Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining.
This is awkward.
On 24 January 2013, I submitted a design to Threadless for their College! challenge. I like it—it’s a fairly obvious mashup of A Clockwork Orange and the University of Syracuse Orange (yep, that’s their team name).
I digitally redrew and set the type myself (a common, free typeface called Timepiece is good, but not as accurate an interpretation of the original film poster title as I wanted; you’ll find the most obvious differences in scale, the N and Es).
Days later, I received this very nice rejection letter (emphasis mine):
Hi there Michael Buchino,
Unfortunately, your submission “Clockwork Syracuse” was declined.
Your submission was declined because it contains copyrighted material. Pop-culture inspired designs sometimes have legal issues we would rather not flirt with. Unfortunately, this is the case with your artwork.
We hate declining submissions! We hope you take these decline reasons to heart, use them to rework your submission, and resubmit. We’re looking forward to seeing your new and improved design!
The Threadless Community Team
Fair enough. Who wants the trouble?
I did find it funny how many pop-culture references Threadless shirts tend to riff off of. But, giving the benefit of the doubt, was under the impression that they got the copyright cleared or knew something I didn’t.
On 12 February 2013, Nightwatcher submitted this design, Milk Plus, to Threadless (It’s up for scoring now).
It’s kinda fun. I like it.
But how is Nightwatcher’s design up for scoring and mine is outright rejected?
My Clockwork Syracuse piece is clearly derivative of Philip Castle’s iconic film poster, for sure.
Nightwatcher’s milk glass design is overtly derivative of David Pelham’s iconic book cover design.
So… how is this different?
Is Threadless lying to me? Do they know something I don’t know? Did they just not like my idea and attempt spare my feelings?
Is it simpler than that—is Penham’s book cover design not copyrighted? Or do Threadless have permission to use it? Or is my work too similar to the original?
(My hunch is that Threadless have an inconsistent filtering process or my work is too similar to the original for them to put forth any effort. I sure hope it’s the latter.)
Am I interpreting this wrong? What do you think?
The More You Know:
According to this interview with photos of the original lettering sketches, Castle discusses how Bill Gold and his studio altered the type and subsequently took credit for it (avoiding any potential copyright friction all the while).
Interestingly, it was the Gold-altered design I was seeking to mash up. (And Timepiece is a lot more accurate a typeface to Castle’s original sketches.)
Also, Castle talks about his lettering being derivative of Milton Glaser’s work. So I guess we have something in common.