The Curious Case of Jon Engle
Just a quick summary of this case since the details and “facts” have been shifting so much: Designer Jon Engle cried foul and the entire internet rushed to his aid. Engle accused a stock art site of stealing his designs and then billing him $18,000 for them. But as it turns out, he may be the real culprit. Read on and come to your own conclusions. This is an epic tale!
DOUBLE EDIT!: It just keeps looking worse for old Jonny-boy’s case. Jo just linked to a nice summary of this whole disaster which can be found here. Frank also sent in this link to some side-by-side comparisons of Jon’s work and the StockArt stuff. If this turns out to be all wrong, why did this guy do it? Perhaps he didn’t think it would blow up so big? If in fact this is all some elaborate hoax, $18,000 is probably the least of Jon Engle’s worries now. What a mess!
Edit: Wow! This is a saga for the history books. After posting this article, a few astute readers pointed out this thread on Reddit. Pretty interesting information there. I guess it’s up to you to decide who’s at fault here.
The alleged story — in Jon’s words — can be found here. But in light of recent information, you may want to take it all with a grain of salt. Either way, quite an interesting train wreck of a story this will be if it all turns out to be as upside-down as it’s starting to look.
46 Comments Leave A Comment
Daniel Carvalho says:April 7, 2009 at 12:16 am
How dare they… how dare these assholes contact his clients and compromise his reputation. That’s basically espionage. It’s one thing to sue him and it’s another to try an sabotage his business completely.
Technically, at the end of all this, they should have to pay exponentially more back to Jon for the damages they’ve done.
This is where the law fails though, man, I’ve had a logo stolen from me and like Jon, had the necessary evidence with time stamps to back up my case.
I just don’t have the extra cash to fight back with. So what do you do? Pick your battles, unfortunately for Jon, he doesn’t have the choice.
Dave says:April 7, 2009 at 12:31 am
God that is really bad state of affairs, and it highlights the discrepancies in the law perfectly.
This stock site is doing themselves no favours either, and judging by their woefully badly designed website, they should be trying to keep their creative partners!
Digitalshep says:April 7, 2009 at 5:05 am
I almost threw up just reading this…I hope he beats the pants off those guys. I’d countersue on multiple stances…what a sick world we live in.
gerwin says:April 7, 2009 at 5:16 am
That’s plain sick..
MikeMcD says:April 7, 2009 at 7:15 am
What is most disturbing is that these weasels contacted his clients. Irreparable harm is done to Jon’s good name, and now he has no choice but to sue this company and recoup some of the losses he will face from losing regular clients. His reputation might even possibly be too damaged from all of this to continue on in his design career, even after he is cleared in the case. Sadly he may have no choice but to try and get a substantial sum from the company in order to survive while he regroups and tries to rebuild a solid reputation.
Jo says:April 7, 2009 at 7:26 am
Wow…. I think I will donate a big amount, what an insane story
Jo says:April 7, 2009 at 7:32 am
Oops, maybe not: http://www.reddit.com/r/reddit.com/comments/8ac0q/designer_gets_accused_of_stealing_his_own_work/c08p5i7
frank says:April 7, 2009 at 8:00 am
Very weird. His Relevant Studio site is down now too. When I saw this the other day and looked at his portfolio I thought it was a bit odd that he was designing big print campaigns for shows like Smallville straight after graduating from Art Center. No, not that Art Center, the Art Center Design College of Albuquerque? WTF? How does a freelancer in Albuquerque get a gig like that right out of college? Most (more like all) of that type of work is done by studios in LA, mostly in-house. I would think that any freelancers they use are likely to be designers who used to work in house and are a known and trusted quantity.
Ethan says:April 7, 2009 at 10:36 am
Messy. Very Messy.
Scott says:April 7, 2009 at 10:51 am
messy indeed! thanks for the links Jo. I posted up an edit. I wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes here and why?
Karl Peterson says:April 7, 2009 at 11:08 am
Whatever the outcome of this story, it is a good reminder to make sure that you’ve protected your property. I’ll be spending some time this week to make sure that I’ve got my art, design, etc. protected.
Zach says:April 7, 2009 at 11:28 am
Pretty gutsy to fight this battle so publicly if you know that you’re in the wrong…but I suppose crazier things have happened…
Overshadowed says:April 7, 2009 at 11:35 am
What a mess… It’s hard to know who to trust in this case, while Jon’s story is suspect, stockart isn’t exactly conducting themselves in an honorable manner. Plus it looks like they are on an aggressive copyright infringement hunt.
