Lets get something straight right from the start, copying is not the greatest form of flattery. ‘Oh wow, you completely copied my design and are making money from it while I don’t get a penny. Fabulous,’ said no one. Ever.
Sadly for designer/makers everywhere it seems checking that someone isn’t plagiarising your work has become a daily task.
This isn’t anything new though both the blog youthoughtwewouldntnotice, Facebook page Designers and Illustrators Against Plagiarism and IP Isn’t Free on Flickr show how people are being ripped off on a daily basis.
However, the whole debate has come to a head recently after an American company called Cody Foster was caught, allegedly, copying smaller designer/makers on a huge scale in the US (you can read the full story here). Luckily thanks to the power of social media several big companies who were stocking products including Fab.com and Anthropologie have apologised and taken them from sale as soon as they were informed of the potential copyright infringements.
While the Cody Foster debacle and its part resolution is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t help smaller designers. Last year Tatty Devine had to contend with Claire’s Accessories copying some of their designs (the original story is here). While they’re not a huge company they were able to get legal advice and come to an agreement with Claire’s on some of the disputed designs. However, if it’s just you making or illustrating in your lounge, taking a company to court is a prohibitively expensive process.
Having a lot of followers can help when fighting copycats. For example, other companies have repeatedly copied Gemma Correll’s super cute pug dog designs, but when Urban Outfitters carried a very similar T Shirt, the company who made them for the chain of stores eventually pulled them from sale after an Internet outcry. However, as Gemma also says in her blog post here, some designs are either changed just enough to be different, or produced in a country that has rather flaky copyright laws, so there’s nothing you can do.
This is the same for the amazing Paper Panda, a paper cutter who lives in the Cotswolds who I recently interviewed for Craftseller magazine. She designs and hand cuts every paper cut she sells and, wanting to pass on her skills, she made starter kits and now has a band of cutters who have learned from her who even call themselves Panda Cubs. However, her generosity hasn’t always been appreciated. Some paper cutters out there (not the Panda Cubs, of course) regularly copy her work and then try and palm it off as their own, which is incredibly frustrating and, despite numerous complaints to sites like Etsy and Facebook, it’s incredibly difficult to stop. Once again thanks to her whopping 30,000 Facebook fans who are fearsome foes to say the least, they at least can be in doubt that they are in the wrong. However, it doesn’t stop it sending Louise a little crazy, which when someone is so nice it seems, well, unfair.
Having said all of this not everything is copied. For example Paper Panda released ‘The Dream’ and a week later Rob Ryan released the strikingly similar ‘There Is Only Time’. Clearly neither copied the other they just had a similar idea at the same time. Sometimes people do just have similar ideas to you. That’s coincidence. That’s life. I’ve seen some people saying they’ve been ripped off and I just don’t buy it. Either I’ve already seen stuff similar to theirs or it doesn’t come from an original idea in the first place (I’m naming no names, as that would just be mean and it’s all subjective anyway).
This doesn’t take away from the fact that big companies seem to think it’s OK to steal ideas wholesale from smaller designers rather than paying them or just employing good enough designers themselves and who don’t think it’s morally OK to just nick other people’s work.
I used to love the Designers Republic’s quote: ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’, but I’m starting to see it in a whole new light. It’s exactly why I was nervous about Pinterest in the first place. While I can, hand on heart / Guides honour, say I have only ever used it for inspiration or tutorials, I worry every time I put a picture of one of my items on there that it might get copied. While 99 per cent of the time I go by the rule that, you know, most people are just nice, it’s sad that those without imagination will continue to copy those that do. Shame. On. You.