Paula Rowan, World of Wearable Arts

WoW – how disappointing

STOP PRESS: It appears Paula Rowan had received WoW’s
approval to base her entry (right) on the painting (left).
See UPDATE below. I didn’t know that when I wrote this post.

Looking at the above double-take, there’s a pun I’ve always liked that seems to fit.

Bubonic plagiarism.

Cute, huh?

As a wordsmith, I’d love you to think I dreamed that up myself.

But if I let you believe that, I’d soon be in deep schtuck.

That’s because a lawyer called Murphy would make me pay dearly.

Under Murphy’s Law, one of you dear readers would be seized with the urge to re-peruse your 1973 edition of Austin Mitchell’s Half-Gallon, Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise.

And when you got to the lower reaches of the first paragraph of page 82, you would see it.

I’ll quote the whole passage for political reasons — the 39 year old subject matter sounds eerily current!:

The National Party pays for opinion polls so it knows the result in advance and judges its policy accordingly.

When it is certain it is going to win (as in 1966) it will denounce all Labour’s policies in advance of the poll and then implement them quietly afterwards.

When more doubtful (as in 1969) it will go in for really bubonic plagiarism and either implement Labour’s policies in advance or include them in its manifesto.

Some things never change, do they? 🙂

But this post is about plagiarism, not politics.

As soon as you laid eyes on the words ‘bubonic plagiarism’, your opinion of my originality would plummet.

You would forever more think of me as, well, a bubonic plagiarist.

And that, sadly, is how I will now think of Paula Rowan.

Paula is the Wellington designer I praised to the heavens on this blog not three weeks ago for her stunning, yet curiously unplaced, entry in the 2012 World of Wearable Arts Awards.

I thought she deserved better. And said so.

Kiwiblog’s David Farrar had already said so.

And 814 Dominion Post readers went on to say so, by voting Paula’s Velluto Rosso their WoW People’s Choice by a wide margin.

But sadly, the brilliantly simple idea that anchored Paula’s creation was not Paula’s.

She’d found it in a painting by Vladimir Kush.

And so, she was forced to hand back her prize or be disqualified.

Perhaps Paula Rowan is not dishonest.

Perhaps she genuinely believed that she was allowed to copy an idea from another medium and adapt it for the catwalk.

But to me, while her execution was beautiful, the real beauty of her creation was the idea — Vladimir Kush’s idea.

I’ve judged advertising awards, and people who are caught pinching others’ ideas rarely live down the shame.

Maybe the WoW judges knew what they were doing after all.

UPDATE: A friend of Paula Rowan’s has commented as follows:

“As you have said, yes, Paula is a wonderful designer and one to be highly looked upon.

However, what you have written is not the full story.

Paula ran her idea past the judges before she created it, with a copy of the painting.

The WOW committee said that it would be fine and to go ahead with it.

A few weeks into making her garment, she did it again, just to be sure.

And once again, WOW said to go ahead.

Paula is not in the wrong here. WOW is the one in the wrong. WOW was the one who made the mistake, Paula did nothing wrong.

WOW is the one who should be in the spotlight, NOT Paula.”

If that is indeed the case, then I feel for Paula. I have had a similar experience recently with a certain Rotary club. 🙂

I would say, though, that while it appears as though Paula acted with absolute integrity, it would have been nice if the catalogue had mentioned that the human purse idea originated elsewhere.


34 thoughts on “WoW – how disappointing

  1. As you have said, yes, Paula is a wonderful designer and one to be highly looked upon. However, what you have written is not the full story. Paula ran her idea past the judges before she created it, with a copy of the paining. The WOW committee said that it would be fine and to go ahead with it. A few weeks into making her garment, she did it again, just to be sure. And once again, WOW said to go ahead. Paula is not in the wrong here. WOW is the one in the wrong. WOW was the one who made the mistake, Paula did nothing wrong. WOW is the one who should be in the spotlight, NOT Paula.

  2. That is interesting Livi – I will update my comment and point people to yours.

    I had a similar thing happen to me recently with a certain Rotary club. 🙂

  3. Besides which, as has been said to me before, there is nothing new under the sun. Designers must get their inspiration from somewhere and if she saw the painting and thought up the idea of making it into a costume, then good on her I say. Having the idea to turn a painting of a purse into a costume is still very clever in my book. That part was still her idea. I don’t see that as plagiarism at all.

    As a graphic designer, we use other peoples creations all the time – it’s called clip art. Just because we pay for the privilege, does not make it our creation. But nor is it plagiarism. You see something that inspires you, or fits what you need for a design, and you use it, often enhancing or changing it along the way – as in a painting changed to a costume.

