April 23, 2009

Thoughts on Creativity and Copyrights

I want to write a little bit today about originality, creativity, and copyrights. Recently, I have have been hearing about artists having problems with their works being copied. Actually, I have had similar problems, myself. I have had this problem with artists who look like they are just getting started selling, and I have also had it happen on a larger level. In the latter case, I am learning a whole new aspect to the art business, all about copyright registration, lawyers, intellectual property... stuff I really didn't want to add to my collection of skills, but am being forced to fight for my rights. Fortunately, I have a wonderful team of people surrounding me, encouraging me, and supporting me, and I thank you all.

Copying at the corporate level is one thing, a very bad thing, and people seem to agree about that. When the little artist gets ripped off by the huge company... we get outraged. But it is the same thing when an individual copies another for profit. Having been on the receiving end, it can be just as painful... maybe even more so, when it is at the hand of another artist. I tend to be a bit suspicious and cynical about big companies, so I am not surprised at infringement as part of business. But when it is another artist, it seems more personal.

Now, I know that nobody wants to hear an artist whine and cry about how they got copied by another artist, and the enraged internet witch hunts that often follows. I have seen it happen so many times in the forums and blogosphere, and I despise getting sucked into that crap too. But it happens, and it happens more often than you would think. The flood of imagery and cool stuff on the internet (and at art fairs, and in artsy magazines) is awe inspiring, and I think it becomes an easy source for people to see something and want to make it. And I am very much in the business of encouraging creativity and inspiring others to be crafty, but there are some situations that are not right.

When you make something new, the finished item has a copyright attached to it, inherently. It is your property, it belongs to you. When someone sees it, and makes something exactly like it and sells it, teaches it to others, or otherwise distributes it for commercial gain, that violates your copyright. This is theft, it is copyright infringement. To prove this, you may have to legally register your copyright, in order for a court to recognize it, but you do not need to have that legal document for a creation or design to be yours.

I think that people do not realize these things about copyrights for the most part. I think people often buy craft magazines, or see neat crafty stuff on the internet, and think it is free for them to take as they please. It is not. Even when there are tutorials and classes to teach how to make something, the original creator holds the rights to the copyrights on those items, unless otherwise noted. What that means is that you can make the items you learned for yourself, and for gifts, and for fun, but once you start to make them for profit, you are infringing on the copyright. You are essentially making money on someone else's hard work, research, and creativity, and that is just not right. Even if its just part time or once and a while. It is incredibly difficult to make a living as an artist, and when I see my full time artist friends (and myself) struggle because another artist or company is producing or teaching their hard earned work for profit, it is very discouraging.

This has been really hard to write, its a big subject for me to get my head around. The thing I love most about what I do is inspiring and encouraging others to be creative. So this feels like I am scolding and discouraging craftiness. I know that's not true though... what I really desire is to encourage people to be creative in ethical and personal ways. Be responsible in your art, explore your own vision through your craft! In the next few blog posts, I hope to write about some things that happen in the creative process that seem like copying and how to avoid or work with them, and also some tips on finding your own artistic voice.


  1. Great post. Sad that it has to be said, but so true. I see it a lot with photography and it is so depressing. Looking forward to the next few posts :)

  2. Awesome post M, Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  3. Well said, It is so sad but true.
    It is a fine line and a lot of people don't understand that what they do hurts the other person in so many ways.

  4. Great post. No I don't feel a scolding tone at all. It is a fine line between copying and even inspiration. I'm looking forward to hearing more from you on this. Thanks!

  5. I know this is a difficult topic Melanie, thanks for sharing your thoughts it.

  6. Melanie,
    well said and your right it is a difficult topic......



  7. thank you :)

    I've struggled with this myself recently, and come to the conclusion that you sometimes just have to grin and bear it!

    I guess I get it when a corporation does it ... but when it is another artist is feels crushing since you think they should know better.

    This isn't what making art is supposed to be about, but the internet {and publishing} makes it necessary.

    thank you for a wonderful post about it!

  8. Hmm, kind of horrifying to think that jewelry makers (or any other artist or craftsperson or professional for that matter) can't use any of the techniques they learned through classes or tutorials or free instructions posted on the Web for any of the things/services they sell. Kind of leaves you ... dead in the water.

  9. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    I did not mean to say that you can't use the techniques that you learn in classes or tutorials. You certainly can. But you cannot always use the technique to reproduce the exact item that is used in the example in the class or instructions.

    For example, I might reach a class how to do a wire wrapped headpin for a pair of earrings. I certainly want my students to learn to wire wrap and continue doing it in their own creations. But I may not want the students to start reproducing that exact earring style that I designed, selling it as their own creation.

    Does that make more sense? Technique and design are two different things.

    Let me know if I can clarify my thoughts further.

    Thanks for commenting.

  10. Excellent!!! and well written!!! Bravo

  11. Great post.
    I've had this happen too and it really causes me to be upset like nothing else. One's artwork is very personal and when you happen upon it somewhere else and other's are taking credit for it it really makes you feel helpless.
    I look forward to your next posts.

  12. Hang in there, Sweetie. I know it's hard. I hope that getting it out in words is difficult but good for you.

    Let me know if you need anything.

  13. Thank you Jen for laying it out so lovely!
    I have mixed feelings about these issues and you made it clear with beauty & balance.
    Think Good Thoughts

  14. There are SO many people I wish I could "suggest" this article too! Very well written, clear and concise. Thank you for helping spread awareness.

  15. I'm so glad you are keeping the word out there with this post. I think the more people hear it, the less it may happen. I'm sure there are many that have no idea that it is actually theft and punishable by law.

  16. When I decided to start posting my projects on the internet (and then, to open an Etsy shop) I thought long and hard about this particular topic. There's so many implications, after all- where's the line between aping a technique and a design? The line between inspiration and theft? Do I want to post tutorials and answer questions about how I made things, or do I want to be one of those who jealously guards such information in hopes of stemming copiers? What about serendipity- I've made pieces before I believed were original to me and found very similar pieces already for sale, and I can't be the only one, particularly when one considers how themes seem to dominate the current crafting zeitgeist (owls, little birds, foresty fauna, steampunk). And that's without even beginning to consider fair use and deravitive works.

    So many fine lines to consider. I sometimes wonder if the internet doesn't demand a complete overhaul of copyright (and patent) law, because it's changed the game so much as far as creativity goes.

    Just for clarification, I agree with your post. :) I suspect this is just a subject that inspires thought amongst the creative, as you certainly noted in writing this post.

  17. Are the images showing your beads alongside copies?

  18. Corvus,
    It is true, there are a lot of fine lines. It can be really tough. And yes, this is the sort of thing that I talk about with other artists very frequently. For the most part I tend to try to fearlessly put my work out there, I want to share it more than I feel the need to guard it. There are somethings I keep closer to my chest, and that is a line that everyone must consider and listen to their own instincts for themselves.

    I think that being an artist means constantly moving on and exploring new things and letting go of old things. But it doesn't change the fact that copyrights do exist and need to be defended. I agree that the internet really seems to change the rules in someways, or at least it challenges them differently.

    Lots of things to think about, lol, and I feel like I am rambling again. I will post more about this subject soon, and I will reflect on some of your thoughts here when I do.

    The images shown in this post are all pieces of my own work.

  19. Well spoken and clearly articulated. I do believe it's okay to draw a line and one can do so diplomatically. We already share so much, it's okay to say, "Hey...it's not okay to make exact copies of my work or designs or class projects for profit." That's a small thing to ask, and in doing so we're also empowering others to value the creative act and value their own ability to be creative.

    Thanks so much for being a part of this!