It’s becoming to the point where we all now need a law degree just to work in the creative field.
lydia says:April 7, 2009 at 12:33 pm
Just posted this to metafilter if anyone wants to follow the thread: http://www.metafilter.com/80654/A-logos-worth
Ole Martin Kristiansen says:April 7, 2009 at 12:36 pm
Bad early/late April joke? Hopefully.
frank says:April 7, 2009 at 12:47 pm
You know, regardless of who is telling the truth here, it would kind of make sense for the stock company to contact his clients. I’m not sure why people are so worked up about that. If your business is using a logo that is tied up in a copyright dispute you may want to know about that! Whether it’s the designer who sold you a stolen logo, or the stock company who is listing your logo for sale, that’s probably something that a business would like to know about and take appropriate action.
I hate to sound like I’m defending the stock company if it turns out that Engle’s story is true though.
Jo says:April 7, 2009 at 1:35 pm
This sums it up pretty good: http://www.thelogofactory.com/logo_blog/index.php/stock-logos-copyright-twitter/
(Found on the reddit thread)
Daniel Carvalho says:April 7, 2009 at 1:39 pm
Funny enough, the fact that the story doesn’t seem to be straightforward as it initially appeared, kinda comforts me.
lydia says:April 7, 2009 at 1:42 pm
Me too, Danny.
frank says:April 7, 2009 at 2:01 pm
Wow @ that link from Jo. Looks to me like this story IS pretty straightforward after all. Yet another thieving “designer” who rips off other people’s illustrations and claims them as his own.
This sampling of work is pretty eye opening.
Doug says:April 7, 2009 at 2:36 pm
What if the whole thing is a farce, and Engle is just creating a false fund for people to donate to?
Scott says:April 7, 2009 at 3:05 pm
unfortunately, at this point that seems like the most plausible scenario. but it seems crazy someone would go to all the trouble to create this portfolio and everything for this. and if that guy was a real designer, his career is over now if this turns out to be a scam. doesn’t seem worth it for $1800.
Word says:April 7, 2009 at 3:28 pm
Cheers to Jo for the link, very worthwhile reading a balanced version of events. Seems things aren’t looking good for old Jonny boy. Some 20 different illustrators ripping off his work? Some of the logos being present on stockart for more than 10 years? Doesn’t quite add up.
If it is the case that he’s in the wrong, I feel for the people who donated, believing they were assisting an individual / fellow designer in trouble. I guess a positive to take is that complete strangers can show real kindness and generosity when they think someone’s in need. If it is the case he’d been ripping off these logos for a while now, got found out and hit with a big bill ($275 per illustration he’d unlawfully licensed) then cried wolf, maybe he hoped if he got in first he could raise enough through donations to cover it?
I’ll reserve judgement until someone sheds light on the whole saga, but as has been mentioned, it’s a real ugly episode.
James says:April 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm
I wish my work was good enough that someone would want to steal it. :-(
On the other hand, isn’t it funny that all this is going down over pretty much the Only Barely Tolerable genre of clip art? Wouldn’t be surprised to see two disembodied hands shaking, or some other pixelated MS Word ’95 image depicting “Business in Progress.”
Artdyrector says:April 7, 2009 at 6:07 pm
It’s not just logos.
Television advertising I personally designed is on his site. He stole my ads and used them to sell his services. This speaks volumes as far as this other incident is concerned. If the guy is arrogant enough to post high profile television ads on his site and say they’re his why not rip off some stock art?
This exploded in his face and rightfully so. I have never seen such a brazen design thievery and his constant attempts at playing victim are not convincing. At all. And then to cast himself as the poster boy of persecution knowing the whole time that it was all a lie.
frank says:April 7, 2009 at 7:02 pm
Just as I suspected. Earlier today I was searching around sites like Trailer Park and BLT but I couldn’t figure out who did those Smallville and Lost designs he’s claiming as his own. I knew it wasn’t him though. I mean MAYBE some local affiliate hired him to add “Wednesday 8PM” to the key art for some local magazine ad but even that I doubt at this point.
ericb says:April 7, 2009 at 7:21 pm
Check out the discussion at MetaFilter. Jon doesn’t look so good with aggrieved parties joining in the discussion — http://www.metafilter.com/80654/A-logos-worth .