    Personally I think Paula should be allowed to keep her award. It was not Vladimir’s idea to make it into a costume. I wonder where he first saw it and then had the idea to paint it in his picture?

  4. Hang on here. The painting is of a costume. The idea of turning it in to a costume was in the painting. The painting is not the inspiration it is the blue print. We have to learn that a google search is not a design process. Art and design is about concept. The concept for this work is clearly the painters. It is ridiculous to think anything else.
    And there is originality in art and design. It involves relating your life to your work. That is where original thought starts. Not in a google search.

    The comment from Aamy is worrying to say the least. Copyright is copyright. This is a very clear cut case of copyright breach. If you use someone else’s designs or imagery you get their permission and if appropriate you pay for it. You don’t enter it into a competition and call it your own.

    If WOW okayed this (as Livi states) they need to review the processes and hold up their hand.

  5. The painting is of a purse. In fact it is called Red Purse. There is nothing at all to indicate that the purse is a costume. It is a painting of a purse – full stop.

  6. This is what Kush says about the purse: “The Purse is a symbol of unification and accumulation of Fortune: both material and spiritual.”, so obviously never a painting of a costume at all.

  7. You are splitting hairs. Sometimes in life you just need to put your hand up and say you where wrong. When I look at the painting and when everybody looks at the painting they see the WOW entry. Copyright is copyright. And you have to think, it the shoes was on the other foot …

  8. of course I can see the picture.

    I see that the metal clasp of the purse is modelled on two people.

    I see that the fabric of the purse in the painting is very different to the fabric of the costume, even if the clasp of the costume has been modelled on the painting.

    I also see that the metalic couple of the purse clasp are kissing, whereas the couple in the costume are resting heads on each others shoulders.

  9. Well in that case I guess it depends on your point of view. I am a designer but if I was an artist and someone made one of my paintings into a costume, I would be thrilled. I would consider it a very clever use of the idea and applaud them.

    If they did a painting that copied my painting, that would be different. But to get inspiration from my painting to make a costume? that would be fine with me.

    And especially as the designer, in this case, had the go ahead of the WoW people, to then expect her to give back the award is so wrong and dishonest of the WoW people who approved her idea.

    Has anybody bothered to ask Kush how he feels about it?

    He himself has a painting called Chess, which is inspired by Alice in Wonderland – is that not allowed either?

    We all get inspiration from somewhere

  10. As I said you are splitting hairs. Most people are going to think it doesn’t matter. The piece worked very well on the stage at the show but you just need to look past that and see the reality of the situation. But I do think if WOW okayed this, as stated above, they need to take responsibility and take some of the heat off the designer.
    This year WOW created an estimated twelve million dollars in revenue for Wellington, the show was performed to a week and a half worth of sell out crowds at TSB arena. Yet the designers got one free ticket and a glass of wine. I think they have taken their eye off some of their core responsibilities and this is part of the consequences.
    I hope they are supporting this design through this. And I hope they learn from this experience.

  11. Well I think it is splitting hairs to call it plagiarism.

    I think WoW should be supporting the designer publically and should most definitely be taking the heat off of her if they approved it. To allow her reputation to be besmirched after they approved her work is just not on. Unfortunately it’s always the same when big money starts to come into it. They only see the $$$ signs.

  12. I don’t think it is all about money. It is just an organisation that has changed, got bigger and bigger and needs to rethink their priorities. There is a new CEO this year so, I think, I hope, they are going to rethink a few things.
    New Zealand designers spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars and many hours making the work and should be looked after better. Outfits are used to earn millions for Wellington and the designers have to pay to have a photo of their designs from the show. Usually there are about 500 plus entries. This year there were only about 350. Some of the outfits in some of the categories displayed on the night were actually from previous years, Possibly to boost the numbers. Perhaps it is the economic times or perhaps designers are opting out for other reasons. This copyright issue isn’t going to help if not dealt with correctly.

  13. I agree. Whether you or I consider it to have been a copyright breach or not is our issue. But WoW need to figure out what they consider is a breach and what isn’t and then be consistent in their decisions regarding it.

    The designers really have to pay for a photo? That’s awful! I agree totally that the designers should be well looked after. There will be no show without them.

