"I Am A Plagiarist" begins graphic artist Michael Bierut in his piece below on the excellent website Design Observer, about his unintentional copying of a poster's layout from a much older existing design. In a world where the average person now absorbs thousands of images a day from perhaps a few dozen sources, this sort of thing may be becoming inevitable.
I personally look at a few dozen blogs a day, five or six "official" media websites and probably ten magazines and books. I watch three movies on DVD some days, and my iPod plays continuously, for 24 hours, unless I am watching a movie.
I too was recently accused of taking a line from another woman's blog for a long and quite different article on Slate. I probably did see her blog last fall when she wrote the line. In the sort of overreaction that is now typcial in these situations, the woman acted like I had tried to murder her.
When I pitch a film I always begin with the influences, in legendary "it's Jurassiac Park-meets-Heidi" fashion, and then some Hollywood also-ran runs around town saying "it's Heidi!" she stole! as if every story coming into existence could not be compared to one already in existence.
Here is Michael Bierut's story:
"I didn't realize [how similar my poster was to Will Kunz's, above] until a few weeks ago, when I was looking through the newly-published fourth edition of Phil Meggs's History of Graphic Design. And there it was, on page 476, a reproduction of Willi Kunz's abstract letterpress exploration from 1975. I recognized it immediately as something I had seen in my design school days. More recently, it was reproduced in Kunz's Typography: Macro- and Microaesthetics, published just two years ago, a copy of which I own.
Did I think of it consciously when I designed my poster? No, my excuse was the same as Kaavya Viswanathan's: I saw something, stored it in my memory, forgot where it came from, and pulled it out later — much later — when I needed it."