Sunday, November 2, 2014

Raiders of Dinosaur Art: Rampant Plagiarism by Toy Companies

Look Familiar? Photo by Bokisaurus.

Greetings, goss hounds!

Last time, I mentioned that Darren Naish, Mark Witton, and John Conway recently published an article on the (shameful) state of  paleoart as used in professional and commercial contexts. This was in reference to toy companies like Safari Ltd., who often produce inaccurate dinosaur figures under the banner of "museum quality" or "paleontologist approved."

Another such company is Geoworld. I'll let their own web site do the talking:

"All models in the Geoworld collection are scientifically accurate museum replicas of dinosaurs or prehistoric animals. Each model is sculpted by expert craftsmen under the supervision of Dr. Stefano Piccini, geologist and paleontologist, to ensure the correct shape, posture and proportions. Geoworld products are paleontologist and geologist approved!"
That sounds very nice, except for one unsettling fact: Nearly every figure in the Geoworld dinosaur series is blatantly plagiarized from independent paleoartists. Not only that, but often the actual original art itself is reproduced with a few minor tweaks and printed on the info cards that accompany each figure. No credit, let alone payment, has been given to any of the offended artists.

This naturally caused quite a stink when brought to the attention of artist Vladimir Nikolov on Facebook last week. His post spurred the creation of a thread at the Dinosaur Toy Forum collecting and comparing instances of Geoworld plagiarism of a number of artists, including Nikolov, Travis Tischler, Brett Booth, Walking With Dinosaurs, and even other toy companies (some of which were themselves earlier ripoffs of other paleoartists, like Booth; see below for more on that).

This hit close to home on the Toy Forum because one of its members had actually been among the ripped-off artists, and not only that, the plagiarized piece had originally been done as a commission for another member! This attack on small, independent artists obviously struck a chord, but this has been going on for a long time. I would say that plagiarism by toy companies is so pervasive that it's essentially endemic to the culture of toy manufacturing and design.

Just take a look at Papo, a French toy company well-known for outright copies of designs from Jurassic Park, as well as an Allosaurus I instantly recognized as based on Brett Booth's illustration (I'd had that as my desktop background for years in the late '90s). Dinosaur toy collectors don't usually bat an eye at this kind of plagiarism because it's so expected. JP is a very popular franchise and has made its distinctive designs created by artist Crash McCreery almost the definitive versions of those species in pop culture. This omnipresence, however, does not instantly make those designs public domain, and while not the work of the underdog small-time independent artists copied by Geoworld, endless carbon copies of the McCreery Tyrannosaurus are just as wrong and unethical as stealing the work of a young artist from DeviantArt.

This kind of plagiarism is even present in more well-regarded companies like Safari (which produces the Carnegie Museum Collection). One DTF member noted the example of Safari's recent collection of mini crocodyliform figures. Most appear to be directly copied from well-known paleoart, and not only that, the copied work is often among the first page of hits for a given species name on Google. I guess we now know how "the supervision of expert paleontologists" works and how these "expert craftsmen" generate their ideas: They take two seconds to type their subject's name into Google, the expert points at the screen, and says "copy that one."

Above: Safari oviraptorid figure; bottom, Rey's original painting.
It's not only indies either: well known, "top tier" paleoartists have been ripped off wholesale. Luis Rey famously had a painting copied by Safari for not one but two listing figures, one for their Carnegie series and one for their Wild Safari series. Rey has been very gracious about this, though the model was not produced with his permission. Safari "compensated" him by sending a box of figures, some of which he sold. I personally would have sent the box back with a Post-It note at the bottom reading "place licensing contract here" and a copy of a lawsuit.

Don't get me wrong, I'd also be thrilled if somebody made a copy of my art into a figure (and I can't help but look suspiciously at this Schleich-produced Quetzalcoatlus figure with a butterfly wing pattern... where have I seen that before?) . But I'd be a lot more thrilled if they asked me first, and much more thrilled if I was actually compensated for my work. Paleoart is not exactly a lucrative business to start with, but nonsense like this out and out copying by major companies does not help matters. Many dinosaur fans simply look the other way, happy to have a cool looking toy, and feeling like the artist should take copying as a compliment. It's this attitude that lets companies produce endless dreams of same looking JP knock-offs, while at the same time throwing in the occasional unique-looking figure they copied from a Google search.

Another question I've seen repeated on forums is, basically, what can we do about it? The artists are being notified and can take action, right? First, the idea that paleoartists, even those on the level of say, a Greg Paul, could afford to take on these companies in a lawsuit is absurd (though crowdfunding is always an option to explore). So what can we do? I don't know, but to start with we should not be supporting the offending companies by buying their products, and we should make sure this issue is publicized (hence this blog post). As an artist, do us all a favor and don't accept token recognition as payment, or it devalues all of our work and simply contributes to the problem whereby companies think they can simply steal work with no consequences at all.

Stand up and speak out. If you're really a dinosaur fan and collector, make a stink in support of the artists who create the content you love, not the corporations who steal it away from them and discourage them from making more.


  1. Excellent, I agree wholeheartedly.

  2. I'd always assumed Safari was ripping off this version of Luis's artwork:

    Otherwise though I'm in agreement.

  3. My favorite part is the blissful lack of internal consistency.

    "No, no, no, raptors can't have feathers, they look lame. But do keep feathers on the guanlong, that's how everyone seems to draw them. What's a guanlong, anyway?"

  4. I completely agree. RE: Luis Rey, don't forget the Bullyland Velociraptor: Rey has been using that Velociraptor color scheme for nearly two decades in both 2-D and 3-D original works.

  5. Hi Matthew, I was wondering what you thought of the feathered dinos in the (I think) upcoming film "Dinosaur Island," which has been praised by many in the media for being the first dinosaur film to feature a Tyrannosaurus Rex with feathers or proto-feathers.

    1. Based on the trailer, the feathers look very good overall, especially considering their presumably relatively low budget. Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend for modern movies to use modern dinosaurs (obviously they're not constrained by the inertia of previous movies like the JP series--here's hoping for a JP reboot!).

  6. One problem I have with a JP reboot would be that the music wouldn't be the same; I don't know if I'd easily be able to get into that.

    BTW don't the theropods in "Dinosaur Island" have inaccurate bunny-like arms? I thought they did.

  7. And to think George Harrison was successfully sued for subconsciously channelling 'He's So Fine' into 'My Sweet Lord'...