Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Copying

Hello Polite Readers!

Today we have a second question from my beadmaking friend. She writes:

I have a person come up to my table at a show, ooh and ahh, and select a large assortment of beads to purchase.  After the money has changed hands, she casually mentions that she loves my beads, but can't afford my prices to include in her "designer" work, so she's going to take the beads she just bought back to a bead maker she knows to have them "re-created" at a lower price.  Since this person obviously doesn't understand the concept of copyright, how would you handle it?

How would I handle it? Well, first I'd look at her like she'd grown a second head (and not in that "Cool, you're Zaphod Beeblebrox" sort of way, but in that "Maybe you should get that looked at" sort of way). This is, after all, the Politely Worded blog, not the Polite Facial Expression blog.

People who are not in the bead or jewelry making world may not realize just how depressingly common it is to have someone buy a sampling of your work and either farm it out to a crafter who's willing to work even cheaper than you, or worse, mail it overseas to be copied in a factory setting. I know numerous artists who have had this done to them, and I can only imagine that it happens in other industries as well.

However, this is the first time I've heard of a customer flat-out admitting that she is going to have your work knocked-off so she can pass the "savings" along to her customers. What gall! As if you would be fine with the fact, as if somehow buying some of your work negates the fact that she'll only be buying from you in the future if you have new designs that she wants her pet beadmaker to copy.

Not only do customers who do this take money from you, but they dilute your brand image. If people who have seen your work in the past see the knock-off beads in her design, they might not realize that they were made by a copycat and think instead that your own quality is slipping and thus stop ordering from you. Not cool.

So what would I do? I would give the customer her money back and take my beads back. Honestly. How can you let her leave your booth with your work, knowing that she's just going to contract someone else to copy it? Hand back her cash, write "Void" across the check, reverse the credit transaction, whatever you need to do, then firmly request that she return your beads and leave your booth. When she asks why, say something like this:

You just admitted that you're going to help another artist steal my designs. You are taking my livelihood, encouraging an undercutting artist, and damaging my brand image. I don't need your money. Please take your business elsewhere.

 Try not to cause a scene, because the other customers at the bead or craft show are not privy to everything that has happened and will just see a vendor yelling at a customer -- yikes! Keep your voice level, your expression firm but not angry. You may end up needing to let her leave with this batch of beads if she kicks up too much fuss and refuses to hand them over, but be sure to make special note of her face and her name so that if she ever returns to your booth, you'll remember not to sell to her. Make sure that any booth help you hire in the future knows her name and that she's not to be sold to.

Once this would-be idea thief has left your booth, calmly spread the word to your other beadmaking friends so they know not to sell to her, either. I wouldn't go around telling every vendor, just the ones you have a good personal relationship with. Of course, if another vendor saw the incident at your booth and asks what happened, you should calmly share the facts with them, too.

You may also want to share this sort of thing on-line, via Facebook or your blog. If you do, I would only outline what happened, and not post her name, as that may result in some nasty e-mails from the customer if it gets back to her. Feel free to provide her name and description privately to those who message you, but don't post it publicly. I've seen that sort of thing get ugly.

Do you have your own customer problems or sticky situations that you need a Politely Worded reply to? Just drop me an e-mail at and I may use it for a future column! And remember, I am now publishing on Wednesday and Sunday as long as my letter volume remains high enough! Thank you all for your questions, comments, and enthusiasm so far.


  1. Ugh. I can only imagine. The karma will come back and bite them in the butt. I'm curious though, what happened after the lady told her that she was going to have her beads copied? Did she do anything or was she in shock?

  2. She didn't tell me, but I imagine she must have been in shock. Who would expect that from a customer?

  3. Another excellent post!

    I actually had someone purchase one of my original hair accessories on Etsy, and when the payment came through I noticed that he was with a LARGE company that deals in hair accessories. He ended up calling me with a question about the delivery time, so I took the opportunity to ask about his company. I was shocked by his very candid reply that he had purchased my item in order to send it over to China to have it reproduced!

    Ironically, his company's most popular product line features the (licensed) logo of a VERY well known brand whose big "thing" is that their products are proudly made in the US. I asked if that company was aware that he outsources to China, and politely informed him that I would be cancelling the sale. He basically laughed and said "touché", then agreed to stay away from my shop.

    Sadly, this happens with all sorts of art/craft niches. I'd like to believe that more often than not, the offender is innocent (if not a bit ignorant) and doesn't really grasp how this behavior hits self employed artisans.

  4. You handled that very well, Andrea!

    I don't get how anyone can not see how it's wrong to have an artist's work copied, though.

  5. I'm a face painter who paints original designs. I've had other competing painters in my same market copy designs once I posted them to my website. There's nothing I can do since only the image of the design can be copyrighted, not the design itself.

    1. How frustrating, RoByn! I hope you're able to stay one step ahead of them with new designs.