This is going to be a long post. It has to be, but I wanted to forewarn you. I sincerely hope you will actually read it and not just scan through it, because the topic is an important one.
I want to start with a couple little stories. What you are looking at above is Hamlet. He is the prototype for a pig I made quite a few years ago after being inspired from seeing the movie "Babe." I tweaked the pattern a tad and made several more pigs...some of which had wings. I was never completely satisfied with the pattern though, and set it aside. Last year, I got the pattern out and started playing with it. I thought no one is really making pigs, so now is a good time. As I have told you before, I am rather slow with pattern design. Before I got done, another lovely artist I know put a darling pig up for sale on her site...then another artist made a pig, and I decided to set the pattern aside again. I waited a few months and recently decided I was being silly, so I got it back out and started working on it. Then I got the last issue of Teddy Bear & Friends in the mail...and low and behold it was entirely devoted to pigs! *Bangs her forehead on the desk* Once again the pattern has been set aside.
I decided maybe I would make a French Bulldog since my Mother-In-Law has one. And of course since I decided to start working on that, I see lots of artists making those as well. Another pattern set to the side. Why did we all decide to make the same thing at more or less the same time? In the case of the pigs...I am not sure. French Bulldogs are very popular right now though, so that's probably how we all arrived at that idea. You see them everywhere.
Why did I set them aside? Because I don't want the dreaded accusation of copying someone lobbed in my direction, even though I didn't copy anyone...I simply was the victim of Karl Jung's synchronicity. Human beings have an interesting capacity to arrive at the same ideas at the same time. Usually it's from some outside source. We, especially as artists are influenced by things that are popular at any given time. Quite often without even realizing it. Not to mention ideas and techniques travel at the speed of light on the Internet.
But what happens when you come up with an idea you are certain is unique? Then all of a sudden someone has something almost identical? Seems unlikely doesn't it? As rare a flying pig probably! Or does it? The human brain is a very mysterious thing. Have you ever finished someones sentence? If so, how did you know for SURE what they were going to say? You probably just knew, but you didn't know how you knew. There is a theory called the interlocality of protons, there are also fractal brain patterns, etc. I won't go into the lengthy scientific explanations, but if you are curious you can Google it, it's quite an eye opener. People do think alike much more often than you realize, and oddly enough it's because we think alike. In many ways we are not as special and unique as we would each like to believe.
Yesterday I saw an accusation hurled from artist to another about copying. Was it true? I have no idea...maybe, maybe not. I wasn't there and I can't judge. Did the pieces in question look like? At first glance yes...on closer inspection, not as much. The thing I found disappointing was the mob mentality that followed.
Suppose I had made my pig and then accused one of those other artists of copying me? What would have happened? If I told the story right, you might have believed me, and pronounced that the artist was a terrible person. The reverse could have just as easily happened as well.
Ok so what happens if you are certain someone has copied you? It's happened to me twice...well three times sort of. I will tell you about the "sort of" time.
Years ago I was at a pre-show party. I can't wear watches againt my skin without them ceasing to work. So I had bought an old 40's ladies watch to use on a bear. When I got it home I discovered it worked, and kept time with an accuracy that is rare for such an old watch. It had one of those black cord bands, but it was really in bad shape. The watch was in good shape though. I really wanted to wear it, because it was cute. So I removed the band, put a spring ring through the top and hung it on a bracelet like a charm so it didn't touch my skin. I put a Czech glass bead dangling from the other end. A guy approached me at the party and really admired my watch. He was a jewelry artist turned bear artist. We became good friends.
Years later, I was visiting his house and he had put the same style of watch on a bear in the same way I had it on my bracelet. I joked that my watch must have really made an impression on him. He looked at me puzzled, and said I thought that up a while back. I said no you didn't, don't you remember the night we met? You started talking to me because of my watch! A look of horror crossed his face as he remembered. He had truly thought he had an original idea...but the image of my watch had buried itself in his subconscious. He offered to remove it immediately. I told him don't be silly, I didn't care if he put that on the bear. Did he copy me? Sure sort of...did he do it with malicious intent...no, not even at all. I can guarantee you that has happened to nearly every artist alive. Something that makes an impression on us has stuck to our subconscious and we have used it in our work without realizing we didn't think it up all on our own. Artists are very visual people, and it's the way our minds work. Images just stick to us. Plus we are all influenced at some point by something else we see. Very few of us are responsible for an entire genre of art. We all decide to make what we make based on something we have seen somewhere along the line.
BUT...what happens if you come across someone who you know beyond all shadow of a doubt has purposely and intentionally copied you? Sure you are frustrated, you feel slightly violated, and maybe you want to scream it to the rafters. Yes, you can get people to jump onto your band wagon and form that mob mentality. Maybe you can even get people to hate and harass the other artist in question...but what good does that do? In the end, you will simply look as if you are behaving like a high school teenager.
Maybe you can take it the court system...but artistic design ownership is very difficult to prove without a trademark. Copywrite does very little to prove it. Not to mention that most people won't make enough money from your design to make it worth your effort. If another artist has indeed stolen your design, and does this habitually one of two things will eventually happen...either they will finally develop their own style, or people will get wise, and/or the reproduction artist will get bored and they will go out of business.
The very best thing you can do is handle the matter privately and quietly so that you seem like the mature adult that you are, and you can make something more creative that is harder to reproduce the next time.
Before you start playing the injured victim...let me ask you something, do you have anything in your closet that's a knock off of a famous designer? If so, why do you have the knock off? Was it more affordable? Did you even know it was a knock off when you bought it? If the answer to any of those is yes...then you have no room to play the injured party when it happens to you.
What about if you are on the receiving end of these accusations? It seems as if the entire Internet hates you for something you didn't even do on purpose. Maybe you want to give up, and go into a different line of work. The truth is only a small handful of people ever see anything, and they tend to have short memories where such things are concerned. If they are the sorts of people who eat up scandals, never fear a new one will come along to divert their attention soon enough. In a month or two they won't even remember the incident you were involved in. It sucks when it happens, but it passes in time. If you are an honest designer, it won't have that great of an impact on your business in the long run. Most of us are not malicious people who purposely copy someone else. But we are human, we are subject to the influences of current whims and trends, and we have brains that are fallible in perfect memory about what all we see. I believe that most of us go through life with good intentions, but sometimes those things go awry.
If you are in business long enough, and put yourself out there enough it WILL happen to you eventually from one side or the other. When it does, handle it the best, most professional way possible, and know that it's not the end of the world. It's not going to impact your business that much. If you read about this happening to another artist, be wise enough to know you don't know the whole story...and please don't join the mob of torch bearing villagers ready to burn the beast!