Monday, May 04, 2009

the double-edged sword of etsy

I had another upsetting incident this week with someone copying my work. I was tooling around on etsy late one night when on the front page I spotted a set of nesting lotus bowls, carved in the exact same shape the way I carve mine. Not only was the design the same, it was photographed in the same way I photograph mine, which is a close-up half shot. I've been developing this style of photographing some of my work in the past 8 months, and I really love the look of it for some items, especially the lotus bowls.

The fact that the bowls were photographed in the same way really blew me away . With that, there was no question that someone was making a deliberate attempt to imitate my work. Not only imitate me, but selling the imitation on the same site as I sell mine, at a much much lower price. A quick look at their shop showed that the lotus bowls were an anomaly, clearly not fitting in with the body of work that was in their shop already. But they had sold several sets, all photographed in the same way.

I had to figure out how to cope with this situation. I didn't think of this person as a threat to my business. They are just making pottery as a hobby, and to acknowledge them at all might make me look crazy. But, I was so pissed I could not sleep. My husband, who happens to be the more levelheaded of the two of us, took one look and said I should have Escobar, my aptly named lawyer, send a cease and desist. I thought that was overkill, but fired off a late-night letter to the lawyer anyway, which enabled me to sleep. The next day I sent the maker of these bowls a strongly worded email detailing exactly how I thought she was copying me, how much I did not like it, and insisted she take the listings down immediately. Which she did.

It brought front and center--again-- the double-edged sword of etsy. At my studio, the retail money that flows in from etsy keeps the wheels greased. Ain't nothin squeakin' there. I ship out every week to new customers from all over the world, and have made incredible press and wholesale connections. But there is no free lunch, right? Etsy has become well known for the copycats it inspires, not only in ceramics but in other categories, jewelry probably being the most problematic. But I see the copying in the ceramic category every day, and it frankly makes me sick. Thankfully, I see very little that gets my radar up around my own work. Part of the problem with etsy is that many of the artists and makers are not professional, and they may not have an artistic sense of integrity that comes from years of making your own things. They may just like making stuff, and when they see something they like on etsy, have no problem trying to make the same thing. And then selling it.

I've made the commitment to myself that I will not tolerate people copying my work, whether it's from a big company or an etsy seller. Anyone who attempts to copy my work, and then try to pass it off as their own, is going to get the email I sent this other person. And then they will hear from Escobar. The response I received back from this person was very humble, and I think they weren't at all considering the implications of what they were doing when they posted the bowls. But that's no excuse. And I think all the artists on etsy, and otherwise, need to stop being so fucking mellow or limiting their complaining to their friends when they have their designs infringed upon. Defend yourself. I'm happy to supply a copy of the letter I sent to this person to anyone who wants it via email. I think it's a highly effective letter with no threats, implied or otherwise. But if I received it from an artist, I would probably throw up immediately from anxiety. And I have no problem with that.

59 comments:

  1. Eek. I'm feeling queasy, and I didn't even read that letter...! Sometimes all it takes is that direct contact. Personalizing and making someone accountable through the connection of the internet can be a quite intimidating.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree, my friend Diana Fayt said the same thing. A direct hit will usually nip the problem in the bud, so to speak.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I heard etsy was a place for others to peruse and then copy stuff. I also heard that at art shows, folks do the same thing. Wonder if there isn't a way for colleges to educate students right up front? I will bring this up to the local colleges near me. Good for you for defending youself and for offering a copy of your email, would you please send me a copy of your email. Someone intimated to someone else they wanted to copy my work and I would like to have it ready - thanks in advance for sending it.
    mtnstar (at) ocsnet (dot) net

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yikes! I'm glad you were able to make it stop so easily...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi,
    What an apt time to visit your blog! I've set up an etsy shop just a month back and since then have been reading a lot about copying on etsy, esp in my category, that is illustrations.
    Would appreciate if you could email me your effective letter. And good for you that the direct contact worked!
    smthedaydreamer@gmail.com
    Thanks in advance,
    Shraddha

    ReplyDelete
  6. It is one thing to emulate work that you like and make it your own, but a complete other thing to copy as blatantly as this person has. Down to the photography. You absolutely did the right thing by confronting this person and stopping them in their tracks. You shouldn't have to lose sleep, you're the one who created the original and far classier bowls!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Amen! Glad you were able to deal with that so effectively and that the other person took them off the site. I always worry that someone is going to steal my photographs or my paintings and post them all over the internet.

