Thursday, April 15, 2010

Snow Leopard Network Team "Talk About" April Edition

I'm on another street team - the Snow Leopard Network - and we're having a monthly blog "carnival" as well - where many of the members will all blog about the same topic and link to each other so readers can get a wide range of viewpoints all on the same topic.

This month's topic is:

How do you view the topic of "copying"? What does it mean to you? I.E. - is it a concrete thing of an exact duplicate of your work, or do you consider design elements and style? Have you felt you have been copied by other artists? And, how do you deal with this?

*** disclaimer: this is a really long post and in order to go ahead and get it posted, I didn't go back and edit/proofread, so... i'm sure there are some random run-on sentences, horrible grammatical errors and the like... ***

This is a very interesting topic and one that I'm not quite sure about anymore. I think in the days before the internet, it may have been easier... then again, maybe not.

When I was in school, we had a "multiples" project. I created a little rose, molded it and cast a dozen roses, created stems for them all and had a sweet little bunch. Maybe not the most original idea - a dozen roses are everywhere, though I hadn't personally seen it done in metal like that. A few weeks later in class a girl said she was going to make a rose. I completely called her out and said, "NO! You can't do that, thats copying." and probably a few more words as well... We were in class together! I was utterly appalled A. that she would think it, B. she would say it and C. had no problem at all about planning on doing it.

In an enclosed setting like a class - for one person to see your work in a critique and then start to do the same exact thing, to me, isn't open for debate on whether or not it was copying.

Now in the age of the internet... the lines are much fuzzier. There are many pieces I've created that the online community hasn't seen. I may have felt it was a totally original idea and then I happen to see some one else has created something nearly identical. With no way of seeing my design, it gets chalked up to "great minds think alike". Others will say "there are no new ideas" (which i don't agree w/, but thats a whole other topic)

But then you move in to the realm of work that is created and put out there. Visually in an online gallery or something like flickr, or for sale on any of the many websites available.

Or take two artists that create something similar around the same time and start posting images nearly simultaneously. Artist A. is more popular, has more fans, more followers etc. Artist B. is more obscure, tinkers on the weekend and has sketchbooks filled with ideas going back years. Artist B. recently started creating one of the ideas they had had years before because they lost their job and now have more time to actually create. Though specific designs are not duplicated down to a minute detail - the ideas are remarkably identical. A fan of Artist A may stumble upon the work of Artist B and scream copy cat... but how can it be proved. Since my case is purely hypothetical - I can say clearly that neither copied the other, however, it would blatantly look like it. The popular artist is presumably the one that was copied! There were is out there more, more available, more seen, more open for the taking, surely they were being copied b/c no one else could create something like theirs right? Or maybe the popular artist A got popular by capitalizing on stealing designs of lesser known artists and being able to mass produce them and market them in a way that makes them seem special and talented.

This is the sort of thing I think about. I often give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because without concrete proof, it can be so difficult to say. If you've had friends on either side of being the accuser or the accused (or you yourself been there) the feelings of conviction are there regardless of proof. When you put your heart in to something, it feels like it is yours. And to see it appear somewhere else is heart-wrenching.

So when can something be considered copying? I was actually having a brief discussion w/ a customer who happens to be a law professor at UGA and teaches copyright and trademark law. For actual designs he said, it is really difficult to be able to prove anything. Where a line can be better distinguished is in the entire presentation.

Take Etsy for example.... (since we're all on etsy) Some one has a "copier". They start creating a product that is nearly identical to someone elses, but they don't stop there. They copy the whole description (hey, if the design is the same, why not just use their description too!) and then take photos that are really similar and then market them to the same blogs, etc. This IS the sort of thing that will appear more blatant as far as any law is concerned.

Or repeatedly coping design after design, even through slight style changes and stone choices...

