How not to copy someone's work

Firstly i'd like to thank everyone who kindly took the time to read last weeks post on The Art of Pricing Craft, it was really interesting to hear from so many people with their thoughts, experiences and troubles with pricing and I will certainly be doing a follow up post soon!  

I sat with my cup of tea (standard) and read all the comments on the post, on Facebook and the emails that I received as a result and I began to notice a few themes cropping up. One of which was a struggle with hobbyist, where people create beautiful things as a hobby and so simple cover their costs; great for them, not so great for the small businesses making similar products but charging more to enable them earn a living. The natural progress for my brain was to then consider the similarities in different products and how two items can be the identical in essence but completely different ....or exactly the same. 

When considering the premise for this article I ran it by Katrina from Qtique and we talked about the different aspects of similarities and copying. What makes something a copy? If you make bags then I make bags is that a copy? If you paint sunflowers then I paint sunflowers is that a copy? or is it simply confined to a replica? Questions which I imagine will be answered differently in every circumstance conceivable. If you specialise in shoes and then bring out a range of bags then a shoe-selling competitor bring out their bag range it certainly seems fishy but at the same time could purely be a coincidence. I imagin we instantly jump to 'copy!' but maybe there is more to it.

One of the points Katrina made during our discussion of this tricky topic was "my mugs (probably like your knits) were created because there were other products out there that were kind of good but I knew I could make great ones - I wouldn't say that is copying, just because I didn't reinvent the wheel doesn't mean the designs are not my own" 

 Of course we are speaking purely of a product type rather than specific design. Lots of people make mugs, even more people sell mugs... with their own designs on them. Katrina researched and developed her product by taking the best elements of lots of different mugs and put them all together to make a mega mug then designed different faces (literally in the case of Muggsie) So she made a mug, a product type that already exists but I doubt anyone would call that copying. 


Copier or Competitor?

But let's face it, we all familiar with copying, just like we know right from wrong. We've all been there and had something copied from us and probably copied ourselves (even if it was just on a spelling test in school). If you've had something copied from you, from homework to artwork lets face it, it sucks. You feel like you're hard work has been forgotten, neglected or worse still, gone unnoticed! That was your credit to take, your pat on the back, your blue thumbs up ...your sale to be had! It's a positive result for someone else based on your hard work. not cool. It's terribly sad and I wish it didn't happen but unfortunately it does.

So how to deal with this as a business? Personally I see two options, 1) take action or 2) move on. If the degree of copying is really bad there are legal actions that can be taken (I'm in no way an expert so won't even attempt to go into detail) all I know is that there are plenty of article online including one by Fast Company Design; Was Your Design Stolen which suggests six steps to take. Plagiarism can be a real problem and very upsetting for the original artist and shouldn't be brushed under the rug. At the end of the day it is theft and shouldn't be allowed to go unnoticed whilst somebody is profiting for another persons intellectual property. (don't even get me started on the moral issues!) 

Of course we all have the option to 'get over it' this is more specifically for generic similarities rather than outright copying. As artists and designers we put so much into our work that it can be very hard to let it go when someone else produces something along the same lines. I know that there are a couple of businesses producing work similar to mine and it would be so easy to become obsessed with what they are doing that is similar to me, and what their new products are but at the end of the day, what good will that do me? I can't prove that they have copied my ideas, I can't even prove that they have seen my work! So why should I worry? I know what I'm doing and I know i'm doing it well (in terms of quality and hard work not just begging myself up there!). If their's are cheaper its for a reason and their customers will see that, just as mine will appreciate the quality. There is no point in wasting my days fussing when actually I have plenty of lovely customers who have orders that need to be made! 

Knowing where to focus your energy is an important part of any small business. Concentrate on what matters and what you can change, rather than something you have no control over. Lets not waste our time fussing about what our competitors are doing. Be true to yourself and turn it into a positive by working harder to be better. Hold your head up high and move on other wise it will hold you back and they have won. 

Circling back quickly theres one point regarding outright copying that still has me questioning; as a customer, what is our responsibility? If we spot forgeries should we speak up? clearly it's bad practice and when we are fond of an artist and their work we feel strongly that it shouldn't be ripped off, trouble is, we may not always know the full story, we may be confused or we may not remember the differences and this could really upset the accused artist! I'm not really into shaming people, I'm more of a 'live and let live' kinda gal, although I also don't believe it's OK to copy people work so I don't know what I'd do if I was faced with this situation. I'd love you're thoughts on this and what you think is best? I imagine it completely depends on the situation, artist, where you're seeing the work etc. 


So what is copying? 

Recently the lovely Tracey from Benton's Menagerie posted an image on Facebook of her needle felted running hare. She explained in an articulate and friendly manor how this hare had been in her head and on her to do list for months and then one day another artist made one and popped him on Facebook. Having seen this, Tracy's instinct was to cross her running hare off her to do list. Like many of us would, she assumed it would be stepping on someone else toes, she didn't want to upset anybody and she certainly didn't want to be seen as a copy cat. Fortunately for us Tracey couldn't get her running Hare out of her head so she asked herself some very sensible questions - 

"Q Is your style different to this other artist?
A Most definitely

Q Do you use the same type of wool
A No not at all

Q Will you present you work in a similar way
A No not at all, not even slightly

Q How badly do you want to make him?
A I might just pop if I don't"

Her answer to these questions was her validation that she was not copying, just because another artist had made a similar piece first didn't automatically make her a copy cat. She finished off the post by saying "PS: And yes it does look completely different to the other piece, which is the point really isn't it? If you follow your own creative urges and stay true to yourself, you will always be unique." And I couldn't agree more. It is so important we don't instantly assume the position of finger pointing but at the same time it's vital that as artists, we all stay aware of the decisions we make, especially when they are regarding similar influences.  

