Updated: Are Twitter users about to kill a company?

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Update. Paperchase’s PR spokesperson just told us that the design was bought from an outside design agency and they are trying to get to the bottom of this issue. They added they were “deeply concerned” about what has happened and will be issuing a statement shortly.

As we saw with the recent Eurostar debacle, ignoring Twitter can be a big mistake. News travels very fast on Twitter (and Facebook, let’s not forget) and brands and companies ignore it at their peril.

The latest today is that “Paperchase” is trending in the UK (Update: it is now trending globally) because an artist alleges that the stationary retailer had one of her designs copied for an in-house product (see images below, used on artist’s site).

Many Twitter users are now saying they plan to boycott Paperchase unless the situation is resolved and the artist paid for their work.

We’ve contacted the company for comment and left a message but so far they haven’t called us back.

Why this is significant is because while it is impossible for people to avoid using the Eurostar if they want to take a train between London and Paris, they can quite easily buy their cards and stationary elsewhere.

With the highly profitable Valentines Day approaching, Paperchase could see its sales fall dramatically if this Twitter meme gathers pace and enters mainstream media.

The alternative of course is that Paperchase goes into damage control mode quickly.


Paperchase product

Update: People are now starting to comment on Paperchase’s Amazon listing for the product design in question.

In addition, as with the Eurostar case referred to above, an official sounding @paperchaseuk does not appear to be controlled by the company.

  • http://ewan.to Ewan

    The artwork obviously isn’t a straight copy, though it’s pretty certain that they’ve just altered the original rather than a coincidence.

    From what I can see Paperchase, just like any other company like this, buys in most of its artwork (they give a submissions address on their website), so it’s more a case of someone else has stolen the artist’s work and claimed it as their own.

    I assume Paperchase’s press office will be busy trying to confirm which exists first, either this artwork or the submission of some external supplier before responding.

    • http://padajo.wordpress.com Paul Johnston

      Completely agree with Ewan. It’s entirely possible for Paperchase to have been “done” by a supplier on this one. Not only that, it’s not a complete copy, but there’s definitely “prior art” that has been copied.

      The thing about this story that bothers me is that it’s just a bloggers say so. I saw the blog post and the two pictures and one is definitely a copy of the other. The issue is which came first – that hasn’t been proven or shown.

      This is another case of the twittersphere jumping on a bandwagon. It may be justified, but there needs to be some recourse somehow.

      Paperchase needs someone with Social Media experience to calm and control this story or (as you say) Valentine’s day will be not quite so good as it could be.

      Although… let’s face it – twitter’s not going to contain a large amount of their customer base. It’s if this story gets reprinted in the papers tomorrow that matters to Paperchase…

      • http://twitter.com/mikebutcher Mike Butcher

        I’m not saying this, I’m saying the “artist alleges”. Read the story.

      • http://padajo.wordpress.com Paul Johnston

        No – I agree that your reporting what the original person said. Their report was via a blog – hence “blogger” meant her, not you… sorry!

        On the update – I feel vindicated. I’ve worked in and around agencies and clients like this. The amount of opportunities for plagiarism within the process are huge, and there was no guarantee that Paperchase had anything to do with it.

        I’ve seen everything from images taken off google images and dropped into websites, to complete website designs including HTML, CSS and images being “stolen” for web purposes.

        At some point, a client has to trust that they are paying an agency or individual for new or licensed work. They cannot be expected to check every piece of creative that comes through a door (and neither should they have to).

        This is entirely the responsibility of the outside agency and Paperchase can justifiably sue the agency for loss of earnings over this issue as well as for providing unlicensed content to them.

        I’m not sure where this leave’s the original artist with regards to Paperchase. I expect they will have to come to some arrangement or pull the merchandise. Either way, Paperchase has been wronged by the agency, and has not intentionally wronged the artist.


    • egillen

      Ewen – This isn’t strictly true.

      Paperchase buy in from card publishers and suppliers, then if it sells well, they do their own version of it.

      Its well known in the card design industry that they do this.

      Its not something to be taken lightly by people who earn their living this way. I worked for a publisher who spends a huge amount ensuring the design is right and making sure the artist is paid royalties, only to find a year down the road, it has been ‘heavily influential’ in paperchases own designs. Even ex-paperchase designers have mentioned this on eloises board.

      I know of another design group who had a beautiful USp but paperchase knocked out their own version and this company has to completely rethink how to market themselves.

      Business is business but Paperchase agressively knocks suppliers right down on price but you guys – the consumer never benefit from this. Their sale and return policy is outrageous and last year left many suppliers out of pocket through bad stock management.

      Its about time they got outed…they are no different from the primark or matalan style of corporate business.

  • JT

    Sleazy story aside, ethics is not the main decision factor for a large majority of consumers. Of the 5% that care, perhaps 0.5% are on Twitter. Parperchase should probably do something to salvage its Karma, but closing it won’t.

  • http://www.twitter.com/lewis_duck pedant

    Erm. I think you mean stationery.

    Though I suppose it’s true that most high street retailers are fairly stationary.

    • dave

      yet another mikebutcherism – someone should start a blog of these…

  • http://technicalfault.net Josh

    Kill a company? melodramatic much! Twitter users constitute a very small proportion of shoppers, many of whom will (unfortunately) be unaware of this debacle.

    TechCrunch – get some perspective!

    • Steve O'Hear

      I think you missed part of Mike’s point. It’s not Twitter users alone that will damage Paperchase, it’s the fact that Twitter trending will lead to mainstream media and more social media exposure of the issue.

      Twitter is currently fuel to mainstream media’s fire.

      • JT

        Fact remains most people don’t care about ethics that much if other factors prevail (e.g. price, convenience). Ask Gucci knockoffs salesmen.

  • http://acediscovery.blogspot.com Adrian

    Very glad to see the comments on here have a rational sense of perspective. Paperchase should apologise, and offer compensation to the person involved. I’m sure they will. They may even offer her a n illustatrion offer.

  • http://www.kirstenwinkler.com Kirsten Winkler

    One of the dark sides of Twitter for companies. It can turn into a medieval mob screaming “kill the witch” based on a (non confirmed) accusation.

    Not to mention the attention span. Who tweets about Haiti these days when you can be p*ssed off about greeting cards, right?

    • http://neverodd.co.uk Paul Smith

      No, it’s only a dark side – like blogs, forums or Facebook groups – if you choose not to engage consumers on it, or any other space they occupy.

      A comment I heard from one company is that “Twitter means customers can stab you in the front”. I’d say it also means you can look them in the eye and shake them by the hand.

      Regardless of whether it’s been confirmed or not, Paperchase should have dealt with this by now. Everyone else who thinks social media can’t possibly damage a company, I assume you’ve been in suspended animation since the late nineties.

      • http://www.kirstenwinkler.com Kirsten Winkler

        So this means that companies have to wrestle with the trolls all the time?

        I agree that social media is great to shed light on a situation that cannot be solved on a normal way, like contacting Paperchase and asking them about the issue. That is what the artist should have done.

        If he would not have received an answer or a f.u. then it’s time to go on the barricades but creating a riod just for the sake of showing the power of social media is no good. It harms more than it helps.

      • http://neverodd.co.uk Paul Smith

        “If he would not have received an answer…”

        If you’d read the the original blog post that is the source of this story, you’d have read that the artist in question is Eloise – he’s a she.

        “…contacting Paperchase and asking them about the issue. That is what the artist should have done.”

        You’d also have read that she had tried contacting Paperchase without success. Hence the blogpost.

        It’s usually best to ensure you’ve done some homework on the topic before commenting on trolling and mob mentality.

        “So this means that companies have to wrestle with the trolls all the time?”

        Yeah, it does. That’s how the world is beginning to turn – if companies want a relationship with consumers, they need to engage consumers on their terms. At the very least, they should have a PR-savvy team across Twitter, Facebook etc.

        If you don’t want to engage your customers when and, more importantly, where they say less-than-complimentary about your business, then you can expect trouble.

        “…creating a riod [sic] just for the sake of showing the power of social media is no good. It harms more than it helps.”

        The artist didn’t create a riot. They posted on their blog. Others read it, didn’t like what they read, and tweeted it. I retweeted the link after I read the post. I didn’t realise the scale of the issue at the time. Individuals aren’t necessarily acting with any knowledge of the whole, although in hindsight it’s easy to assume that.

      • Megan

        The artist did contact Paperchase before all the social networking. She basically got a “so sad, too bad” response from them. Then she wrote her own blog and posted a thread in the Etsy forums, that is how this story got all over Facebook and Twitter. Paperchase made no effort to solve this problem untill it was spread all over Twitter, blogs, forums, etc. So untill you actually know this artist and have spoken to her, please don’t assume and judge how she is handling this situation.

      • http://www.kirstenwinkler.com Kirsten Winkler

        Ok, you win :) Die Paperchase, die!

      • http://twitter.com/mikebutcher Mike Butcher

        This is a ridiculous response. The artist could not have ‘created a riot’ if no-one had retweeted her post. The fact that it trended is a now big deal. I’ve recently been at tech events where 300+ people have tweeted a hashtag constantly for a day and it didn’t trend. It now takes a LOT of traffic to trend a phrase or word. The artist did not create a riot – the people did. Where have you been in the last year?

