Copycat, copyright or coincidence? An Opinion in Metalsmith Magazine
Designing to Avoid Copycat, Copyright or Coincidence

Copycat, copyright or coincidence - simple steps for prevention.

Metalsmith Magazine 2010This is the second post regarding the 2010 Winter issue of Metalsmith Magazine, Volume 30/No.1/2010 in which I wrote an opinion article titled, "COPYCAT, COPYRIGHT or COINCIDENCE." This post discusses some of the steps that can be taken to prevent or resolve problems of copycat, copyright, or coincidence. 

After many interviews, I now realize that artists and makers too often lack confidence and knowledge about what actions can be taken to reduce or confront imitations.  I was especially surprised to learn that many artists are reluctant to take any action at all.  It makes them uncomfortable or they do not want to be viewed as a “bad guy.”   This has got to change!   

Would you stand in line and let someone step on your toes? Would you let them push you out of line? Wouldn't you say something? Letting copycats infringe on your own signature style is a very close parallel.

Artists and makers can take simple and inexpensive defensive measures to protect their designs and techniques.  No matter how the imitator got there, whether copycat or coincidence, the imitation looks like copyright or trademark infringement to me and everyone else.

1) Academic programs, workshops, and instructional books must make this issue part of their curriculum.  Any mentor or teaching forum should clearly state that copying is not ethical and should encourage students to create their own identity. 

2) Each artist and maker is personally responsible and must be an advocate for his or her work. Artists should not be bashful or reluctant to stand up for their work and their livelihood.

3) The artist should send a copy of a Cease and Desist letter to every exhibition, gallery, show, wholesale/retail event, or book that displays copycat work that infringes. 

4) No exhibitions or craft shows should admit work that is a "copycat" in nature. This includes student and emerging artist shows. While this is impossible to implement 100 %, jurors have a responsibility to be well informed about their field. It is also very helpful to appoint jurors to review work within their field of expertise. For example, I would not be a good juror for a glass show as this is not my area of expertise.

5) Finally, everyone can help. Copycats should not be allowed to hide in broad daylight. Raising awareness is the most effective remedy.  Whenever or wherever anyone sees copycat work, tell the gallery owner, exhibition sponsor, or website owner about it.  Most professional venues value their reputations and will remove copycat work that is brought to their attention.

Lifesaver Bracelet - Identity Collection by Harriete Estel Berman The next post suggests modest changes artists, designers, and makers can make to the design and fabrication of their work
to help prevent and protect your work from copycats and/or copyright infringement.


Lifesaver Bracelets constructed from reycled tin cans by Harriete Estel Berman

Lifesaver Bracelet - Identity Collection
© 2007
Recycled tin cans,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
more info

This post was updated on January 13, 2022.