Homage, Inspiration, Recreation, Parody and Plagiarism

Posted by Mongo Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I am going to start off this post with a disclaimer. I am neither condoning or condemning what will be used as examples in this post. I am simply illustrating different views and points involving ideas for Print On Demand designs.

Two of the first designs I uploaded onto CafePress were based off of Pop Culture ideas. The first was The Dobler Effect, meant to be a parody of The Doppler Effect and an homage to Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. When I first put the silhouette, which is supposed to remind you of that iconic scene from Say Anything, on the canvas with the words "The Dobler Effect" I had no clue that there was a band called "The Lloyd Dobler Effect." Still, we both referenced the same idea, Say Anything and Lloyd Dobler.


With Amity Island Swim Club, I was inspired both by the book and movie of Jaws, as well as the idea that I could do this type of work for a living. While the subject matter came from one of my favorite movies, the desire to try out my hand at designing came from seeing this tee in a magazine.

The joke in the design is the same. Promoting the idea of being in the water in a location riddled with shark attacks.

So, what’s inspiration? What’s parody? What’s homage? What’s plagiarism?

I confess that, had it not been for the movies being a source of inspiration, I would have never come up with those designs on my own and yet if I had, they wouldn’t mean anything because no one would know what a guy holding a boom box over his head meant.

Still, in reference to homage and inspiration, I am also guilty of recreations based on "As Seen On TV" moments. I admit that I offer a "Callahan Autos" design that I recreated, not from what I’ve already seen on other shirt sites, but from the what was used in the movie, Tommy Boy. That required watching the movie and freeze framing it to try and see how the design looked. I’ve done the same thing with Meatballs in regards to Camp North Star and Camp Mohawk. There are other sites that have Camp Mohawk designs but I based mine off the original from the movie.

Camp Mohawk Shirt shirt
Added first, according to Zazzle
Camp Mohawk Shirt shirt
Added third, according to Zazzle
Camp Mohawk Shirt shirt
Mine, added second, according to Zazzle
Camp Mohawk Shirt shirt
My Skreened image

(UPDATE: I was digging around in my files and found the fourth image, which I had used on Skreened. I don’t know why I didn’t have it on Zazzle, as well. It’s something I will have to fix in a bit. In any case, the fourth design was my final go at recreating the original image from the movie. I had to watch it a number of times to find a usable model to work from and I think it’s an overall improvement on the first three.)

The first three are almost the same, in fact the red one and cracked one (mine) are practically identical. Side note: I used a template that I created as an overlay to make it appear distressed and cracked like it came from 1979.  Doing a search on Zazzle and organizing the designs by newest to oldest, my design was added before the red one, while the first one was added before mine. The idea here is, that while all three of us have similar designs, regardless of publish date, all three are using the same focus for the design. In my case, I went with the more distressed look and tried to mimic the original design seen in the movie. So, am I copying another shirt designer, copying the movie, or simply doing a fan recreation?

Now there are far more talented designers out there doing movie and pop culture inspired designs that have no use of imagery directly tied to the source material themselves. Thanks to a friend, I stumbled onto a site called Dark Bunny Tees. This is a one man operation with a limited edition of shirt designs but they are inspired by the films they promote yet have an original take on the source. For instance, this Ghostbusters tee is inspired by the building and the fictional architect Ivo Shandor but makes excellent reference to the film.


Here’s another one from my go to resource, GritFx. Captain Howdy’s Ouija Boards. It borrows the imagery of that shadowy figure played by Eileen Dietz, but also the idea of a Ouija Board. It’s a play on the Ouija Board being a novelty game used to contact spirits and the demon Pazuzu, who is said to have possessed Regan in The Exorcist and who she calls Captain Howdy.


In both of these examples, there is a homage to pop culture and the ideas are inspired by movies. But what about other takes on certain ideas not specifically related to pop culture. If pop culture is your source, the duplications on the different websites are a shooting match between quality and aesthetics. But, if you are basing your idea as a parody of another idea, as in the case of the old saying "When Life Gives You Lemons," sometimes your take can be viewed as plagiarism.

When I started to get more involved with the t-shirt and POD business, I began to take notice of specific sites like Busted Tees and SnorgTees. These were big players in the funny shirt arena. I also became interested in the Print On Demand and Independent designers who talk about the business from the perspective of the designer and the wearer. That’s how I found Tees In A Pod. These four designers do blog posts and podcasts devoted to the t-shirt culture from the both sides of the industry. One of the group, Tim, runs SogeShirts. When I first discovered them I immediately liked one of their designs called when life hands you MELONS you might be dyslexic. Funny, right. It plays on the old saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." By rearranging the word LEMON into another fruit and then adding the whole dyslexia angle to it they make it a joke. Yet, this week, SnorgTees debuted a new design using the exact text as SogeShirts but omitted the actual melons from the design. Is it plagiarism?



At first, I was shocked. It was like seeing your kid going off to a costume party in a really well done, homemade, costume and finding out someone else’s kid was wearing the same costume that they paid a lot of money for at the store. Snorg is a big player in the tee biz and to see them put out a design that is nearly identical to SogeShirts’ kind of bites. They have the resources to promote across many more platforms like StumbleUpon and have more exposure than SogeShirts does.

Once again, I refer you to my disclaimer above. Taking a look from the other side, it is entirely possible that someone at Snorg came up with the design themselves because the source material is a well known saying, "When life gives you lemons." The gray area is that is it possible that two people could have come up with the same joke?  Yeah, it is.

In fact, that could have been a user submitted design as SnorgTees invites idea submissions. They may have not even checked to see if someone already had created a shirt using that joke.

Is it fair that the joke is on more than one shirt? Yes and no. Is it fair that a bigger name t-shirt site is selling that same joke? No. Not to me, not to SogeShirts and not to the little guys that are trying to make a name for themselves in the online retail business. But technically, it’s allowable, I guess.

I ran into the same thing, this past week, when Zazzle slashed and burned through all of the "unofficial" Jersey Shore designs. Because Jersey Shore and MTV have a store on Zazzle, they will claim ownership of the phrase "Gym Tan Laundry" Here’s their version and here was mine. I’m biased in thinking my design looked better but the fact of the matter is, their show introduced that phrase into pop culture and therefore, I’m SOL on GTL when it comes to PODs and MTV.

My design
MTV's Jersey Shore Store

It just sucks all the way around for folks like Tim and SogeShirts and me and my GTL design. However, I will say if you look at those two designs for MELONS side by side, it’s clear to see who has the better delivery. That should count for something. So, I’m here to promote SogeShirts’ design because regardless if they were there first, they are there, best.

1 Comment
  1. Soge shirts Said,

    That was a great article Michael. There definitely is the possibility that Snorg came up with the same idea as we had and it was an honest mistake. It's possible. You would think with their resources they would do a quick google search.

    Regardless their shirt is out and so is ours. We do have proof that ours came out in oct. 09 so there is that. As far as your GTL shirt I definitely agree it is the better shirt. The tshirt industry is crazy and quirky but even when things aren't 100 percent well I'm still glad I'm in it.

    Posted on November 3, 2010 at 1:54 AM


Post a Comment