There is a Facebook page called Copy Anti-Copy, which is one of my current internet favourites. I have no idea who runs it except that English is not their first language and they have an abundance of work from the middle east. Whoever they are, what they do is post images of design work (with designer and date), next to a more recent example by a different designer that may or may not be a copy of the original. Like this:
The above is a clear copy, totally ripped off a year later. But most of the posts are more ambiguous.
Initially, the above image seems not such a big deal.A musical note and plant/flower. 16 years apart, it seems unlikely to be a copy … until you notice specific details, like the shapes of the leaves/petals are exactly the same in the 2nd version as the first. Which begs the question, if you’re going to copy something like this, why would you scan the original and use the exact same shapes rather than just scribble your own petals, which would surely be easier? It boggles the mind!
The above is much more difficult because it’s not the form, but the idea that has been copied. In this case you have to decide on how common or likely the idea is: that there’s a crown that is also the top of a chair/throne. It seems unlikely to me and a probable copy.
While I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to this one, I thought the bum with ears was a suspiciously uncommon idea. I was wrong: I’ve been told by Stefan Bucher that “Arsch mit Ohren” (“Bum with ears”) is a common German insult! That piece of cultural knowledge makes this most definitely not a copy. [Ammended June 4, 2015.]
Then there’s something like this where your first reaction is total and obvious copy! Unless … they are both using the same piece of stock photography. Aha! That is the most likely explanation (and a good reason not to use stock photography).
Here’s an interesting one, and this has come up a couple of times, when the work being copied is so fucking famous, like this piece by Shigeo Fukuda, that instead of a copy you have to consider it as possibly an homage. The 2014 designer has taken this iconic piece which s/he knows we know, and put a twist one it. Aye, now there’s a head scratcher!
Other times it really is just a similarly obvious idea, or the use of clichés.
To exercise your own judgements on these and many more (and to submit examples you have found!) I encourage you to join, or Like, or whatever it is one does on FB, Copy Anti-Copy. But, oh, don’t try to friend me, I’m pretty much only friends with actual friends so … sorry. But you can agree or disagree with me on copies!
Meanwhile, what do you do if your work is actually copied? If it’s a blatant reproduction like the first example above you should first contact the designer and the organization it was done for and alert them to the fact that it is not an original design. Second, it is often not expensive to get an Intellectual Property lawyer to send a letter, which is often intimidating enough to result in some kind of compensation. If the offending copy is turning up on the internet, you can submit copyright infringement complaints with Pinterest, (and there may be similar complaints areas on other sites). Google will also remove links from their search engine findings if you submit a report to them, with URLs of the individual images. And if it’s widely distributed advertising work for a large company? You should sue their asses.