The Sidetrack Cafe No. 3: Copycats

Copy Cat by Mitchell & Dent via Bloesem

We’re taught in school not to steal; it’s one of the foundations that a society needs in order for it to survive. Without this basic fundamental, much of commerce, business, or even friendships - and most all forms of human interactions - wouldn’t be possible. Not being able to trust others from stealing our own possessions would cause most person to person contact to be strained. Society has built in safeguards for all of us; much of common law is built around the premise that others should not steal from us, and yet it still happens.

In our online world, we’ve seen our share. Of stealing, that is. (Yes, let’s call it plainly). Ideas, topics, out and out plagarism; we’ve seen all the above things stolen from us and others in the online community. You might find my tone pointed; so be it. I’m tired of others who freely take from the hard work and dedication of others and ride on the coattails of their successes.

Others have expounded a view that the copycatting creates an environment that fosters further creativity. Perhaps, but perhaps creativity might be better served if the copycatters were to focus their energies on creating NEW ideas, rather than stealing others’ ideas. I think competition is good, but I don’t think blatantly stealing from others is good.

A case in point; we’ve worked hard to provide a great platform to allow the exposure of truly great artists in our monthly online market. We have had the participation of many great artists, and we’ve truly been honored by their involvement. Many of the artists have communicated that it’s worked really well for them, and we’re proud of our years of hard work that we invested into the market that created that success. BUT, we’ve had copycatters. Not only that, but we’ve had artists that we’ve hosted on our site, that – after seeing how our artist interface worked – went out and directly stole our EXACT business model. Some went so far as to actually use the exact same categories that we created. Do I call this healthy competition? No, I call it stealing.

I think one of the most valuable things that I can say here is the online world is small, very small. It doesn't matter where you are. If you're copying someone's work and you're online, eventually it'll be found, so I wouldn't recommend it. It's not nice and it's not cool. It doesn't matter where you are. I once had a friend request on Facebook from someone in Mexico. I went to her page to check her out and found an ad for her work, where she was using someone's photo who happened to be participating in our market. Copying comes in many forms. Maybe it's an idea, or perhaps they are using a portion of your work mixed into theirs. It's so varied. And I guess what one has to do is decide how important it is to fix.

What to do about it? I've seen success with just contacting the party. So I know it can be easily done by approaching the person to end it from happening again. If that doesn't work, and if you feel it's worth it, your best bet is to contact legal advice. The most important thing of course (and I'm sure I don't have to tell many of you) is to copyright your work first if you make things; but for those of you who are new to this; Design Sponge has a post on Copyright 101 for Designers that explains it well here.

Another good read is this Good to Know Zine on Plagiarism from Pikaland. Not only are there some samples of what other artists have experienced, but an article is included in it originally posted on Book By Its Cover blog entitled, Your Copyright Questions Answered written by copyright lawyer Amy J. Everhart.

If it's an idea, a business model or a blog post. What are our options? That is a little more grey. Some things are more obvious of course. But a lot of times it's pretty easy to figure out what to do next. For legal advice a few sources I've found online are here:

Canada - Canadian Intellectual Property Office - Copyrights
U.S. - U.S.Copyright Office
Australia - Australian Government - Copyright
UK - Design and Artist's Copyright Society

Have you been copied? What have you done about it. What happened. Lets open it up in the comments section; we welcome your thoughts, opinions.

Earl and Jan

Jan Halvarson


Mitsy / ArtMind said...

I have been copied although apparently the copycat denies having seen my work before. A bit sad that even that is not recognized. I was upset and dissapointed in the beginning but I decided that it was better to jump back on my horse and move on. There is no point in wasting energy on bad copycats. I found this article on Pikaland's blog really helpful:

Bugs and Fishes said...

This is such an important (and growing) issue in our community - it's great to see discussions of it out in the open like this!

Since opening my shops and starting my blog I've had photos stolen (for all sorts of strange uses!), had my shop listings and other text copied, had my designs copied and had my work generally ripped off in ways that never occurred to me when I first started... and I've seen the same things happening to all my designer/maker friends.

I used to get really upset about it every time it happened but to some extent now I just let the "small stuff" pass without comment and only contact people when they are claiming my work as their own, or are using it for commercial use. It's just not worth the stress it causes me to go after everything in that grey area between inspiration and copying.

