Copycatgate: Russian designer of copied art offers free leopard cat images to Taiwan

Russian designer calms uproar over plagiarized art by making new leopard cat illustrations for Taiwan

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(Image by Katya Molodtsova)

(Image by Katya Molodtsova)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- After a furor erupted over copied images of leopards that appeared inside Taiwanese trains, the Russian designer whose artwork had been allegedly plagiarized has created new leopard cat illustrations for Taiwan to use free of charge.

The controversial images of "leopard cats" were placed inside trains running the Jiji Line (集集線) between Changhua and Nantou counties as part of a project jointly sponsored by the Tourism Bureau and Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA). However, the design has been blasted for looking more like the leopard than the leopard cat, reported the CNA.

Some netizens noticed that the feline in the artwork looked a lot more like a leopard than a leopard cat and contacted Chiang Meng-chih (江孟芝), the Taiwanese designer behind the project, on social media about the discrepancy. Chiang initially replied that she had just simplified the characteristics of the leopard cat and the result was that it happened to look more like a leopard.


Controversial TRA design (left). (TRA Facebook photo). Shutter stock images of leopards (right).

However, other netizens noticed identical clipart on the paid stock image site Shutterstock. They traced the artwork to a Russian designer named Katya Molodtsova, who said that the creatures were indeed leopards and not leopard cats.

Chiang was then criticized for allegedly plagiarizing Molodtsova's illustrations of leopards. Chiang later admitted the image was bought from Shutterstock but denied allegations that she was a copycat, wrote the China Times.

On Monday (Aug. 26), Chou Yung-hui (周永暉), director-general of the Tourism Bureau, said a new team was enlisted to overhaul the leopard cat visuals with the assistance of experts from the Endemic Species Research Institute. Chou said a new design would be revised and completed before Sept. 20.


Molodtsova (left), Chiang (right). (Facebook images)

On Tuesday (Aug. 27), Molodtsova posted three new designs of leopard cats on her Instagram page and wrote, "I made these illustrations in support for the endangered leopard cat of Taiwan. Huge thanks for all your kind messages on here and Facebook!" The Facebook page JumpStray shared Molodtsova's new illustrations and wrote that she had learned that Taiwan's leopard cat is facing a survival crisis and stood with the Taiwanese people in protecting it.

The group added that Molodtsova has said that the drawings are for Taiwanese people and conservation groups to freely use at no charge. She said that they were welcome to share them and offered her utmost support.

However, the Tourism Bureau said that it had already completed three revised designs and preferred to use its own versions, reported CNA.


Taiwan Tourism Bureau's new leopard cat design. (Taiwan Tourism Bureau image)

Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), on Tuesday evening criticized the Tourism Bureau on his Facebook page for refusing to take Molodtsova's design into consideration. He called on the bureau to "take back" its statement about rejecting her design.

Lin then left a message on Molodtsova's Instagram account thanking her for her help in providing a creative new design for the leopard cat. He then invited her to visit Taiwan, "a wonderful island full of cultural and bio-diversities."

Lin wrote on Facebook that he had instructed the Tourism Bureau to invite Molodtsova to Taiwan to attend the opening ceremony for the new train on Sept. 21. In addition to thanking her for her selfless contribution and generosity, he said he also hoped the incident would inform more people about the conservation efforts for Taiwan's leopard cat.


Lin's message to Molodtsova on her Instagram page.

Lin also wrote on Facebook that the design should be original, as should the Tourism Bureau logo. "Unfortunately, there are obvious defects in the original design content," wrote Lin.


Molodtsova's design (left), Taiwan Tourism Bureau design (right).


Molodtsova's three new designs.


Taiwan Tourism Bureau's three new designs.

Facebook page showing Molodtsova's new designs for the leopard cats: