Sunday, September 4, 2011

Another Look at Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Last winter I wrote two blog posts about copyright infringement as it applies to beadwork.  At the time, I had experience only as an ignorant and unintentional infringer, and had not really given much thought to being infringed upon.  It seemed to me that it would not be different from seeing copies of my ballroom dance costume designs, which happens to me fairly frequently.  But I was very wrong about that, and I was shocked by my own reaction to the situation.  

Last Thursday I got a convo from an Etsy Beadweavers Team member who pointed out to me that someone had copied my "Bollywood Beauty" necklace and was selling it on Etsy.  I took a look and sure enough, there it was!  It's not an exact copy, but it is certainly my design.  It has all the same components in the same locations, and even is done in nearly the same color scheme.  My fringe weights are different and my focal bead a different color, and the proportions, while close are not quite the same.  But the beader did a pretty good job of figuring out what I had done and copying it.


Just as a reference point, here's my "Bollywood Beauty" necklace.

After my cursory glance I responded to my teammate

 "Thank for showing me. I am not going to pursue any action against this beader. I am hugely amused, and mildly flattered, but I decided quite a while back that copyright would just never be an issue for me, unless someone copies my work and is making a fortune on it, which I do not think will happen in this case."

Then I explained that I work in an industry by day that copyright does not apply to, and consequently have experienced seeing copies of my designs before, and I finished the convo with:

"Do I think it's a copy? Sure. But it's not a perfect one, although substantially accurate in most details. Do I really care? Nah. But I am really glad to know it's out there. I'd love to do a blog post on it!!! I might just ask her if she'd mind my featuring her work on my blog. What do you think she'll say?"

Then I sent the beader who had copied my necklace a convo:

"How interesting. Would you object if I did a blog post on your Peacock Beaded Necklace? You can see my blog at ..."  

Then I had a look around her shop and discovered ANOTHER copy of my necklace, this one in crystal.  My devil-may-care attitude melted away as I noticed that this copy was priced at $1200, well above the $995 price tag on my original.  I was shocked!  Was she planning to make a career of knocking off my necklace with a few subtle variations and different color schemes? 

Then I read her description.  The description on the first copy had talked about being "inspired by nature" but it did say at the very bottom of the listing: "Inspired by hauteicebeadwork."  Now given the detail she had managed to copy from my necklace, I was surprised she had missed the caps in my shop name.  But this second description didn't mention my shop at all. 

I felt my blood pressure rise a few notches.  I went back to the first copy and noticed that the piece had 59 admirers and been in three Treasury Lists.  This is a design I believe to be one of my better efforts, and I use it as my shop profile picture. It won the August 2011 Etsy Beadweavers challenge, and I am very proud of it.   I began to feel angry, which really surprised me. 

What I did next was a very bad idea.  I am ashamed to tell you about it. Without waiting for permission, I wrote a blog post about these copies.  I displayed the images you see here, but without permission, and I said almost exactly what I have said here, but my intent was malicious.  I meant to expose her theft of my intellectual propery.  I wanted my friends to know I had been ripped off, and I wanted them to console me.  I also contacted a couple of my beady buddies whose work I thought was also represented in this Etsy shop, and suggested they take a look.  I was having a deeply unsettling week, having dropped my only child off at college the day before, and while I thought I was doing pretty well, clearly, I had been walking on a emotional tightrope, and had fallen off.  I'm usually more rational and at least a little compassionate.  But whatever else might have been going on in my life, I know how quickly information can be spread online, and my behavior was inappropriate.

When a couple of my friends took it upon themselves to let this shop owner know just how wrong she was to have copied my work, I realized things had gotten out of control.  I contacted everyone I thought was riding off to war on my behalf, thanked them for their support, and asked them to stop, and I deleted my own blog post.  A gentle prompt from a friend (thanks Kate) reminded me how easily I had made a similar mistake as a baby bead artist.

Then I wrote to the shop owner and stated very clearly that she was using my design without giving me credit for it, and that she did not have my permission to do this.  I told her to remove her listings from Etsy. I was 100% ready to hire myself a lawyer to enforce that if need be.  I also suggested that she might not be aware that what she was doing was wrong, and I directed her to my blog posts  "Give Credit..."   and "...Redux" to read about my own similar mistake.

She was respectful, apologetic, and removed her listings.  I thanked her and we convoed a little.  And the next day, after a restoring night's sleep, I convoed again and told her she could relist her items if she credited me with the design and posted a link to my shop in her listing.  She did so, and I am A-OK with it.

