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Inspiration Versus Recreation

I worked for a number of years at a Blockbuster Video. I have a very visual memory, so after a few years of reshelving the sections, I got to the point that I could identify more than half of the films on the shelf just by their cover - if you could give me a general description and identify at least one main actor, I could probably find the movie for you, even if I'd never seen it. It was like the visual equivalent of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon."

Naturally, this uncanny ability to recall nearly every DVD cover in the store meant that when we would get new films with a cover that looked exactly like something else, I would immediately pick up the similarities. The image to the right is an actual photograph I took in the store, of DVD covers/posters so eerily similar it's almost surprising the designers of the latter film (on the left) got away with it. The films themselves were both dysfunctional family holiday dramas with an ensemble cast; the resemblance could hardly have been a coincidence.

Speaking of the United States Space Force, the internet recently had a field day mocking the updated logo, which bears a striking resemblance to another space-related organization, albeit one of fiction. The parallels to the Starfleet Logo from Star Trek are obvious to anyone, but when you actually look at the history of both logos, it changes the narrative of who copied who.

Creative Bloq posted an article recently comparing the two and detailing the history and inspirations for both logos. Truth be told it seems like the Starfleet logo was actually inspired by the Air Force Space Command logo; the original organization renamed in 2019 as the US Space Force.

All of this comparison brings up the questions of plagiarism and intellectual property in design. As designers, we keep annuals of award-winning work and often look to other designers for inspiration and ideas for how to create unique and impactful pieces. Most of the time, we take those ideas and build upon them to create something new, but sometimes you have customers who want "exactly this, but with my information and colors," and you have to learn where to draw the lines of what is INSPIRATION and what is a RECREATION of someone else's intellectual property. One of those is socially acceptable, the other is only okay if for personal use, and even then it can come with hefty consequences depending on the situation.

To be fair, I'm still going to laugh about the Space Force logo, but at least I know the resemblance was intentional on Star Trek's part. And really, as far as fictional spacefaring organizations go, we could do a lot worse than Starfleet. At least it's not the First Order.

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