Copyright. Intellectual property theft. My work is mine, not yours. Why is all of this so hard to understand? Someone made a copy of my campfire quilt, above, and posted it on her blog and on Instagram and even entered it into a contest, all without my knowledge or permission. I won’t reveal her name or show you her copy. I’m not out to shame her or embarrass her here, but rather to just continue to help spread the word that, common though this practice is, it is unacceptable. I truly think that most of the people who copy the work of artists are not doing it for malicious reasons. They are well-meaning people who would be shocked at the idea that they have committed a theft. But the theft of intellectual property is theft in the same way shop-lifting, pirating movies and plagiarizing are theft. It is illegal and it is unethical. They will protest “but I gave you credit” or “I’m not trying to make money off of it.” And, yes, this copier said both, though the mention of where she got this image was buried pretty deep, but that’s not the point. The point is I did not give her permission to use my work.
“What’s the harm?” you might ask. Maybe I seem petty, getting upset over such a small thing. After all there are artists who have been ripped off in far more harmful ways. Paula Nadelstern, for example, had her original designs ripped off by a big carpet manufacturer and used on carpeting in a large Houston hotel. She sued, and won. So the possibility of such brazen theft that financially benefits the thief is one harm. The other, I see, is that the small-time copier may not gain financially, but she gains in reputation and credibility for a skill she doesn’t have. When I discovered the copy posted on Instagram, there were complimentary comments, praising her imagination and skill. It hurts, a little, to see that. It was tempting to leave my own comment, but I didn’t. And the real harm is that if people aren’t called out for this, it goes on and on and grows ever more common. I am far from the only person this happens to. In my online communications with other fabric artists I read about it ALL THE TIME and everyone hates it.
Artists work hard. A piece like the one above requires weeks in planning, experimenting, making design decisions, discarding what’s not working, picking out tight little stitches and redoing sections. There was a lot of invention in that piece. It was a lengthy process. The woman who made the copy wrote that hers was made in less than a week. I had already done the hard part. I’ve never made another one like it and probably never will. I have no desire to see other versions or copies. It is one of a kind, which is kind of what art is. I’m proud of it. It might be one of the best things I’ve ever made. I sold it to a woman who truly loves it, which is the highest compliment I could get. Does this help you understand how I feel about it and how I feel about seeing a poorly executed copy?
So, I say, if you really, really want to copy someone else’s work, really think about what you are doing, then if you just can’t help yourself, make that copy and hang it in your bedroom, but don’t show it to anyone else. Don’t enter it in a show, don’t enter it in a contest and, for goodness sake, don’t post it all over the internet with your own contact name and information watermarked prominently on the photo. Just DON’T.
Sue Siefkin pointed me to this brilliant chart explaining intellectual property theft, designed by Ginger Davis Allman. It covers it pretty well.
More on the subject: http://andsewitgoes.blogspot.com/2015/04/on-originality.html.