You’re surfing the net on websites like Facebook and handmade stores, admiring stunning handmade creations, and then WHAM - it hits you in the face. There is your product; only it’s not being sold by you. It’s being made and sold by someone else.
If this has happened to you, then no doubt you have struggled with the feeling you get when you see your work replicated. Your stomach sinks and your blood boils. How can this be? Knock-offs of your products are out there in the market place for people to buy, and someone else is making a profit from your creativity and hard work.
Why is this happening? Why are we doing this to each other? Surely it goes against everything this industry stands for. The handmade movement encourages creativity - not copying! It also embraces the beauty and satisfaction of making something by hand; it supports the ideals of moving away from mass produced, poor quality and disposable wares, instead offering more sustainable options which (more often than not) come from our own region. I believe the Australian and international crafting community is unique and beautiful because (for the most part) it has an undercurrent of love, sharing, responsibility and support. These are things not seen in mainstream retail. But copying other’s products is in direct contradiction to the ethos of the handmade movement. Our lovely community is being damaged from the inside... by some of its own people.
The internet and social media has given us unprecedented access to our customers. But it also means that our products, ideas and designs are more vulnerable than ever to being copied, because an online business presence not only attract potential customers, but also competitors who say "Hey I can make that...they will never know". Sometimes the copying is blatant; an exact replica. Other times someone has changed it just enough to be able to claim that they had no idea their product was like yours, and that it is just a coincidence. But you know your own work (or a knock off) when you see it. Your gut tells you so.
It is important to clarify that I believe common products should be considered part of the public domain: that is that no one has copyright to make cushions, T-shirts and earrings (for example). It’s how products are created and put together, and what the finished products looks like which is in question here.
For some time I have watched conversations and declarations taking place online about copying. It has been a topic on the CHA Discussion Board and other forums, and I have seen different Facebook pages tackle the issue in different ways. Some people choose to ‘name and shame’, others write to the copiers asking them to stop. Some just complain to their friends, or change products; but most despair at what to do. No matter how people choose to handle it, the resounding feeling is that copying is not a compliment, it is not cool, it is upsetting and morally wrong.
Copyright law is a massive topic relevant to this discussion, and one that I am not qualified to write about. Yes you do have rights; but no, I can’t tell you how to go about putting these things in place... or enforcing them for that matter. (You can read information about copyright posted here by White Raven Designs who did some research and kindly shared her findings).
Besides: I want to come at this issue from a different angle. One which is more suited to the nature of our industry. And that is, one of conscience. We don’t need lawyers to tell us that copying is wrong. We were taught that in school. That little voice inside our head tells us when we are doing the wrong thing. We need to listen to the voice because it is it knows the truth.
If you are copying someone else’s work, you need to stop it. Dig deep into your own creative spirit and push yourself to move past the seemingly easy answer to copy what works for someone else. Find your own voice. Find your own creativity. Your will feel so much better for it, because when people compliment you on your products, you will know that you genuinely deserve the kudos. Being in this industry is not just about the money. It’s about being creative first and foremost. It’s about following your passion. And if you can make a profit from that, then that is a bonus.
So to this end, I am drawing a line in the sand. I ask everyone reading this who runs a crafting/design business to take the CHA Handmade Originality Pledge. Let people know that you will not stand for copying in this industry, nor will you participate in it! Below this post in the comments section, declare your pledge. Tell us your business name (feel free to provide a link) and state that you are taking the Handmade Originality Pledge. Then grab the coding for the pledge badge and add it to your blog to show your support and involvement, and post about it on your Facebook page so that your customers know about your pledge as well. It will tell others that all products made and sold by you come from your own creative soul and that you have not looked at someone else’s work and decided to rip it off!
I know that this topic will elicit a strong reaction. Talk about it on the discussion thread (please leave the below comments section for pledge making only); and get it all out of your systems. But don’t be nasty, or point fingers. That is not the way of the handmade community.
Together we can let people know that copying is not going to be tolerated or accepted in our community and that now there is a way to stand against it.
FOLLOW THE CONVERSATION: Blogger Angela of Yes, Dear has gone on to provide the customer's perspective on this topic after reading this blog post. A very interesting read. Please take a few more minutes to click through and read on.
Pledges are welcome from around the world; just be sure to tell us where you are from if not from Australia!