I also only contact people when they've used something I am 100% positive came from me. I've been falsely accused of copying in the past and it's not nice!

I have a group of trustworthy friends I can ask about these issues, to double-check that the copying is as obvious as I think it is and to help me write sensible, polite emails that aren't too over-emotional! Their support is invaluable in these matters, as is the support of all the people who take the time to email me when they spot my work somewhere it shouldn't be - as you said, the internet is a small place!

Bugs and Fishes said...

Oh, and I forgot to say that when copycats have copied some of the more "generic" things I sell (which it's next to impossible to claim as "mine") it has given me a kick to develop new designs and in the process I've focused much more on my own style and designs which are absolutely unique to me which has helped my business no end :)

Melinda Josie said...

I really appreciate your mentioning this in a post. I think most of us have had our ideas stolen at one point or another.
I worked with a very well established artist who had to pursue legal action on more than one occasion because of Intellectual Property infringement. It's made me learn to copyright all of the work I make.
There's also a business here in Canada, Access Copyright, that is a fantastic resource. If you register with them, they'll track the work you register and compensate creators for (legal) reproduction of their works.
Thanks again! This is a great topic.

Jessica said...

Thanks for writing about this. I sometimes think other people have written about this however take it too lightly. Stealing one's work, something you work hard for is so so frustrating. There needs to be more awareness out there how "small" the online community is.

Anonymous said...

I work at a museum on a university campus, and it's a constant battle trying to get students who've grown up in the digital age to understand copyright, plagarism, stealing, and fair use. Even University colleagues sometimes don't understand the difference, or think it's a big deal.

soulsearcher said...

i think it's a case to case basis..for artists who really did used other artists' ideas for inspiration, they should really recognize's not gonna hurt or make them a lesser person...and for those who think whose ideas are being copied and think should be recognized, im thinking that despite individual's uniqueness it is impossible that no 2 individuals will have the same concept on something..come on..can we also learn to embrace the fact that other people can also think the way you do

Erin said...

I've had this happen to me. From my branding to packaging, this copycat has either directly lifted my ideas or closely modelled after them. She even took a workshop of mine and a couple months later offered very similar workshops. The very worst part of it, is that she doesn't even think what she's done is wrong. When approached about it, she said, "...we don't live in a vacuum...everyone holds these kinds of workshops...". It's that kind of thinking that separates the lazy phonies from the real, hardworking artists. And it's that kind of ignorance I chose not to waste my time with.

For the most part, not alot can be done.

Thanks for bringing this issue to light.

Jan Halvarson said...

Artmind - I think that's what's most frustrating. If someone is going to copy an idea or whatever - what's worst is when they don't even acknowledge it.

Bugs and Fishes - i think it's good to have a group of friends that you can rely on like that to help you distinguish things like that. good tip.

Melissa - thanks for the resource info - good to know.

Melanie said...

I ran into someone who had copied a friend of mine. I contacted my friend and told her who then quickly emailed the person and called her on it. The person was very embarrased and actually ended up erasing the whole thing. Sometimes people I think don't realize others will see it or something. Very strange.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to see this issue being discussed. A customer of mine alerted me today that a well established company has used one of my very distinct designs. All of my material is copyrighted and I don't look at others for inspiration. I think it taints my designs. That being said I am beyond upset. I did email them and let them know that I was aware of this and will be watching them. The first time is a freebie but I will not be passive. I stay up 7-8 hours straight working on my designs at night. I did go back and look at my tracker to see how many times they had visited my little shop and it was several. I will take legal action if needed next time. I put to much hardwork and passion in my work and I will not let some lazy person steal from me or my little family.

cara. said...

this is a tough issue. i just posted something on this on my blog a few weeks ago. hard to define copying vs. being inspired by something outside of the fact that it is a heart matter. as an artist, i fear putting anything i create out on the internet thinking others will take my ideas and run with them for profit. simply put, executing better and faster than me. and sometimes i question if my work is all that authentic given the amounts of time i spend on the internet and all i absorb, even unintentionally. i would never want to be perceived as a copier. and when i do embroidery work of an artist, i usually contact that artist and if i ever showcase it on my blog, i ALWAYS give credit where credit is due. i would never have the balls to rip someone else's idea off and sell it as my own. however, i think of mustache trends or cloud trends or animal trends....the "trends" in the handmade market go unnoticed as copying. so where is the line?

