Being bullied as a designer

I have been in the type design industry for about two years and I love every minute of it. But there are a few things I wish I knew when I got started; things that I have learned the hard way and as much as I have searched they are not even mentioned anywhere. A very critical matter I feel I should say something about is bullying. It can happen, because it happened to me twice and it happened by the same person.

In March of 2015, when I released my second font family, “Magellan”, I received a message, from a designer, who claimed that my font family was “very very similar” to his font collection (let’s name him “A”). He asked me to change it and stop the sales.

I was astound, because I knew that our collections where different and their similarity was their vintage lettering style. When I attempted to explain that there was not a matter of plagiarism, he back lashed insulting me, accusing me of copying his “original idea”(!), threatening me “to post some images online and let the people comment” and speaking with his lawyer! When I replied emphasizing about obvious differences, he called them “minimal details” and insisted on “similarities”.

I spoke to my lawyer, who informed me that accusations for “similarity” are completely unsubstantial and that there was no case against me. I was new in the industry, very anxious about the course of the promising font family I had just launched and I was, also, frightened.  Against my lawyer’s advice who insisted in me not succumbing to threats, I decided to show good faith. I froze my sales until I modified one of my fonts, the one that got him so irritated. Huge mistake! It cost me time, effort and money (because launching, freezing and re-launching a font family has a toll). I thought that being polite and showing good faith, would show this person what professionalism means, but apparently he took it as a weakness.

Just 5 days before the end of 2016 the designer contacted me again with a new threatening message. This time, he accused me that my “Old Harbour” collection was a copy of the very same collection he mentioned the first time! It wasn’t a bad joke! It was real! He claimed that my Magellan font family and my Old Harbour collection, which are completely different to each other, where both copies of his “A” font collection!

This time though, I was not willing to play the same game. I followed legal advice and answered accordingly

Needless to say, to this day I have not received a response to my message.

As a conclusion I’d like to share some useful advice. First of all, be original. That doesn’t mean you won’t be inspired or that you will not be affected by other artworks. People base their work on something they’ve seen, learned or read about all the time for thousand years. As long as you put your effort and perspective in your artwork, the outcome is unique and it’s your intellectual property. My main source of inspiration is vintage lettering styles from old posters, labels, signage and packaging. I love vintage style in design. There are hundreds of similarities in the vintage style letters and design but I’d like to think that designers, back then, did not threaten each other for “copying an idea”

Never, ever succumb to threats. Get familiar with intellectual property law. Plagiarism is a serious accusation which involves actually stealing and copying somebody else’s designs and certainly not being inspired by someone’s work. Always keep your original hand drawn designs. This is the best proof for the originality of your work. If someone accuses you for plagiarism, then he must provide solid evidence to support his allegations. This means that he must prove that his and your designs are identical and/or that you have used his original hand drawn work. Specifically, fonts must be identical to their nodes or/and to their code.

Get legal advice. Threatening with legal action, while someone is aware that has no case, is illegal. If he attempts to disperse his claims online, you have the right to take legal action for defamation. Keep copies of the threatening messages and NEVER delete them. Ban the bully. Block him in your social media accounts and in your email. Do not allow him to contact you in any way. And since I have not mentioned it enough, DO NOT accede to the threats.

Not to my surprise, after a google research I found out I wasn’t the only one receiving such messages from this designer. He has a long history of bullying small designers and design firms, with legal action, over distantly similar type designs. That is why I felt I have to pass on the experience and advice for the next one.

Good luck and lots of inspiration to you