Aug 16, 2010

Inspiration: where does it end?

Recently our lovely friend Pottymouthmama wrote a post about copying. The reaction was quite strong. It got me thinking about this article I wrote a while ago and have been wondering where exactly to put it. On some handmade forums?? I couldn’t decide. After showing it to a couple of bloggy friends I decided to just put it here but want others to feel free to forward this post or link to it on your own blog:

Inspiration.:Where does it end?....

Sometimes when we see things we like we are inspired by them.
For example you are flicking through a magazine and you see a dress that is purple and orange. Normally you may never have even considered putting purple and orange together but upon seeing it you think- that would be great for the next time I make a headband or softie or even a totally different style dress. You were inspired by the dress , it stimulated a new idea in you - it caused you to go in a new direction of an idea you already had or it caused a new idea to just start forming in your loved the colours so you are thinking of using the same colours, in your own way- this is inspiration.
Sometimes we see things when we are looking around the internet and we think they look so good. Sometimes we wonder why didn’t I think of that? The idea is so simple you are amazed at how great it is. You start to think the internet is so big no one will notice if I start making them and selling them and calling them my very own design will they?

Well, maybe people might notice. Maybe people who have seen the item somewhere on the internet, say on an overseas handmade website, will get really upset at what you are doing. Maybe they have seen the original and successful product. Maybe it is robbing the artist who came up with the idea of what is rightfully their sale?

All of us know how long it can take to come up with the idea, the sketches, the how to’s lists make the prototypes, find exactly the right glue, fabric, shape, size, colour etc. When we copy someones idea we are taking credit not only for the initial idea but all the work they did prior to the item actually being for sale. Maybe when you copy what someone else has done, when you really honestly know deep down that the idea is not really your own but it is one you took from someone else, without giving them the credit, maybe you get a feeling in the pit of your stomach that one day you will be found out, maybe you have to worry all the time about the original artist stumbling upon your work and getting really mad at you? Maybe you are even breaching copyright??
What I am talking about is outright copying. Recently I saw some rattles on etsy. They were so like mine I just about cried. All my hard work!I couldn’t believe the nerve! I confronted the copycat and they were removed. Which was lucky for me. ( but don’t think I still don’t check to make sure the don’t come back!!)

What I find really upsetting is artists overseas are being copied and they wouldn’t have any idea. People who are blatantly copying are getting huge exposure on newsletters, blogs and in one case on a magazine cover, and they are exact copies of ideas I have seen on handmade sites overseas years ago!!! The items are always cheaper so not only copying but then undercutting the original designer- the worst of crimes.
When you really truly come up with your own great idea it is a powerful thing. It is a feeling of great excitement, a feeling of wanting to show everyone -to ask them what they think. That fantastic feeling when people tell you they love what you made and you are so proud because it all came from inside your head. You can take all the credit because it was all your idea and you did all the hard work. Hooray for you!!
So where to from here? I think as part of the handmade community it is up to us to protect the rights of our fellow crafters/ artists/ creatives- but how can we do that? I am open to suggestions.


  1. Oh, it's a sticky wicket. I could swear to you that I agonizingly created a pattern out of a "mother of invention" moment, painstakingly went through 3 prototypes before I got it just right and was proud of the result...only to have an email in my box 3 weeks later telling me I'd copied someone I'd never heard of. It's devastating, I would never knowingly copy anyone, nor take credit for something I did not create myself.
    Sometimes, great minds do think alike I suppose, I just recently saw something out there that looked a little too familiar but, I did not want to rush to judgement and I wouldn't want to make anyone feel horrible.
    Like I said sticky wicket

  2. Good post. I do love the initial example though. I think that is what I love so about the net - all that inspiration. Recently though I used a free Moda pattern to make bibs for a couple of big tummied friends and loved it so much that I wanted to make stacks more and sell them. I faced a dilema. Use that pattern or draft my own, maybe buying one and copying it. Not on. How do I take a perfectly normal item and make it my own, especially when it falls into space confines. I mean how big or small can you make a useful bib? Is copying one I pick up at the op-shop worse than using a free pattern. The actual reason I loved making them was the fabrics that I used - in this case reclaimed sheets. Really there is no problem. I will not infringe the designers rights but maybe I will still use their neck measurements? Who knows. I can see why people copy - some design, some just love to make but yes it is still wrong. So the bibs go on the back burner, one row down on the things on my table, waiting for my own inspiration or baby neck measuring while I transform already mass produced clothes into individual items for me. Is that copy-right infringeing? What if I sold my remakes. I don't want to know that either. Eeek. Cherrie

  3. I agree it is about intention too. Take for example my felt ball heart. I came up with that a few months ago only to then see the balls threaded onto wire to make a chandelir a couple of weeks ago. Of course there was no copying,as I had mine hanging on the wall in Busys room, but I do think that people often think of similar things at the same time... that is very different.
    Another time I made my friend a little paper mobile for her kitchen with the plan to make them in felt eventually, literally days later I saw them on decor8, I couldn't beleive it- I know it happens.