Kickcan & Conkers said...

I'm a newcomer in this wonderfully inspiring world on the web and I'm loving it. I have to say though that I had no idea how much copying was going on before I began blogging. I see "very similar" artwork on a daily basis, people stealing other's ideas, changing them slightly and selling them - I find it amazing. 'Big' bloggers have started copying my posts / images on Tumblr with no reference to the source and that bugs me. I'm new so I really sympathise with artists, crafters... and people like yourselves who have worked hard for years... what is wrong with people???

Ola Silvera said...

Very good discussion. Decor8 has posted something on-point here, called DIY is not Duplicate it Yourself.

The MORE people talk about this, the more people will be able to see why it is offensive to copy and what stealing means in the art, design, and craft world, and business world.

It is also useful as artists to learn and know where we can draw that line when it comes to telling people how to treat our work.

Do you think that if more of us created a personal copyright statement, the same way that we create our artist statements, it would help?
(by the wy, I have had my artist statement copied, by someone who was hosting a show I was in and trying to create little blurbs for all of the artists who hadn't supplied their's)

Rita Finn said...

I've actually been stolen from by an old friend. More than once. And it's funny because she knows that I follow her blog, which actually consist of little that she writes or creates herself, and she steals pretty regularly from everywhere, including email jokes that we've all seen before, so I don't think she understands the ethic at work here. I'm sorry this has happened to you, because it is like someone putting a knife in you and then removing it. The wound is still there.

michelou said...

OK, so I'm not trying to ruffle any feathers here.. but there is something I don't understand. Bloggers (and I'm not meaning Poppytalk because I think it is one of the few design blogs who hasn't done this..) will complain about copycats when a few posts earlier they featured a "hack" or DIY on how to create a knock off of something they saw in stores.

Case and point - Anthropologie copies. There are SO many people out there who will copy something that they have seen at Anthropologie and sell it, or give a tutorial on it or will feature other people's work on Anthropologie-type creations. It's probably the most popular brand to "copy".

So tell me, is this a different form of copying that isn't considered stealing because it is copying from a major corporation? Is it just the independents that we are not supposed to copy? Where is the line drawn?

Someone please help me understand.


Jan Halvarson said...

Hi Michelle,

I'm glad you brought that up, as I don't understand it either. I saw that at Anthropologie myself with a ceramic piece by a well known potter.

I don't know if they get away with it all the time - I think we just don't see the outcome as we're not involved and it's not in the news.

As far as DIY's go. That is a tough one and I guess it would depend on what it is. I think to learn to make something for yourself and not to resell - is ok. If you can't afford something but want something similar for your home, and you make it yourself, I don't consider that copying. If you were to resell it then I think it's a problem.

Anyone else's thoughts on this?

lesley [smidgebox] said...

i'm glad you brought up this topic. i'm wondering about clarification, perhaps, on the 'grey' topics...
namely blogging.
you mentioned in your post, the internet is a small place, and makes the world feel even tinier than it is. 'everyone' who looks around here can be exposed to the same images, shops, ideas, etc, as anyone else, especially when products and lines are introduced seasonally, and often with emails announcing such things.
I totally agree that all too often people DO steal posts or exact images or wording. I'm not justifying that by any means.
I guess what I'm wondering is, what about the honestly innocent simultaneous [or almost simultaneous] posting of similar or same artists/products/places or what have you. maybe you honestly came across it yourself, and just happened to post it in the same week as another, perhaps better known, blog? People who share the same tastes, aesthetics, interests will obviously be drawn to and compelled to write about similar things, and since these things are introduced to "the world" non-exclusively, how is one to be able to prove copying, or claim such?
I'm just curious about your [and others'] opinion. As I said, I am not condoning outright copying of a blog post, but rather wondering about feelings on similar and simultaneous thinking by like-minded people...

Jan Halvarson said...

Hi Lesley,

Good point and worth talking about in another post - which I plan to address next week.


Eva / Sycamore Street Press said...

A few of our designs at Sycamore Street Press have been blatantly copied by other sellers on Etsy. From the colors, to the design, to the photos and descriptions. I confronted the copycat, and she admitted to copying, but didn't realize there was anything wrong with it. Frustrating. But at least she took down the offending designs. I've also seen designs that seem very similar to ours, but just different enough that I choose to give the designer the benefit of the doubt and trust that it's just a coincidence.

