Royal College of Art investigates
plagiarism claim


Both versions of RePack

News: the Royal College of Art is investigating claims that one of its graduates plagiarised an existing design after a Finnish company complained that its reusable packaging concept had been copied.

Finnish startup RePack alleges that RCA graduate Yu-Chang Chou copied both its concept and brand name. The company also claims that Chou plagiarised text from its website in his project description.

Finnish startup RePack's design

"Not only has [the] student taken the name of our service, but apparently copied text and concepts detailed on our webpages," RePack's Jonne Hellgren told Dezeen.

"We are contacting the RCA regarding this matter but we also think this kind of behaviour should not be condoned and every action possible to prevent it should be taken," Hellgren added.

Repack packaging by Yu-Chang Chou
RCA graduate Yu-Chang Chou's design

Hellgren acted after Chou exhibited a concept for reusable packaging called RePack at Show RCA 2014 last month. The project was subsequently published on Dezeen.

Founded in 2010, the Finnish startup offers a sustainable packaging solution for online retailers and shoppers. Earlier this year RePack was named one of the winners of Finland's most prestigious design awards, the Fennia Prize.

Finnish startup RePack's design

"RePack is an alternative to throwaway consumerism," according to a PDF on the company's former website, "RePack users simply return their packaging via the local postal system and get an automatic refund on their deposit."

Hellgren claimed there were strong similarities between that text and text on Chou's website about his graduate project.

Repack packaging by Yu-Chang Chou
RCA graduate Yu-Chang Chou's design

"RePack provides an alternative to throwaway consumerism," runs the text on "By providing a return and reuse system with innovative RePack bags, RePack users can simply return packaging through their local postal system and get an automatic refund for their deposit."

Both RePack concepts aim to reduce waste by providing special resuable packaging that customers can mail back to the retailer, or use to return unwanted or damaged items.

Finnish startup RePack's design

The Finnish version is already operating via the Finnish postal service while Chou proposes using Royal Mail to operate the service in the UK.

Chou, who graduated from the London institution's Innovation Design Engineering course last month, admitted the concepts were similar but said his idea differed from the Finnish company's in several respects.

RCA graduate Yu-Chang Chou's design

"It is true that it is very easy to have misunderstanding about mine and their system just based on watching the video and brief description," Chou told Dezeen. "We both are trying to reduce wastes through reusing the packaging. However the way to sustain the system is different, [and] as a result the stakeholders are different and the packaging design also need to be different."

He added: "As my understanding, their packaging can be customised for retailers based on their needs and the packaging is owned by retailers. The circulation of the packaging is only between retailers and consumers."

Finnish startup RePack adapted their design for army and outdoor store Varusteleka

"In my system, packaging is owned by [the] delivery company and therefore [the] delivery company is able to provide a packaging service for retailers and consumers. The circulation of the packaging is from Royal Mail to retailers to consumers and then back to Royal Mail."

The RCA said it would investigate the claims. "The Royal College of Art takes accusations of plagiarism by our students very seriously," said Professor Miles Pennington, head of the Innovation Design Engineering course. "We will need to investigate the claims further and speak to the graduate concerned before we can make a full statement."

Update 11/07/14: The RCA has issued an additional statement:

“The Royal College of Art takes accusations of student plagiarism seriously and these claims will be investigated. The College has regulations which students are required to adhere to whilst studying at the College, in addition, the Innovation Design Engineering programme requires all students to submit a declaration of originality for their final year projects. The programme expects and trusts students to develop and deliver ideas to the highest standards of originality."

  • sor perdida

    The RCA’s staff and jurors should be able to spot any copycat, supposing they have the necessary knowledge of what’s going on in their professional field.

  • Grapes

    I think they should give Chou a job as he’s done a better job of branding the design. But I agree with the Finnish company and glad Dezeen has given this a platform.

    • Repack Original

      We spoke to Chou about possible co-operation already as he’s obviously a talented designer and we would gladly work together. However, we also had to take action and ask for an investigation as there are far too many similarities with our concept to our liking.

  • michaele

    From the way that Chou writes, it seems like English is not his first language (or that he is a poor writer). So the use of “alternative to throwaway consumerism” as a phrase could well be sourced from the other project which he supposedly has no familiarity with.

  • Chris Tan

    If this plagiarism accusation is true, this will be a great shame to an artist or designer. By the way, nowadays plagiarism seems a common practice in China’s mainland.

  • dan

    I can see how this looks bad for the student, but I think it’s entirely plausible that they had the same idea. The name is a fairly obvious one and the description would be quite similar whoever had written it. I just don’t believe that this guy would have the audacity to try copying it – it’s so likely to be noticed in our hyper-communicative field. I think a lot of us have probably seen projects that are remarkably similar to things we’ve done or thought of ourselves, that have no way of being copied. One other thing though – I would avoid making it white or it would look knackered after two uses.