  4. Wonderful post Cath - I don't know how we stop it except for educating the handmade community just as you are trying to do. I just hope that customers know the difference between the original and the imitations!

  5. Really great post Cath - have you ever checked out this site:

    I think the more noise you make, the more unlikely people are going to do it.

  6. I agree it's such a tricky situation and sometimes it's hard to know where to draw the line. It's all good to see something online and a re-work it as a personal item for our homes {and give credit} but to see something somebody else makes and then profit from it I guess there has to be an invisible line somewhere.

  7. I agree with Lola Nova - sticky wicket! I loved your red stag head so much and it has inspired me to draft an applique pattern of a whole roaring stag for a quilt I'm making for someone. Then today, flicking through a mag I saw an advert for a cushion and it had a red stag head on a white background. If they saw yours and you saw theirs - who gets to decide who had the idea first? I don't doubt that it was pure coincidence in this case but I have heard of little players having ideas copied by big boys and it's the people with the most money that win that battle - sad. I think we just have to act with honour and use our heads when we buy. That's all we can do. (And educate people - like you just did!)

  8. Exactly. Act with honour is the key. there will always be conincidences but when you see things where the idea is so obviously copied where they ahve made something and then used the same font or something on it- that is really not a coincidence.

  9. Great article.
    It's a really important issue.

    I have a problem with people taking photos of my work at my Market site.
    If people are nice and they ask permission, I'll always say yes.

    But then there are those who try to be sneaky and zoom their fancy camera lenses in on the finer details of my designs.
    My ideas. My patterns. My time and effort.

    Usually they won't even look at me. It makes me so mad. I jump up and wave my arms around saying 'No Photos Please'.
    They probably think I'm mad!
    But I don't care.

    You never know what they plan to do with those images...
    We can't all afford to pay for copyright protection.

    Then there are those who openly pick up your work, turning it over, checking all the details and then discuss how they can make it themselves... Unbelievable!

    Sorry for venting.
    But I feel better now...

    Well done for trying to educate people. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.
    Hope we can all come up with a solution.

  10. Great post, thanks for stimulating discussion, Cath. I just wanted to add something about ignorance and the importance of having this conversation. I have spoken to people, recently even, who hadn't really considered the idea of someone being the 'designer' behind the quilt/ softie whatever that they are about to sketch and copy. They weren't consciously ripping someones idea off (even though that's what they were doing) because there was no thought- no cunningness behind it, just ignorance about all those things you talked about (time, ideas, prototypes etc). So good one for raising it.

  11. I tend to look for several points of differentiation .. materials, techniques, scale. Whenever I am making something I admit that I generally do a quick search via etsy and madeit to make sure that what I am proposing isn't too familiar with someone else's work. I also make sure I document my process and collect prototypes so that if I am ever challenged I can prove that I arrived at my destination through my own investigations. The reality is that if my product has enough differentiation then it will sell, hopefully!

  12. I think it is such a horrid thing and happens so often, more and more now I think as corporate 'borrows' ideas from handmade artists to mass produce as well.
    It is my greatest fear that I have an idea that I think is really good and worry that I have inherited it from the millions of images that I think 'wow' about and then moved on.
    It really is a complicated issue.

  13. GREAT POST! thank you for always making time to write about this important subject...

    I agree with Lola Nova that is IS sticky - sometimes two people have a great idea and they can be separated by an ocean but it doesn't always mean someone is copying another person, though some folks will since they can not be bothered to think for themselves, which brings me to Cindy's comment and the "Corporate Clones" who find great ideas from hand-crafters and then use them for their own 'handmade' lines of product that you KNOW is really being made by people living in poverty ridden third world countries =-( ...but i think this is where blogging can help...

