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.
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.
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.