And while that may be true, this doesn't mean it isn't theft. Woah, now, you might be saying. Theft is a strong word, I know, but I wanted to get your attention.
Now I'm speaking generally, of course, and not in relation to anything I've experienced, personally, only things I've witnessed in the community, as a whole. Recently I was wandering a great web of social oddities (ahem, Facebook) and came across a post in which one artist shared their work and wrote "Inspired by..." and named another artist as their inspiration. These posts are endless in their numbers, and usually quite innocent in motive. And while I don't think it was the case in this particular instance, the point is that "imitation" is sometimes, not always... but sometimes, just a polite way of saying "I copied it" that doesn't offend ones sense of artistry and personal morality. It happens. Sometimes we like a design so much we have to prove to ourselves that we can do it. It's a mentality with which I sympathize. But when you do that, own it. Own it completely. Implying that a copy (even when altered) is "inspired by" is not owning it and could honestly get you into trouble. Eeep! No one wants that. No artist enjoys cornering or policing those who have copied their work without permission, especially when it's usually a result of excitement and admiration.
Does this frighten you into never sharing anything you make inspired by others? It shouldn't, but there are important distinctions to make. First, let me say, this in no way applies to the use of tutorials. If you use a tutorial and say "Inspired by" when you share on social media, you're FINE. Don't worry, this has nothing to do with you. However, it is necessary these days to state explicitly that posting a piece of art online is not, in and of itself, a tutorial, unless explicitly stated, nor does it grant others permission to replicate, even with alteration, and then share or sell this copy. And copying a design detailed in a tutorial that you didn't purchase the rights to use is not okay. Ever. Saying "I didn't buy the tutorial, but I wanted to try this design by....." is not cool. It doesn't matter that you gave credit to the designer. Tutorials take 30+ hours to construct, from start to finish and, in may cases, much much longer. A teacher has to sell hundreds of copies in order to adequately pay for their time and expertise and this can take months. Please, as my public service announcement on behalf of all those who write tutorials, if you like the design, just purchase the right to reproduce it and (if applicable) sell the reproductions.
Please note: I am not a lawyer. More specifically, I am not a COPYRIGHT lawyer, and will not be offering counsel in that regard. If you are not a copyright lawyer (I don't care if you know one, or if your husband's brother is one, or if your college professor is one), please do not comment with legal advice. This post regards the MORAL obligations we have, as artists, when creating and sharing our work with others. And since morality is entirely subjective, it goes without saying that this is my opinion. Based on experience, yes, but an opinion nonetheless.
- If you do not intend to sell your imitation, you still need permission from the artist whom you imitate prior to posting your work, or your copy of their work, online. Questions of legality aside, it's just polite.
- Do not believe, not for one second, that changing 10% or 20% or 40% of a design (an arbitrary and TOTALLY meaningless number, by the way) somehow protects you or your work, and excuses you from the repercussions of theft, even if that theft is only perceived by the person who feels they've been robbed. I am not talking about or referring to any single instance, nor relating this to personal experience. It is only a cautionary tale. If you think your work could be perceived by the artist as a "copy", just ask them. Seriously, it can't hurt.
- If someone tells you jewelry cannot be protected by copyright or if someone tells you jewelry CAN be protected by copyright and neither of these people are copyright lawyers or representatives of your government's copyright office, IGNORE THEM. Arm YOURSELF with the law and do the research you need to do to protect yourself. Get the pertinent information you need in writing and refer to it whenever you post something that may violate the rights of others or when others violate your rights. No one is accountable for your actions, but you, and "But Suzie on Facebook said I could do that" is not a valid argument.
- Did you see a photo album of a work in progress? That doesn't mean you can copy it, especially not if you intend to sell what you make and especially not without the permission of the artist. Many artists like to show their process. This is not permission to use, unless explicitly stated so.
- A website has a ton of tutorials. It's okay if you copy something that doesn't have a tutorial, right? Not always. And, morally, I would say never. If you do not have explicit permission to replicate a design, to create derivatives, and to post and sell those derivatives, just don't.
- How do I know if it's inspired by, or a copy? If you have to ask, assume it's a copy and get permission.
Artists spend thousands of dollars on tools and supplies, hours hunting for resources, years perfecting a skill and this isn't a hobby for everyone. For every person reproducing the work of one artist, no matter how derivative, there is less opportunity for that artist to support themselves. "Art is meant to be shared...." is a lovely idea and I agree entirely and encourage this philosophy, but make sure the artist IS actually sharing it for use by others. For instance, I sell tutorials. I LOVE to share designs in my lessons and see what others make with those lessons. I have designs that are one-of-a-kind, that have no lesson attached, sure, but I make it a point to provide a ton of other designs and lessons from which artists CAN chose. But there are other artists who do not provide lessons and do not share the rights to designs. It is very easy to forget, in a world in which there is a proliferation of how-to videos and files, that no artist at all is required nor obligated to sell the rights to their designs or instructional materials. Some chose to, others do not. So if you find yourself inspired by others, just make sure you take what they do and do it bigger, better and INNOVATE. Innovation is the life force of art. Ah, "but there's nothing new under the sun" you might be thinking. I hear it often. And it's wrong. Totally, utterly, unforgivably wrong. TECHNIQUE might be a standard in the jewelry world, but DESIGN possibilities are endless.
Now, that's my soap box for the month. It's an opinion and a strong one, and it may differ from the opinions of others, but maybe it will instigate a little conversation. These are important conversations to have.
Now forget all this and go make something pretty!