My work is being revamped and used without my permission.
They say imitation is a form of flattery, and normally I’d agree, but this is an exception.
Philipp Strobel and I were close friends for over 10 years. I trusted him, loved him, and supported him without a shadow of a doubt. I did a lot (and I mean, a lot) of free design work for his label within that support. It was my pleasure to do so. I didn’t ask for payment and rarely got credit, but most people knew that I had done artwork for his releases and promotions for his parties. I especially created the ‘Shark’ series of designs for his label anniversary parties. It was my idea based on an inside joke. I did the concept and design and applied it consistently to all print + web promo. It worked well so we kept the theme going every year and it even became an intrinsic part of his brand. I was proud of it. It never even dawned on me that I would need to make a copyright contract - why would my best friend ever exploit my work without telling me?
Over six months ago, there were terrible accusations against an artist on his label that were confirmed to be true. This caused a flutter of discussion about misogyny in his scene, within his label, his events, his venue, him. Bands with female members were hesitant to work with him. He wrote it all off as bullshit, and a witch hunt. He blamed the people making accusations for having insights into the behavior that was actually happening consistently all around us. I was quite affected by it. Like most women, I’d had my share of abuse and am sensitive to it. Being a feminist and having worked with brands that I’ve seen affected by such bad press, I stood up to him. I was uncomfortable with the situation. I was uncomfortable with the way he was handling it. I don’t believe in victim-blaming. I warned him how it would all catch up with him, and ultimately, whether you take a feminist position or not, it was bad for his label as a whole. As someone who has known him closely and how he has treated his own relationships in the past, I finally mentioned that his own patterns of abuse would eventually come to light. I did this because it was time to be honest. Because I thought I could be honest. Because I have the right to be honest. But he refused to discuss, refused to hear me out, and completely shunned me from then on. Shut down. He plays the victim, and anyone against him is the villain. There was so much textbook gaslighting around this that I wouldn’t know where to begin. It was very, very painful and alienating.
I spent months trying to meet him to reconcile but was completely ignored. I can’t tell you what this was like for me, as I considered him family. I flickered between major depression, illness, and emotional stress. After six months of him dangling our friendship in front of me only to rip it away again I decided that I needed to walk away. I did my best at every turn to make it work, but he insisted on being distant and more abusive. He told me I was being dramatic and ridiculous and just wanted to pretend nothing happened, but I really couldn’t accept that. His levels of manipulation are crafty and toxic. I decided to not give in to them anymore.
I really just wanted to move on and was going to suffer as quietly as possible until it passed. I tried to see it as just cowardice. Addict behaviour. I had a false hope we’d work it out, or that he’d be mature enough to deal with it, but I had miscalculated. I thought I could trust him but I was very wrong. He trashed our 10 year friendship in a heartbeat, because I made a case for women. Even after that I still offered my help and support. Ignored again, for more weeks. So that was that. I thought.
I was shocked, and horrified to see that just a few days ago the announcements and designs were made for the next anniversary party. Now, if he had gotten a new designer to do a new concept for the design, that is perfectly acceptable given the circumstances. But he actually got a designer, and then briefed him/her on my concept, and asked them just to re-do it into a different design. It is like a remix of what I had done for the last three years, but plopped in a different context. The designer probably hasn’t been informed, and I was never consulted on this, there was no discussion, permission, licensing. I never got paid for the original work so this isn’t about money - this is about respect. About integrity for my work. About theft. To say that I am angry is an understatement. I asked him to change the concept - or at the very least, credit the new designer so as to detach my name from the work itself. It is not my work. Just because someone creates something for you for free does not mean you can just steal it.
He has refused to change the concept or even credit the designer, so if that isn’t malicious I don’t know what is. I’m still in disbelief. I never thought he’d stoop this low. I can only assume this is all some kind of payback for confronting him, for having my say in a matter that upset me, that affected me and all women. The fact that he would abuse and destroy our friendship over that was painful enough. But now trying to rehash and misuse my work is a complete injustice. He flattened me emotionally and now he is carefully trying to stick it to me professionally. And he knows he can, because of his status and his methods of control.
I have decided I no longer want my work, name, or brand to be associated with him or his record label. I’ve consequently taken everything I’ve done for him out of my portfolio. I had already disconnected from Philipp as a friend but this was just salt on wounds. I know him well enough to be aware that he will now discredit me where possible and bully people into his position from here on.
For those of you thinking: well, it’s just a design, what’s the big deal? It looks similar, so what? He uses sharks in his advertising, I don’t get it? Isn’t it just different images? Well - think of it this way: let’s say you are a musician and you give a song to Philipp for a compilation in good faith. Then, he hands it to another musician and asks them to remix it completely, without your permission or even awareness, and then releases it on the compilation with your name still on it. Would that be ok? No, it wouldn’t. I know some would consider this to be no big deal. But it’s a big deal to me. I took part in supporting that label for almost nine years. I did quantitative amounts of work for him, no questions asked. And here we are.
I’m looking into legal action but I’m not optimistic as I don’t have any written agreements or even Invoices to prove much. I will fight to the last nail however that people at least know the truth. I’m very tired of covering things up, or being silent, to protect his misconduct. And I hate having to come out with it. Shame on me for trusting him, for not getting contracts or money, or thinking that someone with such dishonest and manipulative behaviour with others would exclude me from his abuse. I should have known better, I should have done more to fight this from the beginning, and I’m ashamed for not doing so. This has completely disrupted my life for way over six months, and I don’t expect to recover quickly. I did everything I could to make it right, to no avail, and now I'm reduced to a blog post.
When my anger and frustration passes I expect to have pity and compassion for Philipp. Because only someone who needs help would behave this way. I hope he finds that help. I offered it to him many times but he fails to see the need. Let’s hope one day he makes changes for the better. I think he needs to understand that there are consequences to his actions, but is still far from it.
Until then, please learn from my mistakes.
My Art Direction from previous years:
Concept re-vamped without permission: