They say that great artists steal, while poor artists borrow; and this often leads to accusations of plagiarism. In fact, companies have been caught on several occasions plagiarizing other artists work for their own gains.
Last month, the official Chilean Domino’s Pizza page made a post based on a popular—and slightly outdated—meme. The illustration in question poked fun at the “distracted boyfriend” meme of a guy staring down a slice of pizza while his girlfriend looked on in shock and disagreement. The problem? They copied an illustration by Malaysian artist Weinye Chen, tweaked it slightly, then reposted it on their page with the explicit purpose of branding.
Perhaps in other circumstances, the page might have gotten away with the act, since they’re all the way in Chile and posting in Spanish. But the plagiarism came to Weinye’s attention thanks to her international following of over 123,000 Instagrammers. Weinye took action right away. And at first the company was silent, hoping to her complaints would fade.
“I was shocked at first,” Weinye told Mashable. “I’ve had my work plagiarized before but usually by small, random social media accounts or unknown websites. Nothing like this. This has been my biggest encounter yet.”
Weinye shared a screenshot of the whole ordeal with her fans and it quickly went viral.
“I knew I needed as much support as I could get as I’ve never been in this position before. There have been many other cases where big corporations have stolen artwork from indie artists and most of the time, the cases never get resolved, leaving the artists defenceless and helpless. So, I was really concerned about that.”
After the post went up, Weinye’s fans went to the Chilean Domino’s Facebook post to express their distaste. Domino’s replied to one of the posts, seemingly justifying their actions by saying that “memes are memes”. Domino’s, however, has since removed the Facebook post.
Yet from the start, the Chilean Domino’s page seems to have known that they could get into trouble for plagiarism. Before reposting the artwork, they recoloured the image and altered the faces slightly to give them a less Asian appearance. Domino’s is an international pizza chain and properly compensating Weinye to use the illustration shouldn’t be an issue for them.
If a large-scale corporation is capable of plagiarism without penalty, then the cycle of art-theft will rampant online. Other corporations might figure they can get away with it, and even those who might have otherwise paid an artist might think that reusing an artwork as acceptable. Good for Weinye and her followers for standing up to Domino’s.
Daniel is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in the Greater Toronto Area.