If you haven’t heard, Justin Bieber and Skrillex are are facing, what legal experts call, the biggest case of copyright infringement to hit the court system. The Plaintiff, White Hinterland claims that the two used vocal sound from her song “Ring the Bell” in their song “Sorry”. Skrillex posted a video to Twitter demonstrating how the vocal sound was made by manipulating an original vocal section recorded for the track. Even with his video demonstration, cases of copyright infringement are complex. And a demonstration isn’t evidence of the song being an original. The two versions are posted for your convenience.
So let’s get to the real issue: the two songs are unarguably identical, but are they guilty of infringement? No. As creatives, we often find ourselves asking “has anybody done this before?” The answer to that, even with completely original work, is nearly always yes. The goal is to varying aspects so that it feels fresh. Fresh enough to the point that it can’t be recognizable. There will be no conflicts.
I oftentimes see logo comparisons posted to Twitter with assumptions that it is theft. These accusations never come with even the slightest evidence. Some designers expect everyone to be aware of every logo design in the world, past and present. This is complete nonsense. It is absurd to expect us to spend years browse every single logo design, public and private portfolio, every concept, Google Images, Designspiration, Behance, and all the collection websites searching out similar designs to our project.
We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of designers creating modern logos under specific guidelines for specific industries. Is the coincidence that one technology company may have a nearly identical logo than that of another technology company so rare that the creator must be a criminal?
Since it is our responsibility to provide clients with hopefully original logos, what are we actually capable of doing? We can monitor trends within the quickly moving industry. We can follow blogs and websites. We can browse the most common search image engines. When creating seemingly original content, it is impossible to know if it has already been done. We cannot promise that it will not be compared to some other existing logo. But we can have the confidence to know that it is not a direct copy, and that can be backed with solid reasoning. There are entire departments dedicated to infringement conflicts, and still manage to fuck it up in major ways.
So relating back to the specific instance with Justin Bieber and Skrillex, could they have stolen the song? Very likely. Could it be an original song? Very likely. We don’t know. We never will know. Therefore it turns into a case of innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent. That’s not for me to determine.