To me, copying is a state of mind. It's a decision to take someone else's ideas and vision and word for word or stitch for stitch mimic it and call it your own. It is not the use of similar materials or influence alone, but a lack of creativity and a desire to plagiarise. This is completely different to a considered and mindful approach of how to personally tackle a similar product, making sure it is individual to you and not a rip off of someone else. I think Tracey's running hare is a beautiful representation of this. He is clearly created in her own style and born from her own imagination and....well look at him! He's wonderful!! 


Inspiration Vs Copy Cat 

So it seems that there's a line somewhere that is drawn between copying and taking inspiration. When you are on the right side and taking Inspiration from others it can be so fun! I love being someones inspiration and I love taking it from others. I meet so many knitters now, especially when i'm at shows with my work on display, knitters wonder over and its so lovely to chat with them. What makes me smile is when someone says "you've inspired me to pick up my needles again!" - how wonderful that my passion can rub off on someone else!

On the other hand, as mentioned last week I also get a lot of people crossing that line and asking me how they can make it themselves which doesn't float my boat but I do understand. So for me the line is - go home and knit your sock off (or on!), knit yourself a blanket, knit yourself a cushion but use your own wool, your own ideas, your own style, or your own pattern rather than mimicking my mine - also it's so not fun to just replicate something, the joy is in the creation and in knowing that something you made came out of your own head.


How can we take inspiration?

My main inspiration comes from the scale of the I work I produce. As my business is still in the early stages there is so much I can do simply by trying out new stitches, colours and patterns. Everything seems different to usual because of it's size. A simple blanket knit in my wool is big enough to get lost in, a scarf that is so gigantic it swallows you up in a cosy cuddle. These normal knitted items all of a sudden become abnormal because they are produced in a size people haven't really seen before. 

I also enjoy looking around at objects that aren't knitted and thinking how it could work in wool i.e. lampshades. This doesn't work all the time with every item as wool has a certain quality that wouldn't suit a lot of things so I spend hours considering, researching, testing, failing and trying new things. The way the wool is processed also suits some items more than others. The processing involved for the footstool for instance wouldn't suit a throw because their uses and finishes are different. But it's such fun to explore it all and consider the possibilities! 

In terms of external inspiration clearly, I didn't write the rule book but in my opinion taking inspiration would be defined as - enjoying an element of a piece of work and allowing that to influence your own work. To my mind, that element could be simply a colour scheme or a style for instance drawing without your pen leaving with page. It could be the subject, the product type, the material. If there is an art or craft piece that I like and I think 'damn I wish I could do that' or 'I wish I had thought of it first!' then I question what it is I like about it. Sometimes it's the whole thing but normally there is a deciding factor. I hadn't made a pink footstool until I came across Julie Dumbarton and her beautiful, colourful work. Her use of colour is ridiculously inspiring! I don't think it's particularly obvious that my colourful footstools have come as a result of her work just as I don't think, in fact I know, she wouldn't mind for a second that I took inspiration from her bold use of colour and now I am far less fearless with colour because I see how she uses it to create masterpieces. 


Look at other medias to the one you work in-  Another beautiful piece by Benton's Menagerie was created as a result of her love for a painting. She visited one of Sophie Cobb's exhibitions and spotted a little fox curled up on the corner of one piece of work. She loved him so much she wanted to bring him to life in a different form so he was then born in needle felt form. There are no rules as to where you find inspiration, it can come from anywhere in any form! 

A beautiful reflection of this is Julia Crossland's work; she is an artist and illustrator creating wonderful bright work. One thing you might spot in Julia's work is a Ken Eardley jug. They pop up quite often in her work and add a colourful salute to another artist. It's lovely to see artists supporting each other in this way. And what a brilliant interpretation of her fondness for Ken Eardley's fabulous pieces. I can't think of a more flattering form of inspiration! 

Get Inspired! 

As creatives we all need to find inspiration somewhere. It's part of the creative process. There are many places and forms it may take - it may be in nature, from a film, an art movement, a decade we're fond of and can also be from other artists. As long as we respect where that line falls between inspiration and copying it can be a wonderful thing. 

Imitation is not in the least bit flattering, inspiration however, is
— Tracey Benton

After all, We are all creating newer versions of something, Knitting is technically just a serious of loops and knots thats been around for decades, I may be doing it using unusual materials but the process is the same as it has always been. One of my most popular products is made using a stockinette stitch - literally Knit one (row), purl one (row) but I don't see myself as copying because I don't sit down with the intent of replicating anything. I use the same techniques but I apply my own creativity. 

When it comes to vague similarities let's not judge too harshly and lets not band around that C word quite so quickly, after all, in school we are taught to look backwards to move forwards. to a degree It's a natural progression but we need to bear in mind where the line is and not cross that. Of course it is not OK to plagiarise and occasionally action will need to be taken but on the whole, let's allow ourselves to be inspired but other peoples work and lets celebrate the differences rather than point out the similarities.  

Thank you again for reading! 

See you next week! 

L x


Lauren Aston1 Comment