A lot of my (mainly non-Twitter using) readers may be unaware of the controversy surrounding designer Hidden Eloise and greeting card giant Paperchase. In short, Hidden Eloise alleges that a design which Paperchase are using on a variety of products has lifted the central image of a girl from one of her own works He says he can hear the forest whisper.
It could of course be a coincidence but make up your own mind:
I have to say that the whole situation looks pretty cut and dried to me. Not so according to the Paperchase chief executive Timothy Melgund who, with the support of the Telegraph, manages to portray the whole incident as a case of a blameless, struggling company being bullied by a selfish designer, a cynical novelist and the lynchmob they have whipped up on Twitter (the whole article is a classic; even the headline marks a new low in Fox News-style values for the Telegraph: Paperchase forced to deny it ‘plagiarised’ British artist’s work after Twitter campaign):
“We bought the designs from a reputable central London Design Studio along with a number of other designs on good faith.
“We take all reasonable precautions when we purchase our designs from companies or individuals, because, to be blunt, we want to make sure they are entitled to sell it.”
He added: “We have not done anything wrong. Our reputation is of course very important to us. We spoke at length to the Design Studio in question and they categorically denied any plagiarism.
“What upsets us as a whole is that a lot of our good customers have been angered by this and there is no reason for it.
“We spend a long time building up our reputation for creating dynamic and interesting stationery and then something like this happens.”
Mr Melgund said the issue raised serious concerns about the “powers, and there in the danger of Twitter”.
“I am sure it can be beneficial but if you get an untruth (on it) it can be very dangerous,” he said.
As brass necks go, Timothy Melgund must be in for a shot in the 2012 Olympics. Indeed, it made me wonder: why would they mount such a robust defence unless they were absolutely sure the design was not only copied but that Hidden Eloise herself might have been the one doing the copying? The wheels on that hypothesis have now fallen off by the admission by the designer of the Paperchase design that she did, in fact, copy it from Hidden Eloise:
When creating the group of designs bellow I used the outline pose of your Hidden Eloise Girl in one of the designs to create a new pose for my princess. I did not intend to copy your character but use its pose to create a new design for my own character, my intention was not to copy your character, I now realise the pose was too close to your Eloise and apologise to you for this, I also apologise to paperchase for the trouble this has caused.
What is disturbing about this whole incident is that Paperchase have left it to both the freelance designer and the design agency who commissioned her to take a bullet on their behalf. Throughout the whole process, Paperchase have insisted that they had reassurances that it wasn’t a copy and that settles the matter. But it doesn’t because it is blatantly obvious that one design is based on the other. They didn’t need lawyers or reassurances to confirm that a wrong had been committed; they just needed eyes and a conscience. Let’s not forget that Hidden Eloise originally raised the issue with Paperchase in November; they had three months to avoid what is now a public relations disaster for them. Their calculation must have been that there was very little that an independent designer of modest means could do to them. Timothy Melgund’s comments on Thursday only reinforce the impression that his primary motivation was to dissemble rather than right a wrong.
That he went running to a rightwing newspaper to give him a sympathetic hearing and trotted out the usual line about Twitter inciting the mob (© 2009 Jan Moir) only makes him even more despicable. This suggests not only contempt for Hidden Eloise but for his customers. Frankly, I would describe it as a Gerald Ratner moment were it not so unfair on Ratner: at least he was only telling the truth.
Whoever lied to who, Paperchase are the big guys in this incident and they are the ones who should have been big about it. To not do so speaks volumes about their ethics and values. I’ve used Paperchase quite a lot over the past few years; they’ve just opened a new shop near where I work and assumed I would go on doing so. After this week, I’ll be making the strenuous effort of walking around the corner in future. Spread the word.
A final thought on copyright: this is yet another example of how existing copyright laws appear to do more for protecting corporate interests than in protecting the rights of artists. The costs of Hidden Eloise bringing forward a court case on this would have been prohibitive, yet record companies feel they can go around threatening their customers with jail – and in some cases pursue court cases against them – merely for downloading a song on a non-commercial basis. Isn’t it time we reassessed this?
