Friday, May 4, 2012

Artistic Copying and Inspiration

I wanted to write a more serious post today and get your thoughts on something I have been thinking about lately.  In the creative world, there is a lot of talk about artistic originality.  If an artist claims that a big company has stolen their idea, the creative community goes up in arms.  Post after post will be written about the evil corporation that stole a poor etsy seller's idea (example 1, 2, 3).  I completely agree that you shouldn't have your ideas ripped off by someone else.  But my question today is, why isn't the reverse true?

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I started thinking about this last week when I watched a video post on how to recreate a dress from Mod Cloth.  I don't want to give any specifics on the blog I saw this on.  This isn't a post to call out specific bloggers or make anyone feel bad.  Really, I just wanted to open up the discussion on when it is okay to copy.  I'm sure if you spend time reading blogs, you have seen someone give a tutorial on creating a Anthropologie knock-off or a Kate Spade replica purse.  I'm not talking about the ones where you recreate a current trend.  I'm talking about the tutorials on how to create an exact copy of the store item.  These seem to be quite common and accepted in the craft community.  I myself have seen designer pieces and thought to myself, "I could make that so much cheaper." 

Scarf from Anthropologie.  Image Editing by me.

However, there seems to be a distinction made between large companies and independent designers.  If I posted a tutorial showing how to create something from an etsy seller and linked directly to the etsy design, I would probably get some angry comments.  I've even read blog posts on how wrong it is to pin an etsy product on pinterest under a board labeled DIY (example 1, 2).

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So what's the distinction?  Why is it okay to share these tutorials online?  Is it okay because we aren't selling them?  Even if a product is sold by a large store like Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters, didn't someone have to design it in the first place?  Is it considered okay because they are already so successful? 

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I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  I'm honestly not sure what the answer to all of this is and would love to hear some other insights into it.  I try to be careful about what I post myself, but I do read blogs with these kinds of posts and have even pinned the projects, so I'm wondering, should I stop?


    Hi Jenny, this is an interesting issue. In the above post I shared an image of a statement speaking of this issue. And I think that says it all.

  2. This is an interesting topic. I think the scolding if somebody tries to DIY an Etsy artist's work stems from the idea that the little guys need to stick together. Big companies have plenty of money and employees (and sweat shops), so smaller artists and businesses have to work that much harder to compete. If we all started ripping off each other's projects because the materials cost less, then we'd just be screwing ourselves over. To me, that's the difference.

    That being said, if somebody wants to show me a tutorial on how I can make an Anthro dress for cheaper, I won't mind and here's why: Anthro is a GIANT company with a ton of reach and influence. Just because I'm not willing to shell out $200 for a dress doesn't mean there won't be thousands of other people who will. Many people are more willing to pay extra instead of making something themselves, and a larger company has an easy time reaching those people. Small Etsy shops don't.

  3. You've brought up a very interesting point. One I hadn't thought about until now.

    I think sellers get very upset when a big company steals a "little guy's" idea because that big company will go make millions off the idea when the little guy is just trying to pay their bills. The right thing to do would be to hire the little guy or buy rights to their design/pay royalties so the little guy gets the accolades they deserve.

    As for little guys copying little guys, I think Paige nailed this one that us little guys need to stick together. When "one of us" steals a design from another, it hurts the entire handmade community.

    Great post Jenny :)

  4. I think it's one thing if I see something neat and try to recreate it for my own personal use vs. if I'm going to copy it exactly it to sell. I don't think anyone, large or small, should copy exactly another's work for personal gain. As far as tutorials/DIY's, I think it matters what it is. Showing how to make a certain style is fine because people put their own twist on it. If someone asks me to make a pair of earrings exactly like a pic they sent of a name-brand pair, I'm not going to do that.

  5. Uh oh, yipe, I'm guilty. I once posted a recipe for a knock-off of Qdoba's Naked Burrito. I never thought about it in this way exactly.

    I think a lot of people believe it's okay to "steal" from big companies. That's why so many people pirate music, etc. I pay for music downloads (unless I get it from my kids) and try to be conscious of this on most levels, but the DIY aspect is one I hadn't thought much about.

    Etsy Blog Team

  6. That's totally a big controversy. And some of those stores have people just like us designing for them too. You know it's mostly the same people out there who are committing all of these violations against big stores that would do the same to small designers. I'd HOPE that most who design & sell themselves on etsy would not try to create tutorials on this kind of thing, but I also know that's dreaming pretty big.

  7. That is an interesting question especially since I just did what you are talking about with my Marimekko Sneakers (though they actually used my tutorial on their own blog, how funny is that).

    I think the biggest difference is my posting a tutorial on how to make Marimekko inspired sneakers is probably not going to effect Marimekko's bottom line. Really how many people are going to make them? How many people who were going to buy them are now going to make mine instead? That number is probably pretty small.

    On the other hand, if Urban Outfitters does an exact copy of a design from Etsy & puts it in their stores all over the country that can effect the Etsy sellers bottom line pretty substantially I would think.

    Though when you think about it retail does this to each other all the time. I had a friend who was a shoe buyer for a major department store. That store also owned a lower price chain of stores. The buyers from the high end store would do presentations to the lower end store of the best sellers so the lower end could create exact knock-offs for less.

  8. Great topic for a post! I think that the most important thing to keep in mind when posting or reading copy tutorials like that is that they're for personal use only. Companies like Anthropology are not going to lose a lot of money because a few dozen ladies saw a tutorial for a knock off Anthro dress and made it themselves.

    In terms of selling, copying is not okay. Whether it's Antro copying an Etsy seller or vice versa, both groups will get hurt by this kind of practice.

  9. Great comments. I'm loving the discussion. It seems like most people are of the opinion that it is okay to post a tutorial copying a big design because it won't hurt the company in the same way it hurts a small company.

    Here's a question though. What about an etsy seller who make it big? Can I copy their design if they have thousands of sales? Or one of their designs gets picked up (with acknowledgement and compensation) by a large store?

    [I feel like I'm back in college ethics class. Fun fact, did you know my second major was bioethics?]

  10. Very interesting topic, and certainly something to think about...

  11. Hi Jenny,

    in a recent post of mine I touched on this subject as well, more specifically little guys copying little guys as Edi wrote. I'm afraid that might be happening to me :(
    I'm keeping an eye on those sellers...
    I've seen those "Anthro" tutorials. Actually, I think they are pretty fun and I agree with Rose - they won't suffer any losses. Also, big companies copy other big companies on a regular basis (I should know, I used to work for a fashion agency) ;-)

  12. Thank you for this post. It's a very interesting topic and one I hadn't really thought about in the past.

    I agree with earlier comments that it's unlikely that a large company would be damaged by the copy but I'm not sure that makes it okay. If we want our own art to be respected, don't we need to afford all others that same respect - whether it's a small shop or a giant corporation?

    It's a tough one.

  13. When an independent artist creates something, it is considered, I suppose, to be unique and not mass produced. That's my take. But I believe artists shouldn't make exact replicas and I wouldn't think they would want to, unless there was a monetary reason. Most authors, through publishers at least, pay for copyright. But most independant artists don't pay for a copyright. Maybe that's the difference between a well-known designer and an indepedent artist. I'm not saying that copying is right or anything. And I hate to copy an artist idea. If I do, it's usually for myself, to test out the technique. Hope that helped... {:-D


Thanks for your comments! I love hearing from my readers :)