Copycat, copyright or coincidence - simple steps for prevention.
Cease and Desist letters - A "kinder, gentler" example to help artists and makers protect their work.

Designing to Avoid Copycat, Copyright or Coincidence

Previous posts discussed the problem of copycat work. I hope that you have had a chance to read my Opinion article titled "COPYCAT, COPYRIGHT or COINCIDENCE"* in the January issue of Metalsmith Magazine, Volume 30/No.1/2010.

Flower Game Board Earrings in Blue and Pink by Harriete Estel Berman
  Earrings © 2010
  Recycled Game Board
  Harriete Estel Berman

While researching for this article and interviewing artists and makers, several suggestions surfaced about how to design your work during the creative and fabrication process to avoid copycats or, at least, minimize the chances.

The suggestions below are meant to be approaches or methodologies during the designer's or maker's creative process.  Legal methods such as a Cease and Desist letter and applying for a copyright or trademark are covered in other posts.

1) Avoid using any commercial kits, forms, patterns, molds, glazes, etc.  For example, PMC (Precious Metal Clay) makers can buy patterns to emboss textures. If you can buy these patterns so can other people. The same goes for patterned metal sheets, pre-printed papers, etc. Create as many original materials for the fabrication of your work as possible.


Small Plexiglas Beads fabricated by Harriete Estel Berman
  Plexiglas Beads I made for new work
  © 2010
  Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

2) Use more unusual materials that you find from obscure resources or make yourself.  For example, using beads purchased at Michael's art and craft store means that anyone else can buy the same materials. While it takes greater effort to create each and every component in your work, the resulting unique pieces make it far more difficult for other people to duplicate your signature style. In other words, make your own beads, paper, colors, patterns, glazes, etc. from start to finish.


Deliema of Desire Slim Fast Candy Box with M & M thumb tacks by Harriete Estel Berman 3) Reinvent your materials. Even taking common everyday materials and using them in new innovative ways can create a signature style.



4) Make your work more complex, and detailed. This will eliminate many would-be copycats who don't want to invest the same amount of labor or tedious effort.


Deliemma Desire Candy Box with Flower Bow by Harriete Estel Berman
  The Dilemma of Desire © 1997
  Recycled tin can candy box
  Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
 Candy box hold tacks that look like
  M & M's -

5) Continue to innovate and develop within your own signature style.  Continuously repeating one style, fabrication method, or technique without growth allows other people to catch up.  Constant evolution is the key!


6) Develop mastery and expertise in your own techniques. Working with the same materials over many years with constant innovation can lead to mastery of skills and expertise that would make it impossible for others to copy your signature style. 


Deliemma of Desire Candy box with Flower Inside pattern by Harriete Estel Berman
  The Dilemma of Desire © 1997
  Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
  Inside view of candy box.

7) If you work with commonly available materials (that anyone can find, buy or cast) you will have to make more work, better work, and be better at your own publicity and promotion than anyone else.  You can't depend on copyright as protection.




8) If you work with historical forms and symbols (such as Celtic Circles, as just one example), it will be difficult to develop a signature style or identity. Innovate beyond your original inspiration. Try to develop your own vocabulary of forms.


9) Don't teach workshops in your signature style.  I know this isn't going to be a popular statement.  Workshops are great for teaching a wide variety of skills, but I'm shocked when artists and makers teach their signature technique or style.  They are teaching a whole room of people to be copycats. 


Pins Words Like Winter Snowflakes from recycled tin cans by Harriete Estel Berman. Quote is from Homer. Commentary about Conferences.
 Words Like Winter Snowflakes (pins)
  © 1999-2004
 Recycled tin cans, brass, s.silver,
 Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
 Pins can be worn as a group,
  individually or rearranged.

What else can artists do in the design of their work to prevent copycat work?


PAINT BOX AND PINS constructed from recycled tin cans by Harriete Estel Berman based on a quote by Homer.
 Words Like Winter Snowflakes
 © 1999-2004
 Recycled tin cans, brass, s.silver rivets
 Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
 Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Do you have ideas to share about how to prevent copycat work? Please share your ideas with others as a comment. 


*Download "CopyCat, Copyright, or Coincidince: Maker Beware" by Harriete Estel Berman written for Metalsmth Magazine. 


This post was updated on January 13, 2022.














Creative Commons License
Harriete Estel Berman by ASK Harriete is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at