Did Starbucks Steal From Artist Ophelia Chong? [Updated]

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It's not unusual for big companies to be accused of stealing from the little guys. (Remember that whole Urban Outfitters drama earlier this year?) And we're the first to admit that sometimes really good ideas happen to come to different people at the same time. But it's hard to imagine that the most recent case -- involving artist Ophelia Chong, who was informed last Friday by a student that Starbucks' packaging design looked quite a lot like something Chong herself had created -- is somehow the coincidence of creative minds thinking alike. As Hyperallergic puts it, "Ophelia Chong's work looks a hell of a lot like that Starbucks illustration."

Via Hyperallergic:

I asked Chong what it felt like when she saw the evidence for herself. This is what she responded with via email:

Scene: 30 seconds of staring at my cellphone with the image sent by my student.
Ophelia: WTF.WTF. OH MY GOD.
They are diluting my work, my brand.

Chong, who has posted her work on Flickr since 2006 and had a website since 2000, has obtained legal counsel and plans to fight what she sees as a clear case of copyright violation -- she writes on her site, OpheliaSwims, where she posts images of her work and Starbucks' design, "I want a Chong Collage Venti, free please."

She continues,

Today I was made aware they completely ripped off my illustration style, of which I have been creating since 2004. My work is in over 5 books, gallery shows from Brooklyn to Barcelona, multiple websites and I am repped in NYC. Now why would they not pay me to do it? Because they have a inhouse design agency that has a lack of imagination and a blatant disregard for Artist Rights.

Starbucks has a motto on their Company page " Being a Responsible Company". It goes only as far as their doorstep when it comes to being responsible to the rights of artists.

Chong has no plans to stop posting things online. She tells us she's retained a copyright infringement attorney who won a $60 million case last year for a medical equipment company. They are in the process of sending a letter to Starbucks general counsel.

"[Starbucks] could have hired me and paid me anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 for this work, but instead they decided to appropriate it. I've been creating these collages since 2005, and there are more than 8,000 websites featuring the work, and half a million views on my Flickr," she says. "This dilutes my brand, and is basically taking food off my plate."

We've contacted Starbucks for comment.

Update, Friday, 11/18: Chong informs us that she'll be dropping the potential lawsuit. She says, "When I first saw the packaging, I was a mix of surprised and hurt. Then an emotion that should be kept in check surfaced, Pride. It became about Me and my Work....I could see bits of myself in the Starbucks artwork, but then I wasn't sure. And not being sure meant that I let go. Letting go means I am moving forward and going back to doing what I do. My attorney gave me good counsel and let me decide what I wanted to do. And I decided to move on."

She adds that it's up to each artist whether or not to take on a fight with a big company and says, "My work could've inspired Starbucks, but then again it could've been created completely outside of my influence; I will never know."

Artist Lawyers Up After Realizing Starbucks Swiped Her Style [Hyperallergic]
Starbucks Venti appropriation, please [OpheliaSwims]

[JDoll / @thisisjendoll]

Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.


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10 comments
Balkan
Balkan

I recently Discovered a new mug in the Starbucks collection that has been ripped of my mom's original and copyrighted design. The funny thing is she designed the mug for Peet's Coffee and Tea which Starbucks recently bought... Exact same pattern, obviously the hand made one is more detailed then the one from China, but same color scheme, its of a Komodo Dragon, they are called the Komodo dragon mug, technique is the same the positioning of the dragon is the same they even copied the flames shooting out of it's mouth... I'm sorry but changing it just enough to void a copyright and under cutting the price by a 3rd does not make it ethical and is certainly not in keeping with the tone of the Starbucks Corporate Culture... What really sucks is I am a loyal Patron of Starbucks and an X Barista ...Sad

Wilber_Force
Wilber_Force

French ROAST - fire needed for roasting not flower petals and nude body. I think she doth protest too much.

Jack
Jack

Ok, there is similarity, but its not that similar. Ophelia Chongs work appears to be fairly generic, just variations on a theme. Just because you do collages, it doesn't mean no one else is allowed to. The work was not a copy, just a similar style. You have no case.

Bobby
Bobby

Sincerest form of flattery? It's a touch ironic this is coming from someone whose "brand" is the 90-year-old form of scrapbooking called Dadaism where you take scissors to other people's work and call it your own.

I've been a graphic designer and more specifically a brand designer for over 10 years. All artwork has a cultural context; we all borrow from each other, implicitly and explicitly. The designer for Starbucks probably saw her work, liked it, and applied the idea to a project that had a budget, a deadline, and a wide variety of parameters that are very different from the parameters of her own work.

Quasi-religious iconography? (Doesn't belong in a major brand campaign.) Can she deliver on-time? Provide high-res color-corrected photography or vector artwork built with the proper color model? There are a million questions to deal with besides the creativity aspect, and those are all unknowns dealing with a new illustrator for a one-off effort.

There are plenty of times I see something on a national campaign and think "I had a sketch just like that a few years ago." I smile and keep making new stuff. 

Use this moment as a self-promotional opportunity, sure, but she needs to "brand" herself as a qualified professional, not as a reactionary, pissed-off artiste with a niche illustrative style. She handles tone beautifully in her illustrations, needs to work a bit on the tone of her prose. $0.02

Terry
Terry

It's a flame.  One flame looks pretty much like the next.  There are only so many shapes in this world.  Seems highly doubtful that Starbucks found Ophelia's art and then decided to rip it off. 

Lauren Nyc24
Lauren Nyc24

Just like any designer out there (Ophelia Chong included), designers and artists alike take inspiration from all walks of life.  Just because Starbucks has a graphic that looks similar to her design doesn't necessarily mean that her "original" graphic is all that original.  Where did she take her inspiration from?

Just saying...

French Press
French Press

Let's just see the search history and other "ideas" the Starbuck's designer looked at before coming up with this graphic. Any recent deleting of files or a "dog ate my homework" tale would not be surprising. Admit and pay Ophelia now! This is obviously her well developed and published concept!

MATTHEW ROSE
MATTHEW ROSE

I am very very happy to know Ophelia and to have worked with her on an ongoing project – in fact a site where her work could be downloaded and printed (but not ripped off) for free, like her work, FEAR OF THE OCD: http://defensedafficherproject...

Good for Ophelia to take these guys to task. 

MR/PARIS, FRANCE

John
John

It doesn't look that much like her art.  The Starbucks illustration is of a fire.  

Yo
Yo

Guilty. Pay the artist damages.

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