Royal College of Art graduate
"technically" guilty of plagiarism


Finnish Repack and Yu-Chang Chou's Repack

News: a former Royal College of Art student has been found "technically" guilty of plagiarism and misconduct after a company complained that his graduate design project was similar to its own services.

The RCA found that Yu-Chang Chou, who graduated from the Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) course earlier this summer, had "presented text created elsewhere as his own", although the college said that this was "absolutely inadvertent".

The course, which is a double master's programme run in collaboration with Imperial College London, said it would now review its procedure to prevent similar incidents happening in future.

The RCA ordered an investigation last month after Finnish startup RePack claimed Chou's graduation project, also called RePack, plagiarised its concept, brand name and descriptive text.

Finnish startup RePack's design

The college has removed the project from its website and advised Chou to likewise remove the work from his site. However, since Chou had already graduated from the college when the plagiarism claim arose, it will take no further action.

"The investigation found that the student has presented some text created elsewhere as his own work," the RCA told Dezeen.

"While we accept that this was absolutely inadvertent, it does technically qualify as academic plagiarism and misconduct. As he is an RCA graduate however, ie no longer an RCA student, there will be no further action taken apart from removing his project from the RCA website, which has already been done."

Chou presented his concept for a reusable postal packaging system at the college's summer show in June. Finnish company RePack complained after seeing the project published on Dezeen.

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

"We regard all forms of academic misconduct, which includes academic plagiarism, as a serious offence," the college said in a statement. "Students sign up to a code of conduct upon enrolment and we expect them to adhere to this.

"Our investigation has shown that, while Yu-Chang Chou's work is similar to that of the Finnish design company RePack, he developed the product itself independently."

"However, as he has inadvertently presented text created elsewhere as his own, we have taken steps to ensure that the work is no longer available on the RCA website. In addition we have advised that Yu-Chang Chou removes all references to the work from his own website and he has confirmed that this has now been done."

"As a result of the internal investigation, IDE is to review its processes and procedures to ensure that this type of incident does not happen in the future."

The Finnish company said it was expecting a response "along these lines" from the RCA.

"We obviously weren't too pleased to see our product being directly copied by a design student and claiming originality for our work," said RePack's Jonne Hellgren. "However, other designers and students are not our enemies, but disposable packaging is. We and the world would recommend more packaging products based on reusability rather than disposability."

  • mike

    Guilty, but no punishment. RCA and Imperial risk tarnishing their reputation with this fudge. Remove his degree and let him deal with the consequences.

    • omnicrom

      Agreed, why does he get to keep his ill-gotten degree? I accept there are often cases of convergent design solutions and inventions but this does seem a little too close for coincidence, let alone the ‘inadvertent’ plagiarism of text.

  • Tom

    How can someone inadvertently copy text and present it as their own?

    • Jerry

      I’m guessing that it means that RCA is saying that he came up with the idea without knowing about RePack (Sweden), but because it already existed, it’s technically a copy. I’m not advocating for his innocence or guilt as I don’t know enough but I’m guessing that without concrete evidence that he knew about them beforehand or copied them deliberately this is the extent that RCA can and will do.

  • Donny

    Re comment by mike: I doubt they can remove his degree, not without risking legal consequences from him. I worked as an educator (in Asia) at a private design institute. If students pay for the education, you open yourself up to legal repercussions by punishing/failing them. I see this as the worst result of the ‘paid education’ system.

    All students now pay. Any educator is immediately in trouble if the student is lazy/useless/incompetent.

    PS I do not work in higher education anymore :)

  • RichardDP

    I’m sorry – but that’s not very clear – did he intentionally ‘lift’ copy verbatim from another piece of work, and present it as his own – or did he ‘compose’ copy that he thought was original – but which in fact resembled something that was already in existence. It’s not unexpected for two different and unconnected designers or copywriters to come up with very similar responses to the same brief, that’s just unfortunate, but it happens and you can’t condemn them for anything other than poor research and referencing.

    It’s not the same as plagarism – this article really fudges the issue. I don’t understand what has happened. I remember the Dezeen piece and thought at the time that it was a very generic solution to a very generic design brief – that’s more of where the fault lies here.

  • Z-dog

    Yu-Chang Chou possibly got design inspiration from the London Olympics opening ceremony.

  • rohtmuz

    Surely this should be a lesson to Yu-Chang Chou that if he does this in his profession the ramifications will be financially heavy.

    I studied architecture and yes we would look at other architects work for inspiration, but we would never copy a building completely! We would borrow and adapt, develop and move ideas forward, we would make new ideas our own, not copy.

  • Name

    After reading this article (“removing his project from the RCA website, which has already been done.”), I just checked RCA website and the project is still there, listed under IDE Year 2…

  • jason

    Maybe he could get a job at Heatherwicks?

  • JW

    Typical example of bad research, even for the RCA letting him graduate with copy-paste mentality.

  • Yves

    Odd doublespeak.

  • Victor Vieaux

    Despite the plagiarism story, this is an unexpected and cheap advertisement campaign for the original RePack guys! Fair enough.

  • J

    In all honesty, his design looks much better.

  • Hugo

    Was thinking about commenting my immediate response, but then I realised I was just bored by this article.

  • John

    Frankly I don’t know which is worse, the fact that this student might have plagiarised his project, or the fact that he and the faculty researched this issue so poorly and/or were so out of touch with this issue that no one knew that “his” solution already existed.

    • Kevin Quigley

      That is, I think the biggest issue here. Why did the course leaders/tutors not do a quick Google search to see what else was out there like this if RePack (Finland) were live while he was working on this?

      A Google search to find competitors or alternatives is stage 1.0 in any design project, whether working as a designer or working as an advisor to companies.

  • bmud

    I hope this Finnish company RePack is proud now. What an achievement. I still did not check who they actually are.

    • Richard Strong

      Are you seriously implying they’re the bad guys? The student aims to profit off their design and the hard work that they originally put in.

  • Robiati

    ‘Inadvertently PRESENTED text created elsewhere as his own’.

    Looking at the implications of this, I suppose it rather depends upon the text to which the RCA is referring with this statement.

    If it is a case of whole paragraphs or even phrases being the same or obviously paraphrased, that would show plagiarism. But then the RCA’s response would not be valid.

    Instead I suspect it refers to the name ‘Repack’. And it is quite possible for both the student and the Finnish group to have come to that name and indeed the whole concept quite independently.

    If your core idea is reusable packaging it is not a huge creative leap to get to ‘Repack’.

    More broadly, the idea of such reusable packaging is nothing new. Such systems have existed for a while, Versapak being just one example.

    So I think the claims that the concept belongs either to the student or the Finnish group are seriously overblown. Perhaps Repack is aimed at a marginally different market than Versapak, but the differences would appear really quite minimal. And I imagine Versapak is far from unique in itself, even ignoring Repack.

    So the real question for me would be whether thinking of this nature is sufficient to warrant an RCA degree in the first place. I’d need to see the project in more detail to know. It is also highly questionable whether the Finnish Repack has any right to claim that its concept (rather than just its name) had been copied. It would appear to be unoriginal in itself.

    I’d have to see more evidence to know for sure if any claims of plagiarism are valid. But by definition plagiarism cannot be inadvertent so the RCA’s conclusion is on the face if it illogical. Either you know you are copying another’s work or basing your own on it – which is plagiarism – or you don’t, which is independently coming up with an idea that’s already developed. The latter something that happens to all designers at some point. In many cases they just never get to find out. But it doesn’t follow that they’ve copied anything.