What’s the Difference Between Inspiration and Imitation?

What’s the Difference Between Inspiration and Imitation?

With a floor price of 3.9 ETH and a traded volume of 888 ETH, the first Crypto Chick collection created by Ms Polly is one of the most popular projects in the NFT space. It’s also one of the most socially conscious, with an ethos that revolves around celebrating women; their diversity, beauty, creativity and power. A large part of that mission also means ensuring that women are celebrated for their achievements rather than having credit stolen and their parts erased. Unfortunately, as images emerge suggesting that the project’s artist plagiarised another woman’s work, that’s exactly what seems to have happened.

Images began to circulate early on Saturday morning comparing Crypto Chick #2 (last sold for 4 ETH) with a piece from Amanda Costa created back in 2018. Costa is a digital artist from Brazil. Shown below, the similarities between the two images are so striking as to be nearly identical. Twitter users were quick to jump on the news and it was widely shared. Although nothing is confirmed and the story is only in its infancy, it certainly appears as though Ms Polly copied Costa’s work and added variations.

Interestingly, the image comparisons aren’t new. The original Tweet was posted in November but has only now begun to gain traction, forcing Crypto Chicks to respond. In a statement released via Discord and then shared on Twitter, the tone was one of profound shock. The team vowed to investigate and reach out to Costa, potentially offering her financial compensation. It suggested that CC was previously unaware of any issues around plagiarism but it did concede that the images are “incredibly” similar.

Ms Polly was next to break her silence. Her statement was conciliatory but carefully worded as she apologised for the stress that this caused her team and community. She justified the similarities by explaining that she researched other artists extensively as she learned to draw and perfected her craft. Every piece of art that she saw contributed to her “style,” which eventually led to Crypto Chicks. Interestingly, she also talked about how a lot of the learning process involved “outlining, redrawing and combining” her sketches.

If any of that sounds like an admission of guilt, her statement stopped short of admitting that she copied Costa’s art. In fact, she flatly denies that she was ever aware of Amanda’s work. Her apology is much more general, directed towards “all the artists” she might have copied rather than anyone specific. That could (depending on how this story develops) have some legal implications. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ms Polly’s defence didn’t go down well. One Twitter user accused her of tracing Costa's work, another of straight up reproducing the originals with only minor colour variations.

There are currently two Crypto Chick collections. The original set by Ms Polly included just 200 items and now has a floor price of 4.49 ETH. The second, larger collection features 10k images. 4.5K of those are already owned. One such holder is @digitalartchick (followed by nearly 150k on Twitter) who claimed to own 25 in a quickly deleted tweet that also alleged there are images of three eyed women from even further back than 2018. In another tweet (posted before Ms Polly made a statement) @digitalartchick conceded that the images look “very” similar but noted that the original artist might have been compensated or might even be Ms Polly.

The deleted tweet.

That no longer appears to be the case and other users have been far less forgiving. @Zeneca_33 (followed by 234k) accused Ms Polly of plagiarism and copying, line for line, the work of another artist. In a wide ranging Twitter thread, they speculate about how the issue could be resolved via mutually agreed compensation and then how the Crypto Chick project might move forward. Some users were kinder and noted that all art has to come from somewhere and most pieces have an element of derivation.

Tracing Crypto Chick #2 back to its source might prove more difficult than anyone imagines, though. The team’s last statement suggests that the artwork appears in multiple stock photos across the internet rather than belonging to a specific one woman artist. This developing story will take time to resolve, but Crypto Chicks has already announced its next steps. Ms Polly has left the team and there are other changes to come. CC will pause the rollout of the Baby Chick Collection and has announced a special fund to uplift 1/1 female creators in the NFT space. They are, of course, now searching for a new artist.

Whatever happens, these revelations are a seismic shock not just across the Crypto Chicks community but through the NFT space as a whole. Collectors always face a wide range of potential pitfalls, but Crypto Chicks was one of the most respected projects around. People collected these pieces not as investment opportunities but with pride. They supported the cause and the ethos. To see the project mired in this kind of controversy is like a sucker punch to all those believers.

The boundary between inspiration and imitation has always been poorly defined. In this case, though, the similarity between the images is so striking that few will swallow the idea of Ms Polly coming up with them independently. Whatever conclusions you draw (and whatever the fate of this collection) the story raises awkward questions about the art world that have always existed. What’s the difference between inspiration and imitation? When does learning turn into outright copying? These are questions that haven’t (and perhaps never will be) answered, but for Crypto Chicks and Ms Polly they’ve just become a whole lot more pressing.

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