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.