On the other hand, I've been in the position of having what I thought was a completely original idea, making it into a piece of art, and then being disappointed to see that someone else on the other side of the world came up with something pretty similar. This happened before the world of blogging. But imagine how much more easily this could happen now that we are all looking at and being inspired by similar things online.

To be safe, after I create a new design, I take a look at some other letterpress companies to double check that they don't have anything too similar. If, coincidentally, they did, I would seriously consider not using my design... to avoid even the appearance of copycatting. But this can get tricky. Where do you stop? How do trends figure in? If we become too caught up in creating something that is utterly unique and original, we may never get further than the drawing board!

I suppose we just have to be mindful to be inspired but not copy others ...and to speak up when someone is blatantly copying us, but give them the benefit of the doubt if the design is similar, but not an obvious rip-off.

Celia said...

i couldn't agree more with eva's sentiments. especially when working in the area of things like cards there are certain design concepts and ways of doing things that have become pretty standard at this point. as well it has become pretty common to use certain animals and motifs. further to that certain types of patterns have become very trendy too.

let's all be careful before we call someone a copycat just because they are doing something similar to what we are doing.

creativity is a very interesting thing, perhaps not even that well understood. one might stare at a blank piece of paper, pencil in hand and unknowingly sketch something very similar to someone else's design and may or may not have seen that design before.

the internet has made things both more easy and more difficult for designers in this regard.

anyone who has been at it a certain amount of time starts to realize there are only just so many "styles" even. creating something totally new that is marketable is a rare thing. i would go so far to say that art and creativity represent constant improvements on other forms. if not improvements, constant revisions.

this is also true in the land of blogs. before we throw a stone in anyone's direction - let's also be very careful to remember that none of us is perfect, and none of us can set a perfect example no matter how long we've been at something or how much of an expert we consider ourselves.

the truth of the matter unless we are living under a rock we cannot help but be influenced by others.

having said that - let's all create with clear hearts and consciousnesses and not be looking at other people's work while we are creating... start honestly, with a blank page and let your creativity flow. you're more likely to come up with something beautiful and at least a bit unique.

but whatever we do let's not just start some kind of witch hunt or a culture that is overly suspicious of others (which is the feeling i'm getting lately). because really that's just sad and not what art and creativity are actually about in my opinion.

let's see if we can keep things a bit fun!

Jan Halvarson said...

Wise advice. I've done that too (with posts) - i go and check around to see who's posted something - just in case by coincidence - the web and flo of the internet has taken us both the the same spot near the same day. It's all very tricky as you say.


Jan Halvarson said...

Celia - Also good advice and well said. Because at the end of the day, why are we doing it if it's not fun.

LINDSAY said...

Ugh. Everytime I check my site meters (blog/etsy shop)and notice the same people/locations stalking my sites, for HOURS at a time, I figure it's copiers. Most of them are foreign too. I've had other people notify me of my work being copied, but I've never found it myself. I simply don't have time to devote to that. The lack of integrity blows my mind.

On the other hand, I don't believe some people realize what they are doing is stealing. Someone very close to me just started crafting, AND has started to sell her creations. She's not making a ton of money, and I know she desperately needs it. However, she is copying work from popular home decor catalogs, cartoon characters, etc. It's so wrong, and I'm so embarrassed for her. I want to say something, but it breaks my heart, because she is on cloud 9 since she's been selling the stuff. :(

Fiona Cartolina said...

I have some thoughts on this Jan.

When you are a young fresh designer you will either fall into the 'copycat category' or the 'original and talented' category.
If you are the original talented one my advice to you is to develop your style in private for as long as you can - show no one!
It's very tempting to show the world your great big new idea or your stunningly gorgeous art because you are so proud and excited. But I believe that's when the trouble starts. The copycats prowl the blogs, Etsy etc. sucking up all the great ideas and them spit them out as their own original idea as fast as they can. Some of the larger companies also prowl and copy from young designers and they can get your idea to market a lot faster than you can.