I am still shocked at how angry and threatened I felt, when something that defined me as an artist, and my "brand" on Etsy was copied without any design credit given.  I'm glad I had this experience, because I now have great sympathy for other artists who want credit for their designs.  I had no real idea how they felt, until I felt that way myself.  And I am so sorry that it took me so long get a handle on my distress and find an appropriate way to handle the situation.

 I share this, with permission from the other artist involved, who asked me to add this comment from her: "These last few days all I have been able to think about is how ashamed I am and how stupid I was to not research all this more. It has really been bothering me and eating at me and I would appreciate people realizing how sorry I am."   But in her defense, it's an easy mistake to make.  I know this from personal experience.

The lessons here are many and obvious.  We both hope that telling our sorry tale helps others avoid our mistakes.

26 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post, Marsha. Being one of those that 'rode off to war' for you, I wanted to let you know that when I spoke with the other artist, she was indeed apologetic, and wanted to make amends if she could. I felt that she was very very good in her response, and I'm glad that you both have it resolved. :)

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  2. I consider the woman a friend after surviving this experience with her. Thank you so much Nancy. Some days, we really need our friends.

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  3. I'm glad things worked out between you two. This is a subject that we all have to face at some point, and I'm so glad you took the graceful high road.

    Kate

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  4. With help from my friends, Kate. Thank you.

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  5. Great post, Marsha! I admire you as an artist and a human being! I am glad you were able to resolve this issue with so much grace. For me...a true lesson to learn...

    ileana

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  6. Marsha, thank you for a wonderful post - there are so many feelings involved, and I congratulate you for rising above your anger and I also congratulate the other beader for her response. YAY for a win-win solution!

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  7. My beady buddies are the best. Your kindness and support is so important to me. I don't really have words to thank you enough.

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  8. I really enjoyed reading this story, Marsha! Thank you for being so candid about a really serious issue for beaders.

    Copying others' designs is such a serious problem, and it has so many ways of popping up. What troubles me most about this, is that someone would take the time to work out recreating such a complex design, without having any second thoughts.

    We just have to keep on educating new and old beaders alike!

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  9. Thanks for reading Mortira and for you support and comments as well.

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  10. Kudos to you Friend, for handling this so well. And kudos for the lady who copied you for apologizing. However I still feel like you should be the only one selling this design on Etsy, that's your right as the artist.
    Someone who is talented enough ( and she is very talented I think, to copy this very intricate design), should be able to design her own beautiful pieces... Well, I think we all learned from this.I know I did.

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  11. This is a subject that is close to all of our hearts & will evoke a range emotions including anger.

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  12. Your designs are graceful, elegant, balanced and lovely in proportion. The copies are ungainly, mal-proportioned, and a demonstration of why plagiarism cannot create good art. One cannot produce great poetry by changing a few critical words in a Shakespeare sonnet.

    I'd never mistake one of her designs for your work, or vice versa. And if I were an Etsy shopper out for high-end work, I'd never go with the copy, even if she weren't pricing it higher. The quality shows, never fear.

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  13. This is a great story about a very difficult problem. I have struggled with these issues for years and I really appreciate your sharing this experience :)

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  14. Marsha, you are such a class act, I admire the way you handled this in such an elegant way.

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  15. I'm really amazed at how you worked things out, so much to learn! thanks for sharing

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  16. Again, thank you all for your support. I really appreciate it.

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  17. An EXCELLENT post! Thank you so much Marsha for sharing your experience!

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  18. This is a great post, Marsha. I can relate to going through each of those feelings. I have over reacted about the same issue in the past and been sorry I did. I guess a good night's sleep puts a lot of things in perspective. Thanks for showing us all an appropriate way to handle this.

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  19. Thanks Marsha for this post. As a new beader just starting to branch out into my own creations, I struggle understanding copyright issues and beading ethics. Every article or post I read about it helps me to understand both sides of the story. Thank you!

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  20. Marsha such a trying time you have had these past few weeks with your only son going to collenge and dealing with the copywrite issue as well. You have as always resolved it with grace and tack, not sure that I would have dealt with the situtation as you have. KOODOs to you

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  21. Megan, Betty, Mandy and Jacquie, Thanks!

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  22. Marsha, Thank you for sharing you thoughts and feelings with us on what was surely a trying and difficult situation (and in an already tough week, with your son heading away to school!) Your grace and compassion really shine through in your handling of a tricky business, and are a good lesson for all of us!

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  23. Marsha - what a balanced & graceful voice you've used to present this story! I felt MY blood boil when I started to read, so I can't imagine how many times you must've had to hit the delete key. I'm happy to hear that the other artist used this situation as a learning tool as much as you did. Thank you for your insight into such a complicated issue.

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