    ReplyDelete
  8. http://sarahjanestudios.com/blog/index.php/2009/04/22/staying-fresh-and-ahead-of-the-game/

    Hi Whitney, please check out the above blog post from an illustrator on etsy who had the same issue. She had some good hints for staying 'ahead of the game' so to speak. Also some interesting comments came back her way regarding the whole incident. It seems like it's a common theme in a lot of areas on etsy.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for posting this. It needed to be said.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I love your work. I certainly understand where you are coming from and think you handled it well. I hope that you don't think that 1/2 screen photos are ripping you off though. I have been doing that for years and it's a pretty obvious technique. But I understand that paired with the photo technique is misleading. I have also seen nesting lotus bowls in other places. Yours are gorgeous but like many ceramics it's not an entirely new concept. I have made lots of things and then found the same thing in a old book, etc. It's a tough thing to deal with but your work is so beautiful - it will stand up to the copiers. It is also different from just stamping letters in to a handformed plate. That just kills me when people complain about that as an "idea" that is being ripped off. Sigh....

    ReplyDelete
  11. One thing I hate about Etsy is anyone wishing to copy another artist's work conveniently has the pieces right their in front of them photographed from 5 different angles, so they can really get a sense of how to duplicate them, right there in the comfort of their own home.

    The other thing about Etsy is through a person's sold items, you really get a sense of their design history, so I really take offense to people who say that it is impossible to say if someone has copied another Etsy artist as the design change in their work is usually blatant and apparent instead of a natural progression.

    Obviously not all cases of apparent copying are really the case, but there are times when yes, another artist has blatantly copied another artist, and Whitney, I applaud you for standing up to it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks for this post. Sometimes I think (even in cases of blatant copying) that the copyists don't fully realise that what they're doing is wrong, or why it's wrong. It's important that they're told, and important to publicise instances of it, to educate makers in general.

    I somehow got through 4 years of art school without anyone mentioning copyright! Although it seems like common sense, it does sometimes need to be spelled out.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous11:56 AM

    Doesn't some of the blame lie with how we teach? I'm not talking about college-level classes, I'm talking workshops and community arts centers. How many of us have taught or taken classes where the goal for the student is to copy what the teacher demos that day? How often do teachers warn, "it's OK to copy _this_ design, but you need to make these techniques your own somehow"? How often do teachers talk with beginning students about _how_ to do that?

    ReplyDelete
  14. I would never lay claim to inventing lotus bowls. But I do have a lot of visibility with the nesting version-- my handmade and my set that is manufactured in Asia. And of course I did not invent the half-screen shot, that's not what I'm talking about at all. I'm talking about copying overall marketing techniques.

    As for stamping words in a hand formed plate, Rae Dunn did pioneer that technique in the contemporary design world well over 15 years ago, and she has the portfolio to prove it. It's obvious that people have copied her concepts and design, and are selling it on etsy. It's only because Rae is most mellow person in the world and is such an incredible artist with a bottomless well of ideas that these people have not received cease and desist letters. I'd like to see the evolution of their work as an artist to see how they arrived at pieces that look just like Rae's. Beth Mueller also does words on plates, but she has a history as an artist, development that can be traced, and her take is unique from Rae's. And when you are looking at who is making the "original" and who is copying, that's really where I make my judgement: originality, history, evolution, and development. Anybody can be a maker, but being an artist is an entirely different thing.