So be patient, work on your great idea slowly and carefully. When you are ready to show the world - develop a plan that puts your brand firmly on that idea so that it cannot be mistaken for anyone else's.
Plan your press release carefully - don't let your ideas drip out slowly like a leaky tap - make a big splash with your big designs and 'own' them.
That way, when someone comes along, it will be much more difficult for them to copy your work - because you already claimed it and everyone knows.
Simply put - Keep your beautiful work private for as long as you can and then release it with a bang!

amytangerine said...

thanks for addressing this. i started my little tee shirt line over 8 years ago. we hand embroidered wife beater tank tops and sold them to high end boutiques. they retailed for $110 (yes, it's a lot, but a lot of hand embroidery was put into it & it was a super soft, one of a kind creation). they sold well and cindy crawford was even photographed wearing one in glamour magazine. this inspired me to create a business. a line of recycled mens tees made into womens silhouettes. it was great and we got into over 50 stores very quickly.

We continued to made the tank tops, as they were sort of our signature piece, only available in black or white and all one of a kind. We were so excited when Kate Bosworth wore one of the tanks in the movie, "win a date with tad hamilton".

shortly after that, a friend called me to say that Old Navy had knocked off my tank. She sent it to me with the tag still on and sure enough, a TOTAL knock off. The only difference was that it was machine stitched and of course of lesser quality. But the design remained very much the same. They had a machine imitate our hand stitching. And it was $12.99.

So there wasn't any recourse and basically nothing we could do about it. It did make me realize that we need to innovate & move on from our designs, and even if they are best sellers and signature pieces, it's so hard in the fashion industry to copyright designs. Copying stinks and I really appreciate you opening up this topic.

Oh and on the Anthropologie note, it is well known in the fashion industry for them to call items in for a "style-out" and if the designer cannot produce the quantity for the price they want, they simply knock the design off. I just wish there was a way small designers could at least benefit a little from this. Even if it meant a teeny tiny percentage, like .25 percent of the profits.

Kate England | Marmalade Moon said...

I'm so glad you wrote about this topic and to see it being discussed and in such an interesting way! Hopefully it will help to educate as well as open a discussion for frustrated creators.

I'm one of many who can chime in to say that it really hurts when someone copies your work - and sells it.

I think we all get emotionally very caught up in our work and so Bugs and Fishes idea to have a group of friends to double check a possible copycat with, is really great. After all, we live in a time when originality is highly desired (especially in a historic sense when there have been times when working in a certain tradition was the norm), as well as the fact that we are enveloped in trends. We can't help but be influenced by trends and we can't sell something that isn't "trendy" in one way or another.

E-courses are a fairly new area for creative endeavors, I've noticed people being very vague about their course content due to fear of being copied. A huge grey area here, I feel. I mean would I take a course in Greek without knowing if grammar will be included, how many students will be in the group, if anyone actually reads through and responds to my homework, if I'll get any personal feedback and if I'll be allowed to blog about it? Sometimes it helps to compare the online world with the "real" world, would Coca Cola publish their DIY coke recipe? Alright, enough playing devil's advocate...

Finally, I just want to say that I am so thankful to those who have discovered my copy cats, as I'd never have found them myself. The internet is huge and impossible to patrol on one's own, not to mention the offline global world too! As terrible as it is to be copied, it's a real treat to have someone you perhaps don't even know personally, alert you to it!

Again, thanks for bringing up this topic!

Carolina Grönholm said...

Thank you for writing about this! I've also read about plagiarsm over at Pikaland, I can't believe people sometimes...Well thank you for bringing this up to light:)

Anonymous said...

Very wise words Fiona. One of the reasons that I think it keeps happening over and over is they're not scared and really don't care. So many people are pushovers. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt, blah blah. Not say anything. There is a gray area. What a crock people! It's simple black and white. They stole from an artist and they know it. They're not stupid but make themselves believe that it's ok. They want so badly what you have and it is flattery in a weird way. I will not stand for it. Not with my designs. I will confront. whatever I have to do. One I feel confident because my designs are very unique. Why create something that you think someone might have done. Really. Different are the picasso's that leave a finger print in the world for everyone to enjoy. Stand up for yourself because really, no one else is. Be yourself everyone else is taken.

Jan Halvarson said...

Fiona - Another great point - thanks, I think it's so true, people get over exicted (and rightly so) about their new idea/thing and that can be dangerous. I like your advice very much.

RedFenyx said...

I've had many many copycats, it seems that italians (most of them were italians) do not have a clear idea of what stealing is, or even don't think stealing is bad.

