Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Hello Polite Readers!

Oh, it's a banner day! I've had so many requests from you all that rather than build a month-long backlog, I've decided to update twice a week as long as I receive enough letters. So please enjoy this first Wednesday edition of Politely Worded!

I've had multiple requests to cover the topic of copy-cats. Here's a specific letter from a friend of mine who makes lampworked glass beads, about a problem she had a few years ago:

I'm at a show and have a newbie set up beside me. She starts quizzing me on general things in bead making, and I answer honestly, trying to help out a new person. She examines everything on my table (I don't think anything of this, back then it was common to do so among glass artists). However, at the next show, I find that this person has the same style of bead (novelties) on her table as the ones I'm making, but poorly done. This continued for all the years I did shows--anything new I came up with, next show it would be reproduced poorly on her table. How would you have handled that?
Much like fair pricing, copying is one of those issues that dogs artists all over the world, in all fields. Sometimes it's not a genuine problem. I have seen a lot of artists complain about being copied, when it was actually just a case of simultaneous inspiration by someone who was not aware of the other artist, and meant no harm. But then there are times like this, when you know someone has looked at your work and is suddenly producing copies of it. What do you do?

This is another situation where it is important to be polite but firm. I recommend sending the artist in question an e-mail. You can of course easily get their e-mail address by snagging a business card off of their table at the show, or if you want to be especially sneaky about it, send an accomplice to get it for you.

Stick to just the facts, and not your opinion of her work or the fact that you helped her out. Say something like this:

Hello! I couldn't help but notice when I visited your booth at the Local County Bead Show Thingie that you have begun to copy my work. Your Christmas trees, Easter eggs and Jack-O-Lanterns are the same designs as the ones you were admiring in my booth last month. I understand the desire to break into the novelty bead market, but I need you to stop attempting to duplicate my beads. Focus on your own original designs. Thank you!

If this doesn't work you may need to examine your legal options, but I am in no way qualified to comment on that and in fact there are few things I dislike more than participating in on-line discussions about copyright in the arts and crafts world.

So, what about when you're in a situation where you are not sure that the person deliberately copied you? In that case, you should give them the benefit of the doubt. Contact them, but it treat it like it's clearly an accident. Here's an example:

Hello! I was just browing Etsy when I came across your beautiful necklace. I was surprised because it looks so much like mine! <include link to the necklace in question, preferably on your blog or something other than an Etsy listing so it doesn't look like the advertising spam we all hate so much> I see some differences, so I have a feeling it was a case of simultaneous inspiration! I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I'm going to blog about it, and you might want to do the same, so we can both assure our fans that there's no copying going on. Keep up the great work, I love that green bracelet in your shop!
 If it was an accident, you both can share a laugh about how there are only so many ways to combine beads (or design scarves, or choreograph to a specific song, or whatever) and defuse a potentially ugly situation where a well-meaning fan goes on a very public rant accusing the other artist of being a no-good, dirty rotten copycat. If it was on purpose, you've now made it clear that you're aware of this person's existence and that if they copy any more of your work, you'll notice.

One more thing. If you are not the artist being copied, don't take it upon yourself to contact the apparent copier. Instead, contact the original artist (IF you know them) and give them the heads-up. Maybe they already know, and in fact, maybe they gave the person permission to use their design. If not, they'll want to handle it themselves in whatever way they think is best.

Thanks for reading, and remember, if you'd like me to continue updating twice a week you can E-Mail me with your own questions that need a Politely Worded response!


  1. the absolutely worst is when the copy-catter is actually a copy-catter and then just decides to insist that imitation is the best form of flattery and that you should be happy they're doing it.

    the other worst thing is when people congratulate them on their innovation after they've very obviously copied you.

  2. I get so sick of "imitation is the highest form of flattery." Maybe that works when you're in Jr High and some other girl is copying your fashion sense, but it does not work when you are in business as an artist and someone is copying your work.