, through today's available online social media platforms, been trying my hand at expanding that exposure through DeviantArt, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Twenty-seven years ago, I began my art journey as a 10 year old kid. At such a young age I began learning how to draw and design with a pencil and a college-ruled notebook, and a very encouraging mother who was a professional and hobbyist pencil artist herself. I drew what I knew. I copied. I emulated. But there came a point where my skills became strong enough to venture out on my own imagination - and ever since then (about age 18) I emphasized originality in my creativity, even to the point of isolation.

So sometimes I am deeply surprised when I see my designs or characters that had little-to-no exposure becoming money makers for somebody else. Is it mere coincidence? Is it really true that artists conceive similar conclusions and create near identical results? I suppose its possible.

But sometimes I call it Psychic Theft.

I've decided to make this blog post a repository of sorts to catalog instances of artistic plagiarism or uncanny resemblance to my work with side-by-side comparisons.


The first one I'll log-in is The Coding Monkey, created in 2004. It was a commissioned 3D/2D company character mascot. The character was commissioned by the owner of the company who was a computer programmer. Well, as it turns out, my father too is a computer programmer. So when this character was requested, I threw in heavy traits of the client, my father, and even bits of myself as a computer graphic artist into the concept design.

A few years after I created this simian, I got request by email while I was working as a Professor of Computer Graphic Design at Chungkang College of Cultural Industries in South Korea near Seoul. A man from Boston, Massachusetts (another veteran programmer) had somehow come across my website and especially liked the coding monkey and wanted to 3D print the character in the computer-smashing pose and custom fit it on top of a trophy.

Code Monkey Save World. I discovered this monkey clone by accident while Google searching my own images. I really haven't a clue if "code monkey" or "coding monkey" is/are cultural terms or not (edit: Okay, I just looked it up on Urban Dictionary) but it doesn't matter if other monkey computer programmer characters exist or not - but when I discovered that a published comic book character took ques and concepts from mine without permission or giving credit, I felt violated.

First, a look at Code Monkey Save World from 2013:

Greg Pak & Jonathan Coulton's Coding Monkey clone

Now, let's look at my The Coding Monkey from 2004:

See anything familiar? Yeah, me too.

A scruffy-lookin' monkey in disheveled office attire (mine's a watch and tie, their's jeans and button-up shirt) typing behind a keyboard and monitor with beverage in hand while sitting on a wheeled chair or four-legged stool. Same-same.

So as I write this, I am discovering that Code Monkey Save World is or was a television show and a published comic book series based on a song from Jonathan Coulton released in 2006. Did they straight up steal and kinda-sorta reinvent my monkey? If you were in the jury, what would you vote? Yay or nay? Participate in the discussion in the comment section below!


Entry 2: Highly Inspired, or Highway Robbery?

This next one is as recent as a week ago - and, is what prompted this blog post in the first place.

As I had mentioned earlier about Instagram, upon wanting to build my content on the Instagram platform I opened my account that had been unused since it was opened around Christmas 2014 (I had created it to support an ESL student of mine from Korea; a student of Ewha University in an arts major). I had no content from about a couple weeks ago and started to share photos and videos mostly from my martial art classes that I teach or the scridoodle sketches I make for young ESL students on the white board and marker.

Instagram evidently recommended artists and other content makers to display in my feed. And, just scrubbing idly along trying to understand how this media platform works, I came across this new release by an artist previously unknown to me.

High on Top, by Pascal Campion, 2016

High on Top, by Pascal Campion, 2016

The High Way / Elevation, by Daniel Wathen, 2015

High on Top

A high-rise skyscraper metropolis with lights in a pink-purple-blue color palette with birds in flight and red sweater girl to anchor the eye to left third of the painting and draw the eye diagonally upward to the right.

The High Way

Compare the previous with mine - The High Way - (aka Elevation). I know next to nothing of Pascal's painting, except that it was published on social media at the end of April 2016. However, mine below was also recently completed as a commissioned book illustration in December 2015 and released on my social media platforms early this past Spring.

Hmm, skyscrapers with lights? Check.

Pink-purple-blue color palette? Check.

Some flying thingies? Check.

Singular deep red anchoring color? Check.

Low left to upper right eye movement? Check.

Highly likely this was copied? Check.

Plagiarism is real. But so is Creative Coincidence. These examples displayed so far...what do you think?

Are these copied/inspired without even a nod in my direction? How could seemingly unconnected creative minds create near identical or inspired pieces?

Its highly suspect if you ask me, and though I come from the Midwest culture that thinks the best of others, nowadays, I don't trust in the honesty of fame chasers.


Entry 3: Psyborg Detectives or RoboCopy?

There's no doubt about it, Robocop the character and concept preceded me, but not the reboot design. My concept sketch for cybernetic detective agents with helmet-tech enhanced with psych powers from 2011 looks a heck of a lot like what hit the blockbuster film market in 2014.

First the film's Robocop reboot design:


Now mine:

Psyborg Detectives, 2011 Daniel Wathen

At the time I created this, there was only the tin can version of Robocop, which is a great design too, but the re-created "sleek" version of this cyborg's helmet looks just too similar (plus the timing of the film's development/release) and just too much of an incredible coincidence, right?

When creating this image, I was doing a series of pencil concept sketches in a new but fruitless search for creative employment between 2011 - 2014, when apparently I was working for the film industry after all (sans compensation).


Entry 4: InsideOut Anger or Infringement Danger?

I think I'll stop at no. 4 for now. I've got quite a few more - if you can believe it! Some are character designs, some are graphic designs, some are web and UX designs and many have been dormant for years, even don't exist on the web anymore but had at some point.

This next one is for a very recent Pixar Film, Inside Out. I never saw. But I saw an advert for it in 2015, and my jaw dropped. That's my character! Again! What the hell is happening to my work?!

So at the time of writing this post, I didn't even know what the name was of this character or what the film is about. The name of this character is Anger. He is an emotion in someone's mind. He's red, wears a suit and a tie (minus a jacket) and have fire coming from his head.

My character remains nameless. At least conceptually, he's different - he's not an emotion, he evokes emotion: fear. He's a devil of sorts, and a bully. And he works for an organization.

He has fiery horns coming from his head instead of blazing flames, but blazing flames follow him wherever he goes as depicted in the painting I created in Colors! (see it painted here) in 2010 based on a 2009 sketchbook sketch while at CK College. Let's take a look at it below.

Add a few minor adjustments, give it the Pixar-izing treatment into 3D, and viola! Its Anger from Inside Out. Yes, Pixar even kept the brow ridges, color scheme, body geometry and crooked teeth.

I can't make this stuff up, folks. Idea thieves exist and they have lucrative jobs coming up with other people's brain babies.

Maybe, just maybe, I could get justice and compensated for my intellectual properties. Maybe as in never. It is extraordinarily expensive to litigate to straighten things out with the successful plagiarists armed to the teeth with lawyers. $50,000 is a drop in the bucket and cannot cover the costs to do just one infringement.

The Little Guy really has no recourse to defend himself or his creative properties. The good thing is that I am stock full of great ideas - and I'll keep making them. The sad part is knowing that as I try to build up what I do and gain exposure and a fan base, there's always gonna be somebody out there whose gonna take my creative blood, sweat and tears (and it truly is) and prosper in the business of modifying a great idea and capitalize on it with the power of studio man power and marketers. Makes me feel kinda like fire head.

#plagiarism #psychictheft #copyrightinfringement #ideatheft

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