I've started registering on my creations, to have a date registration of the pubblication, and it should be a legal proof.

Sometimes people say "oh I have never seen your works" (well, strange thing that my characters are totally born from my fantasy, so I should think we're telepathyc or something?! XD) "oh sorry I didn't think it was wrong to copy and sell"
Some people, especially italians, get angry, and that makes me really mad!
But after a while I got used to this, even if it still make my nerves beating XD
Thanks for the links!

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

I think that this is such a valuable conversation! On a related point, I think that there is a real grey area in terms of the use of magazine images. I see this all over popular blogs everywhere. I mean, magazines spend a lot of money and time to hire style directors and editors and photographers to produce beautiful pages that people are meant to buy. I am not sure that it's really enough for bloggers to simply credit the magazine and photographer. What incentive is there for people to buy magazines when they know that they can find virtually all the content on blogs just as soon as the issue is out? Maybe I am off base with this because it seems like extremely common practice. Would love to hear your thoughts.

shana said...

thanks so much for posting this! its so important and so damaging for the crafting community. i've seen firsthand how awful it can be. it takes the wind out of your sails and does take a bit of the fun away. no good.

thanks again!

Lauren Bacon said...

So appreciating the intelligent discussion & helpful resources here! Jenny Hart from Sublime Stitching has written some great advice on a related topic, licensing your designs to small-scale producers - especially relevant for a business like hers that creates embroidery patterns, but I think it could be a useful model for a lot of us artsy types. If you use a licensing model (and it might be a Creative Commons license, e.g. noncommercial / personal use is free but commercial use requires a paid licensing fee), then you have a legal recourse and a very clear way to approach copycats.

In my experience, one of the key things is to take the emotion out of the interaction. So if you can approach people and say, "I've noticed that you're using one of my designs here, and I want to make sure you're aware of our licensing agreement - and by the way, here's why it matters and how a similar arrangement might be helpful to *your* creative business…" That's a great conversation starter that is both very clear from a business perspective (i.e. you either owe me money or you need to stop using my design) and also has the potential to lay the foundation for a mutually supportive, friendly relationship in future. Because as many commenters have noted, the online & crafty communities are VERY small!

I tried to find Jenny's Venus Zine column on the subject, but I got a 404 error, so am posting the Google Cache version instead: Crafting a Business with Jenny Hart: Copyright, patent, protect?

The Postage Service said...

Thank you for drawing even more attention to this topic. Throughout 4 years of business it has become necessary to confront several copycats, with mixed results. Before releasing new products I always research within reason to make sure that what I am offering is unique and easily distinguishable from others. Unfortunately some have tried to steal my hard work and pass it off as their own. While disappointed, I take pride in knowing that I am the "brains", and have great faith in the loyalty of my customers, sales reps, and stockists.

Lindsay said...

Interesting post. The copying is rampant! Either it's someone copying your craft and design pieces, or it's a blogger taking material and not crediting you. (And that's larger established blogs, too, including , amazingly, one in my own home town (not you obviously)). It seems to happen to me far more often in blogging than it happens in craft, but I've experienced both.

To some extent I think there are some structural reasons why copying happens in the craft and design world. It's one of the confusing contradictions of craft and design that we, as members of a modern, individualist culture, inherently think in terms of affirming own our individuality, creativity, originality and authorship. But then we involve ourselves in "craft," which connotes long-shared, older communal traditions of manufacture that involve aesthetic rules and technical methods that are shared common property. I've had the following contradictory experience: creating an object that borrowed from traditional craft but that I updated it to make it more modern; allowing it to be featured in Craft Magazine as a DIY project with photos and instructions, which of course highlighted both my originality AND my part in a shared tradition; and finally noticing online that people were actually reproducing my item, and realizing I was having a twinge of irritation. And then feeling ridiculous! There's a fundamental if unspoken feeling in craft that these skills are something that we in the modern world should all be re-learning, but then we're confused when everyone wants in.

Of course, there's a big difference between people emulating us for their own enjoyment and copying us in or to make money from our ideas. That should seem like an obvious distinction but perhaps it's more complicated than that, and it also depends on the degree of copying. I've contacted a couple of people on Etsy about copying items (things I haven't published DIY steps for) and they usually deny that they've seen mine, despite an identical appearance. But then I wonder to what extent I "own" these ideas, and to what extent copyright is really just massive commodification of ideas that were once shared. I think many of us get into craft in the first place precisely because it allows us to feel as if we're part of an earlier tradition, where quality is better than it is in commercial mass production and where we can somehow exist outside the crass meaninglessness of the modern market. And yet of course competition and ownership and copyright then come into play.

