Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When Pigs Fly

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!


Niky Sayers said...

As always a wonderful and wise post x

Heather said...

First off, I love your little piggy... he's really cute :)

I think the only thing that would make me pursue someone copying me would be if they got some multi-million dollar deal out of it.

If it became a really hugely well known character, I'd want some credit for the fact that I designed it.

On this same note... I've always been confused where patterns are concerned as well... because I've read that, even though artist often put that you can't resell what you make from their pattern... legally, that wouldn't hold up... that once you sell the pattern, you have sold the pattern itself (and it is the pattern that is copyrighted)... and while people can't copy the pattern and sell it, they can do whatever they like with what they make from that pattern.

I'm not sure if that's true or not... but there was a huge flair up a while back where a woman was reselling patterns she'd bought. She hadn't copied them (or even used them, in most cases) but the pattern's creator went ballistic over her reselling them, stating that it says she isn't allowed to do that (and for the record, it didn't say that on the pattern itself, only on the pattern artist's website).

Because of that, the woman doing the selling went on a huge research spree and linked to quite a few copyright law sites that, to me at least, seem to say what I said above about end product from a pattern... it also said that she had the right to resell the pattern, just not copies of it.

Ever since reading that I've been even more confused on pattern copyright law and exactly how legal all of those "You can't sell anything you make from this pattern" statements are.

Personally, I think if you're selling a pattern, then you need to let go of trying to control what is done with the end product. You're already making your money off the sale of the pattern... and so long as people aren't copying the pattern and sharing it... you're getting what is owed to you.

Yes, someone might take your $15 pattern and make $200 bears from it... but they're also the ones buying the supplies and putting in the time to make it.

Granted, I still respect the "don't resell" this request... just because I both respect the artists and because I'd rather sell bears I made than ones I made using someone else's pattern... it's much more satisfying to see something sell that you made yourself (or... that you at least think you made yourself, lol)

I absolutely will look more into this pattern of popular thought stuff though... because how many times have I seen the same thing pop up in several places all at the same time... or how many times have I thought "Oh, this would be a good idea" only to see it pop up on other folks pages a few days later... it would be very interesting to look into studies on that.

Kelly said...

Heather, I do know that redistribution is illegal unless it specifically says you can. As for making someone elses pattern and profiting from that...I have no idea. I buy patterns all the time, and I have never made a single one of them.

However I do look at patterns to see how pieces for things I am unfamiliar with go together. Then I draw my own once I have an image of how it works in my head.

I freely admit I quite often have to look at the technical aspect before I can draw my own because that's hard for me. Once I do it, then I can go on my own from there to design a similar pattern. Is that copying? I dunno, maybe sort of, but sort of not? We all had to see a pattern or design from someone else initially to know what to do before we made our own for nearly anything the first time.

And very very few of us are responsible for an entire genre of art. Most of us chose what we make because we liked something that already existed. In our case it's teddy bears.

Also it's amazing how very different pattern pieces can often produce the same look. Another artist and I made bears that were very similar in shape and style. But I saw her pattern once and it was nothing like mine. My pattern pieces have very gradual curves and hers had sharp angles...but yet the end result was still close.

People also believe if they take an existing pattern and edit it a bit that's an original design. Depending on who you talk to they may or may not agree.

I think the best thing you can do is always try to design your own patterns the best you can for what you sell. It's always going to be similar to something else somewhere because there are billions of artists throughout history.

Even when you think you have come up with an original idea you can't be sure because you can't see what lurks in the murky waters of your subconscious that you might have picked up somewhere along the way.

There really are no new ideas. All you can do is be true to yourself the best you can, and hope that someone doesn't decide to create some drama for you out of something innocent.

Waynestonbears said...

Thanks for sharing this post Kelly, I am a good boy - I finish reading everything =)

I gain a lot by reading this, very helpful. Thank you =)

Amanda said...

A well written, thoughtful post.

Heather said...

"Also it's amazing how very different pattern pieces can often produce the same look."

Or, for that matter, how the same pattern can produce very different looks!

No, I agree with you... and I make my own patterns for anything I intend to sell... but I thought it was interesting how murky the waters seem to be around patterns especially when it comes to copyright.

melanie said...

I love reading your blog Kelly and a very well written and truthful post this is.

Katy Cameron said...

As a new kid on the block in the bearmaking world, I know I've definitely held off trying some things for a while if I've seen a number of things popping up along the same lines, mainly because I tend to think that as the new kid someone is bound to think I've copied them rather than thinking something up. Me and my paranoia are now off to bed ;o)

Waynestonbears said...

I am back again, I forget to tell you - I LOVE THIS LITTLE PIGLET! Cute =)

Rita Ng said...

Hamlet is cute !! Thanks for sharing,enjoy reading it !!!

Kathy said...

Your miniatures are so great I have become one of your followers. I also make miniatures. Please visit my blog. http://weelittlewest.blogspot.com/

KristiKringle said...

Hi! I love the pig and think he's grand. I guess I haven't been around enough because he's the first four legged one I've seen that stands on them like that! ...just adorable.

I also thought your post in general was really thoughtful and logical in a lovely and friendly way. And while not aware of the circumstances that inspired it, I know it must take time & effort (when you might rather be creating a bear!)to write so well and I admire you for making the efforts to do so, so often.

You are a joy to read because you are fair-minded and you think things through from both sides before writing about them. Thanks for the honesty of your thoughts and for the interesting diversity of things that you write about.

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Current copyright laws allow for all work to be automatically protected when it is created. All original artwork, photos, text, logo, descriptions, and derivative works from Blondheart are not to be copied, imitated or distributed in any way. All rights reserved solely by the artist, Kelly Dauterman.

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