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.