    As we blog about our process, we generate a following of loyal readers, and hopefully customers, who prefer to buy OUR products and will be happy to speak out and against those who copy-cat. And maybe not buy from those corporate conglomerates that try to pass off products made at the expense of 'slave wages' as "handmade". At least, that is what i HOPE for =-)

  14. On the weekend I gave my goddaughter a bag I'd made from a pattern that Nicole Mallalieu (a professional patternmaker) had generously provided a free tutorial for on her website. One of the party guests, not knowing I have a craft business, complimented me saying I could sell them at markets. My immediate response was to explain it wasn't my pattern so I couldn't possibly sell them. Later I realised she didn't know about my business, so I thanked her for the compliment but explained that taking another designer's pattern - especially one who everyone in my craft community knows - would be an act of war. I was surprised that this person really couldn't believe it was a violation to make money from someone else's design.

    This is probably all part and parcel of people not understanding the value of original handmade stuff and the hard work behind it - there'd have to be a huge segment of the community who assume we're all making projects from last month's issue of Women's Weekly.

  15. Great post, Cath. and I agree with the sticky and the coincidence factors. If you had neither the intention or even knowledge of the other product it is hard ... but I guess this just serves to keep us on our creative toes. When someone does it deliberately without thought for the maker ... it shits me!

  16. It's happened to me quite a few times and it's hard not to mind if neither of us is making much money out of our efforts. But I was really peeved to see a made it shop which had copied not only 3 of my works but also work from other sellers!

  17. I know how you feel, I have even had people I work with in an art co-op start making things exactly the same as me and sell them cheaper!! I give up. But I just keep on making what I like and try and come up with new ideas. I make lots of different things that other people make too, like glass tile pendants, and saw some on madeit using the exact same digital images, but I can't consider that copying as the images are sold to anyone to use. Their pendants were heaps cheaper than mine too! I also looked at your site Polka Dot Rabbit, and saw your coasters, this is something I used to make and sometimes still do, with Golden Books and atlasses but I didn't copy you, I can't even remember where I got the idea, but it was a couple of years ago. It's a sticky situation. I see a lot on online tutorials on how to make things and this is how I learn and then I try to change these designs to make them my own.

  18. Hello Cath,

    A few years ago when I was crafting I designed a series of unique Santas and little snowmen. A Party Plan company was interested in one of the snowmen so this woman came to my house and photographed him and said she would get back to me. Well, I didn't hear so I phoned her and she gave me the brush-off. About six weeks later I saw a version of my snowman - in their catalogue! I checked out the legalities but there was nothing I could do seeing as how you can't copyright ideas and items only have to be slightly different to be OK.

    So, according to the Copyright Council at "Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, styles, techniques or information.". Hence it is so easy for people to get away with copying. In Australia copyright doesn't have to be registered and it is not even necessary to use the copyright symbol.

    So... how to get the message across.... Good for you for confronting the person that copied from you. That is what I do with my craft and with my publishing stuff too. Bluffing works a lot of the time and if the issue is really important then you can pull out the legal big guns and that can be very stressful and expensive. I usually find a stern warning together with the threat of reporting them to the owner of the website and/or to their ISP is enough to make people see the light. Be careful of naming and shaming in your Blogs or on Forums though, as then they have ammunition against you and it could turn nasty. If it comes down to one person's word against another usually no one wins in the end. You just have to hope they have a conscience or at least some basic morals.

    Once your work leaves your desk and enters the public domain you have to expect some sort of trouble at some stage. I remember seeing some folk walking around the Riverside Markets in Brisbane taking photos and then pretty soon you'd see all these cheap imports of stuff they had pilfered. In a case like that you need a lot of money to fight it. As one of your readers said it it indeed very tricky.

    I now make dolls as a hobby and I always make it a point of saying which is my original design and I give credit if I have made something from someone else's pattern. Also give a web link if you can and it is best to do this even if you only used a portion of that person's pattern. I use a lot of vintage patterns and you would think they would be perfectly safe to use. Fact is, they are not; and copyright rules still apply. If you cannot contact the original designer for permission you need to put in some kind of acknowledgement and/or disclaimer to say you are not pinching their work. These days most people who sell patterns will say whether or not you can make stuff to sell from their patterns.

    Still, I am appalled by the attitude of some people - once I had an article stolen and the person superimposed a series of links to disgusting places over it. That one went straight to the ISP and it was taken down pretty quick! When you do have to complain don't rant and rave but be professional and yet forceful and assertive - the law is on your side after all.

    I think leading by example is always best. Do the right thing and you know, it is funny how with crafting you seem to attract like-minded people in the main. My attitude is if some poor soul hasn't got enough talent to come up with original ideas then they had better be prepared for a massive kharma issue at some stage. What goes around comes around...

    Sorry to be so long-winded but I am really applauding you for raising this issue and please do keep up the good work. Who knows - I might put up some stuff up on Madeit at some stage because I only just discovered it and it looks like a nice place. I'm going back to have a look around now....



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