Sunday, April 19, 2015

On Originality

So here's a little story, pretty amazing in its small-world coincidences, but probably also illustrative of how Facebook has tightened up the degrees of separation between us all.

Last Thursday morning I opened up Facebook and saw, first thing, that a FB friend, who lives in another city, had reposted a post from a Quilt Shop, in yet another city, showcasing the work of one of their customers, "Carol". What surprised and confused me, was that, at first I thought I was looking at photos of my own work, especially this one.

On closer inspection I could see that it was not mine, but a very close copy. Here is my original work, posted on my blog in 2009.

See why I was confused?
And, here's the crazy thing. My friend did not post this because she recognized it as my design, but because "Carol", maker of the top bird, is her cousin. She was just sharing her pride in the shop's recognition of her creative cousin!
I contacted the quilt shop. They were embarrassed and apologetic and, with amazing speed, added a note clarifying that the work posted was a copy of my original design. And that works for me. I have no interest in embarrassing anyone, which is why I have not included names or locations for anyone involved here. I feel quite certain the quilt shop that posted did so innocently believing the work was Carol's. Carol probably did not either think or know to tell anyone otherwise and, by omission, allowed assumptions to be made. It happens. All. The. Time. But it shouldn't.
You may think I am being petty, and what does it matter, anyway? I think it matters. Copyright is a legal matter. Copying someone else's intellectual property and representing it as your own is illegal. More to my point though, is that it is a matter of personal integrity. Can you imagine my mixture of feelings reading the comments left for Carol?

"Beautiful...I especially love the bird and sun. . . .These make me happy. :)"

"She is one talented lady...beautiful."

So, as this type of thing comes up more and more often, and is discussed in the art quilting community, there are all kinds of justifications made for copying, just as there are condemnations, and I understand those justifications—that it is a learning exercise, that it is for private use, that there are really "no new ideas" and on and on, but to me it is simple. If you do not have permission, don't do it. Do your own work. Discover the joy of creating something uniquely yours. It will mean so much more to you. Honestly, it will. If you simply cannot find that in yourself, find a published pattern, made for the purpose of being copied. (And then give credit to the original designer any time you show it anywhere!)

And, while I'm on the subject, see that "Fire" piece above? That photo has been pinned to Pinterest many, many times. At least twice a month I get an email from someone asking if I have a pattern for it, or if they can copy it. I do not offer a pattern. This was an original work. I really don't want to allow copies. I doubt that the lovely woman who bought it wants to see copies floating around the internet either. I am thrilled that you like it that well and hope you can be satisfied to just enjoy it on Pinterest.

Thank you.



  1. Not only was it not original, her's is obviously not anywhere as good as yours:)

  2. Well is inspired but don't copy.

  3. Not petty at all! I'm glad you contacted the shop and educated everyone involved.

  4. Sorry this happened to you, Terry.

  5. I understand your point, and your work is original. But what about a famous quilt designer who goes after another designer over a tulip block? Blurred lines...

    I have pinned your beautiful campfire design for inspiration, and in the hopes that I'll stretch myself someday. But are an artist~I'm really just more of a regular quilter

  6. Anonymous8:43 AM

    I find this kind of thing shocking and don't think you are being remotely petty. And I'm glad that you contacted the shop and cleared things up. Julie

  7. Terry, your generous attitude to this does you credit! I can certainly understand your feeling when you read the comments - a picture of some of my embroidered dolls was posted on facebook as the page owners work and the comments and compliments were fulsome. I'm afraid my response wasn't quite as nice as yours!

  8. I agree with you completely. I actually saw that somewhere on Facebook and thought, "Oh, that's Terry's." Then when I looked at the name, I thought they just copied you.

    You handled it well. With image being so easily shared these days, I'm sure it will happen more and more.

  9. I'm in agreement with everything you've said and you've said it better than I could. In our guild we talk a lot about copyright. You'd be surprised thigh St the number of people, usually not creators or artists, who don't even realize they've done something wrong.
    In this case though, it seems she should have spoken up when she got those comments about her talent.

  10. I totally agree with you. I am a relatively new quilt artist and I feel compelled to label my quilts "in the style of" even if my design is original. If I use a technique I have learned I feel it is important to recognize the origin. Maybe in the future I will start to feel a uniqueness I can call my own.

  11. When I contacted you, many months ago, requesting permission to use one of your photos as inspiration for a quilt you graciously said yes. You were surprised that I asked about a photo, but my husband is a professional wildlife photographer and would not be please to see one of his pictures copied without I asked. Have I made the wall-hanging, not yet....but I have permission!1