We’ve all likely heard this sage advice before: get paid for your work! If you’re reading this article you are likely a creative (someone who creates something – a photographer, graphic designer, musician, writer, etc) and have had this type of discussion with a potential client. Every day there seems to be more pressure on our industry to create more for less, to create something for “exposure” or get tempted by the proverbial carrot of “I’ll tell all my friends.” I’ve come to realize it is the price of admission when it comes to being a creative professional and mostly let those types of requests just roll off my back as I’m fortunate enough to have lots of amazing clients who pay me for my work. But the struggle is real.

Early this week, I started hearing rumblings about a company I had never heard of before, Squijoo. If you are like me and have never heard of them, here’s the 10 second rundown:

Squijoo.com is a Photoshop template company who specifically caters to photographers and advertises their “unlimited Photoshop templates” and “Beautiful, Awesome Designs” for a mere $10 a month. When I first looked through their website, I’ll admit I was absolutely intrigued about having access to unlimited, quality templates for a year for roughly the cost of one custom piece from a designer. By doing a little research, I soon found out that they are just one of many online companies who offer this type of business model for Photoshop templates.

My interest, however, changed to skeptical curiosity as I started to do more research into Squijoo. Instead of the positive comments I’d expect to see on social media and online review pages, I instead found talk of copyright infringement, rumors of DMCA takedown notices, and a website that was temporarily down and removed/suspended Facebook and Pinterest pages. This, of course, set off alarm bells, so I asked a simple question on Facebook: “Who can tell me what is going on with this and whats the real story here?” After 24 hours of silence, I received information from multiple sources, who all asked to remain anonymous, with some very concerning screenshots and commentary. I want to post these screenshots below so you can have the same experience I had before I go into details.

Pay attention to the products being offered by two different companies below.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 4.47.29 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 4.47.50 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 4.48.04 PM

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 4.48.19 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 4.48.36 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 4.48.47 PM

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 9.52.31 AM

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 10.13.20 AM

 

So, how does the above similarities in the designs strike you? Two different companies offering virtually identical designs for a vastly differing price. Would it change your mind to know that, according to my confidential source, Squijoo regularly held competitions on their Facebook page for photographers to “submit” designs they liked so Squijoo could re-create them on their pay-per-month platform? In other words, the similarities in designs are not a mere coincidence, they are absolutely targeted. The next question I asked myself is, “would this be considered a fair use or a derivative work under copyright law?” Well, I didn’t know, so I asked my IP attorney – Chris Sorey (@trademarkdude) of Passé Intellectual Property LLC. Chris has represented boy band One Direction as well as David & Victoria Beckham among other large companies so I thought he’d be a perfect person to ask this question. Here is what he had to say:

Under US copyright law, the owner of copyright protected material has the right to make copies of the original work and produce derivative works thereof.  The only way to escape liability in reproducing the copyright protected work of another is under some provision of Fair Use.  The only Fair Use provision that could potentially apply in this situation would be that so little of the original work is used that the newly created work is thereby transformative.  The US Supreme court noted that to be transformative the new work must, “alter the original with new expression, meaning, or message.”

 

In my opinion, looking at and comparing the works of Minted.comdesignaglow.comoh snap boutique to Squijoo.com, it appears that Squijoo.com’s designs are derivative of the designs of Minted.comdesignaglow.com & oh snap boutique.  Moreover, the designs of Squijoo.com would not be defensible under the Fair Use theory of be transformativeness since they convey the same expression, meaning and message of the designs authored by Minted.comdesignaglow.com & oh snap boutique.

 

Notwithstanding the forgoing, I would think that Minted.comdesignaglow.com & oh snap boutique would be somewhat hard pressed to enforce some of these designs since they are comprised of what under copyright law could be considered stock elements, i.e. sprigs of holly and wreath shapes symbolizing Christmas. But Minted.comdesignaglow.com & oh snap boutique would likely receive copyright protection and thus be able to enforce their compositions of these stock elements.  Squijoo.com’s design appear to be derivative of the original compositions of Minted.comdesignaglow.com & oh snap boutique.  That and the added element of Squijoo.com making public calls for submission of other’s works for them to literally copy or “improve” could give rise to an implication that there is an infringement that is willful, wanton, and purposeful.  

