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One of the enduring images to emerge from the passing of the legendary Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, was a revised Apple logo that replaced the iconic bite mark with a silhouette of the likeness of Steve Jobs. It was both subtle, symbolic and very very powerful. The image struck a chord and quickly went viral as it was retweeted, re-posted and shared via various social media platforms. Now comes word that the Honk Kong based 19-year-old student who created the powerful image may have plagiarized it.

Jonathan Mak Long

Jonathan Mak Long said he created the black and white image in honor of Jobs originally stepping down as Apple’s CEO in August. But as the image spread like wildfire around the globe, claims of his copying of a design from 40-year-old British graphic designer Chris Thornley started to surface. In May of this year, Thornley had created a similar concept that used a different color with a slightly different silhouette.

Long insists that his creation wasn’t influenced by Thornley’s and that he searched widely to determine if there were other images like his. He even went as far as to ask his blog readers to research on his behalf of other possible similar images. His post received little attention for the five weeks prior to Job’s untimely death. “Overnight, my website went from getting 80 responses to tens of thousands.” Mak shares “At first I was very happy.”

Allegations Surface

Mak’s joy turned to serious concern when people started to mention the other design with accusations of plagiarism. Within three days of Job’s death, Thornley’s wife had contacted Mak on behalf of her husband who is receiving treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In fact, it was his shared concern for cancer that had motivated Thornley to create his original image in May. He had wanted to “celebrate the fact that someone who had cancer was still working, still driving forward and still thinking positively about the future.”
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Thornley has been deferential regarding Mak’s similar image indicating that he doesn’t think Mak was aware of his own before creating his version. Their conceptual treatments are a logical derivation of the classic logo. Jobs and his products influenced million of people around the world who would be similarly motivated to pay tribute or look to feature any move Jobs made in their creative and business endeavours.

Job’s Passing

Current Apple CEO Tim Cook summed up Job’s passing “No words can adequately express our sadness at Steve’s death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.”

As for the storm of controversy surrounding Mak, it has taught him to be more prudent and cautious in his creativity and promotion of his work. In an interview with the New York Times, Mak revealed that the charges have taken their toil “It’s been a very overwhelming experience. I still attend classes and lessons as usual. But as far as following my assignments, it’s been difficult.”

Graphic Design Lessons To Be Learned

For those in the graphic design world, Mak’s predicament isn’t uncommon. With so many creative minds brainstorming individually and collectively while looking for inspiration throughout the Internet, intentional, unintentional or simply similar creative designs will occur naturally. The difference that exists nowadays is that the Internet now makes the detection of copies or similarities to take minutes or hours what used to take weeks or months. Almost every graphic designer is looking to promote their work online, as well as find inspiration for their work. Adequate research and respect for other designers work is to be balanced with independent creativity aggressively promoted.