But what if a copier loved... lets say... caterpillars. They were looking around to buy a caterpillar photograph and happened to see... a cute brooch of a caterpillar chewing lines through a leaf that spelled out someone's name. how cute would that be? I haven't seen anything like that before, though it is entirely possible someone has had that idea and portrayed it in some manner (sounds like a kids book doesn't it?) But the copier loves it so much they think, Oh, I'm going to make one of those, but just for myself. But then some friends see it and want ones made for them w/ their kids names on them, etc etc. So the copier starts to sell them. They market them towards moms, kids blogs, do an entirely different photography style. Fast forward and the original artist finds out/ sees it etc... and feels certain they were copied. They would in fact be right (b/c this is my hypothetical story, so I know), but the copier denies it. etc etc... Still, it is a blatant copy. The original started creating the design a few years earlier and has plenty of documentation to prove they'd been selling it ahead of time.

What if the copier was a painter. And they thought, oh what a great idea. I'm going to start doing custom paintings of the same caterpillar chewing on a leaf w/ the names of kids, market it towards parents, and on and on... I still consider this copying. I don't consider it "making it their own" or "being inspired". Maybe its a whole other market and they aren't competing for jewelry sales, but the integrity of the person copying, to me, is lacking. Making it their own would have been painting ants tunneling through the underground to spell out a kids name - well, much more creative - and honestly not too far of a stretch from Charlotte writing out words for Wilbur. I mean, we all know insects have extraordinary abilities :)

I've been witness to many accusations of copying. In most cases, I find it difficult to say. Though its nice to side with friends, I'm finding myself to be more and more objective. Maybe its that I've had friends on both sides and been able to see both sides of being accused and being the accuser. And after having seen the accused and knowing that they were in fact NOT copying, well, it makes you see the whole debate in a new angle. I've seen designs that I think are possible "copies" and sure my little feelings get hurt. But I'm going to keep creating new designs and keep pushing myself to be the best that I can in both creativity and techniques. I hope that no one creates a blantant ripoff and I also hope I don't inadvertently step on someone else's toes and have them accuse me of copying them.

Since this is turning out incredibly long, I guess I'll sum it up by saying - I do think copying is wrong. I do considered "it" to be copying based on the intent of the copier. Whether it is specific designs down to the very detail or whether it is a general idea. But how can you prove the intent of someone? Most of the time, you can't. And honestly, I think its a waste of time to get sucked in to the drama of it. And just because two people have similar ideas, it doesn't mean one copied the other. With no intent, I don't think it can be considered copying. It is all very nebulous.

I'm sure I could keep writing on and on about this, but you should check out what others have written too!

ArtJewel designs-
Andes Cruz -
Jewelry by Natsuko -
Tosca Teran -
Tamra Gentry -
Mary Spencer -
Thomasin Durgin -
Susan Moloney -
Rosy Revolver -


Anonymous said...

Beth, I loved your blog, and all your thoughts, and examples. very good points. I think all which I agree on. It happens. and it isn't good. but there is no way to prove it. but the flip side is many people do come to a similar design all on their own. it happens too.

WATTO said...

Thanks for blogging about this. There are so many sides it does get confusing. I feel your pain! LOL

Jan said...

Good for you, Beth! You revealed a kind of circularity of the whole dilemma. It is a "tangled web" that steals time and energy from the one being copied if you let it!

I'm in the camp that thinks I can "outrun" the culprits by growing, coming up with more authentic, original ideas than I have time to deal with, and staying positive.

So I applaud you saying that you think it's a waste of time to get caught up in the drama of it!

Jewelry by Natsuko said...

great post! it was long but I was enjoying so much , I didn't want that to be end...:)

I love drama if it's not about me!

Beth Cyr said...

Thanks thanks! you know, the drama is so compelling, its easy for most people to get caught up in it - I know I have, which is why I know it is a waste of time! I've spent hours researching designs that a friend thought were involved in a copying "scandal" - not me, a friend!

and Jan - I totally think I can outrun it too! ha ha!

Thomasin Durgin said...

Great post Beth, very thoughtful and insightful. "I'm going to keep creating new designs and keep pushing myself to be the best that I can in both creativity and techniques", I love your positivity.

Tamra said...

I absolutely LOVED this post, Beth. I really appreciate your well-developed perspective on this, given that it's such a complicated topic with all kinds of shades of gray. --Absolutely _awesome_ post.

Beth Cyr said...

thanks ladies!

tamra - i think its that libra - always trying to find that balance!!