PS I’m bookmarking this article in several places not to self-aggrandise but to ensure it is given wider coverage.
UPDATE: For completeness, and because I don’t think it will remain up on the Paperchase website for much longer (it only appears on the “contact us” page), here is Paperchase’s latest – and possible final – public statement on this matter:
Hidden Eloise / Kitty Mason / Gather No Moss
In an attempt to do the right thing and end this episode we want to briefly set out what happened here, offer our sincere apologies to all involved, and go back to operating our business as we have been doing for many years – albeit with a few lessons learnt from this incident. So, please bear with me.
By now, those of our customers and the social networking community who have been following this story, will know the basis of it. However, for the record:
• Paperchase bought a number of pieces of artwork from Gather No Moss in October 2008.
• By the end of November 2009 four items that contained the ‘copied’ image were on sale.
• On 27 November, Hidden Eloise contacted us saying that her work had been plagiarised, and we – as we would always do – went immediately back to our source to verify the claim. In retrospect we should have withdrawn the items from sale while the claim was investigated – our mistake.
• The studio, Gather No Moss, wrote back to us on 1 December stating that the image we had bought “was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s”. Again, in retrospect we should have withdrawn the items, but this was categoric confirmation that we had not been sold a plagiarised image. We assumed we had been told the truth. Another mistake.
• We advised Hidden Eloise of this confirmation on 2 December and heard no more until last Thursday when the accusation on Hidden Eloise’s blog gained worldwide coverage. While we established the “real” truth, we immediately removed all potentially offending items from sale and retraced our thinking. Press reporting could have been more accurate and our attempts to calm the situation through our web announcements met with limited success. Our communication could / should have been better.
• By Friday the truth emerged, and you can read the two statements from Gather No Moss and their freelance illustrator, Kitty Mason, below. This is not about blame, as some have suggested, but a genuine attempt to discover what went wrong. You must decide for yourselves where the faults lie. In retrospect we, Paperchase, are certainly not without blame.
So, we have been chastened by this experience and offer Hidden Eloise, our customers and those from the social network community our sincere apologies that we were not more rigorous in establishing the truth in the first instance.
Finally, please do not take some of the wilder accusations you might have read about our business too seriously. We are absolutely committed to design and independent illustrators alike. We are lucky in that the available artistic skill is so vibrant that it has allowed us to build our business, along with our loyal customer base, to where we are now.
Gather No Moss and Kitty Mason wish to make the following statements.
Gather No Moss
“Gather No Moss purchased the design known as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ from Kitty Mason in September 2008.
Paperchase bought Kitty Mason’s design from Gather No Moss in October 2008.
At the end of November 2009, the Artist named Hidden Eloise, contacted retailers Paperchase accusing them of plagiarism.
Paperchase contacted Gather No Moss and asked them whether there was any truth in this allegation.
Gather No Moss then asked the designer, Kitty Mason, whether she had copied Hidden Eloise’s ‘character’ (called – He says he can hear the Forest Whisper) in her own design.
Kitty Mason clearly stated to Gather No Moss that her ‘character’ was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s” ‘character’ only the pose was the same. Gather No Moss then conveyed this to Paperchase.
We are issuing this statement, to clarify our position and to hope to clear Paperchase of any direct fault.
We apologise unreservedly to Paperchase, their customers and to the artist, Hidden Eloise for this very regrettable sequence of events”.
“I created the design known as “Alice in Wonderland” in September 2008. I copied the outline pose of the Hidden Eloise ‘character’ (called – He says he can hear the Forest Whisper) to create a new pose for my ‘character’. I did not intend to copy the girl but use her pose to create a new design for my own ‘character’, I now realise it was wrong to do this.
In November 2009 Gather No Moss contacted me regarding Hidden Eloise’s allegation, I told them that my ‘character’ was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s ‘character’ only the pose was the same.
I would like to offer a full and unreserved apology to Paperchase, their customers, Hidden Eloise and Gather No Moss”.