  • hue

    If it’s “so likely to be noticed”, then why hasn’t the designer/student been doing enough research on other services out there before starting a project? Especially for an academic project like this.

    And to Tan, plagiarism is a common practice everywhere where designers/artists are being lazy and lacking of imagination. Not just in China.

  • Gij

    Who in their right mind would hire someone who possibly stole one’s copyright without acknowledgment, hire them, and have that possibility of their making off with all the proprietary ideas? A major laugh, that is.

  • MissJagwired

    As much as I want to claim he should have known better, I actually was in the middle of a personal project during my last quarter in college and even though the designs were very different the name and basic concept were very alike.

    My goal was to make a two-seat race inspired open-top roadster and with the project name “Indigo”. If you look up Ford Indigo it follows these same basic concepts.

    I only named the project Indigo because I thought it was weird I came up with the concept using an violet/indigo pen (which I never use). After finding out the project from a classmate it was then renamed.

  • DFTG

    The simple fact is that RePack got there first. Regardless of whether or not Chou had plagiarised the design piece/concept/idea is, unfortunately, secondary. Talented design students should get used to this though, as they’ll soon be on the other end of the stick. There are so many talented individuals/offices out there, sometimes we can’t be so reliant on just one of our designs. Best of luck to both RePack and Chou to keep churning out, hopefully original, designs.

  • k

    He is not from mainland China… do your research before you give everybody a lecture.. If bashing Chinese is what’s on your mind all the time, I feel
    sad for you, Tan.

  • D

    Oh seriously, you think this is plagiarism? There are probably a thousand people who have had the same idea. Royal Mail is so stupid that they are not doing this service. Chou’s great work is in the PACKAGING itself, read his website.

    The name ‘repack’ can’t be more obvious, anyone who is designing this type of work could have come up with this name. If this is plagiarism, aren’t Starbucks copying Costa’s business model? READ & THINK.

  • Luis Suarez

    1) He chose to use the name written as RePack. Same as the original. ReUse, ReSend, ReTurn where available.
    2) He used sentences which can be found on the original website.
    3) He came up with a 99% similar concept of packaging, returning and a deposit based system that the original uses. That 1% difference is using the British Royal Mail.
    4) He uses the same colour schemes that the original also uses with red-white.
    5) If the design is so obvious, then he should have researched online for similar works as originality is a requirement for his work. How many RePack systems are there for this purpose as thousands could have done it already?

    He should be credited for his design work for the packaging, as I think it looks great and has that nice “return>>>” logo when folded for returning purposes. But that is not what this plagiarism claim is about. It’s the whole thing with the concept too.

    Don’t be angry about the fact that someone did it before him. Just think for a minute, collect the facts you can find and make an educated conclusion on the data. You could also present to the web on how you think this work is original as all of the details are not presented to us. The burden of proof is on you to convince us of the originality. The RCA will surely let us know soon enough though on what they think. Hope everyone will be happy in the end.

  • Think before post

    I really don’t understand why people here are trying to defend for Chou. Isn’t this a design website to celebrate brilliant and original design? For a design master degree student (especially from the RCA) who spent two years to research and came up a concept, is it too much to ask to not to plagiarise?

    And if it’s just a packaging design, the title should be ‘packaging design for RePack’. I myself didn’t really see the great in this boring packing and branding (where thousand of people out there could came up with the same thing).

    • what?

      Trust me, if you study at the RCA you really aren’t in need of copying from some Finnish company nobody ever heard of. I think they just want to get some PR. These things happen all the time.

      • ddc5555

        If you study at the RCA, which is a very respected institution, the students are expected to do some fairly impressive work. And I think in this case the pressure to succeed ended up in the student copying his work from “an unknown company” he thought wouldn’t be caught.

        In this case, the PR for the original RePack is a side-product of the students own actions. His designs and the end-product are nigh-identical to an existing and trademarked one, that the company had to act.

        You would defend your original ideas if blatantly copied, and based on the current evidence against Chou, you make a conjecture that you need to prove. Crying ‘PR’ while wearing a tinfoil hat sounds offensive. Seems like you might have some personal connections to this matter that might cloud your judgement.

  • Tanuki

    Talented designers don’t plagiarise. There’s plenty of talented designers out there, hire one of them instead. If Chou is a talented designer, he’ll grow as a designer and we’ll hear from him again. The one positive from this being the increased exposure to RePack.

  • D’orhk!

    I have a better name for a reusable package: Return to Sender.