I hope that wasn't too incomprehensible. Just haven't had a chance to discuss this before. Thanks, Jan.

Andrea Dixon said...

Thanks for posting about this topic. My work has been copied by an Etsy seller and I haven't really posted any new work since because I'm upset about it. The only 'good' thing is that the pieces aren't selling, nonetheless the seller has stolen my ideas and tried to exactly copy my work and won't respond to my very polite inquiries about it.

It's a really disappointing experience but it does make me realize that I need to work harder to continually create new and better designs and methods.

Kiona van Rhee- Wilson said...

Great post! I have been looking at and for posts and info like this much over the past few weeks, as I am in the middle of a copyright infringement issue. In a way I have always been ready for having to deal with this as I have seen SO many of my crafting and designing friends having to deal with it, but that doesn't make dealing with it yourself any easier. It really gives your morale a swift kick in the rear, because it plants a serious seed of doubt and insecurity about the security of your designs, and the possibility of all YOUR hard work paying off into the hands of your copy cat.
Fortunately for me, my (current) case is a blatant copy, by a small time crafter, and most of the copies are on Etsy. Through my filing an official complaint to Etsy, they are doing their part, and are in the process of taking the infringing items down, because the copier has ignored my own requests. But this particular copier has the copies in several market places all over the internet, so I am going to have to do this process over and over again. Which brings me to my next point of frustration; the amount of time I have had to spend, and will still need to spend, doing my research and documenting to back up and support, and report my case. And fortunately I haven't had to get to the point (yet) of spending money with an IP lawyer, but in these cases it can naturally come to that. So the fact that the copyright holder has to spend so much time and money protecting their rights, while the copier can easily and ignorantly do what they want for free, and profit is frustrating. So posts and discussions like these are great to educate and prevent- and I thank you for it!

Helen James said...

This topic obviously hits a nerve. I have also had my work copied and sometimes it is ok and sometimes not! I do think it is important not to become TOO hung up on this though.
Don't know if you are aware of a recent article on about V Beckham copying an English designer called Osman Yousefzada. Osman said he was "flattered" I am sure he was furious but in a strange twist the reality is He will and is, getting a LOT of publicity from this. So more people are becoming aware of his work, and realise he is an original thinker.
I think if the copier does not respond the world should be made aware. The difficulty here is that again as previously said this is a grey area I recently read a post on a crafter's blog about how furious she was of people copying her, always copying her. The reality is her designs are not original to begin with, she may sell many but they are generic, so how can someone be copying her, can you "copy" the design of a plain white tee-shirt?
Copyrighting each individual design is not an option for most small businesses. It seems, I think, that the only way to prove copying is to prove you were first and the design is "original" .....what does that mean?
As you see from all of your responses and their length this is obviously a contentious issue and I do believe the more we discuss it the more people will understand and things will maybe begin to happen or become clearer.


Very well said. I recently did a post on my blog about the same topic regarding copies of my work. I am just glad that more and more people see it for what it truly is.

Amy@Pikaland said...

Jan, I've been seeing lots of this crop up lately. Copycats are everywhere, but lately it's just getting ridiculous. In some cases its a little fuzzy and a little grey, but for those who copy outright and blatantly at that, make no mistake – they will be caught red-handed and be publicly humiliated, especially among a community of tight knit artists. It's just a matter of when and who will discover the atrocity.

I've had people submit their work to me and after a few clicks, found that they were copying other people's work! Stealing other people's work is one thing, but being PROUD of it is totally another. The nerve!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for bringing up this topic and for everyone's replies. I agree that outright copying is wrong, and that that there is a grey area when it comes to being inspired by someone.

I'd just like to add my two cents worth. (I'm a designer and have a blog, but prefer to remain anonymous). I completely agree with Helen James, about some people's designs not being very original to start with, so how can they be upset if people do something similar? In my mind, it takes a LOT of hard work ie. concepts, sketching, drawing, experimenting etc. to come up with something truly original and with your own personal, distinctive stamp.

