Croatia’s Coin Copycat Controversy

The country of Croatia is scheduled to begin using the Euro as its currency on January 1, 2023.

However, ahead of that change, the country has a large amount of preparation both publicly and behind the scenes. One of the more public steps is designing their first one Euro coin.

To that end, the Croatian central bank held a design competition. On Friday, it announced the winner, designer Stjepan Pranjkovic. His work featured a pine marten, a small European mammal, perched on a branch.

The choice of symbol was extremely appropriate. The pine marten is the namesake of the country’s current currency, the Croatian Kuna, and has a lengthy history of its pelt being used as currency.

However, the announcement did not go over well once it was made public. Users on Twitter began to notice similarities between Pranjkovic’s artwork and a photograph taken by Scottish photographer Iain Leach.

Leach, for his part, seemed largely unfazed by the controversy, saying in one tweet. Though he thanked everyone for telling him about it, he said, “Not sure what I can do, maybe they’ll send a free coin.”

However, those on social media, in particular Croatians, were not so quick to dismiss the issue. They continued to apply pressure to both Pranjkovic and the central bank until it was announced yesterday that Pranjkovic was withdrawing his work from the contest and returning the money.

Pranjkovic did not admit to any wrongdoing. Instead, he said he was withdrawing due to, “Unpleasant atmosphere in media and social media, as well as pressures I have been exposed regarding my design of the back of the pine marten coin.”

At this time, it is unclear if the central bank will be declaring the runner-up the winner or holding a new contest.

As for Leach, he considers the matter over. In an email to Reuters, he said, “I am not going to sue anybody. The right decision has been made and that is the end to it for me.”

However, for the central bank and others holding similar contests, the real work is likely just beginning. This is a deeply cautionary tale and one that, most likely, could have been easily avoided.

Mistakes Were Made

The biggest recurring criticism of the central bank is that it attempted to host and judge a contest that was not in its area of expertise. As Masa Milovac, head of Croatian Designers Association, said in an interview with Reuters, the organization should have involved more designers.

While that is a valid point, it may not have been enough in this case. Though it’s unclear who exactly spotted the similarities first, the process of detecting the issue and pointing it out was very much a public process. Even the most expert of designers can’t be expected to know every photograph and drawing.

This is where transparency comes in. The more eyes on a project, the more opportunities for someone to notice something wrong.

By all accounts, the contest the central bank held was very non-transparent, with the winner being revealed only after the contest concluded. This missed the opportunity not just for public feedback, but for issues like this to be sorted before decisions are made.

This isn’t to imply that the contest needed to be public from the start, but finding a point in which the public can view and comment before any final decision is made is an opportunity to head off incidents like this.

Furthermore, public involvement in such a contest can help build excitement and hype. Given that this represents a major transition for the whole country, some hype and excitement may have been beneficial to the country as a whole.

This contest is more than just an embarrassment, it’s a missed opportunity. Hopefully, if the bank decides to have another contest, it’s an opportunity they won’t miss again.

Bottom Line

To be clear, there is no way to 100% guarantee that the winner of such a contest isn’t a work of plagiarism. Even if you bring in all the experts possible and even with unparalleled transparency and even with the best technology, things can slip through.

Perfection, however, is as unreasonable a standard here as it is anywhere else. The goal, instead, is to catch and stop what can be avoided. It’s about performing due diligence and considering these issues before they become a problem.

The Croatian central bank clearly failed there. Between a lack of experts and a lack of transparency in the contest, they set themselves up for this embarrassment.

To that end, this should be a lesson to anyone running such a contest that the time to think about plagiarism is before you request entries, not after a plagiarist is discovered.

That’s especially true if the plagiarist turns out to be your contest winner.

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