Thursday, June 26, 2014

Inspiration or Theft? Intellectual Property Rights

According to Merriam Webster online-- Inspiration : something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone

I was inspired by a post on facebook by Perri Jackson, of ShaktipajDesigns, wire wrapper extraordinaire and super hero for Intellectual Property Rights. (You know you are, Perri! :) ) Though, I am not as eloquent as she, I'd like to finally make a post on the subject myself.

When I began wire wrapping, there weren't the resources there are now. (There also weren't as many styles of wire working!) As I have said before, I started with Preston Reuther and some of his videotapes on wire sculpting. However, the true worth of those old videos were to inspire me to do my own thing.

Early in my career and still to this day, to a lesser extent, I collected online images of work that I liked. I never had a conscious notion of copying any of them. I just liked them. They were eye candy. They were inspiring. I'm sure most of you have a folder or two on your hard drive with images that just struck you for one reason or another.

The problem with my images, is that over time, I have forgotten who did what and where I got what image. Now, I save webpages instead. They give me more information about the artist. Why is that important? Because I want to give credit to an artist, if an artist has inspired something that I do.

But, that was not always the case. Early on, I had no real clear ideas about what Intellectual Property Rights were. It, honestly, never occurred to me that there was a human being behind that creative thought along with many hours of brainstorming, frustration and work. They were just images. No more, no less. I mean, I did stop and think, "Man, I really like this girl's work." But, I didn't put two and two together that she OWNED that idea.

It's not because I am a bad person that I ignored the effort and time that someone else invested in their work. Rather, I was ignorant. I was in my own little corner of the planet, harmlessly collecting eye candy and hopefully being inspired by some to create something of my own.

I never deliberately copied anyone. Just as a child knows not to steal, I knew not to outright copy someone else's work. To me it is the same as cheating in a game. If you win, it's not really much fun, is it? I mean, did you really win? No. You didn't. The same is true if you copy someone's work. It's cheating and you can't claim any credit for winning. That much probably seems clear to a lot of people- at least the honest ones.

What happens when some of that eye candy influences what you do? Maybe, the image was in the back of your mind while your hands were busy working and you aren't even really aware of it. Maybe, when you were finished with your piece, bells started going off and you realized that you have seen something like that before? It happens. It happens more often than most people will admit.

What do you do? Well, if you have the name of the artist, you only share your work with the caveat that it was inspired by so and so. Hopefully, the only thing you did was unconsciously duplicate a technique to use in your own work. That is, actually and legally, acceptable because you can not claim a technique as your own. You can claim your design as your own, though.

The tricky part comes in when you look objectively at your work. If someone didn't know it was yours, would they recognize it as the other artist's work? If so, you have copied their work. Yup, you did. Maybe you didn't realize it, but you did. If not, then congratulations! You have taken eye candy from another artist and used it to create something truly your own. You should still give the artist credit for inspiring you. Yes. Because it is the right thing to do and, believe you me, you would want the same thing done for you.

With the explosion of handmade jewelry and the availability of the internet to virtually everyone, sharing your work online can be frustrating and sometimes down right heart breaking. I have a unique style. One that is immediately recognizable. Lots of people are inspired by it. I get very nice emails on a daily basis from fellow wire artists.

Some messages are not so nice. Consider one email that I got that threatened that if I didn't want to sell my book or tutorials anymore then she would just have to steal them online somewhere. Or, how about the people that want more pictures because they ADMITTEDLY want to duplicate your work? I have had people who, at first, loved my work until I declined a custom job at their price, only to be personally and professionally berated and belittled for it. Or, how about the people who ask specific questions about a technique, get a time involved, detailed, generous explanation-- without so much as a thank you?? Yes, some people are nasty.

I want people to understand- there are human beings behind the work you see. We feel. We work hard. We think, plan and practice. We do not have to share anything, but we do. And it hurts our feelings to know that we get so little respect for our humanity and creations that people would blatantly steal from us and, in some cases, gloat about it, right to our face. I use the plural because I know, for a fact, that I am not the only artist that this happens to.

Yes, we have heard that we need a tougher skin. (As if we are guilty of something and need to be fixed.) No. We don't need to suck it up. People should just NOT steal from us or be mean spirited for no good reason. My mother didn't spend all that time in labor just so someone can abuse me, my work and my intellectual property rights.