In other words, this is a legal gray area and short of this going to court, may be best answered via the ethical nature of their business we should be asking ourselves as creative people. What happens when the creatives who designed the original work no longer are employed? I mean obviously, who doesn’t love a “deal” but if we extend this scenario out to its logical conclusion, the creatives who made the original work will eventually stop designing as no one is buying their designs. In turn, the companies who are using the original work to create a derivative will run out of quality content to recreate, so the proverbial boat will flip over at that point and we will all feel the effects. Another, also unsavory, outcome is that the quality of the designs from all parties involved will deteriorate as the really skilled artists will stop creating, leaving only those willing to take a pittance to create work that is probably not nearly as good, or at least not consistently as good.

Personally, I have a huge issue with this type of business practice. How would I feel if someone carefully re-created a signature photo I had crafted and then competed against me using that photo? I’d of course be upset but there’s really two questions to ask yourself – is it patently illegal or simply immoral? It’s up to the courts and lawyers, of course, to decide the first question, but I think it’s each creative’s responsibility to ask themselves the second question. Immoral acts happen everyday in our industry but would you, as a person in the creative industry, support a company whose actions you find immoral by continuing to finance them? It’s a tough question and there’s no right answer but the question should be asked nonetheless for the long term health of our industry.

While writing this piece, I found out a photographer in my local area was a member of Squijoo and had expressed concern about their website closure. I opted to not giver her my opinion but instead tell her what I knew and watch her reaction. When I informed her many of the designs were in question as far as copyright is concerned, her first question to me was “Will I get in trouble for possessing or using these templates?” This was pretty much what I expected but it gave me a moment of pause. If we all react that way and never take the next step which, in my opinion, is to take an active role in rewarding the companies who truly create and not patronize those who duplicate, then are we just as much to blame?

This article has lots of questions and very few answers, as I am not the one who should answer for this for you. It’s a very important question that is often swept under the rug in the pursuit of being a “paid” creator. Personally, I realize the position I am in, which is one of a creative person, means it would be hypocritical of me to not support other truly creative companies and instead search out the lowest bidder who is essentially duplicating the work of the original creators.

I welcome you to continue to conversation in the comments section below. This is far too important of a question with far reaching implications to let go unanswered.

UPDATE

As of 5:45pm on February 19th, Squijoo has closed their doors temporarily for restructuring.

squijoo website closed

 

UPDATE 2

Sometime on Saturday, February 20th, their website came back up with far, far less content then it previously contained prior to this article coming out. The sheer scope of the difference in product offerings is shocking.

Squijoo products prior to shutdown

Squijoo products prior to shutdown

Squijoo products on 2-22-2016 (after re-opening).

Squijoo products on 2-22-2016 (after re-opening).

 

  • Phoxy_Photog

    I agree that we should not continue to use Squijoo. It always concerned me and made me wonder if there was a catch 22. I guess I’m glad I never used them. It’s similar to when there is an actual good, talented photographer charging super cheap and even saying others are too expensive or a ripoff. The bad photogs are no concern to me because their work doesn’t compare, but it’s hard to market when someone else can do it as good for less because they don’t value themselves or need the money.

    • Brian Mullins

      This is very true. Something I didn’t get into was the quality differences. I’ll be doing a follow up regarding that as well.

  • Stephanie G Stafford

    They are also using photographer images without permission to advertise their products. I’ve had several images placed on their site that I did not give them permission to use that I just found out about. They were also giving other photographers permission to use my photos to edit and make video tutorials with for their products so they could “describe how they work” and place the videos on youtube. They even linked my page and website to these photographers and stated that I had given them full permission to use any photo they wanted to just save it and use it from my Facebook business page or website. I work hard on the images I create and I have a certain style and seeing my images placed on their site edited by them or whoever they gave false permission to really pains me!

  • I’m glad to see action being taken at the Squijoo’s site and social profiles being taken down due to copyright theft.

  • SeattlePride

    I became aware of Squijoo a few years ago. At the time I had a membership to Galler.ee (a website that offers a similar service) and the first thing I noticed on Squijoo were several designs that were blatant ripoffs of Galleree, but at that time they weren’t as good. In my eyes there was a very noticeable quality difference. Now what freaks me out is that the Squijoo designs appear to have gotten better, but still deeply undercut the original creators. I knew from the beginning, I didn’t want to support what they are doing. They are the Walmart of design for photographers. And like Walmart, I’m sure there are people they are putting out of business. From a legal standpoint, I don’t know if much can be done, but from an ethical standpoint, photographers can make a stand by choosing not to support them.

