TIME Magazine Grumpy Cat Photo Rip-Off Was a 'Coincidence'

3/30/2013 9:40 AM PDT

TIME Magazine -- Grumpy Cat Photo Rip-Off Was a 'Coincidence'

TIME magazine is offering a limp excuse for its new Grumpy Cat photo spread -- telling TMZ the fact that it appears to be a flagrant and shameless rip-off of some lesser known feline photos is a total coincidence.

The other spread -- featuring an Internet celeb cat named Lil Bub -- first appeared in Bullett Magazine back in October. The TIME piece ran last week.

And the similarities are glaring -- down to the actual poses and the matching pink backgrounds.

The people at Bullett are understandably pissed, telling us, "Inspiration is one thing, but some of these photos are nearly identical. If it was indeed a copycat, it shouldn't have happened in the first place."

The art director behind the Bullett piece adds, "It's not about the money. It's more the lack of journalistic integrity and general laziness, the mere audacity that they thought no one would notice.”

For TIME's part, the mag's rep would only call the similarities "a complete coincidence."

We've reached out to Elizabeth Renstrom, the photographer of the TIME spread, so far ... no word back.

So we gotta ask ... you buyin' what TIME's sellin'?