All My Friends Are Dead – Ripped Off?

The Thick Plottens as they say. I read a post a week or so ago on Taddict’s blog about a suspected t-shirt rip off of Big Stone Heads t-shirt “all my friends are dead”. Even though it showed up in Hot Topic, it was a T-shirt company called Ripple Junction that created the design.

Hot Topic Bigstonehead

Now it certainly has all the elements, but it’s also a very different design. Should it be considered a rip off or a mashup? Stolen idea and original implementation?

What about 7 samurai and the magnificent 7?
Star Wars and Hidden Fortress?
Daft Hands vs Kanye Hands?

I know a lot of the knee jerk reactions to t-shirt rip offs comes from scenarios like smaller designers actually pitch ideas to a larger company and the larger company decides to just do their own design rather than license the original work, which in my mind is reprehensible and a bad business practice (ala Johnny Cupcakes vs Urban Outfitters).

Granted, the whole ‘dropping a bomb of x’ concept isn’t really new, but if Urban Outfitters solicited t-shirts from a designer, they shouldn’t be getting anywhere near the same concept if they choose not to license the artist’s work.

via the Consumerist
But I wonder if the t-shirt world would be better off with a more Creative Commons approach to design where we actively encourage people to “build” on our ideas and concepts with attribution?

Here’s a great video collection about creative commons.

Anyway, here’s the explanation from Ripple Junction about the similar designs.

Comment by Neil on June 20, 2008 @ 4:37 am

(cross posted at youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com also)

This is Neil, one of the owners of Ripple Junction. I want to explain a few things about what happened in the creation of this design.

When I first saw this blog posting, I was pissed. Pissed at the designer that did this and I demanded an explanation. We don’t roll like that, and I want to point out to astra that this has not happened before; it was a Goodie Two Sleeves design that was posted previously.
http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/blog3/?p=805

When I questioned the artist, this is his exact response, I’ve included links to the images he’s referring to:

“Dude, I have never seen that.

I came across the attached (http://ripplejunction.com/friends.jpg) image in a list of the top 50 funniest album covers. I jotted down the title cuz I thought it might work with a zombie design, or even something for Resident Evil. I later heard the verbiage again in a song by the band Turbonegro, so I realized it was pretty much a pop culture phrase. I even saw an art print a guy did using batteries that had this verbiage as the title. (http://www.ripplejunction.com/allmyfriendsaredead.gif) The idea I had sat in my notebook for while, though.

One day hot topic was asking for some quick dino tee ideas, and I thought it could work for that, too. And if you remember, after they saw the original design I made (which had a bloody t rex I think) they are the ones that suggested to change it to a stegasarus. How do we know he didn’t use the idea after he saw it at hot topic? The youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com website is notorious for not having editors or fact checkers. Its an open blog.”

I went through my email’s (we originally showed this design to Hot Topic in Feb 08). We showed a cartoony t rex with the verbiage (image here http://ripplejunction.com/RJJS1191.jpg), and hot topic wanted something a little less cartoony. We put in a stegosaurus.

We’ve been selling Hot Topic Dinosaur Shirts since the fall of 2005, you can see a picture of the first design that we shipped to them here (http://ripplejunction.com/MCJS002.jpg) .

The phrase is not original, and people make dinosaur t shirts. There are literally thousands upon thousands of people who design things every day. Ask yourself, is it possible that 2 people in different places used a pop culture phrase and paired it with a dinosaur?

I also want to point out the irony of the fact that the person who posted this, Taddict, has on his blog a bootleg Gremlins tshirt. http://www.taddict.com/blog/2008/06/17/gremlin-t-shirt-design/. We have a license with Warner Bros to produce Gremlins merchandise. We pay a lot of money to secure rights, is it ok to use WBros intellectual property without paying them? Apparently that doesn’t bother anyone.

