VCD student blurs the line between copyright and transformative use


Gerald Maib

By Natasha Nellis, Chief Copy Editor

Many students who work in content creation often encounter the grey area that exists between original content and adapting someone else’s work to fit one’s own concepts. Often times, students play a stressful game of jump rope with that line, a game that often blurs the boundaries between legality and fair use.

This is a topic that Marcus Robinette, an EWU senior who is working on his second design degree, is working on his directed study Visual Communication Design (VCD) project.

“Something that strikes me is the fear instilled in students about copyright infringement,” said Robinette. “There is an unhealthy fear of [it].”

He went on to say that often times, student creativity is brought to a screeching halt when questions of legality come into question concerning their projects and said he worries that the university is impairing the ability to explore certain ideas.

It was along this line of thinking, Robinette said, that led him to find a path that allowed him to discover a way around the rules.

Ginelle Hustrulid,  assistant professor in VCD who worked with Robinette, said “We had to do some creative exploration, how do you get around this, we create a new university.”

Robinette’s project creates an alternate EWU, dubbed Eagle Washingtons University, that allows students to design EWU, Eagle Washingtons University, themed sticker packs. The project is open to anyone who wishes to contribute and help to create this alternate reality sticker pack that will be made available on the iOS iMessage App store.

Hustrulid said the VCD department has a permit to create and sell sticker packs such as these through the iOS iMessage App store. The project launched at the beginning of winter break and students can contribute their works to the site to create their own sticker packs.

“Emojis seem to be the way we communicate,” Hustrulid said.

Robinette said that the main reason he chose sticker packs as the medium was because he wanted to stay current on the trends, especially after Apple launched a store specifically to sell emoticons and sticker packs.

“It’s meant to be satirical,” said Robinette. “Making just enough change to make it legal.”

The current EWU copyright policy states that “Copyright infringement is the violation of any of a copyright owner’s exclusive rights … Generally, a person must obtain a copyright owner’s permission before reproducing copyrighted material. There is an exception for educational, instructional, research, scholarship and similar activities that fall within the legal doctrine of ‘fair use.’”

Commonly included in almost every professor’s syllabus, a small paragraph is included detailing plagiarism rules and the EWU policy that if you are caught copying someone else’s work, you will fail the class and be referred to Student Rights and Responsibilities, which remains on your record.  

Take a step beyond the safety of the university and any form of copyright infringement or real world plagiarising can result in one losing their job or facing legal charges.

Marcus Robinette
Robinette said the idea of his project is to blur the lines between copyright infringement and transformative use.

“It’s an interesting conversation between designers and the university [about using copyrighted material],” Hustrulid said.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, transformative use is known as “those that add something new, with a further purpose or different character and do not substitute for the original use of the work.”

“Historically, if you took someone’s own photograph and changed it into a three color posterized image, it would be considered an original piece of art,” Robinette said.  

Robinette cited the works of Andy Warhol as an example and said “part of why I like to play with those ideas [is because] some of my favorite artists, contemporary artists, work exclusively with other works.”

Hustrulid said she and several other faculty members want to use the project as a fundraiser for the VCD club to raise money to have guest speakers visit their club. Ideas included printing the Eagle Washingtons University mascot – a chicken named dooms – on a t-shirt and selling it to students, as well as making the sticker packs be free to download but include in-app purchases.

Hustrulid said dooms is meant to portray the dark side of the world, where as Swoop representes the light side.

Also included on the t-shirt would be the project motto, “Washington’s Only Plural” a play on the creation of an alternate university and what that would look like through student designs.

Robinette said that while this project is being used to help the VCD club, it is entirely his project.


VCDC is set to release flyers and promote the project by the end of this week, and students can submit works to the Eagle Washingtons University website at