    • Glen

      We used Galleree too but they are almost as bad as Squijoo. Quickly learned NO subscription site of “90% off templates!!” sites are worth it. Corners need to be cut because the margins are so low. Templates are either a total disaster, use illegal components, or are full of embarrassing typos. Imagine being a photographer (or any creative) with an all-you-can eat business model. You either get quality or quantity, not both.
      Creatives need to respect others the same way they want respect. Walk the walk folks. #karma

      • SeattlePride

        Yes, Glen. I no longer use any mass-produced template service, Squijoo just bothers me more than most.

  • Amanda Hunter

    I can tell you that Squijoo has never asked customers to send them designs they like and they will recreate them. Never. They have, however, asked customers what types of templates they are looking for. (Are you looking for new timelines? New blog boards? New pricing lists? etc) and they would then try to create things to help their customers, as for what they were looking for in new templates. Not to send them designs, just asking people what kinds of templates they would like to see/might need in the future. I have a feeling this is a company that is discouraged that they are now losing income to a cheaper company, and nothing more. Yes, there are similarities, but honestly….. Walgreens, SimplyToImpress, Walmart, Shutterfly, and others have similar designs to the ones listed in the articles.

  • MLee Kneer

    They aren’t actually down. It only appears that way and if you have the proper links beyond the home page, you can still subscribe and download their templates.

    • Glen

      Why would you want to? Or encourage others to? WTF.

      • MLee Kneer

        It needs to ALL go down, but as you can see now… it’s ALL back up.
        And sadly, people are more than happy to give him their $5 and use what they can get from him.

  • Peter Kelly

    As has been pointed out, there is a very large grey area which extends in every direction of the creative industry.
    I confess to having no idea how to address the problem and I suspect it is almost impossible.

    We go from people who will simply steal an unchanged work, pretending that they created it, to others like Richard Prince (https://news.artnet.com/art-world/richard-prince-lawsuit-expert-opinions-402173) who call it ‘appropriation’, passing through examples like Squijoo, and encompassing bottom-end clothes shops producing similar designs to the catwalk fashion.

    There are so many issues all tangled up in this I barely would know where to start.

    From the obvious unacceptable deception (who wants to have their wedding photography done by someone who is incapable of producing the samples shown?), to the impossible dreaming (I could never, ever afford a Patek Phillipe, but quite like the replicas which I know are replicas and Patek Phillipe will not lose business because of them). Where in that spectrum does Squijoo fall?

    Sadly, the only way of proceeding is to follow your own conscience, or let the law draw the line. Unfortunately, as with so many things, the latter requires money, often lots of money.

  • James McGee

    Brian, I sent you a message through this website (not sure if you got it) with some additional links I found related to Squijoo that I think are quite interesting.

    Review from a former designer: https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Employee-Review-Squijoo-RVW9301029.htm
    Squijoo seeking free legal advice involving their designs 2 years ago: http://www.justanswer.com/intellectual-property-law/816pr-basis-justify-copyright-infringement.html

    Nirav Desai is the guy behind Squijoo. One look at his personal Facebook page and you can see all the designers he was watching. https://www.facebook.com/nirav.desai.1293/likes

    Other companies owned by Nirav Desai (aka Nick Desai):
    http://webdesignbizacademy.com/?page_id=2
    http://designperch.com/
    http://myproductcatalog.com/
    http://webknix.com/

    • James McGee

      I also came across this link today and noticed many of Squijoo’s item descriptions state that fonts are included. This is another big copyright infringement. http://www.dafont.com/forum/read/112628/fonts-being-re-distributed-and-sold

      • Brian Mullins

        Hey James! My apologies for the late response. I didn’t see the message but thank you for sharing here. It looks like this rabbit hole goes deeper and I’m receiving information from numerous sources that I’m looking into. Thank you so much for posting and i’ll definitely look into all of the above as part of the follow up.

  • Thomas

    Thanks for posting this Brian. Unfortunately, it looks like Squijoo is back in business. My wife and I run Bittersweet Design Boutique, a template shop for photographers. We recently reached out to Squijoo regarding this magazine design we released about a month before we saw their post about their newest magazine design. Their original response to the copying was that the designs were completely different and it was just a popular design style. While it was a fairly simple design, they used the same layouts, fonts, colors, image shapes, etc within a product marketed to the same audience. The top one is theirs and ours is on the bottom. The magazine is not back in their shop, as of now. This has been an ongoing issue with other template shops for some time as well. I hope that more awareness of this issue will result in people thinking twice about who they are supporting. Thanks again for supporting this issue.