We work hard to create original, creative artwork and have been doing so for over 15 years. We license artwork from major Studios and individual designers, and have a stellar reputation in our industry. I don’t know if this will change anyone’s mind, but I’m not going to sit back and watch our name get dragged through the mud.

Neil

Ask yourself, is it possible that 2 people in different places used a pop culture phrase and paired it with a dinosaur?

UPDATE Here’s the response from Avery who designed the Big Stone Head Shirt:

Hi there,
This is Avery from BigStoneHead.net. I designed our “All My Friends Are Dead” shirt, and I’d like to respond to Neil and the folks at Ripple Junction.

Ripple Junction said, “Ask yourself, is it possible that 2 people in different places used a pop culture phrase and paired it with a dinosaur?”

Yes, sure, it’s possible. But that’s not the point. The point is, if you google search “all my friends are dead,” you get three links to our shirt on the first results page. If you google “all my friends are dead shirt” you get 9 links to our shirt. I’m a designer, and every time I have an idea that I think is worth making I check as carefully as I can to make sure it wasn’t done before. And my company is relatively small. The folks at Ripple Junction, when selling to
national-chain-mega-store Hot Topic, have the RESPONSIBILITY to really make sure they’re not making something that’s already been made. Spiderman said: with great shirt power comes great shirt responsibility.

Never mind the fact that the shirts are clearly the same idea. Never mind the same text. Never mind the same dinosaur. They say it was a coincidence, fine. What isn’t fine is that they apparently didn’t do a single search to see if it was already on the market.

On Ripple Junction’s website, under Terms and Conditions for submitting shirt ideas, they say they’ll “compensate the individual who submitted the Design, provided that the Design or a substantially similar Design is not already in Ripple Junction’s possession or being worked on by Ripple Junction.” It seems
they’re very thorough when it comes to checking to see if a new design is “substantially similar” to something they already own. It’s unfortunate that that they don’t apply the same standards when checking if other people have been selling a shirt since 2002. Ask yourself: is their shirt “substantially similar”
to ours?

If it’s truly the case that the shirts’ similarities are pure coincidence,
Ripple Junction is irresponsible for not checking, and it’s a bad situation for me, the little guy, who, within a few weeks of the shirt being mass-produced for Hot Topic with Ripple Junction’s tag, will no longer be recognized as the creator of this idea.

Website: www.bigstonehead.net

Great point from Avery about some basic research on a concept, as it turns out my post on the t-shirt and album covers is the first result on google for “all my friends are dead”, I think designers should make an effort to see if a concept has already been done.

Here’s the top results on an image search on google:

4 Responses to “All My Friends Are Dead – Ripped Off?”

  1. Yeah this is hard cause at face value it looks like a 100% ripoff. After reading Neil’s defense I feel like there is a lot more behind the design.

    I think the one thing that changes my mind is that the phase “All my friends are dead” are in the pop culture conscience. I also remember looking at all of those album covers and laughing at that specific one.

    I think T-Shirts, like logos, need to go through a discovery process where you check to make sure what you have is an original idea. And by documenting that process you can be ready to stand up to scrutiny. Lots of logos have come out that have been similar to others but if there was a good process behind the logo it tend to just get marked up as an unfortunate coincidence.

    If anything I would now like to hear why Hot Topic wanted to change the dinosaur. As they could be guilty as well.

    The best way to approach this is just through open discussion. If there is a community and tradition where t-shirt designers expect to be held up to scrutiny and are ready to defend them selves when questions arise then, while mistakes will happen, it should end up being a smooth process over all.

    I’d like to thanks Neil for a thoughtful and detail response. It’s unfortunate that the shirts are so similar but I don’t see any wrong doing at all.

  2. taddict says:

    I have since received a reply from big stone head in regards to this subject also:
    Link

  3. Pleo says:

    This could have been a coincidence.

  4. RJ sucks says:

    Worked at RJ the encourage that kind of stuff. And when they don't huge pressure to just every design you turn out to be a winner

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