Thursday, April 15, 2010

art and copyright

Today some members of the Handmade Division are talking about the question, "How do you view the topic of copying?". This has certainly been a hot one lately, both Metalsmith and Jewelry Artist magazines have recently published related articles, and it's pretty well saturated the virtual craft community.

I believe
that art is derivative by it's very nature, it comes from the human mind and spirit and therefore artists often have similar ideas - sometimes simultaneously, and sometimes separated by hundreds or thousands of years. Art builds on itself over time because artists are inspired by art and one another and this eventually leads to major art movements.

Of course intentional copying happens as well, and to keep this short I'll define a copy as a near to exact replica of an object, not a piece made in a similar manner or style.

If you're a person who consciously copies the work of another to call your own, then you're a fraud and you already know this about yourself. No one likes a copycat, and no one should be a copycat. On the other hand, if your work has been copied and you spend valuable studio time contemplating and complaining about it (been there), you could be missing out on creating your next big work. Keep moving forward.

If your art/craft is your business and you are losing money as a result of someone ripping off your designs, that's clearly a problem that should be addressed. But so often the issue
seems to be one of ego, of an artist wanting full credit and recognition for having had the idea first. Completely original and innovative ideas are painfully few and far between when it comes to art, most of us will not have one in our entire lifetime. Lets get over ourselves and focus on making great work.

*4/16/10. A friend sent me a link to this wonderfully written, insightful post from Michael deMeng about art and the sharing of ideas. I love his positive, supportive, and embracing attitude, I bet he's a great teacher.

*4/18/10. Wow, this has caused quite a stir! I have written another post on the nature of original and innovative artwork.

Please visit these other network members to read their ideas on this topic:

ArtJewel Designs

Andes Cruz
Jewelry by Natsuko
Beth Cyr
Tosca Teran
Tamra Gentry
Mary Spencer
Susan Moloney
Rosy Revolver


  1. Bless you for your completely intelligent and rational definition. I've not seen it stated better anywhere!

  2. Brilliant, thorough, and concise, Tomi!
    I totally agree with your assessment of a complex issue that affects every maker.

  3. By the way, that's a great copyright symbol! Inspired by illuminated manuscripts? But absolutely a unique Thomasin expression!

    To illustrate a point!!! :) I realized what it was after I left your blog.

  4. Thanks to you both for your comments. And thank you Jan for noticing the copyright graphic, making one seemed the obvious choice. I just love your post, Jan! xxoo

  5. I love your post, Thomasin!

    "Lets get over ourselves and focus on making great work"

    yes, art should never stop!

  6. I agree with you Tomi !
    Lets keep moving forward and keep creating.

    Even if somebody copies your work, I feel that their copy does not have the soulfulness and spirit of the original. Nobody can copy THAT! ;-)

  7. well said. I really enjoyed your. post. you cut straight to the chase, and dig into the depth of the issue. and yes, moving forward and creating more, new wonderful things is the important part :)

  8. Thanks for your post. You said it in a nice concise manner. We've all wasted precious time worrying about being copied and I've spent time worrying that I was copying someone else ( though not intentionally) if I see something similar on Etsy even though I didn't see it before I made it, but didn't want them to think I copied them even though I didn't. AHHHHH All this worry is draining.

  9. Tamra,
    Thanks for letting me know about your post(and the others in the discussion group.)

    This copying issue is huge and deserves to be discussed openly.
    Your blog post is excellent. Can’t say the same for other link…(you sent.)
    The “ego-paranoia” argument is used as an excuse.
    People who have developed original designs and techniques are not protecting an ego, they are protecting their work. Yes, they deserve credit and acknowledgement for the difficulty in developing their own aesthetic and techniques, but the issue is much larger. They are protecting their work.

    Yes, I agree that one needs to move on, but it “freaks me out” when people write, I really like that “so and so” (name the item here), think I will try that this weekend.
    It happened to me just last week. URGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    And just the other day, I saw a poor copy of my work on Etsy. Shame and disgust, this is no complement, it’s a rip off.

    Those copy cat people can try to justify their behavior any way they want, but they are vermin that feed off society and other people’s work. They should be ostracized. Called to account for their behavior. Strong language….but how can these people excuse this copy cat behavior.

    A recent series of posts on ASK Harriete discusses the use of step by step instructions which align themselves to this argument.
    Original work is original, copying and duplication is not your idea, it belongs to someone else.

    I will write a comment on the posts.
    Keep in touch.

  10. Thanks to everyone for your comments, reading through all of the posts it's clear that we all agree that copying is wrong. We seem to be in disagreement about what defines original work, another old and hotly debated issue.

    Harriette, I'm wondering if your letter to Tamra was posted to my blog in error?

  11. As much as I've enjoyed reading the other blogs on this subject today, I have to say your post comes the closest to my own thinking. Well-articulated as always.

  12. I do think the feelings are largely ego driven. When I realize thats whats going on, I try to think about karma - move forward and realize that copier will have their own bad karma coming to them. and make my life better by moving forward!

  13. Tomi - I very much enjoyed reading the link to the other blog, that you added after the fact. Very interesting. I don'y know that I can fully subscribe to that idea, ~BUT~ it is definitely something I plan to give some decent thought to. I don't have a Art Education, So those types of thoughts and experiences haven't been part of my learning. Interesting.

  14. So glad I came back to reread your post, Tomi! Thanks for adding the link to Michael DeMeng's post on art and sharing! Total agreement here!!! :)

  15. Hi Tomi-
    I was telling Scott this evening that I stumbled across an artist on Flickr who I felt "copied" Robert Dancik, using Faux Bone, which is a product that Robert invented and trademarked. There was no reference anywhere on the post to the work having been inspired by Robert Dancik, so I posted a comment about it. Scott encouraged me to share the links here, and see what you think.

    Here is Robert Dancik's "Ax" pendant.

    Here is the pendant, that has so many features like Robert's pendant, I feel it goes well beyond being derivative.

    I have to admit, I really just hate seeing this close of a copy. It upsets me when I see people doing this. I don't think it is an ego thing. I think if a person is going to do this, they need to at least state who's work inspired theirs. I did read both your posts, and I agree with everything you said. I also loved Michael DeMeng's article. But, I do think for people who "copy" or very closely imitate and the brazenly pass the work off to be their own original designs should be scolded. People should know better.
    Thank you for these posts. I think they offer a productive and positive perspective.

    Cheers, Dawn

  16. Hi Dawn,

    I agree that the artist who made the axe pendant should have credited Dancik, while the piece is not en exact replica it is clearly derivative work and that should be mentioned.

    With reference to Dancik, because he invented and markets the faux bone, I wonder how he feels when he sees work like this. I noticed an axe pendant on the cover of his Tools and Techniques dvd, and it's possible that he gives the instructions for the axe there or in his Amulets and Talisman's book. In that case recreating his designs may be encouraged and help Dancik to sell more faux bone. I'm very comfortable with people reproducing designs for educational purposes, but I feel strongly that copied works should be identified as such and should never be sold.

    Thanks so much for visiting and for your comments,