    • Amanda Hunter

      No offense, but again…. this template is being used on many other sites besides Squijoo. It is very hard to come up with something no one has ever seen, and this design template you have listed above has been for sale/download for well over a year on many many other sites. Your’s, in fact, looks like a copy of the others. Feel free to check out Shutterfly, SimplyToImpress, Minted, and any others you choose. Fonts can be downloaded for free from any site like dafont, fontspace, and others… and are easy to be very similar to others used.

      • Thomas

        Hi Amanda, I can understand you wanting to defend Squijoo, since you are a contributing photographer of theirs and i’m sure are compensated for your work. I do recall in the Photos Stealers thread that you denied working for them and had stated that you are irritated when someone only sees one side. I do see that you have had the same copied response to anything about Squijoo and deflecting the blame to sites like Simply to Impress, Shutterfly, and Minted for having ‘similar designs’. Minted FYI, is a group of designers, my wife happens to be one of them, that create original work. She also contributes work to SimplytoImpress and we are compensated for the work that sells on those sites as do the other designers. The other sites you mention having this photographer marketing magazine isn’t offered on any of those sites and they don’t even offer photographer marketing templates, which Squijoo does. To accuse my wife of copying anything is just plain ignorant and rude. She has built her company from the ground up with original designs for over 6 years. What is frustrating to see is the number of companies copying designs and reselling them for cheaper prices. The issue here isn’t just that Squijoo stole designs to build a company, it’s the fact they got caught and that it brings awareness to the issue of it not being ok to steal others work. Apparently you are very misinformed of how the design business works. There’s a reason why Squijoo is missing a lot of designs on their site. We had no part of the infringement case and they still removed this magazine as well as hundreds of other copied designs. You missed the message and you will probably never get it, until someone steals your work and sells it to build their business.

        • Amanda Hunter

          Actually, I am now working with them as a contributing artist. When this article was written, I was not and had not even thought about working with them at that time. For the record, I have only been a contributing artist working with Squijoo for the last 2 weeks, and have only worked with them twice in those 2 weeks. Thank you for making it seem like I was lying though 😉 I assure you, I was not.

  • Craig John

    Every design industry has cheap wannabe’s with crappy design sensitivity. Why should this be any different? There will always be people who want and pay for the good stuff, and there will always by people who buy the cheap brand because they don’t think the good stuff is worth the extra money. They’ll never buy the high priced stuff, even if the cheap lower-end options aren’t available. That’s the way it is.

    Here’s a parallel in the Package Design Industry.

    https://www.coleyporterbell.com/copycats-going-to-war-with-the-packaging-lookalikes-as-seen-in-the-grocer/

    If these designs were perfectly lifted and copied to tee, I could see these companies having a major gripe. As it is, it’s no cigar. And really, if people can’t tell the difference between Fir Frame Foil examples….those people were never going to be your customer at any price.

  • Sandra

    I run a fairly new Etsy shop the Flying Muse where I sell templates for photographers and by accident stumbled upon this article. Altough seen the Squijoo website before, never felt compelled to actually browse the designs, but this post gave me a reason. I found two designs scrapped from my shop and one design from another shop. Is there anything we could do?

    • Brian Mullins

      Hi Sandra, I can’t really give you much advice outside of consulting with an IP attorney. Based on what i’ve seen over the past few days Squijoo is modifying their available offerings, perhaps its from this or perhaps its them changing out templates. If you have empirical evidence of theft, however, you can look up “issuing a DMCA” and it’s easy to pursue that (which is free). Either way, I recommend talking with an attorney however.

      • Hi Brian,

        Thanks for taking time to respond, really appreciate your answer and advice. I will try and speak to the other shop owner I know her work is also copied and will go from there.

        Thank you once again,
        Sandra

    • Amanda Hunter

      Those ideas were not “scrapped” from your images that you have for sale. Actually, I looked through your Etsy shop, and those same designs can be found on Walgreens, Walmart, SimplyToImpress, Shutterfly, and others. Maybe you are the one that “scrapped” image ideas?

