The Sidetrack Cafe No. 4: In Support of Authenticism (Part II)

I rarely post directly; often, we discuss things and we throw ideas around and I'll throw in my two cents, but I leave the writing for the most part to Jan and sit at my computer in the other room and fight with code - but today I thought I'd type English and weigh in on the ongoing discussion that we generated with our What Happened to the Magic post.

We've received a ton of response from this post; most of it echoing our feelings about copying (note "copying" vs. "deriving inspiration from"), and I think a lot of the community out there feels in some way the same as us, but we've also heard from others that either feel differently, or who are misconstruing our message. We want to strongly emphasize that we fully support "newbies" and new, up and coming artists, or any other community members who are discovering and exploring the handmade landscape. Our whole concept from the beginning was to support indie and emerging talents, many of whom found exposure difficult and hard to come by, and to provide a community and voice to so many of the great artists that we discovered online. We certainly don't want to discourage any new artists; new artists are the life blood of what we see beauty in.

But, what we do feel strongly about is misuse of the hard work and many years of love and passion that artists put into honing their craft, only to have it blatantly ripped off by people/companies with no accreditation or (heaven forbid) monetary reward for all the effort/love/passion/time they've put in. All the great crafts and handmade's that are out there have been born of an artist's hard work and thoughtful reflection, to see all that effort being misappropriated is - in my wife's words - sad (my words are not as kind - but then, she's a beautiful person).

We've also seen some feedback that speaks to not worrying about all this copying stuff, not "getting bogged down" and to just keep on creating and let this other stuff work it's own way out, and I really wished the world would work like that, but, alas, it doesn't. I think we all need to take responsibility, because only by working together to protect our own works can we create an atmosphere where an artists' sweat can be valued. Copying does matter, and we need an appropriate response to it.


(Part III to this post is here.



Rachel said...

Im glad you wrote that... that you Do support new and up and coming... I didn't comment on yesterdays post but I did feel a little bit defeated.. I'm new to the whole selling craft etc online game thing whatever you call it... and i have to say I did look at my work and say did i copy anyone am i one of a kind am i doing the right thing here....then on the other hand I totally agree with what your saying... but I am glad you have now posted your support in both directions.

Anna Denise said...

Thank you so very much for this post. I'm glad I misunderstood your earlier post. Yay for authenticism!

Love, Anna Denise
( |

greenbeenfood said...

i too didn't comment yesterday but was left feeling a bit flat after reading it.....i too questioned my blogs direction & my rang true what was written however today i did want some sort of recap and appreciate the finale of your post in relation to "what happened to the magic".

Peggy said...

I didn't comment yesterday because well, life happened... I must admit I do "copy" things that have been an inspiration to me but and that is a big BUT it is only for my personal use. Like the button wreath I recently made out of my grandmother's buttons which was inspired by Ballard Designs. I've been wanting to do something with her old buttons which would remind me of her! NOw I have a beautiful wreath which serves daily as a reminder of her beautiful spirit!

However I do agree with you whole heartedly! It is just WRONG for a person to copy another's work and claim it as their own.... I do sew bags but have NEVER sold one online. I am just not at the point where I feel confidant enough to proceed. So right now I quietly plug along... selling by word of mouth or just making them as gifts. Maybe one day I'll venture out but at this point I am just too intimidated by those whom I consider real artists...

Keep up the good work!

StephieB said...

Hi Earl,

It's funny, I was chatting with my husband about yesterday's post last night.

I am new to the online world craft wise (I only started blogging in August) but I have had this experience previously as a crafter some years ago when I made dolls so that I could work from home while my kids were young.

It is heart breaking to have your designs copied and as you said, it isn't so much about the finished product sometimes but the process and work that got you there.

Unfortunately, I think human nature is what it is and I think that people are so governed by making a quick buck sometimes that
any sense of fair play goes out the window. I hope I am not being too cynical!

As my husband commented, he believes that you can be creative but you need to have the business skills to back it up. If you can't see a way to market your product to make money, someone else will and will do so. Look at some of the great discoveries of our time - ideas worth a fortune but the actual "discoverer" left out in the cold saying "but that was my idea".

Maybe the compromise is to have a truly handcrafted product for those of us that appreciate it but to create something modified for the mass market as well so then at least the artist has some control. I don't know if this is the answer but maybe it's a start!

On another note, I have read your blog for a long time now (I have just been a little shy about leaving comments) and I love it! Please keep up your support for all things "Indie". I for one, and I am sure I am not alone, appreciate all that is hand made. I love that we have the internet to open up the world for all of us to enjoy and be able to communicate with each other so easily.

Have a great day and thankyou,
Stephie x

StephieB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juliet said...

I'm glad you cleared that up. As I was reading the post yesterday, I did feel there were parts that read anti-newbie!

Anonymous said...

Well... there are those that say "don't worry about it" or don't get "bogged down" by this issue aren't there?

Those people haven't walked through a major department store and been stopped dead in their tracks by one of their designs staring back at them from a 'made in China' product, made in different colours, different sizes, by an international company and distributed across the country.

