A video aimed at protecting cyclists, produced for Transport for London, has been accused of plagiarism by ad professionals

TfL’s viral ad is a “rip-off”

A ‘Do the test’ awareness raising video viral produced for Transport for London by WCRS’ The Engine Room is causing a storm in adland.

Emails promoting the video were sent to bike bloggers earlier this week but the YouTube link went dead. However, the complainant has now lifted his censure of the ad and it’s back on YouTube.

The video features basketball players, but no bikes. It ends with a message about looking out for cyclists. It’s likely to get many views on YouTube but is not the original work of The Engine Room.

In fact, the idea was first filmed in 1999 by Professor Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois. It’s sold as a DVD instructional video by Viscog Productions of the US.

BikeBiz.com has talked to Professor Simons. He’s upset the ad producers didn’t approach him for his blessings. He told BikeBiz he would not have requested a fee.

A WCRS spokesperson told marketing website Brand Republic:

"We are facing criticism relating to copyright on the cycling safety TV ad. We have been assured that this execution does not infringe copyright. We feel it is a powerful message and is one that will have an impact on this very serious issue."

Professor Simons told an ad industry blog:

"From what little I understand about British copyright law, the advertisement was probably within the letter of the law given that they made some minor changes from my version (e.g, 8 players rather than 6, a bear suit rather than a gorilla suit). In any case, I’m not interested in pursuing a legal or publicity fight with an ad agency or with the British government. I’d rather let this just run its course without too much additional attention.

"That said, I am unhappy about what the advertising agency and TfL have done. Nobody from the advertising agency or TfL contacted me to ask about my work, and there was no need to duplicate what I did so closely. I have helped other advertising agencies in the past (for free) to come up with variants of this effect that would be closer to the purpose of their advertising campaign and less clearly duplicating what I did. It would have been easy to come up with a scenario that actually involved a failure to see a cyclist and that
didn’t involve people in animal costumes or passing basketballs.

"I do like the goal of the campaign — I often speak about the effects of inattention on accidents involving cyclists and motorcyclists myself. I’m just frustrated that they didn’t bother to contact me given that they based their ad so closely on my work. Even if they were legally within their rights to do what they did given British copyright laws, it would have been a nice courtesy, and I could have helped them to come up with a much more targeted ad for their campaign that didn’t duplicate my work so closely."

Video blogsite Quickrelease.tv is now in talks with Professor Simons to produce such a video, using cyclists and cars in real situations, not bears in car parks.

Ad industry professionals are currently debating the ethics of TfL’s ad on Scampblog.

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