    • http://www.kirstenwinkler.com Kirsten Winkler

      That’s not the point Mike. Want I intended to say was that it is a mighty weapon and that it can be used in a good or bad way.

      Most people don’t read the complete stories + backgrounds anymore, like I did in this case, I have to admit. So if you have a big followership or stuff gets retweeted by the “right” people it could also be dangerous at some points.

      Today we have another example on Twitter @ThatKevinSmith was thrown out of a @SouthWestAir Boeing for “being to fat” and now 1.6 million fans are on a rant + the next podcast episode of Kevin is dedicated to SouthWest.

      I can imagine situations were something like this can get out of control.

  • KL

    It’s stationery, not stationary.

    • Bike Mutcher

      Yeah, but does it *move*?

  • http://twitter.com/chickerino Marcus Greenwood

    I think there is a tendency for the twitterati to over-react in a sort of self-proliferating rage when things like this happen, especially when it involves a ‘big bad corporation’…

    A designer who did some work for Paperchase (likely as an external contractor) probably stole this design and passed if off as their own. I’m sure Paperchase had no reason to suspect that it was a rip-off. Why would they.

    As soon as they were notified, Paperchase should have issued an apology and worked out how to set it right. I’m sure they will do this. It might just take a little time for them to work out what happened – they are a big company after all. Things take time.

    In my “humble” opinion, it’s a typical over-reaction. People often make mistakes and sometimes because of what one individual does, companies (in this case Paperchase) are landed in the shit – through no fault of their own. Maybe I’m wrong and Paperchase are ignoring the whole issue and hoping that it will go away but this seems very unlikely. Maybe it will even turn into something positive where Paperchase license some of Eloise’s designs for other products. Who knows?

    Twitter is interesting in cases like this because if people take notice, it really forces the issue to the top of the agenda. I’d probably do the same if I were Eloise but would be careful not to jump to any conclusions about Paperchase being an evil company.

    Therefore, for now, I’ll be giving them the benefit of the doubt and will not be boycotting Paperchase.

    • Nicola

      Indeed, Paperchase may have been completely unaware that the art was stolen. However, upon being informed of this they effectively told Eloise to shove off, as the art had a different “feeling” to hers. A bad move on their part, and this Twitterstorm could have been avoided by them.

      • http://twitter.com/chickerino Marcus Greenwood

        Did they actually tell her to shove off? I’m not so sure. Also see the update – I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of it in a responsible manner.

    • http://tommorris.org/blog/ Tom Morris

      The thing about these Twitter ‘rages’ – boy the mainstream media has their knickers in a twist about them – is they dissipate about as fast as they come about. Remember #amazonfail – the blog posts and tweets that circulated about Amazon delisting LGBT books? Amazon comes out with a reasonable expectation a day or so later and the problem goes away.

      That statement about “you’ve only got something to fear if you’ve got something to hide” – that applies to Twitter. If there isn’t a problem, the Twitter ‘mob’ (really? It’s a bunch of people hitting ‘retweet’ and posting Bit.ly links – they are hardly marching through the streets beating up coppers and setting light to cars) will quietly dissipate, say “eh, we got it wrong” and go about their business.

      • http://tommorris.org/blog/ Tom Morris

        “expectation”? I meant “explanation”, of course.

  • Ray

    Yeah, most people who are glued to Twitter don’t go out much anyway so I think Paperchase will be ok. And just by way of example, the psychadelic art of the 60s wouldn’t exist if they didn’t take influence from others – Aubrey Beardsley.

    Take it as a complement.

    • http://www.wizzardsblog.com Richard Arblaster

      I’m not continually glued to twitter. I do go out. ;-)

      There is a difference taking influence from something and completely copying something.

      All it takes is a polite email to the designer to ask if it is ok to use their design.

    • Pete Shaw

      Twitter is also available on my iphone, for when I have to venture outside. Worry not.

  • Scott

    Yeah, most people who are glued to Twitter don’t go out much anyway so I think Paperchase will be ok. And just by way of example, the psychadelic art of the 60s wouldn’t exist if they didn’t take influence from others – Aubrey Beardsley.

    Take it as a complement.

  • http://www.wizzardsblog.com Richard Arblaster

    It would appear looking at their official website, that products depicting this design have been removed.

    Anyone like to confirm?

  • Rachie

    Whilst this could be a legit claim it could also be a Jon Engle v Stockart scenario – shouldn’t the twitterverse wait until Paperchase have a chance to respond?

    • http://neverodd.co.uk Paul Smith

      If the Twitterverse was a single-celled entity, then that’d probably be correct. But it’s not. Individuals see the link, read the link and respond. Whether the source material is correct is another matter.

      Saying that the Twitterverse should wait is like saying you should be able to herd cats.

  • Simon

    While it’s understandable that Paperchase may have “bought it in” and that they may not be directly responsible for the alleged plagiarism, the fact that when contacted by the artist they failed to investigate or even respond at all indicates any “we had no idea/this isn’t something we’d do knowlingly” is pure PR salvage work…

    • http://padajo.wordpress.com Paul Johnston

      There’s no way of knowing how the artist went about it, or if they even spoke to the right person at the company. While I agree the artist should be compensated (so long as her allegation stands up) there’s no guarantee she went about this the right way at all. At this point we only have 1 side of the story here.

  • http://www.nsyght.com Geoffrey McCaleb

    I don’t see why people are taking aim at Mike’s tagline here, its totally valid and the brave new world we live in now:

    Premise: A company appears to be on shaky ground because they ignore a negative trend on twitter
    Consequence: Being ignored, users branch out to other, non-twitter mediums
    Result: Negative reviews appear on Amazon causing sales for the company to drop. Millions of twitter users boycott products from the company for Valentines-related purchases
    Conclusion: Sales drop, causing company to in fact be on shaky grounds.

    imho, Paperchase have erred in two ways:

    – Not dealing with the blogger in question in the first place.
    – Waiting for an ‘official’ response. We all saw this in the Dominoes case last year, but we no longer live in a Press Release, let legal/marketing/ceo vet the text which means its hours from being ready, kind of world anymore. A simple tweet, straight from the source, probably could have prevented this from trending.

  • http://www.shannonboudjema.com/2010/02/david-n-goliath-aka-indie-artist-n-paperchase/ David n Goliath – aka Indie Artist n Paperchase

    […] And TechCrunchEurope’s coverage here. […]

  • http://smashableblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/paperchase-fail/ Paperchase Fail « Smashable – Kicking Social Media in the Face

    […] to Techcrunch, PaperChase bought the deisgn of an external design agency who are most likely the culprits in this […]

  • ian deakin

    surely the issue is not how the company came by the design but rather that when offered the chance to rectify the situation they ignored her, assuming that she wasn’t in a position to threaten them. without the collective weight of social media no one would be paying attention to this story and she would be trying to find the vast sums of money needed to take on a company that didn’t care enough to keep it’s own work clean.

  • pete

    Agree with Geoffrey above – its a valid tag. At some point soon Twitter is going to completely bring down a company who fails as miserably as Papaerchase have here to deal with the problem. This isn’t complicated PR here – it’s about response – and at the moment several hours later they have failed to do anything official

    If what we’re hearing is true, their arrogant response and manor in which they’ve allegedly handled the artist in question is symptomatic of the mentality of many big corporations who believe they can just ignore and issue and it will go away.

    • http://www.esendex.co.uk JRJH

      So Twitter “completely bring[ing] down a company” is a good thing?

      If Paperchase has breached a designer’s copyright that should be addressed – financially and morally.

      But i’m sure that 99.99% of employees are simply trying to get by and aren’t actually evil. We’re hardly talking about the march of fascism here.

  • eek

    It will have the same impact that the sacking of Joe Gordon had on Waterstones (see http://www.antipope.org/charlie/old/blog-old/2005/01/10 for details).

    Some people will read about it and possibly stop using them for a short while. after that people will shop there but have a bad taste in the mouth (but can’t remember why). After that thing return to normal.

    On the other hand it does show how easy twitter can make a mountain range out of a mole hole.

  • http://www.nsyght.com Geoffrey McCaleb

    @ eek

    The point is, maybe something like this will not kill a Waterstones, but look at it like this:

    – reduced sales, even for a short amount of time, affects your p/l
    – reduced r/l affects stock prices
    – reduced stock prices affects your bonuses, makes shareholders angry
    – angry shareholders = leisure time to spruce up that CV

    Again, I’m sure those idiots in the Dominoes case cost the company (hundreds) millions in lost sales and shareholder value. All because of poorly handled social media…

  • Marco

    Slow news day, is it? No real tech stories going on?

  • WayAnonForThis

    I really don’t think Paperchase is in any danger – the supplier is.

  • EppE

    I love stationary retailers. The ones that move quickly are so hard to catch up to.

  • http://www.cyber-cottage.co.uk Ian

    This is now out of date check http://hidenseek.typepad.com/come_out_come_out/2010/02/the-designer-apologises.html for the full and final story.

  • stevengrindlay

    On the other hand one could just go to @HiddenEloise and find out. We’re on the same list and she did spend a huge amount of time trying to get to the bottom, long before it trended. Paperchase needs to resolve this with Eloise or suffer the consequences.

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