It seems like every few weeks I read something in a facebook group, on a blog, etc. about someone stealing someone’s quilling artwork and claiming it as their own. Of course this happens with all sorts of art, technology, and more, but I keep up mostly on the quilling groups so that’s how I hear about these things. I also get messages from good samaritans letting me know that they saw my work being stolen on various sites.
There are a lot of thoughts about this topic of copyright infringement, and I wanted to put my thoughts out there as well for those who go through this problem. It is very shocking the first time that you see that someone has stolen your work. What do you do? What CAN you do? I don’t have all of the answers, but I can tell you what I have done.
But first, I think there are some grey areas about what it means to steal another’s work. There are some things that are illegal, others that are just rude, and others that are probably okay but it’s best to ask first. Here are some different levels that I have seen:
Someone uses another artist’s photos, claims that the design is their own, the photos are their own, they are the creator, and they may also be claiming to sell the finished product.
This is pretty much the worst. It really feels like a blow to the chest when you see that someone is taking your photo and claiming that your hard work is their own, and even selling it. They may also be copying the wording of your descriptions.
When something like this happens, it is definitely going against your copyright. I don’t KNOW all of the legal details, but I have researched some, and basically you HAVE copyright over your own photos, unique designs, descriptions, etc. I put the word unique in bold, because you can’t have copyright over a very simple design. It would have to be quite unique and different for it to count. But you DO have complete copyright over the actual photos you take. If you see that someone has taken your photos, you can first write to them and ask them to remove them, as they are yours. Most of the time with a stern but polite letter, they will take them down and that will be the end. There are times when you can’t get through to the person(s) and they just won’t listen. If it is a site like Etsy you can submit a complaint and they can let you know whether they can help you. If you really truly want to pursue legal action you can look up what that entails. It’s often lengthy and not pretty, so you have to think about whether it is worth it. Luckily you most often don’t have to go there.
There are also things you can do to prevent theft of your photos – such as watermarking them. I did not used to watermark my photos. There are still a lot of my photos out there with no watermarks because of this. And I’ve had more than my share of my photos being stolen. Which is why I have started watermarking. When you DO watermark you will find that your photos are still sometimes stolen, but often the thief doesn’t even bother to try to the watermark off, which just makes them look ridiculous, which is kind of funny.
Someone looks at your design, creates a piece as close as they can and takes their own photo. They may or may not claim it is their design. They may or may not be trying to sell the piece.
This is kind of a grey area. Some artists feel strongly that this is NOT okay. I agree that it is not okay if they outright claim that it is their own design. However, they DID make the piece and they DID take their own photos. If they make no claims about whether the design is their own or not, I personally don’t make a fuss about it. A LOT of beginner and intermediate level artists get their inspiration from other artists. Not everyone has the level of imagination to come up with their own designs right away. Nevertheless, if you ARE someone who has taken strong inspiration or really copied someone’s work down to the detail, please be respectful and have the courtesy to mention where you got your inspiration from.
Someone sees another artist’s work and admires it. It is quite unique and they’ve never seen anything like that before. They give it a try and copy it, maybe changing some details. They take some photos and share it online. Maybe they are giving it as a gift to someone, or just sharing what they’ve made, or maybe they are selling it. Whatever it is, they make sure to give credit to the original artist and link to the artist’s own facebook page or blog. They even ask the artist’s permission before selling the piece that they made.
This is the best case scenario. When you are polite and considerate, you will find that other artists really appreciate it. They put a lot of work into coming up with their designs. They may or may not be sharing tutorials of their work, but either way it is polite to ask their permission before selling something that you made that is a copy of their design.
So, what is your reaction when you see that someone has stolen a photo, design, etc? Here is my take:
When it first happened to me I was furious and heartbroken. How could someone do that? I did everything in my limited power to get it taken down. And it worked a couple times. But since then I’ve gotten kind of lazy about it. I still feel irritated by it when it happens, but I’ve found that there are usually two main scenarios:
- The person didn’t truly mean anything by it. With one or two polite letters, they will take it down and/or they will give credit and link to you. Some people just don’t think about those who are behind the designs, or they came across it and didn’t know where it came from and didn’t know where to credit. If you give them a chance you may be surprised.
- The other main scenario is that it is a bigger company without the morals behind it. They are out to sell products and they steal photos. They may or may not actually even create the designs. You can send them a letter and they might take down your photos.
It’s not worth my peacefulness and the positivity that I try to keep and exude in my life to chase down copyright thieves. I believe in karma and I believe in the law of attraction. So I will attempt justice and believe that those who were simply mistaken or didn’t think about it will make things right. To those who don’t, I don’t bother to pursue the negativity. If someone finds inspiration in my designs and makes something the same or similar and goes out to sell it, more power to them. I am an artist and a teacher. I will continue to be both and I will continue to come up with new designs. I have seen the paper quilled jewelry market explode since I started my etsy shop several years ago. I know a lot of my designs sparked inspiration in others. I’ve seen people try to exactly copy and I’ve seen people just take a basic idea of mine and make it into their own.
So my advice to anyone who is faced with these types of scenarios is to take a deep breath, sleep on it, respond politely when necessary, and to let it go. Don’t let it haunt you. Don’t let it hinder your creativity. Don’t let the anger simmer. Let it go, find your creativity, and make something new. The world deserves to see what you have to offer. Oh, and put on that watermark 😉
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