    ReplyDelete
  15. You hit the nail on the head with "history, evolution, and development"

    An artist can show that evolution. A copier can not.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous1:48 PM

    Ignoring the fact that we are dealing with a 10,000 year old ceramic tradition, who among of have not gotten inspiration, imitated, and i dare say copied a few pieces in the long journey towards finding our own ceramic voice. It seemed that this person posed zero threat to your business and was not a professional. I hate to be the sole voice of dissent, but i think you overreacted. Ceramic history is long. The lineage of designs and innovations goes so far back that laying claim to this or that is wasted energy. You make great work. The rest is nonsense.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hmm...while I agree with you that blatant copying is wrong, I do feel the need to point out that sometimes people do just coincidentally make things that are similar to other people's. For example, a year ago I started making handmade ceramic rings. I looked on Etsy before I started prototyping them, and no one was selling anything like them. Then when I was ready, I started listing them...and discovered that sometime after the last time I checked, two other artists had started making similar rings! I spoke to both of them, and it was clear that there was no way we were actually copying each other. The fact that we all started listing them in our shops within a month or so of each other was pure coincidence.

    But, then again, though we had the same basic idea, our rings all looked very different from each other, and the photography was different too.

    Re: stamped text bowls, I honestly don't really think that someone doing a variation on "stamping words on a handformed plate" can really be said to be copying someone else, unless the plates look very very similar. It seems to me that virtually all processes of decorating ware have probably been done before (in the same way that the same basic plots have been used for hundreds of years in books) and will probably be done again by someone else.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Very interesting. Being a old school potter myself where we were very careful to differentiate ourselves, the copycat issue hacks me off. I applaud your no apologies approach. It doesn't begin or end with Etsy, though. It just makes it easier to do, and more obvious.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Indeed, the jewelry category is problematic. I see it time and again with friends of mine on etsy that are successful. And sadly, it seems like the more successful, the more you have to protect. So yes, very much a double edged sword - the more you get seen, the more out there you are to be copied. I'm glad you stood up for yourself!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Dawn M. Ferguson3:05 PM

    Fantastic!! I also sell on etsy and see a few things popping up that bear a resemblance to my work- no blatant copying yet, but just flirting around with it. I makes me sick too- just feel like calling them out to the playground for good ol' butt kickin'- but then I think I might be crazy and I calm down. I'm so glad you stood up for yourself!!

    ReplyDelete
  21. To the anonymous post above, I disagree that this posed zero threat to Whitney's business. They are selling on the same venue. If left alone it poses a clear dilution of the market, I respect her decision to address it.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Anonymous4:11 PM

    Regarding the copy not being a threat to the business, those were whitney's words, not mine. A hobbyist knocking off a professional for practice is not a real threat, even if it is posted on etsy. As artists, we deserve to make a living and not have our designs stolen, no arguments there. We also need to to draw a line. Etsy is a global marketplace. People are going to look at our work and get inspiration, as we did with others. They may even copy us. This is the a reality because we work in a creative industry. Sending a bullying cease and desist letter is going too far. As a culture, we are far too litigious. I believe in the arts, and artists' rights, but something just struck me about this post.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Whitney-
    I've seen several rip-offs of your work (which I greatly admire) on etsy, which always leaves me a little edgy, since I know what it takes to develop your own form. I'd love a copy of the email you've sent (ambhawkins@gmail.com)- I haven't seen anyone duplicate my stuff yet (I haven't had it out long enough!), but I've gotten enough serious questions about my methods that I'd like to be prepared, as I'm REALLY proud of my idea, and would be just as mad as you if I saw someone else profiting off my idea.

    I think that it's fine for STUDENTS to try and duplicate work, for simple learning purposes, so long as they only use it as a stepping stone towards developing their own. I know I did a lot of "monkey see, monkey do" when I was learning, but it was all in practice of different techniques and forms.

    best wishes!
    amanda

    ReplyDelete
  24. My heart really goes out to you. I have personally had a similar problem and unfortunately my e-mail was laughed at by the seller. She copied my work, my photography style, my descriptions.... Etsy would do nothing. I have to deal with her daily as she is still up and running on Etsy and continues to take from my shop. It made me physically sick when it first happened and now I choose to ignore her. As I evolved some of the work she copied she continues to copy my new ideas. I feel powerless to stop her but also powerless if I allow her to make me feel infuriated so I have let it go..... I know her success will be limited as she has no where else to go with her own creativity and I actually have found it in my ability to feel sorry for her....

    I'm glad you were able to get better results.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Oh, all of these comments are great, I love it! There are a few more things I want to address here.

    First, anonymous comment about the threat and overreacting. Yes, I don't perceive this person as a "threat" to my business, but what did make me feel threatened was the blatant copying of the way the pieces were photographed. To me, that's a dead giveaway that it is not a coincidence or mere emulation. And I really had to sleep on it to figure out how to deal with it, because I did not want to overreact. I thought reacting at all may be "beneath" me. The reason why I ultimately went ahead with sending her a letter was because she was starting to get FP exposure, and I feel it is important that other etsy sellers not see a lot of copying and get the impression that it is an accepted practice, especially copying ME!. I think the more copying that goes on, the more it generates because it creates an impression that it is "okay". And this person is a beginner, and maybe naive or a bit ignorant, and now she knows-- it's not okay. I doubt she will do it again and I think that's a good thing.

    Ceramic history being what it is, I have absolutely no problem with laying full claim to my work, while being open an aware of the fact that people do work on the same ideas and concepts. It's a balance and a fine line, and I make a big effort to be reasonable about it.

    And there is no doubt that people look at my work every day for "inspiration". But if you knock of my design, and I find out, you will hear from me or my lawyer, it's as simple as that! If I'm wrong, the person is welcome to come right back at me and defend themselves. And I must say, I did not bully this person. I was firm and direct, but not mean or insulting.

    Okay, as for sanctioned copying in schools. I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, I think copying in the classroom is more about learning craftsmanship. For instance, if you can look at a Christa Assad mug and learn how to pull a handle like that girl does, then your craft has just gone up a serious notch. On the other hand, this kind of copying can possibly inspire the student to copy style as well as craft. Frankly, I think a lot of art students are lazy and most do not end up in the arts because they don't have a unique vision or the drive to pursue it, so I don't spend a lot of time worrying about students. BUT I think the impetus is really on professors to talk to students about this: art, craft, design, style. And the importance of developing your own.

    I think that's enough from me for now!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Sadly as beneficial as etsy can be it also inspires copycats. On a larger scale there is a website devoted to all of the designs Urban Outfitters has stolen from etsy. Also Starbucks was selling clear rip offs of ceramics artist Alyssa Ettinger.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Here's a link to the Urban Outfitters counterfeiters site:
    http://urbncounterfeiters.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  28. Copying is such a problem on Etsy that I am afraid to list a new product I have developed because I know that within weeks there will be copies all over the place! Sadly, I know that Etsy would do nothing about the problem.

    Good for you for standing up for yourself!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Anonymous10:20 PM

    If you look at Michael Kline's delightful website, Sawdust & Dirt, you'll see photos in a recent post that will make you say, "gosh, that looks just like Kyle Carpenter's brush work." And then, lo, Michael writes "apres Kyle Carpenter" under one of the photos--citing the source, giving credit where credit is due.

    In academia, where the economy is based on "intellectual property," there's ample room for using the ideas of others. Academics freak out when their intellectual property is stolen, i.e. when their words or ideas are plagiarized. "Borrowing," on the other hand, is strongly encouraged. New ideas don't sprout in a vacuum: they grow out of ideas that came before them. Exchanging, sharing, expanding on, misinterpreting, disagreeing with, reinterpreting ideas--all's cool as long as you cite your sources.

    This exchange of ideas doesn't dilute the market, but rather enhances it. And if a reader wants to know what the "real experts" think, they can go to the original sources (sources readers might not even have known about had it not been for the quotations copied from one text to another).

    Seems like there ought to be a way for artists to quote one another's work as well.

    ReplyDelete
  30. people. i would NEVER claim to have INVENTED stamping words into clay. but when i see someone doing the exact same size dish, with the exact same style of dish, with the exact same color of dish, with one word stamped in the middle of the dish with the same exact font.....it is a LITTLE too close for comfort.

    let your conscience be your guide.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Appreciate your openness, Whitney. Nice dialogue and opinion. I would be interested in your letter too:
    stenkief@yahoo.com
    The small potatoes are important to address, it's the big ones though that are unnerving (Urban, Starbucks, etc.) to me. Best wishes, KK

    ReplyDelete
  32. you know, Carl Jung,the archetypal psychologist, developed the theory of the 'collective consciousness'...he believed we all hold the same archetypes, or common symbols and imagery in our minds, and that we just access or use them in unique ways....I bring this up, as, it is obvious from all of these thoughtful posts,that this is a very 'hot' topic for artists, on all accounts..
    Copycat artists come at us on different levels...there is the pro that stalks a wholesale show, basically for that intention. It is their JOB and big companies pay their salary to do that..to the hobbyist, who is just having some fun making things, and selling a few for more supplies! A hobbyist will most likely never be a threat to one's business, as they will never make the time, money, heartache investment it really takes to have an 'artists life'. Being ripped off by 'big business' is a WHOLE 'nother story!
    I agree with the person who said that in one's art you can see the "evolution, history and development" of someones work...so true..and when someone is obviously going "hey thats cool" and making themselves a few "lotus nesting bowls"....when it looks NOTHING like their previous journey, it is obvious where it came from....yet I also need to point out that SOME copiers ( of the non professional variety) dont always understand the error of their ways, I suspect that the speed with which the woman removed the bowls evidenced that. As a part time teacher, this is what we like to call sometimes a "teachable moment"....when someones LIVELIHOOD deosnt depend on the work, they dont see it quite the same way... yes some folks are being malicious, and attempting to seek income without much effort, yet there are others who just having fun with clay! I believe first, ESPECIALLY on etsy that has sooo many non professional folks, teaching them why this is not what artists do is not necessarily a bad thing... I always, always try to teach my students that you can be inspired by someones work and accomplishments....and that you can follow a persons' CONCEPT ( say, the idea of "nesting bowls" and create your own personal spin...it is sort of like the differentiation that the US copyright office makes amongst copyrightable things and those you cannot!
    There is a very well known jeweler who sued another jeweler last year or so under a very little known law called "disruption of trade dress". This jeweler claimed ( under the definitions of this law) that the other one was attempting to "confuse the buyer into thinking that the work was that of the original maker, via the "feel" of the presentation". Once again, like copyright infringement, this is all very ephemeral, and the jeweler who felt impinged upon, lost the suit....once again, you can get pretty darn close, and still be "OK"....I think , and please correct me if I am wrong here Whitney, but in this particular instance, because of the close similarity AND the presentation ( photograph) that this feels ( because you are both on etsy?)almost like the person was infringing on you "trade dress"?....
    There are 2 jewelers out there (and I know them) who deliberately keep copying the text, almost verbatim, that I use on my website. I write something and 2 weeks later, theirs has changed!...I JUST recieved a rejection letter from the office of copyrights for my tag line, on the grounds that you can copyright, say, a whole book o r magazine article, but not just a few words!....so...does it make me unhappy? yes! can I do anything about it? no....like Rae says, I let my conscience be my guide,but also gently do some 'teaching' when and where necessary, for the greater good...

    ReplyDelete
  33. As a non-potter, yet budding artist myself, I do not know if I would be flatterd or pissed off if someone copied or "stole" my design. What strikes me as laughable though is that in say, oh 30 years or so, when this stuff shows up on Antiques Roadshow, the look on the faces of the people who bring in these copy cat items and think they have something worth a bit of cash, yet are informed, well, no, its a cheap knock off and its worth about 5 bucks. :) In anycase, I just read an article in the chronicle regarding a famous handbag designer who knew that she was going downhill when the knock-off trade of her items started dropping off. It is a double edged sword, in once sense it is a massive compliment to have your work be so outstanding that others think it worthwhile to pass it off as their genius (because it is genius - think of Tiffany & Co.)yet, this is in hindsight because if you are making your living off of your work, it is not okay for someone else to take the design and sell it for less. But what does that say about the buyer also? Do they want a cheap knock off? Or do they want the real thing? In the art world and in fashion, this happens all the time. In this instance, I applaud the firm spanking given to the copy cat potter, and I think it's really funny the lawyer's name is Escobar (is that really his name?). Also, I find it affirming that the person apologized and will probably never do such a thing again. But such is the price of artistic brilliance. Compliment? Threat to ones' livelihood? Its all in how you look at it I guess. I agree with the quick response, and yet also the wisedom of sleeping on it. Bravo to all of you original thinkers out there! Shame on the copycats.

    ReplyDelete
  34. rae: I had never actually seen your work before (suprising, since we live in the same town, but then again I'm a bit of a shut-in) but I just went to your site and saw it, and I knew IMMEDIATELY what you're talking about. I've seen plates like that made by several different people on Etsy. Virtually identical plates. Wow.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Whitney, I'd appreciate an e-mail of your message to the cheating-copier. I had a woman write to me asking permission to copy my signature folded vase. With the help of cooler-headed artist friends, I wrote that I would rather that she didn't, and that besides, she would find it much more satisfying to work from her own vision. Then, I got a letter from her MOTHER, scolding me for not acquiescing! ah well, it takes all kinds, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
  36. This has generated quite a stir- comments over 30 pages span on the Etsymudteam thread. I wrote today's blog post, linking to this and the EMT discussion, talking about the subtext that I see here, which is the question of 'what is inspiration for an artist?'

    http://thebeautyyoulove.blogspot.com/2009/05/unfolding.html

    ReplyDelete
  37. What Kerin Rose says about the collective unconscious and similar ideas growing from different sources at the same time is right on. I think this is also known as a "zeitgeist". I totally believe in people coming up with similar --or the same ideas-- at the same time. It's happened to me and people I know.

    I think the point needs to be made again because some people seem intent on missing it in this discussion thread-- I don't take credit for inventing lotus bowls. What I do take credit for is selling them for the past 10+ years in a very visible way-- hundreds of people own sets of my handmade, and thousands own sets of my manufactured set-- and photographing them in a very particular way that is very visible on etsy. If someone wants to try their hand at lotus bowls-- go for it. But come up with your own take on it, and market it in your own way. Don't just swoop in on my take.

    As for the last comment "I would have been mighty angry had I received a cease and desist. And I would have fought it tooth and nail." I did not send a cease and desist. And this person wasn't angry, they were sorry, and removed the item. If you are making an item that you came up with on your own, you should fight tooth and nail. This person did not, because they did not come up with the idea, as they admitted.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Anonymous5:46 PM

    this same lotus shaped bowl has been around since I was a kid and I am in my 50's. I have one of my mothers. How is this copying your work when it has been around for 30 years?

    ReplyDelete
  39. This is a very interesting conversation. it's important to not set the precedent of being lax on people copying your work. even if it's one person making copies on a small scale, it needs to be addressed. if you don't address blatant copying and know it's happening you're accepting it. if you accept this you perhaps forfeit your right to deal with it in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Anonymous said...

    this same lotus shaped bowl has been around since I was a kid and I am in my 50's. I have one of my mothers. How is this copying your work when it has been around for 30 years?

    Do I really have to explain myself again? Read the post from start to finish. Lotus bowls have been around for centuries, and that is NOT what is at issue here. Why is it only "anonymous" people who don't seem to get my point?