You should not put up with abuse, either. Put your name on your images. If you see someone whose work is just a little too close to your own, send them a simple, polite note stating that you are happy to have inspired them and that you would appreciate credit for it. Yes, I have done it. I have also contacted other artists whose work was being copied and let them know about it. Many really big artists are copied all the time. It is easy to spot. It is much easier than the guilty party imagines. 

You know what? Just remember the Golden Rule- Treat others as you would have them treat you. Be honest and expect honesty from others.


My admission:

Years ago, I ran across a style on eBay that really intrigued me. I downloaded an image and forgot about it. Then one day, I was perusing my eye candy and decided to give the technique a try. At first, I didn't think to give credit because I didn't know any better. After I realized that I should, I was confronted with the fact that I didn't know the artist's name. It wasn't on the image. I had no idea how to find the name, so I gave credit to an unnamed artist from eBay.

Please! Put some kind of information on your images.

The original eye candy
My inspired piece


  1. Well put, Tela. I too have an eye-candy picture file, and can't claim to remember whose work it is. Even though I only create for family and friends, I agree that credit should always be given to the artist who influenced a piece.

    I was recently at a well-regarded artisan showcase in my area, and met a woman who proudly showed off her 'latest designs'. What she was claiming as her own design was clearly a copy of another jewelry artists' design. In fact, I recognized at least ten different pieces from magazines, tutorials, or web images from artists I am familiar with. I had even made two of the designs from tutorials myself! I was soooooo tempted to say something, but did not wish to make a public spectacle!

    Regards, Kay

    1. Hi Kay :) Thanks for commenting. Yes, it is frustrating to see this happen. I was at a store where a guy was proudly displaying "his" work. I exclaimed, "Oh, I see you like Eni Oken's work, too!" He was a little miffed but he got my point. :) I understand that it isn't always necessary to reveal your "secrets". Some artists really don't mind that people freely use their tutorials, etc. But, to claim the work as your own is a whole 'nuther matter!

  2. I enjoyed reading this and I do agree that you should give credit if you seen the work or bought the tutorial. However, I had a very interesting thing happen and there was no explanation for it. I made a custom pendant for a friend. I did not post a picture anywhere, only in my private pictures I keep of my work. It was a challenging piece to do. She wanted to wear it with a paisley style fabric and wanted the paisley design incorporated with the stone. About 3 months later I seen a tutorial on line for that exact design. No way I had ever seen it before, I drew picture after picture trying to get a design that would work. No way this person ever saw what I made. Neither of us copied each other, yet we had the same wrap for the same oddly shaped stone.
    Yet on the other side of things, I entered a jewelry contest at a local bead store. There were several categories to enter with winners in each and one Grand Prize winner. I entered 2 pieces in the wire wrap category. Another lady I know who does absolutely the most beautiful seed bead work also entered in the wire wrap category. They were supposed to be originals works, not copies or tutorials allowed. Hers came straight out of JL tutorials, right down to the same color beads. I was shocked, but I did not say a word. I won in my category and the Grand Prize and she was furious. The lady that owned the store, told her, if she had entered some of her original bead work she probably would have had a chance at the Grand Prize, but by entering something she bought a tutorial for she was disqualified. Evidently she recognized the tutorial form JL as well. :)

    1. I know what you mean about the synchronicity. I have seen that situation before. It DOES, indeed, happen. A case of great minds, I suppose. :) I think that is just another good reason to document your work. I never used to keep the date on my camera, but I do now.

      Congrats on winning the contest!! It's nice that the store owner saw through the charade. Imagine if she hadn't? You would have had your hard earned win stolen by a thief!!

      All we can do is to try to be honest and vigilant. Ultimately, we can't control what other people do. But, we can remain honest ourselves. And, there really is a lot of honest ignorance out there, so education is important, too.

    2. I agree completely, some people do not realize the importance and when they are told they quickly change, others are just thieves. I'm also terrible about following a tutorial or recipe or pattern.... I always end up putting my own spin on it...LOL but do give credit when credit is due. I learned to make a beautiful dragonfly from a tutorial and I love experimenting with it. I always give the artist credit when I make one, no matter how different it looks from hers :) Good blog! Hope many read it!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments.