LogoGarden: Welcome to the garden of thievin’

Lindsay McComb / Posted 8.30.2011

Logogarden: Welcome to the garden of thievin'

Logogarden is meant to be a garden of “do-it-yourself logos for entrepreneurs,” a veritable paradise where entrepreneurs with little to no artistic ability can create their very own “professional-looking” logos in mere minutes!  For only $79!

Really? Only $79? I'm surprised it's not four easy payments of $19.95.

What is copyright infringement anyway? According to copyright.gov, "As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner."

Cutting out the middlemen, aka professional designers who do this for a living, Entrepreneur and “Branding Coach” John Williams wanted to help small businesses achieve the “consistent brand image”  that big companies enjoy and offers “10,000 new symbols designed by John himself and his hand-picked team of world-class logo designers.”

The problem is, it seems that many of the symbols Williams plucked were from designers who didn't know their work was “hand-picked,” and didn’t give permission for Williams and LogoGarden to use their designs.  Whoops.

But isn't imitation is the highest form of flattery?

Not surprisingly, as news leaked, there were some very (and rightfully) irate designers. Bill Gardner summed up the LogoGarden debacle best with his scathing piece on Rock Paper Ink, in which he identified several clearly copied designs, many of which actually were created by Gardner himself, and some slight variations of well-known logos like the World Wildlife Foundation panda and Time Warner Cable eye.

Is copyright infringement a criminal offense? It can be. Was the copyright infringement done with the following qualifications?
1. For purposes of financial/commercial gain.
2. Reproduction or distribution of 1 or more copyrighted works which have a retail value of $1,000+ in any 180-day period
3. Making the work accessible on a public computer network

 The logos that were copied actually seemed worse to me. I mean, did you see those wonky googly eyes on the WWF panda knockoff?

Gardner also shared (in his attorney’s letter to LogoGarden) that Williams’ ever-so-slightly modified versions actually indicate that LogoGarden’s “infringement was with full knowledge.” In fact, such minor modifications, like adding an extra curly-cue or changing two bubbles to three, shows willful copyright infringement.

How could one man create 10,000 logos by himself?

Looking past the straight-up thievery of LogoGarden, I’m hard-pressed to find any real appeal or value in the products offered. I clicked the “Try it for free!” button and found hundreds, nay thousands, of hideous logos that looked like clip art circa Print Shop 1995. Most of the icons screamed “vaguely familiar!” Plus, there's also only like 16 font choices -- but shockingly none of them are Comic Sans.

Isn't it OK if you change the logo a little? Nope. If it's obviously a derivative work or is clearly based off of a copyrighted piece - that's infringement. Copyright law states that the owner of the copyright is the only one that can create derivative works. Unless, of course, you have permission.

Let's look at some pure logistics and liability issues: What are the chances that someone else won’t use (or isn't already using) that totally un-unique star you got at LogoGarden? (Answer: Very low.) What are the chances that you’ll be legally culpable if you accidentally steal someone else’s already established logo? (Answer: Very High.)

Would you do your own triple bypass surgery?

Snark aside, isn’t the whole point of a logo to create an identity? To create your own identity?

I understand that hiring a professional designer can be expensive, especially for a small business. But there’s a reason why they’re professionals – they (unlike LogoGarden) know what they’re doing. Isn't your reputation worth more than $79?

I’m all for DIY-ing, but if it’s something I can’t do myself, I will find a professional. I’m not going to install the new plumbing in my apartment or represent myself in court if sued; I will hire professionals who know what they’re doing. 

And if you’re not capable of designing your own logo, then hire a professional. Plain and simple.

What should you do if you think your design has been copied? AIGA sent out the following alert asking artists and designers to take action against "such an egregious case of violating creative rights" and asking them to take the following course of action:

  1. Check logogarden.com for your own work using the "try it free" button.
  2. If your creative work has been misappropriated, contact Williams (see below), contact your lawyer, contact your client and have your client contact his/her lawyer to make it clear that this is a violation of copyright law. 
  3. If your work is on the site, contact Williams to make it clear that this represents illegal, unethical behavior; that it fails the basic test of decency, common sense or business acumen; and that it also exposes his customers to liabilities for copyright infringement. 
  4. Send a copy of your correspondence to copyright@aiga.org. There are three possible addresses to use for your correspondence:

    LogoGarden, LLC
1011 Centre Road, Suite 322

    Wilmington, DE 19805 

    John Williams

    230 Halmerton Drive

    Franklin, TN 37069

    Email: service@logogarden.com.



Lindsay McComb

Writer and Content Specialist

Lindsay is Q Digital Studio’s writer and content specialist. She develops heady technical jargon into clear, coherent (and optimized) content. She has a knack for finding just the right words - but only after she’s had a nice cup of coffee (or two). She happily dives into the depths of the Internet on a daily basis. Lindsay has worked as a writer and editor the world over.