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Chinese consumer electronics firm Little Swan in the middle of ‘copycat’ row

An ad campaign for Little Swan, a Chinese consumer electronics brand, has been accused of lifting and recreating images from work created for the Hong Kong Ballet by Washington DC-based agency Design Army.

From the HK Ballet campaign

From the Little Swan campaign

The Little Swan social media campaign went live last month, but it is alleged that it blatantly recreated and reused digitally-modified images from the HK Ballet campaign.

News of the alleged copycat work reached the original creator of the HK Ballet campaign – Design Army’s co-founder and chief creative officer Pum Lefebure – after a Malaysia-based follower of Lefebure’s Instagram account brought the Little Swan campaign to her attention.

Lefebure said: “A friend from China had sent this girl a link over Wechat, saying how surprised she was that an electronic goods company had created this sort of a campaign. And then the Malaysian girl had to tell her friend ‘this is a rip-off of the Hong Kong Ballet campaign”.

“And then other friends of mine got in touch.”

Lefebure also revealed that a client from Bangkok assumed that Design Army had created the Little Swan campaign, and that the agency had recycled its own work for a different brand.

Lefebure told Mumbrella: “My first thought was it must be a speculative campaign, like the ones created by students to show what they were capable of. But then, I was told these images were on the official brand page on Weibo, China’s Facebook equivalent.”

From the HK Ballet campaign

From the Little Swan campaign

She added: “I’ve been told there’s nothing I can do since this work is not protected by copyright in China.”

Lefebure said she hoped that it would be a lesson for others. “Either the client knows about it or they don’t and the agency billed them,” she added. 

“We would recommend they just call us the next time. Because even when you copy, you are still possibly spending money on models, an art director, a wardrobe stylist and photographer. What a waste of resources.

“I would like the original and the copy to be shown to everyone including kids in university and young professionals. We can no longer assume they understand it is not ok.”

Asked if she had encountered such scenarios previously, Lefebure said “I love this quote ‘don’t worry about people stealing your design work, worry about the day they stop’.”

Midea, the parent company of Little Swan, was approached for a comment but had yet to respond at the time of publication.

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