The line between imitation and flattery -What constitutes as online art plagiarism? (with recent example)

Hey guys, 

A different blogpost from the usual but this recent incident prompted me to explore the common casual occurrence of online art plagiarism and the lack of accessible protection against this for the affected artist(s). (Please note, this is a fairly brief blogpost, shorter than the length and depth I’d like to write to but it’s almost 2AM where I live and I have uni today?(passed the day oops))

A brief recap:

  • Taiwanese-born, NYC-based artist Johnyuyi (Instagram handle) is well known for her social media temporary tattoos.
  • Johnyuyi posts an Instagramstory addressing the issue of the plagiarism of her work.
  • Peter Devito, a NYC based photographer and illustrator has taken to his account to publicly address Johnyuyi’s story and provide his side of his story.
  • Johnyuyi releases screenshots of private messages sent between the 2

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the images in this blogpost – I only own my opinion. All images in this blogpost were taken from their respective Instagram accounts, both set to public at the time of screenshotting. 

Interestingly, an important point to note  – The choice of image used in the example above in Devito’s latest Instagram post is of Johnyuyi’s more current work featuring Instagram white text black speech bubble tags and Gucci trademark icons.

Why weren’t the following images not placed next to Devito’s choice of image in his Instagram post?

One of the screenshots posted on JohnYuyi’s Instastory.

By arguing that temporary tattoos in photography is a choice of medium is as if a a fast fashion brand heavily copied a high end powerhouse brand’s season of clothing(as they do) and dismissed the uncanny similarity, instead focusing on how both brands utilise the same ‘medium’ which is clothing. Thus, there must be no way that said brand is straight up copying another right??

Whilst Devito has some valid points in regards to the commonality between the materials used to create the visuals then photographed, these points do not related to Johnyuyi’s main focus of raising the point that her style has been copied by Devito.

While Johnyuyi is not the inventor of temporary tattoos, she has successfully manipulated and repurposed them into a tool for communicating social issues, which has then resulted in a distinct style.

When this style is seemingly (barely) appropriated (and more of copied and pasted) onto another model’s face under the credit of a photographer who claims to have derived inspiration from her several times, credited her initially then suddenly stops and continues reproducing pieces in a style eerily similar to Johnyuyi’s, where does the line between imitation and flattery stop?

At the end of the day, we don’t know the complete story but what the receipts/screenshots of the messages sent between the two show, Devito’s defense and proof of his ‘nonplagiarism’ further traps himself in his words.

Unfortunately, blatant plagiarism for online works shared on public social media platforms such as Instagram happens on a frequent basis due to the lack of accessible creative content theft protection as a lot of artists/designers aren’t equipped with a hefty bank account at the start of their careers- most of these incidents don’t even make it to the notice and knowledge of people especially if you don’t have a large following.

For most, it takes a while and a lot of effort to reach the top, but to fall,  it’s pretty much an instant drop. 

Thanks for reading – any advice/feedback is greatly appreciated! 



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Design student | Sydney