    ReplyDelete
  41. if you look at the body of work from the artist that DandelionGirl is citing, you will see exactly what JD Wolfe is talking about....this lady's style is ALL over the map...she even has a "Beth Mueller" piece thrown in for good luck....Beth is an accquaintance of mine...she has a huge business...will this one little cup hurt it?...not at all...but is is one thing to play around for yourself to figure out how someone's style 'works' but entirely another to put it up for sale without even a nod to your source

    ReplyDelete
  42. Dandelion Girl, I had to remove your post because I actually have seen the work and the artist and I have had an ongoing discussion about it. I don't want to embarrass her, though I do agree it is similar to my work, and as Kerin Rose says, a bit random in terms of the finishing compared to her other work. Many many people have alerted me about that particular piece. But please know that she contacted me, there is an open dialogue between us, and I think you will see in the near future that this piece will take on more of the flavor of her other work. I hope.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Wow. That is so frustrating.

    On another note, I just s tumbled over here and I think your work is stunning. Keep it up.

    ReplyDelete
  44. i think it's great when artists defend themselves, as "small" as something may seem to be. many don't do anything about it. i've had my work stolen SO many times. one was when i was at an art gallery and someone had an exact duplicate of my artwork and had their name on it, hanging at this gallery! i just about freaked. then i've had a handful of times when factories in china would duplicate my designs, and i found out about one because they accidentally sent me one because they thought i was a store! as for the most recent one, i was a creative director for a toy company and the president of the company brought in a few toys for me to knock off. those toys were my design. needless to say, i was there for only a few weeks--until that happened.

    stealing is just plain wrong.

    i started copyrighting my bigger more important designs. sigh. i wish i didn't have to as i want to think that people are generally well intentioned. i still think people are though.

    sorry for the long rant! geez.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Coco Chanel said, "I would shed tears the day no one copied me."

    ReplyDelete
  46. I think that falls under the same category as "imitation is the highest form of flattery". Not to put too fine a point on it, but I personally think that's crap. Coco Chanel was a fashion designer, and in fashion copying is expected. The industry thrives on it. There are different rules in the art and design world, and the laws governing it reflect that fact.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Great comments! As a potter and a lawyer I have to say that if you have a truly copyrightable design you should copyright it. It is not that expensive. However most pottery is not going to qualify for a copyright. I understand that it is frustrating when someone steals your look and feel. When you pointed this out the person changed it - that was nice of them but they really don't have to unless you have a copyright. I also collect very old pottery books and I am pretty sure I can point to these books for pottery that looks very similar if not identical to most of the work you see on Etsy.
    The quality of your work is obvious and is what sets you apart. It is obviously beautifully made!!

    ReplyDelete
  48. Whitney, which rules are you referring to?

    ReplyDelete
  49. Maybe the word "rules" sounds too prissy. What I am referring to are copyright laws. You can read this whole thread and other posts I've written if you're really interested in copyright laws as it applies to art and design.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Ack. Such a sensitive, divisive topic.

    I agree with Rae Dunn: let your conscience be your guide. I think we can all tell when one artist is blatantly copying another, especially on Etsy where your photographs and your written descriptions are all you have to sell an item--so those things become a part of your trademark, so to speak (even if it's not a legal trademark). I wholly support an artist's right to protect their "brand"--and even more, I admire them for having a brand to protect! :)

    ReplyDelete
  51. I agree with T. Lewis, your work is so beautiful, I hate to see you get upset about a photography shot. Close up 1/2 shots are taught in photography 101, it's a great angle. I would even venture to say that most of what we do is inspired (as taught by my ceramics teacher) by something we saw that someone else created. Are we really 100% original? But, as R. Dunn says, sometimes it can be a 'little too close for comfort', and I do understand that.
    -just my 2 cents' worth-

