Plagiarism or inspiration.


This story is absolutely true! Take a look and let me know what you think.

There are two books in the pictures. Side Effects (Migavka Publishing, 2014, Poland) is the one at the top of the picture. The book Habitat by Tom Hegen (published by Kerber Verlag, 2018, Germany) is the one at the bottom of the picture.

​My first photobook "Side Effects" was published​ in 2014. It was the result of seven years of work. Hundreds of paraglider or gyrocopter flights, thousands of hours in the air and even more photos. And then countless conversations, tests, trials and errors. This is how the visual story of the human impact on nature took shape over the years and was captured in my debut book. The launch was accompanied by an exhibition at Leica Gallery Warszawa, the publisher's gallery. Side Effects, in the form of a book, an exhibition and a series of photographs, was a success and resonated with the community.

Two years later, Tom Hegen, a graphic design student from HTWG Konstanz wrote to me. He liked my book and asked for a discount to buy it. In 2018, he published his own book under the title "Habitat". It was published by Kerber Verlag, a German publishing house. The book Habitat also received a number of awards, including the Red Dot Design Award "Best of the Best" and the best German diploma "ADC Germany Graduate of the Year". There is a bibliography in the Habitat book, but I found no mention of Side Effects.

I was surprised and wanted to know more. I consulted a lawyer. I found out that it was not plagiarism because my photo files were not used. I asked for a broader view of my work. A book doesn't come out of nowhere, it's not a random collection of photographs. Design decisions emerge from a process and result in a layered composition of meaning, narrative, layout, and so on.​ After all, that's what the generally accepted definitions are for, such as the artistic or interpretative performance of an existing work.

I looked at these books together and had the irresistible impression that the Habitat was a cover of Side Effects.

The lawyer threw up his hands and said: Maybe yes, maybe no, I don't know. There are no such interpretations in the visual arts. Maybe it's because there hasn't been an objective way of noting a work, like a score in music. Or maybe it is because there has been too little discussion about it in the community...

And the discussion about the limits of inspiration, the definition of original creation in contest submissions, the spirit of the law and related issues that the lawyer recommended - as well as the caution that I might get in trouble for it myself.

And then I met Jamey Stillings, who told me about his experience with the same photographer, which you can read about in a longer essay here.

​The question is: what would you do in such a situation?