Sep 15, 2010

Ricoh Copies?

Keyboard Characters Set.

Four years ago I created a unique self-promotional product I called Keyboard Characters. It was a fun set to create and worked really well as a self promotion for my business.

I still give them out at speaking engagements even though Apple has changed the modus operandi on keyboards so you can't insert stuff like your use to be able too. And I still have about five boxes of them sitting in my closet at home. ;-P

"Pet Monster" Keyboard Character.

Since I have them posted on my web site I periodically get email from art directors or creative directors who request a set. When I get a request like this I always send them one and include a few tear sheets as well. So in that respect it's still serving as a promotional item for me.

Around September, 2008 I received a phone call from an ad agency in New York. The person asked if I could send them two sets of the Keyboard Characters. I did and included some tear sheets. Nothing ever came from it and soon I forgot all about that brief interaction.

Ricoh Ad showing artwork in question.

Around February, 2009 I received an email from another designer asking me:

"Did you do some illustration for Ricoh?"

I told them I hadn't and they responded "Well I saw this ad in a magazine and it looks just like your character."

When I saw this ad I got that sinking feeling in my stomach, you know the one that happens when you look in your rear view mirror and a police car is right on your bumper.

It turns out that the agency (I'm purposely not naming names) I had sent two sets of Keyboard Characters too was the same agency that handled the Ricoh campaign for the C900 in September, 2008.

They didn't simply copy (pardon my pun) my art and use it, that would be easy enough to deal with. What they did is borrow the concept and equity (segmented multi-colored monster) of my art and exploited it for their own work. And they didn't even do a good job at that.

Ricoh "Scary!" campaign for C900.

I've talked to my copyright attorney about this and he agrees that it was definitely derived from my work but I have no way to prove it. In other words if I would have sent the Keyboard Characters via UPS with a tracking number and receipt that would have sufficed to prove it.

Since I posted this I've been contacted by a lawyer explaining my opinions and I'm now pursuing that course of action. Thank you for helping me understand how I can address this through official circles, I appreciate it.

I think anyone with an ounce of common sense can discern the source however, so I'll leave it in the court of public opinion.

Hostage quality photo of Ricoh brochure.

This summer I got another email from someone containing this image of a Ricoh brochure showcasing this character art again. Every time I think about this it pisses me off. I know someone, some where had to reference my design in order to create their own B movie version of it.

I debated whether to even post about this or not. But over the last year I've had numerous other people email me who have seen the original ad and thought I had done the monster art. Its like having a scab that just begins to heal and than gets snagged on something and ripped off again exposing the original wound.

So I decided to post about it, and see what others thought.


Janee said...

Honestly, that's a very blatant 'steal' of your concept and design. I'm glad you posted about it, because it may save other artists a lot of heartache if they are ever faced with a similar circumstance. Hey, you could use it as a fact of how cool your work is in order to 'inspire' others.

LorenzoSLM said...


This article needs to be entitled "Character Assassination" and you should make a youtube video and let us on Twitter @ Ricoh and bring them to a level of disgrace that they buy you Free Starbucks for life, much like Kramer got free coffee for life in Seinfeld.

Lorenzo : @screaminlunatic

MWorrell said...

All the more maddening because they know who you are and could have just hired you and gotten exactly what they wanted.

dawn said...

If nothing else, you need to talk about this so people don't continue thinking *you* did a lousy imitation of your own style...

Liz said...

That is, as Janee pointed out, blatantly a cheap copy...

Yours is much better.

girl*in*gear studio said...

As a proud owner of a set of your keyboard characters (from your AIGA speaking engagement in Boise), I'm kind of shocked that professionals in an agency would produce such crappy "B movie" copies! Really? I mean, I guess I can see somebody ripping off your artwork and using it for a tattoo or throwing it up on iStockphoto because they have no morals, but aren't design professionals supposed to adhere to a code of ethics or something? Wow. Sorry Von. Sometimes it must suck to be the equivalent of a design rockstar.

Arman Turgut a.k.a. Namra Turnip said...

I'm inclined to disagree here. Keeping copyright that tight might, in the long run, lead to all kinds of vexatious litigation toward artists. There's a good chance it might have been inspired by it, though, but you just gotta move on. However, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this monster part of a piece you did for an Adobe showcase? Perhaps you could pass them the ball and they can deal with it on your behalf.

Vonster said...


Your assumption would mean to ignore the whole aspect of copyright law called "derivative-work." I never said that my specific artwork was stolen, in the sense that it's a direct lift. It's not. But a valid argument can be made as to it being clearly derived from my work on many levels.