  14. I and 150 odd others were in the show this year so in a way it is my issue. In away it does reflect on the other designers. I have also had my other design work copied by international designers, so I do know a bit about this.
    I have prepared papers and delivered lectures on copyright at a territory level, as it relates to product design. Although this is slightly complicated, it seems to me to be a breach of copyright. Copyright is granted to anybody automatically at creation of a design. It is an international law and does not need any form of registration. It seems to me that the painting and any preliminary drawings can be seen as the creation of artistic property. And both the form and the concept belong to the painter. Unless he was copying a design and concept created by someone else. If that wasn’t the case, the artist would own the copyright to any images of the work or any similar work to those drawings or paintings. Including 3D work based on the form and the concept of the people making up the purse with their heads and there arms etc.
    The only possible way out of this is if the two works were created in isolation. This is clearly not the case here.
    Without going into it in detail, there are just too many similarities for this not to be a breach of copyright. Technically the copyright holder owns the design and has control over what is done with it. Unless the copyright holder has been dead for 50 years. Unless it is protect in some other way.
    Legal costs are often prohibitive to copyright holders taking action and they rely on people like WOW enforcing their rights. So WOW have done the right thing by retracting the award and the work from the show. However if they knew about the origin of the work they should have taken action a lot quicker. They should not have allowed the work in the show as they are in breach of copyright for exhibiting it. Even the catalogues with images of this work in it, are probably breach of copyright and technically could be seized by the copyright holder. But that is something the copyright holder would be working out with WOW. It is all about how much money you have to throw at lawyers.

  15. The people at WoW obviously did not think it was a breach of copyright when they approved the design in the first place.

    I think it must be a very hard thing to prove. Lets hypothesise for a moment – imagine a painter, wandering along a street in Paris, and glancing in shop windows. In one of those windows is a purse, just like the one in the painting. The artist glances at it, but walks on, not even consciously taking any notice of it. But years later, he is thinking of a concept for a painting and the purse comes to mind.

    He paints it, not knowing that the inspiration came originally from something he had seen many years before.

    This may not be the case here, but it could certainly happen. The artist would then be in breach of the purse designer’s copyright without realising it.

    Are artists who paint buildings without the permission of the architect who designed it in breach of copyright? Where does it start and end? Are artists and designers only to use material over 50 years old for their inspiration?

  16. The painter is a surrealist they often put imagery together to create images like this. He seems to have come up with the concept of the people in purse. This painting is two people in a purse form. You can see the bums in the materials. It is not a purse alone.
    It is easy to prove in this case as the combination of the forms are very distinctive. And the documentation of the work is clear.
    If you took a photo of a newly designed building and then sold hundreds of photos of the building without permission from the architect, I imagine you would be in breach of the copyright. If you painted a branded purse and didn’t add anything to it but sold it as a painting of a branded purse, you would probably be in breach of copyright. It has to do with artistic input and degree of intention to make a profit.

  17. so do you think the designer who made the costume that looked like the purse is out to sell many copies of the custume and make a ton of money from sales? Because I seriously doubt that. Ok so they might have won some prize money, but that would not be in the same league.

    She was obviously concerned with being very careful as she approached the WoW committee 3 times to make sure it was ok. I think she did her best to make sure she wasn’t breaking any rules.

  18. Profit does not only refer to money. And yes if she contacted WOW three times and they okayed the work they are all in breach of copyright. This is not about the designer and WOW, it is about the copyright holder and anybody that uses the imagery. That includes WOW. The contract the designer and WOW had is a different issue.

  19. Sorry Brenda, but I agree with Designer 100%.

    If I designed the concept of two people as a purse (which Kush did), and someone else won an award by simply putting cloth and people on my idea, I would be annoyed.

    The point is, the idea was a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional idea. The idea was for a purse as clothing.

    Of course we don’t know whether Paula Rowan asked Vladimir Kush’s permission. She may have. She may have been quite up-front with everyone.

    (If she didn’t, that would be a reprehensible breach of copyright as well as bubonic plagiarism and creative fraud.)

    What she did do, or WoW did, was allow people like me to praise Velluto Rosso to the heavens, and 814 others to vote for it as the People’s Choice.

    And the reason we did so was not because of Paula’s craftsmanship (which was excellent, but no more excellent than the work of any of the other 300 designers).

    We were WoWed by the idea – which we now find was not hers.

    I heard recently that my 2005 billboard concept for National had been entered in an international award by a Canadian political party – and won.

    I knew that the Nats had given my idea to the Australians, who gave it to the Canadians (who gave it most recently to Boris Johnson).

    I, meanwhile, had been paid for a campaign in a small South Pacific country, not a large North American one.