Neale says:April 7, 2009 at 8:02 pm
Compare Jon’s LOST posters with the LOST posters on the blt studio website. http://bit.ly/14rMA vs http://bit.ly/6yIP
Ruh Roh says:April 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm
This document may help esplain some things.
Be sure to browse the entire folder.
Dan says:April 8, 2009 at 6:28 am
Wow, this is a clusterfuck of the highest degree, no matter what side you take.
If StockArt is in the right then they are up against one of the slickest, hardest fighting bill-dodgers I’ve ever heard of. This isn’t some random Joe trying to get out of paying a high gas bill. He’s effectively destroying StockArt’s reputation by making them out to be the worst thing since Hitler.
On the other hand, if Jon is right then StockArt have effectively destroyed themselves by chasing this the way they allegedly have. If I were an employee of StockArt, I’d be brushing up my resume about now just in case Jon is found to be in the right.
It would seem that this should be easy to prove one way or the other with date stamps. I guess one party is reluctant to release these dates to the other just in case they then doctor their own date stamps in some way to make it appear as though they were in the right. If this is the case, both parties need to release specific date stamps to an indepnedent third party who can then present their findings to the courts.
I’ll be keeping my ear to to the ground with this one to see how it pans out now that so much is at stake.
Brian says:April 8, 2009 at 7:06 am
I don’t mean to get off subject, but this is a great time to talk about how to protect yourself for these situations.
First, you should always keep a record of when you are starting a project, and the time line that follows. Also, you should keep track of any sketches / ideation process and file them away in a project folder. Something my company does when doing any sketching or printing off renderings, computer models, etc, is use a sheet of paper that has our company logo in the bottom right corner with a blank box next to it for signing and dating. This way you have physical evidence of the day you had the idea or thought. You should even do this if you just have a simple idea for something and only have a word description of the project.
Even though it may not be cheap, it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some sort of a relationship with a patent / copyright attorney. (on a side note, if you do decide to contact an attorney, keep a written log of every minute you spend with them on the phone, and every email sent. it is a guarantee they will try to over bill you)
Barkley says:April 8, 2009 at 12:56 pm
Its done. Jon Engle stole the artwork.
Wayback machine search of the original contributing artists sites and of stockart’s site turned up artworks in question with dates that bust Jon’s story.
Side-by-side comparisons of all the artworks show widely varied illustration styles, definately not from a single source.
Additionally Jon’s work for Smallville, LOST and Gilmore Girls, also stolen. Work was done by an outfit in LA called bltomato.com
Jon has taken down all of his sites, removed all “his” logos from logopond and taken down the fund raising site for his legal defense.
He had me going too. I was furious at stockart until I began digging around.
HOWCOULDHE!!??? says:April 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm
I HAVEN’T BEEN THIS OUTRAGED SINCE THE FAIREY CASE
Brian says:April 8, 2009 at 2:05 pm
Is there an article going around that you can link too? I haven’t seen anything yet stating what you said. Though I completely believe it.
frank says:April 8, 2009 at 3:07 pm
Have you read all of the comments here? Just look at the work and it’s as obvious as can be.
b real says:April 8, 2009 at 8:33 pm
what about truth these days? pls explain.
Barkley says:April 9, 2009 at 7:22 am
Side by side several marks beside “Jon’s” logos
A good retelling of the story on logofactory’s blog:
At the bottom of the blog post there are several comments. Read to get the bltomato story. Guy is a fraud. Why he brought this on himself is perplexing. My guess is that he got something out of the online comraderie and respect his “virtual” portfolio of works brought him from other members of online design communities like logopond and many others he belonged to.
Nicholas says:April 9, 2009 at 8:15 am
I have read most of the content regarding this situation, especially Barkley’s links which explore the flip side of the situation. I have no opinion because it is impossible to determine who is right and wrong. Plus I don’t know Jon personally – Only the individuals directly involved in this mess know the truth. This is no different than speculating right and wrong with celebrity gossip. I am generally interested because everybody can learn from horror stories like this.
Its very simple – protect your work – in an era where faith in humanity is at an all time low, you have to protect everything you own.