I do wish this hadn't happened to me and countless other independent makers. But it's happening all too often and it does matter. It's a devastating experience and it does make us question why we continue. It matters not only to me, as an individual crafting on my kitchen table, but also to consumers who are buying all this stuff. What are you really buying? Big companies making money from blatant copying.

A massive issue and its impossible to know where to start. I'm glad you're writing about it.

Jen Selk said...

This is such a depressing issue. In part, I think because so many people don't understand what the words copyright and plagiarism really mean.

As a journalist, I once wrote a story about a Vancouver graffiti artist who was being ripped off about five years ago now, in ION magazine. (The story is available on my website in the journalism archive - - if anyone is interested.)

In putting out a piece about this artist's plight, we hoped to help him. After all, his work had clearly been stolen, put on T-shirts, etc., and mass marketed by a number of different online sellers.

Unfortunately, the little piece, in a little magazine, didn't help at all. The artist's designs continue to be used and the strangers who stole from him continue to profit, seemingly without regret, even five years later. I imagine their attitude is: "We had the idea to SELL this, so it's ours." or "We got away with it, so we won the right to continue doing it." Neither makes much sense.

It seems that, for the "little guy," fighting is often useless. I don't know why I say this except to express that I'm glad you and are trying to shed more light on this problem. All in all, it's a huge bummer.

Cassandra said...

Thank you for this post.

Misha Lulu said...

I love this post and I agree!
I am a very small company and we are constantly copied by others. I have heard of a big studio having few of our pieces hung in their inspiration room for their artists and designers to use. That is so sad!

Cherry Rockette said...

thought i'd share from the other side, sort of. i'm currently an indie designer/maker/one man band, but before having my son i worked for a company that, to be blunt, bought clothes/images and ripped them off. (my roles were in production and quality assurance, not design, so pls don't shoot me!) but the company's attitude was simply: its a good idea, we can sell that. no further thought involved. sometimes changes were made, such as colours or slightly changing the fit of clothes or tweaking by a minimal amount, but overall most items were just copied exactly. whether the original was from a big chain, or from a local designer, they both got copied with no qualms whatsoever.
it's a shame that such a beautiful article will pretty much fall on deaf ears, as those who copy just don't have the morals to be swayed by an article (or 2 or 10).
what you can do is take them to court over it. this particular company often had to remove stock from the shelves because of this.
Be aware, that they also used to just ship it to another state so the original artist wouldn't see it and they could still sell it, so get friends to keep eyes out too. and if that didn't work, then they would send the tee shirts off to a local printer and add "about 10%" difference, then put it straight back on the racks.
it's awful, it's shameful, but it's a successful(financially) method, and so it gets perpetuated.
it really does leave a bad taste in your mouth.

now going into my own business, i'm very aware of the fact that my ideas are likely to be stolen. but my attitude is that its my strength as a designer that will ensure success, and the fact that my primary target market values handmade, local, beautifully constructed garments over cheap sweat shop copies that gives me hope. the kind of people who will enjoy and treasure their purchase instead of discarding it after a season.
if my work gets copied, so be it, its a part of how our world works now and is too big to stop, but if i can make someone happy through what i produce, that's the best feeling in the world. it makes me strive to be better at what i do, and to get rid of that nasty taste from years before.


Margie Oomen said...

i really appreciate hearing your english voice tonight earl.
I really think we need to be vigilant and call a spade a spade when we see talented creative artists being blatantly copied in front of our eyes. Sometimes the copiers hide it from the internet and sell direct to the public thinking no one will notice. But we do notice. We do have cameras and phones that take photographs and we can document the crime and report it. In fact we I think it is our duty to do so.
This happened last weekend at the OOAC show in Toronto where I saw a seller from Montreal copying the work of Abigail Brown.

tiel said...

i posted a comment on your facebook feed after someone had stated this "So...people who share their crafts online expect people to not copy the idea? They need to not post them and keep them to themselves if thats the case. this is the internet...the "information highway" Wow."

I was so angry that people can think this.

I have had my artwork stolen twice from two different, international companies this year. TWICE!!!
I have successfully won a legal battle with one of them and the other one is in process. Large companies who can afford to pay for a design should and they are just stupid to think that they can get away with it.

Uploading your work on the internet whether it be a blog, a shop, or any other website makes for a far stronger case to prove, if you have created something original then it is yours, and will always be yours. Not to be copied EVER!
In regards to the smaller crafting projects that people produce and then have other people make their own version. Well history will tell you that internet, or no internet, that is the way it has always been.
But for the copiers out there who make something they have seen elsewhere.. don't go making out like you are a designer who has made something unique. Just be honest and say, 'yes I took this idea from someone else'. Use it for your personal use, but don't go making and selling something that has a particular look and feel of another's.
Perhaps we should reassess the term craft. To me craft is something to shared and learned. But art and design that possesses a uniqueness and originality should remain that of the creator.

Smaller companies and independent designers need to take on the responsibility that if their work is stolen then they need to do something about it. yes it can costs lots of money, but the problem will only get worse if we don't stand up for ourselves.

melissa said...