    I suppose I should be flattered that the idea was seen as worthy of ripping off.

    But for the Canadians to enter my idea as their idea is a bit rich.

    Awards are given for ideas well-executed, not just execution.

    This design is nothing without the idea.

    By celebrating this unoriginal idea, we have been diverted from lauding the work of another more original designer.

  20. If you are a commercial designer there is also things about copyright you need to know. if you are working for a company, via a salary or a wage the copyright of any work you design belongs to the company you work for. That is pretty obvious really. But If you are commissioned to design some work by a third party, even in your studio, the commissioner owns the copyright. They own the rights to that image not you. You only own the copyright if you are working independently. It is the same as an author or any creative process. Unless any other agreement exists.

  21. I understand what you are both saying. I just think there is a lot of grey area here because the designer had approval. Not once, but 3 times. Obviously the WoW committee were unclear about the copyright issue here too, or surely they would have not given their approval.

  22. The issue to me is not whether WoW approved the plagiarism of Vladimir Kush’s very specific idea, but whether Vladimir Kush approved.

    If he did, that clears Paula Rowan of any breach of copyright.

    But it does not clear her (or WoW) of my charge of failing to inform the audience that her work was not original.

    It was no vague borrowing of the kind you suggest absent-minded creative people do all the time, Brenda.

    It was a very deliberate, very detailed, element-by-element copy.

  23. John, you misunderstand me. I was not suggesting at all that it was of the vague borrowing you refer to. That was not what I meant at all. It’s obvious in this case that it is a copy of the painting. And I agree they should have said so.

    And after reading through Kush’s website, I don’t believe it was the case with the painting either. I just said that sometimes copyright must be hard to prove because that kind of thing does happen.

    I just find it a bit rich, that having approved the idea at least 3 times, they then turn around and ask for the award back. And then to add insult to injury, they don’t stand up and be honest about it, leaving the artist to take all the heat. It is her reputation at stake and if Livi (above) is correct that she checked three times, and had the ok from them, then they should say so.

  24. In the link WOW sate “WOW outlines to designers when they enter the awards that their designs must be an original concept. It is very unfortunate this situation has arisen.” Perhaps they have just not been caught before.

    This is an interest piece that I have always wondered about.

    and here is some of the current WOW merchandise with that image on it.
    Here is the very well know designer image on the garment

    The face image will have intellectual property protecting it’s use. Fornasetti is a very famous designer. Did the WOW designer have the rights to use it? Do WOW have the rights to sell products with the face on it? And more importantly should you be able to use someone else’s art work in this way on an entry into WOW. I would say no.

  25. I have always found the whole issue of copyright confusing, and i’ve always believed that if you change something significantly from the original idea or used it in a different way, that it wasn’t a breach of copyright. Providing you acknowledge your source.

    But after going over the comments here and reading the links, I now have to admit I was wrong. So I’m glad we’ve had this discussion because it’s cleared up a lot for me.

    It won’t change how I feel about other people using my work, but I guess that is a personal thing.

    PS. This humble pie would be so much nicer with strawberries and cream!

  26. Good on you, Brenda. It’s good to have someone on my team who is prepared to change their mind when the information changes. That is what I call honesty.

    I do hope this little discussion doesn’t cast any kind of permanent pall over WoW, which as far as I can see is a wonderful organisation that has inspired and delighted many thousands of people.

  27. well, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and to be honest it’s good to have this cleared up because it will also mean I don’t make the same copyright mistakes that WoW have made.

  28. I am glad to read that the wordsmith has renounced ownership of bubonic plague. I am not satisfied with the expression, as inside itself it doesn’t really stand well, that is the bubo being a swelling of lymph nodes. I think its appeal is somewhat whimsical and pretentious.
    I can just remember the name Austin Mitchell being mentioned in our home
    My Dad had a copy of the half gallon paradise book, but I never read it , I did read the author Barry Crump almost as soon as I had finished my Noddy books.
    All in all a good decision to abandon the term bubonic plague , and recognize that Murphy is always there, always waiting for opportunity.

    I thought the wearable art purse looked tawdry, I wouldn’t take it and wear it anywhere.

  29. Interesting, I see another has been disqualified for plagiarism, Grandeer!

    What surprised me more was the supreme winners entry, the designer Gillian Saunders even admitted Thierry Muglers Chimera was an influence.
    WOW….do they Iook awfully the same, or am I looking at them wrong??

    Makes you wonder…..why would you copy somebody else, the information highway is so big you are bound to get found out?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s