Another point I want to offer is that I have never grasped the idea of showcasing ones work on ‘gallery’ sites such as logopond.com. What is the real benefit? There is rarely relevant critique in the comment section. I am hard pressed to beleive it truley will help on the networking front. If you are a legit designer – host your own portfolio site where you can protect the images – network the right way – there are so many ways to get your name out there besides a shitty ‘gallery’ site. People who upload their work to these type of sites are simply setting themselves up to get jacked. You wouldn’t put your $3,000 flat screen tv out in your front yard to be admired so why the fuck would you put something you actually created which has much more than monetary value out there for someone to steal?
Matthew says:April 9, 2009 at 12:26 pm
This has totally made my week. It’s like the Watergate of the design community.
greg says:April 9, 2009 at 12:56 pm
Sucka is busted all proper-like an’ shit.
frank says:April 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm
“I have no opinion because it is impossible to determine who is right and wrong.”
Are you serious? I hate to be a dick about this but have you been paying attention at all?
To believe that Jon is not a thief you would have to believe that right out of college he started getting high profile freelance work from major clients like the WB, despite the fact that he lives in New Mexico and his only previous client was his church. And you would have to believe that after designing these high profile campaigns for shows like Smallville and Lost, some large, well established, key art award-winning studios like BLT decided to claim his work as their own. Then I suppose he got tired of doing this prestigious entertainment work and decided to focus on doing logos for small no-name companies. But once again, his work was ripped off by multiple established illustrators who modified his logos, sometimes adding extra details. These illustrators all conspired to sell his work on a stock art website and cunningly created additional illustrations mimicing the style of the ones they stole in order to throw us off the trail. Of course Jon’s illustration style is so varied and wide ranging that several artists had to rip off his work so it wouldn’t look too suspicious. And instead of trying to sell stuff on a site like istockphoto, they decided to submit it all to a single, invitation only stock agency who could then turn around and try to collect licensing fees from Jon for his own work.
nicholas says:April 10, 2009 at 9:18 am
Worry about your own life and take what you can from the story. All I was trying to say is that i could give two shits about this Jon character and it is nobody’s place to crucify him for what he did or didn’t do. Nobody here knows the entire story and just because you read a handful of blogs, that does not mean you are a part of this and your opinion really does not matter at all.
My secondary point was that nobody was talking about protecting ones own work and also I wanted to challenge the benefits of displaying ones work on a ‘gallery’ site.
dana says:April 10, 2009 at 6:19 pm
It is every design professionals right and duty to stand up to plagarism, intellectual property theft, and incompetent practice. If this was Law, he’d be disbarred. If it were Medicine, he’d have his license pulled. Just because the practice of design center on art and creativity, doesn’t mean you can treat it cavalierly. Jon’s action were reprehensible not only to design professionals who work hard to create original artwork, but to his clients who hired him based on lies and deceit.
Anyone not convinced of his guilt in this manner is one of two things a.) guilty of their own acts of plagarism therefore unable to condemn someone of like mind for fear of condemning themselves or b.) ignorant.
We all use images as inspiration. Sometimes that inspiration is very close to the source. But when it literally is the source with slight tweaks, that is not design, that is sad and Jon should feel ashamed. And by all the tracks of his work being pulled up on the internet…it would appear that he is.
Rick says:April 11, 2009 at 1:36 pm
More counter-points on Jon Engle’s fraud throughout his work. The following has proof.
frank says:April 12, 2009 at 9:48 pm
Nicholas, it’s funny how you tell me to worry about my own life and then you talk about “protecting one’s own work.” I don’t know who designed those Lost and Smallville posters but I do have friends that work at BLT so this hits somewhat close to home. The only way I can see for designers to protect their work in this situation is to call out this Engle character for the thieving fraud that he is.
This isn’t a matter of opinion and it has nothing to do with reading a few blogs. His thievery is a fact that is very clear to see for anyone with two eyes. I would say it’s pretty much a matter of public record that he did not design the iconic Smallville poster of Clark in the cornfield with an S drawn on his chest. And I can assure you that the illustrators and poster companies that he ripped off didn’t put their work on any “gallery” sites. But you seem to be saying that the only way for designers (and indeed, large design firms and stock art companies) to protect their work is to avoid showing it online at all?
Pam says:April 14, 2009 at 10:18 am
Jon Engle has reactivated his relevantstudio Twitter account. I wonder if this is the opening volley in another bid for public sympathy. He posted a couple of tweets to #savejon and then just as quickly deleted them (screencap below.)