How many times have you heard this in relation to the reproduction, by one person, of a work of art created, originally, by someone else: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"?
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.
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!
10/13/2015 07:28:19 pm
This is an issue I struggle with frequently. On one hand, I enjoy interacting with other artists and exchanging ideas, tips, and finished work. On the other hand, I wonder if I should cut off all contact with other artists and work in a bubble so I can be certain my work is 100% my own.
10/13/2015 07:53:33 pm
Yes, this was exactly what I was hoping to touch on. That kind of balance between recognizing when your work is "original". And I even hate using that word, because it really IS subjective, unless someone is just blatantly copying. For instance, I saw a piece the other day, and the person said it was inspired by another artist and linked to the other artist. When I viewed the work at the link, I didn't think "OMG she copied!" In fact, I thought she developed that style into something her own. But right behind me, someone suggested it was a blatant rip-off. This is why I tried to emphasize, if there's ever a question, that just asking the artist who was the inspiration to look at the work and gauge for themselves.
10/13/2015 10:28:52 pm
I have a very real fear of this. I have managed to create an original look combining my lampwork and wire. So far, I haven't seen anyone duplicate it, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time... Meanwhile, I've had people comment on my FB posts, tagging someone else, and blatantly asking the tagged person if they could make one for them... Let me tell you about steam coming out of my ears! I was tactful but firm in linking to my sales link for said item. Makes me sick!
10/15/2015 08:06:08 am
I find that most people just don't even realize it's a faux pas to do that kind of thing and, with gentle reminding, they are usually understanding when I point it out. I try not to think the worst in situations like that. I think the key is communication, both from the original artist and the person who has or is attempting to recreate a piece. Too often we're all either too afraid to ask if it's okay, or to tell someone it's not okay. Communication is definitely where resolution comes.
10/15/2015 05:53:06 pm
I agree. Like I said, I was tactful and pointed out that it was my design and that I would be happy to make a special one just for them!
10/15/2015 05:57:24 pm
That's an excellent way to handle it. I think a lot of people tag their friends with the "you should make this for me" comments because they expect they'll get a "friend discount". I think we've ALL been hit up for those before. Lol
10/15/2015 09:57:27 pm
This happened to me once, and I was completely mortified. I'd shared a post from an artist I admire who was running a Facebook giveaway. She makes these lovely little sterling earrings in a signature style, and one of my friends (who is a photographer and should therefore know better) asked me point blank on the public thread if I would make them for her. I replied that I wouldn't copy another artist's design and provided a link to the artist's Etsy shop where she could buy the earrings directly from the designer. Since then, I've been hesitant to share Facebook giveaways from the artists I follow, which is a shame because the whole point of those posts is to generate likes for those artists.
Thank you for this article, NIcole. Having published my first tutorial, I know the time involved first hand. I love teaching, but was hesitant to publish for all that you have pointed out in your article. It is already a problem for me. I am a legal business and I make my living doing what I do. It is such a sad state of affairs that those that lack the creativity for themselves choose to feed off of us that take the time to not only come up with the designs but share the how-to with others. It is just a sad commentary on our times, I guess. I, also, have been asked to do others work. Of course, I pointed out that it would be the same as plagiarism. Even after explaining, some people still do not care. As artists, we just have to keep on keeping on and educate others when we can. Thanks again!
11/3/2015 05:31:52 pm
I believe it is difficult to do anything really original with hammered spirals, but I could be wrong.
11/4/2015 03:06:10 pm
This isn't really about incorporating a single element or technique. This is more a direct reply to those who have (almost) fully copied a piece, element for element, and then claim it's only "inspired" by, when it's really just a direct copy. I mean, sure, no one can copyright a triangle or a spiral. So if 2500 people make the same spiral earrings, then they've made the choice to compete with 2500 other people. But for designs that incorporate multiple techniques and design elements is where the real issue of "inspiration vs copy" comes into play.
11/1/2016 06:04:29 pm
Oh my goodness, I may have done this very thing. :( I found another artist site and loved the work so much that I wanted to try that style. Now in hindsight and considering your words, even though what I created couldn't possibly be seen as a direct copy, I am second guessing myself and wondering if what I did was in essence copying their work. *sigh*
11/1/2016 10:21:57 pm
We've all done it. Seriously... whether most will admit it or not.... we've all done it. My advice is always to contact the artist and ask them if THEY think it's a copy. Most of the time, you'll get a pleasant "Nah, you're fine!". Sure, occasionally an artist will ask that you not replicate the design, but at least you know. Why worry ourselves by wondering, when we can just ask, right? :D
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