The fact the agency requested my work and than derived their concept from it means they had the access which is part of proving an infringement case.

The fact viewers are confusing it with my work would be another point of argument one could use as well to prove a derivative case.

And no it wasn't part of any Adobe showcase. I did do a poster for Adobe that used the same segmented style however called "Loyal Order of Wormwood."

AG Nick said...

Been there - had work ripped off and it stings. (The court process was "fun" and I did get my moral victory, if not financial one - they went bust in the end!)

This is such a blatant copy in my opinion because the style is so unique. 90% of art produced today seems to be of a general style and theme, whereas you created something in that immediately identifiable 10% category.

In a way I think this posting is a much wiser approach than legal action. You presented your side very clearly. The legal approach tends to lead to lawyers getting richer, and artists considerations becoming a second thought. Very time consuming and no guarantee of a logical outcome.

Now you've openly written about it, produce a new angry monster character and move on to create great new stuff!

Andi said...

Isn't there some sort of proof in the fact that your character set was requested? And two of them? I think it's ironic this campaign is for a copier company, using a sub par copy, of your style! The agency must have banked on people recognizing your style, and capitalizing on that popularity! Speaks volumes to a previous poster's point, they should have just hired you and rec'd the real deal.

Kristin said...

Well clearly someone was lazy and ripped off your artwork. You keep mentioning that it's "B" quality, which makes me think the worst part about may be that if people look at this and think you did it, they're also going to think you did sloppy work. So this is not just a case of something being stolen, it's a case where the use of your stolen images could potentially hurt your reputation. I think it's unlikely now that you've written about it here for the world to see, and people who know your work would also know that you're a perfectionist and you would never try to pass that off as a finished illustration. But you have every right to be upset.

Lou Simeone said...

Wow, this must enrage you every time it happens. And judging from your numerous previous posts it seems to happen a lot to you. Soon you'll need your own legal department over at Glitschka Studios.

Gregory Grigoriou said...

Geez, i feel for you buddy!! by the way , hilarious description of the sinking feeling in your stomach lol.

I wouldnt sweat this overall though, look at the positives. YOUR style just got put out there as mainstream pop art. That can only give you more credibility when others see your work (which is even better). Now in a sense its like you are that much more popular and mainstream.

take the artist Anja Kroenke (sp?)..she started doing cool mod vector stuff that was ripped off and time and time again, but i bet she still got more calls than anyone else because her style became the norm for a lot of AD's.

Im not saying this is right or fair, just that there is a positive side on this coin!

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T said...

It's this kind of stuff that you continue to post, that in some small way, makes me glad I'm just a newspaper ad designer and don't have any outstanding work floating around the internet. As was said, you'd think an agency would have the common decency to do things the right way. But in the short time I've been a designer, nothing surprises me anymore.

bibliogrrl said...

You should post this to You Thought We Wouldn't Notice. This is exactly the type of thing they highlight.

Mark Fullerton said...

This is a definite bastardization of your work for sure! But one can tell that it wasn't done professionally. Working as an art director for 15 years (with many agencies)--there were too many projects where creative directors were hiring in-house illustrators to mimic other artist styles. Through my experiences, the larger agencies tend to go to the source but your mid-sized agencies will cut corners. No doubt there will always be cheap @-holes ripping us off! That monster art is one of kind--hold your head high, my friend.

TigerBetsy said...

A few years ago I lived in Richmond, Virginia. One day, after a long day at work, I got home and noticed that things were not right. The door had been forced open, the freezer door on the fridge was standing open, my things were thrown around everywhere. I had been ripped off. I'll never forget how violated I felt. I see no difference with your situation whatsoever except instead of having to clean up a physical mess you are left to deal with a much more serious emotional and professional one. I really hate that this has happened to you and it is time that someone "man" up to what they have done to you and compensate you accordingly. Take care and good luck to you - you are very talented! - Betsy

Alessandra Kelley said...

I come from a fine art background. One of the things I remember in studying art and copyright law (er, not officially, just, you know, looking into it) involved an art fair artist with a certain amount of prominence and success, who discovered his work was being ripped off when friends apporached him sympathetically and asked if he was feeling all right -- They had seen crummy work in his style at other art fairs. It sounds just like your story.

I'm sorry your work has been lifted ... In my opinion that's really what has happened.

If you need legal clarification, there's a good page of art law and copyright faqs at

There are good art law copyright sites at and

Scott S. said...


That's a pretty cheap knock-off. Have you tried contacting someone at the agency? Maybe someone above the person you sent the Keyboard Characters to. What do they have to say for themselves?

Good uck,


Greg Epkes said...

I'd start by sending them a bill.