Weighing in on Plagiarism, Loyalty & Migraines

Two Working For Yourself posts in a row? Aren’t you honoured! This one’s a little texty, sorry!

I’ve been thinking about broaching this subject for a while now, it is, unfortunately, something that a lot of us creative types have to deal with on an almost weekly basis. The big P word, Plagiarism.

Not only are we faced with the occasional gut-wrench when we see someone selling a direct copy of a design, but it’s that constant niggling feeling of ‘oh god, I hope I haven’t dragged this new design out of my subconscious inspiration bank verbatim’ (I google the hell out of anything new that I make, just in case..!).

Yesterday something happened that jolted me to write this post, but I would like to preface this by saying that the situation has been dealt with amicably, it’ll be going no further, and I’ve already called off the hounds.

I was just settling down to watch BBC Stargazing Live (did you see it? it was pretty cool!) when I stumbled upon a blog post of a crafter who had one of my necklaces. The post itself was about copying, and where you draw the line. Unfortunately the crafter had decided that tracing my necklace and applying the design to other items was on the okay side of the line (it isn’t), and that selling these items on folksy was also okay (it’s not). They didn’t know the exact maker of the necklace as it’d been a gift, but that doesn’t give free reign to duplicate the work and produce commercial items on the back of it. I whole heartedly believe that this was just an unfortunate, naive mistake and I know they felt awful about it. Lessons have been learned, and that’s the end of that.

(Here is a photo of a cat to break up the text a bit)

One thing that did strike me last night though, was the complete and utter support that I had from my twitter followers and (most of) my facebook friends, all rallying around leaving comments and suggestions. You guys are awesome.

Plagiarism sucks the big one, it really does, but with websites like You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice, and a reactive online community of creative people, things do seem to feel a little better.

There are a few people who seem to suffer from this A LOT, Gemma Correll has had SO many people & companies copy her pugs not drugs design that it’s almost turned into an internet meme. Kate Wilson‘s lovely illustrations seem to be something they teach the plagiarists in their first class at plagiarist school! It’s not just the act of copying an item to sell, either, let’s not forget the case of the kid who managed to plagiarise her way through an illustration degree… words fail.

So, what do you do if you find someone’s copied you?

  • Breath, stay calm, don’t fly off the handle! The first couple of times this happened to me I was red-in-the-face mad about it, and ended up firing off incohesive, unproductive and sweary emails. It’s no fun for anyone involved, you’ll be wanting to attack this with grace and sophistication!
  • Share it, get other opinions and consider what you’re going to do. Having the outside opinion of others is invaluable when making the judgement of plagiarism/inspiration. Don’t get nasty and start firing off accusations all over the place, though, you really don’t want to get into the realms of slander! Just post the link and ask people’s thoughts… Having a community of creatives behind you also makes things feel a bit less scary, you’re not in it alone! People will offer advice and help, take it.
  • Take the high horse, it’s your design after all! Start drafting an email, comment or response. Again, get someone else to check it before you send it off if possible (you might have missed something, or not explained something correctly). Opening up the lines of communication is the first step to resolution, chances are that as soon as you send your first email the item/s will be removed. People get really scared when they know they’ve been found out!
  • Can you prove that you’re the original designer? Find your sketches, files, online publications etc.
  • Keep a record of all correspondence, you might need it later.
  • Take it further if you have to. I haven’t had to do this yet (and fingers crossed I won’t), but get in touch with a copyright lawyer if you feel you want to take it further (and can afford to do so).
  • Consider registering your designs if you can take the cost, consider how you’d feel if it was stolen – would it be a ‘meh’ or a super angry face?
  • Continue creating, improving and making awesome work. Plagiarists gonna plagiarise, sometimes you need to take it on the chin. I’m not saying ignore it, no, I’m saying don’t let it break your flow!
  • Support your fellow creative folk! If you spot something that looks like a copy of someone’s work then you absolutely must alert them to it. This is how it works. Support is an awesome thing, and it means the world to people.

So there you go, I hope you find this helpful, but I also hope that you never have to follow any of the suggestions above.

Oh and migraines, what the hell are they about?! Half way through last night’s events I was struck down with a killer migraine. My vision went blurry, my neck was aching like crazy and my head was pounding, I have no idea what brought it on either! I don’t think I had more than my usual share of coffee for the day..!


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  • I’m glad this issue got resolved, I was pretty shocked last night. On the other end of the scale, a friend accused someone of copying their art after seeing an illustrated piece in a shop – unfortunately, said friend didn’t actually publish her work in many places and had never sold it, and with a bit of research it became apparent the crafter had been doing this design for YEARS. It wasn’t actually identical to my friends’ and I don’t think she’d realised that twee pictures of hipster items are pretty common….whoops.

  • Lisa

    I’m glad you got this resolved. And the migraines it sounds like the stress & not too much coffee, if they strike again have tea.

  • Just recently I was in a shop in Yorkshire when I noticed some art work that was instantly recognisable as an artist I know. I checked the back and the name didn’t correspond. I emailed her later with a photograph and found out that someone has stolen her work and was making money from it.

    It is so sad to see this happen. Especially when you know how much work artists and designers put into developing their craft.

    I think your points are very valid and useful. Thank you for sharing them.

  • It is sad that this happens so often! I even find people ‘copying’ where I am standing and aiming when taking a photo. Im guessing their image is going to be different to mine but something inside, makes a little bit mad. Surely it’s not that difficult to think of your own picture to take!?

  • I felt so mad for you when I saw your teapot problem last week. Its happened to me a few times now, and both times – its been young girls who “didn’t know” about copyright. One of them told me she found my images on a Google search – and therefore thought it was ok to directly copy the image and sell it as her own!! You are totally right – never fight fire with fire, always send a polite, but firm email telling them its completely not on and that if they don’t remove it, you will take further action. Both times, it was nipped in the bud straight away – and I think I educated two young ladies about the laws of copyright, too!