For me personally, both being copied and having people produce work inspired by my ideas without crediting me, both hurt equally, especially if their copied or inspired designs win more praise, and/or have more success.

I have been in the situation where someone has copied me, but because they were more successful and recognized, everyone thought she came up with the idea, and that I was the "copier". Odd to be in a position where I have supposedly copied myself!!

MPES PFA said...

I'm always worried about this... I genuinely never want to rip someone off... And I do regularly re-post fantastic ideas, images, etc. However I ALWAYS make a point to credit the source. ALSO, my blog is for my own entertainment and I don't accept any compensation for it. Part of why I've turned turn offers to advertise is that I don't want to have to make things "official" and therefor end up embroiled in this whole mess. So, as someone who considers themselves more an observer than artist, am I still stepping on toes by posting as such? Oh, and it must be said that even lowly me has seen duplicate blog posts on "big" blogs the very next day after I post them... Obviously, we don't live in a "vacuum", but it's awfully coincidental that I would post a comment to their blog only to have MY content appear on their (uncredited) within hours.

Jan Halvarson said...

I'm enjoying seeing everyone's comments here. It's true, there are some really fine lines and it's hard to say what is copying and what is not.

But I think it's good to have a platform like this to discuss matters, and bring the subject some more weight than what maybe it's not getting.

There are many discussions going on here and some subjects I think is important to keep on talking about. So this week I hope to address the blog copying subject and maybe we can think up ideas that might help each other.

Anonymous said...

When I tried to write about this issue two years ago on my blog, I was shocked at the number of 'artists' who attacked me for bringing up such a 'hot potato' topic. They didn't seem to take offense at the woman whom I did not name, but referenced that had blatently stolen my ideas... repeatedly. No, it seemed more obvious than not, that these creators were scared that under the magnifying glass of the blog, perhaps THEY would be exposed as COPY CATS too.
I have turned down opportunities to be in Somerset, because I didn't want to add to the idea that ANYthing a person sees in a photo is 'fair game' to make and call your own. I definitely feel that those types of publications have given a huge boost to the people who feel no pangs of consciousness about using someone else's design, creation, art as a PATTERN. There is one very well known woman with a shop in Kansas that took photos of artwork at the Atlanta Gift Show when the artist specifically said "No" to her request to shoot the pictures. She then posted the photos on her blog and went on to say that the artists were asking too much for their creations and that everyone should try making them themselves! You'd recognize her name.... when contacted by the artists, she was forced to remove the pictures as posted.
Where is your art promoted that is safe? Not the internet, not at shows, not in magazines.... not anywhere. How sad.

teri said...

I am jumping on this discussion a little late as I only just learned about it. A friend who read my blog entry about my ongoing very ordeal, just told me to come on over here!
Thank you for bringing up this very important issue.
I am afraid that many crafters (some on etsy and some off) are following me closely, introducing a similar design shortly after I've designed and introduced something, and extending their product line similary when I extend mine. My idea, my bio, my aesthetic, my business model - its all being followed very closely. Its creepy.
Is it about lack of self esteem? Without a doubt, it is about greed and lack of integrity. How quickly they sell away that integrity for a few hundred dollars.

I write briefly about my experiences here:

Without a doubt, it is the most troubling and saddening aspect of being a designer and entrepreneur.

Lindethiel said...

I have had my ideas, listings, shop policies and other items stolen quite blatantly by someone I considered a friend. I've also had them stolen by complete strangers. It's quite disheartening to say the least. They always say that copying is the best form of flattery, but really, it just sucks. I have not approached this person, because it is not worth the heartache that I know it will cause as we run in the same circle of friends.

On the flip side. I have been wrongly accused of stealing another persons work. After having been creating many different accesories I was after a new way of doing things. I put out a question asking people if they knew how to create a certain thing, and was then accused of stealing this ladies work becasue she had earlier created something similar to what I had been thinking of. Now, I had in no way stolen her idea, I was already creating these accessories and just wanted to know if there was an easier way to do it.

So my point is, one has to be very careful when accusing others of stealing your work. To wronly accuse someone is WORSE than to accuse someone who has actually done it.

Tania Goranitis said...

Thanks for talking about it; because it does have to be talked about (as difficult and uncomfortable as it may be). I have shared your blog with our Facebook Members.