I agree with the previous poster who said this is a depressing issue. Shortly after reading your post yesterday, I stumbled, quite coincidentally, on a number of my photographs being used on another site without my permission. It's not the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last. In fact, I just finished writing a blog post of my own to go out tomorrow before reading your follow up.

How do you fight it? It's so rampant you could spend your entire work life fighting to keep your work safe (and then would you create anything new?). I completely agree that you can't let it go. What is happening is flat out wrong. But, at the same time the time and money needed to fight back is more than most small entrepreneurs can manage (and I think that's what contributes to to it being so rampant - the copyright thieves know how unlikely it is that we'll have the means to fight back).

There must be a way to band together and fight back and protect the hard work we put into our creations. I will continue to mull this one over but I would love to hear any suggestions.

Mandy Behrens said...

Thank you both for fighting the good fight and advocating authenticity. We are fortunate to have your talents and concerted efforts. All my best, Mandy

dahlhaus said...

I think the whole topic of blatant copying by big business of artists/craftspeople is a bit of a no-brainer. It's wrong and should be stopped. As an artist I've always hoped that, if exposed (as you have done here on Poppytalk) most people would get that and be angry enough not to buy into it.
The foggy area happens as artists gain and soak up what's happening around them (ie trends), they work through ideas and possibly ideas they may have seen elsewhere, and end up with work that may be similar to another artists work out there.
There is a lot of grey matter out there on the idea of original work, ownership of work, and the origin of the idea: it can be hard to navigate through it. There are times when artists need to make the work that is inspiring them, even if it's just to get to something new, something that is more their own. Most artists who are confident in the process of making know where that original idea came from and then move far enough away from it to make it their own. That is/should be the goal with any concept that is taken in part or inspired by another artist, along with acknowledgment of it's origin.

Thank you Jan and Earl for both writing heart-felt responses to the 'plague of the copycat' that seems to have exploded over the past few years. I really have appreciated all you have done in promoting many, many new and emerging artists, myself included! Your advocacy of handmade, artists, and indie culture has always resonated with me.

Caroline Hancox said...

I'm glad I saw this post as I agree with everything that you said yesterday, but it is hard to be a newbie. I have had a blog for about 2 years now and I still feel like a very tiny fish in a huge ocean of other fantastic artist, bloggers and what not so just wanted to say yay for newbies too! and don't give up x

Things Hand Made said...

Well said. i think it has to be said, to remind people to play nicely. my concern is that we take it seriously Some places like Toast and Anthropologie produces some great stuff and then I see it copied/tutorials. I dont think anyone can mind you making your own stuff for you but we need to remember that there is still a designer/maker behind that design. Even though it is in a store.

Unknown said...

I have read Jan's post and as many of the comments as I could, I have read your post and all the comments here...

Copyright feels like such a hideous and almost impossible subject because there are so many who have no respect for it. To me the issue of stealing anothers work (regardless of who is stealing) seems to have devolved into a classic bullying situation. To me it seems that those who are being stolen from are being backed into a corner with fear, as though if they don't relent and give up the work to others the situation will only get worse.
As with bullying situations it is not easy to see the way out, to see that standing up for yourself is the best thing you can do, both for yourself and everyone around you. It takes real guts to stand up to bullies but it needs to be done.

In the short term I think the best we can do for each other right now is support each other. Pass on any advice that will help others, take the time to learn what is authentic and keep a vigilant eye out for what is not authentic. Continue to do what we are all doing and try to remain positive about our own work and authenticity.

In the long term I think we need something far more substancial. I would love to see something like an nternational artists, designers and crafters union. A body that can represent and support independant artists across the whole world. A place we can turn to and rely on to supply the advice and support we need when we need it.
I don't know how or where to start with something like this but I am positive it is something that can be done........

Emma Lamb

Unknown said...

I've thought about this all day. Theft of intellectual property, creative ideas. This travesty isn't new for any artist. I haven't had it on the big scale of a big box store, just one artist. But she managed to place the theft within a prominent fundraising project on Facebook. I probably should have contacted them. I unfriended and blocked her instead.

So... what can be done? I think just what Earl did. He wrote some beautifully written editorials. I've heard all the arguments of the other comments here and I am happy he wrote his comments. All artists need the reminder that to be inspired is OK, but to copy and sell is not. To copy is not either unless it is being presented as a project for just that, your use. If you see a good idea infuse it with yourself.

I love this blog. I read the headlines and then I read Poppytalk and it inspires my creativity for the day. The atmosphere, the ether of creatively comes through the internet to my studio, to me.

I don't need to make what is pictured here. I need to make my stuff, but everything here freshens my day. Stirs up my creative and importantly my business juices.

Reading this blog and the linked blogs have begun to help me think that if I wrote a blog, what would I say? What goes on in my creative life, my everyday life that might be interesting, inspiring to others. And well, might encourage some sales. or discussion. and a more creative life.

thanks so much for your commentary Earl. And thanks to both you and Jan for Poppytalk.