      • Hi Amanda,

        Thank you for your reply and taking time to go through my shop. I appreciate your view on my design work but I never mentioned which designs I am referring to, nor posted an example so I am really puzzled how you ‘compared’ my design work to Squijoo designs or any other company or designs.
        At the same time I hope you are not the same Amanda Hunter working for Squijoo.
        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4f3a4626db2456f51dc1f8721d4592a9d2c6e98e086b17f8d9c9a719e2ca461e.png

        Best,
        Sandra

      • Hi Amanda,

        Thank you for your reply and taking time to go through my shop. I appreciate your view on my design work but I never mentioned which designs I am referring to, nor posted an example so I am really puzzled how you ‘compared’ my design work to Squijoo designs or any other company or designs.
        At the same time I hope you are not the same Amanda Hunter working for Squijoo.

        Best,
        Sandra

        • Amanda Hunter

          I was actually referring to the images that had been posted by PhotoStealers as screenshots.

          • None of the screenshots is my work, and you also said you visited my shop and ‘compared’ my work. It is at least rude to send a comment like this bashing my work, while at the same time admitting your comparison is based upon a PhotoStealers post, and not my work.

          • Amanda Hunter

            what?!!? What in the world are you talking about? I haven’t commented on a post in over 2 months until the other day when I realized someone had commented. You’re getting way off track here. I looked up your shop since you posted that you have an Etsy shop with some designs in it. I looked through ALL of the images, and saw some that could have been taken as “copied” work by this company. I never bashed your work. Never bashed anyone else’s work. And I am sorry if it came across that way, but that’s not the way it was intended. I have a feeling you are looking for an argument, and I will have no part of it. Think what you wish, but you are wrong.

          • Thomas

            I guess Amanda had a change of heart and decided not to be associated with defending a company that has been caught copying others.

          • Amanda Hunter

            Hi Thomas 🙂 I actually decided that trying to reply to pointless comments wasn’t worth my time. I did, however, write a note on my FB page (personal, not business) that explains my situation entirely, if you would like to check that out. 😉 It seems as though some of these people are looking up my name and my business, so I took screenshots of all comments before deleting mine. It was honestly just done to keep pointless replies at bay. Everything anyone needs to know is in the “Note” which is posted, viewable to the public, on my Facebook page.

        • Amanda Hunter

          And, yes… I am the same Amanda Hunter, although I was not working with Squijoo at the time any of this happened. I have only been a contributing artist to Squijoo for the last 2 weeks.

          • But you are working with them at the moment of posting the same comment as a reply to my comment and other posts within this discussion. Thanks for clarifying this.

          • Amanda Hunter

            Obviously you have a vendetta against me. And that’s completely fine, but I won’t sit here and argue with you. I have only been working with them for 2 weeks. All of this other stuff happened before I started working with them, and has nothing to do with me as an artist.

  • Gwendolyn Pellegrino

    This is an issue that needs to be discussed further throughout the creative industry, amongst photographers, designers, anyone that creates for a living. So thank you, Brian, for spreading the conversation. I feel that there are perhaps three reactions to the stealing of ideas. There are those that know it is wrong and see no grey areas. And would under no circumstance purchase or support companies or individuals that are guilty of theft. Outing a company such as Squijoo will confirm what they already know. Then on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those that see the world of creatives as an Old West of sorts – survival of the fittest is their motto. If you can steal and get away with it and make yourself some money in the process, well that’s “just business.” I’m afraid those people will never change their mind, for they’ve always lacked the moral compass to know the difference between right and wrong. Their cessation of theft will only come from being publicly outed or shamed. And therefore, this article has helped do just that by bringing to light the theft of ideas one company. The stealing of ideas is not the basis of a business model. Designs that were clearly lifted have now been taken down. Not because it was the right thing to do, but because the threat of lawsuits, humiliation, and the loss of money were the alternative. Lastly, this article helps address the group of creatives in the middle, those that honestly are unclear as to the issues of theft in the creative industry. This conversation will bring enlightenment to those, and will, therefore, help lift up the entire industry. After all, if we make it easier to make a living at being a photographer, a designer, any creative, then our fields will attract new talent to what really is a fulfilling way of bringing beauty and passion to the world. Thanks, again.

    • Brian Mullins

      Thank you Gwendolyn for such a perfect description of a difficult subject. There will always be those people who are for/against this type of behavior but brining this into the view of the public is not only an important step, but something i’m honestly shocked doesn’t happen more often.

  • none

    Hi Brian,

    it is a shock !
    and for now – as they cutted off some content – it is OK – to use it..??

    just curious…