Sacha Greif is the Founder of Folyo, a company that connects helps match those in need of design services with potential designers. Back in June he posted on the Folyo blog an article entitled the $5 logo, where he relayed his experiences in going undercover on Fiverr, a site that specializes in the buying and selling of $5 jobs of various kinds, to see what kind of logos he would get for just $5.
To put it bluntly, Greif was not impressed with his experience. He created a fake company named SkyStats and, after weeding out several designers that had clearly plagiarized work their portfolios, he contacted three different Fiverr designers to get their logos. They produced a total of five designs (two designers created two designs and another only created one).
Of the five logos, he was only remotely impressed with two, the two created by the third designer. Even then, he felt that the logos were generic and didn’t do anything to stand out.
However, after his post, some of his readers pointed out that three of the logos were not wholly original. In fact, the only two completely original logos were the two that he liked least, the ones from the first designer.
Needless to say, if Greif, or anyone else, had used the logos there could have been trouble. At best, others would have been free to take the icons and use them in their logos, if they weren’t already being used by other companies. At worst, if the images weren’t licensed correctly, the logos could have been copyright infringing and led to a lawsuit. The same holds if other companies in their industry were using them and the new logos could be seen as confusingly similar.
In short, using one of these logos could have cost far more than $5 when the legal bills came in.
But while Greif is quick to put the blame on the cost of the logos, which certainly does have a bearing, the truth is any logo can be plagiarized and if you’re the purchaser of a logo, or any content from a freelancer, you need to be aware that you may be getting stolen goods.
Unfortunately, while you might not be the one who committed the plagiarism, you are the one in the line of fire with the takedown notices and lawsuits start flying, meaning you need to protect yourself before buying your logo.
The Cost of Originality
To be clear, buying a $5 logo and expecting high-quality, original work is unrealistic. Given the time it takes to create and produce a logo, there’s no practical way a designer can make a living off of a $5 per logo price tag. Fiverr does mitigate this some by selling extras that cost more but even those can’t completely defray the time costs.
But a quick trip to Logo Thief, which hasn’t been updated since March but is still filled with dozens of examples of logo plagiarism. In one example, the City of Amarillo paid over $250 for a new logo (which is still inexpensive for a logo usually costs) that turned out to be nearly identical to that of a company in Dubai.
But logos can get far more expensive than $250. According to Matt Cannon GraphicDesign.com, the iconic Symantec Checkmark logo cost over $1.2 billion.
So how much money do you have to spend in order to ensure that the logo you get isn’t a plagiarism? $1,000? $2,500? $1.2 Billion? The answer is that there is no set amount. Any logo at any cost from any person could be plagiarized. Unless you design the logo yourself, there is no way to guarantee that it is original.
While the designer of a $50,000 logo might be significantly less likely to plagiarize than a designer of a $5 logo, the $50,000 designer can plagiarize just as easily and stands pretty much as good of a chance of getting away with it.
As such, no matter how much you pay for your logo, you need to perform due diligence and ensure that your logo is legitimate before pushing it live.
Checking Your Logo
Unfortunately, there’s no way to be 100% certain that you didn’t just buy a plagiarized logo. It’s possible to perform all of the due diligence in the world and still get suckered into buying a ripoff of a logo.
That being said, there are things you can and should do to drastically reduce the likelihood of buying a plagiarized logo. Those include:
- Investigate Your Designer: Look into your designer. Remember, this person/company will be designing something that will represent you and/or your company. You need to know what you can about them including who they are, where they are located and what others have to say about them. Don’t sign a deal without knowing exactly who you are signing it with.
- Read the Contract: Read the contract carefully and pay attention to the originality guarantees. If there aren’t any, ask for one. Though indemnification clauses aren’t always practical to execute, they can still be useful at discouraging plagiarism.
- Ask for Progress Examples: Try to get involved with the logo design process if you can. Ask to see progress pieces and early versions to see how the logo came together. This type of interaction costs more, but it’s very difficult to plagiarize something when every step is transparent.
- Collaborate: A good logo design is a collaborative process where a designer and client work together to create something great. Collaborate and be involved. You don’t simply buy a logo and take what is given, offer feedback and improve the logo, strive to make it better.
- Check the Final Product: When done, or at least at a point where it’s practical, check to see if there are similar logos to yours using Google Image Search. While it isn’t 100% perfect, it can detect many obvious logo plagiarisms quickly and easily.
All in all, even if you still do that it is possible to be hoodwinked. But your odds of buying a plagiarized logo go down drastically if you take these steps, making them more than worthwhile.
In all fairness, Greif is a competitor of Fiverr, at least indirectly. So the criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt. But I have no trouble believing that 60% of the logos he purchased came back plagiarized and the other 40% were of dubious quality.
The truth is that you can get a good logo at any price point. Your order on Fiverr could go to a design student just hoping to get some practice and build his portfolio. He or she might do an amazing job for next to no money. The odds are stacked against that, but it could happen.
Likewise, you can get a plagiarized logo at any price. A $50,000 logo could be a scammer hoping to make a quick buck or could be given to an overworked or underskilled designer at a studio who plagiarizes as a shortcut.
Still, in general, the more you pay the less likely plagiarism is to be an issue.
But that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. Even a .1% chance is too high of a risk for you to take with your logo. Performing due diligence and checking what you get will further reduce those odds.
Of course, if you’re the type of person to perform due diligence and think about issues like logo plagiarism, you’re probably not the type to buy a $5 logo off of a site like Fiverr. But, no matter where you go, caution is warranted, especially considering how valuable your logo could become.
Special Thanks: Thanks to Patrick O’Keefe for the idea for this article and for directing me to the original stories.