    ReplyDelete
  52. Hello Whitney. I am late to the game here but just recently found your blog and lovely work via Amy of Little Alouette. Thank you for your frank and feisty approach to the copying issue. It is something I have encountered quite a few times and it frustrates and infuriates me. I have confronted a few people. One girl not only copied one of my pieces but also lifted the text on my "about" page. She just inserted her name in place of mine and changed nothing else and used it on her site to describe "herself and her work"! I sent her a very blunt email and I think she was scared for a moment but she is back to making things heavily influenced by my work as well as other artists. I would love to have a copy of the email you sent to your "copycat" as I have seen another woman making things that are not exact copies of my work but I think heavily influenced and it is making me uncomfortable. Every time I come out with a new item she eventually starts making a variation of it. The work is not an exact copy but a little too close for comfort for me. It just annoys and angers me and also feels creepy. I want her to know that I am on to her but just don't know how to approach it. I am making my way through your blog posts and loving your writing!

    ReplyDelete
  53. I have to agree with other comments regarding your marketing approach. The half-screen photograph composition is extremely common - ironically my mother took a half screen photograph of nested bowls in the 70s. You know what kind of nested bowls they were? Lotus flower!

    I am a photographer and I HATE when other photographers think they 'own' a certain concept or approach to composition. I have scrapped a number of shoots that had a huge amount of evolution and development because I have found other photographers who have done the same thing. I have decided not to do that anymore - because no concept is completely original and I have my right to interpret how I like too.

    ReplyDelete
  54. I am a ceramic artist, not a photographer. Read the post, then comment.

    Frankly, I'm bored when people send me comments that have nothing to do with what I wrote about. Especially when it's a subject I wrote about over a year ago and the subject is tired. If you really have something to say, write your own damn blog.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Hey there Whitney!
    I sent you an email requesting a copy of your letter just a bit ago, although I'm having issues with Outlook and thought I'd ask here as well.
    I've really enjoyed this blog~definately the best resource I've found so far on the issue. I have found another seller copying my items down to exact photographs, just flipping them in Photoshop. :( So frustrating.
    I am formulting a letter to her now (been watching her shop evolve more and more like mine) because enough is enough. She has 10 sales, opened in June and I've worked REALLY hard to get where I am with my business.
    Thank you in advance and I am so grateful for this post~everyone has had such great things to say about the issue. info@hoopmamas.net

    ReplyDelete
  56. I see this kind of thing all the time wishing there was a site to call it to the carpet.
    As a artist for some 30 something years I have been borrowed from all the time. I never know how to feel about it except often times annoyed.

    Kudos for this dialog. IT is needed.





    PLease out there...Make it your own and stop
    copying those of us who work long hours and years to do what we develop. Learn and be inspired is one thing but really...stop copying. YOU can do it I know you can.

    ReplyDelete
  57. This is what Skechers shoe company did (and is still doing) to TOMS Shoes. Skechers made a shoe called "BOBS" and modelled it exaclty nad blatantly after TOMS. TOMS, started by Blake Mycoskie formed his companies story after visiting Argentina and saw the suffering children endured by having no shoes, so he came up with the for profit PLUS philanthropy business model of one for one, for every pair of shoes you buy we will give one to a child in need." Skechers website features a video styled in much the same way and wording as TOMS, the show looks the same even down to the little flags on the sides and back of shoes that says BOBS instead of TOMS. The video mentions that they have "JOINED TOMS in giving" but give no credit for the whole design. Mycoskie says they were shocked and in no way are connected with Skechers. Giving in a business model is great but at least come up with your own ideas for the product.come up

    ReplyDelete
  58. Anonymous12:47 PM

    I found this whilst trying to find a way of protecting my ceramic work. I stopped selling on Etsy. I've discovered however that another business page on Facebook is replicating my things. Changed their banner, style etc to be very similar to mine and anything I put up appears to be copied within days, they say imitation is flattery but I have created a totally new piece which I can't find anywhere else on the internet so I'm loath to put it on, but want people to see it, not imitate it...

    ReplyDelete