There are rampant versions of copycats within the arts and crafts community. Some are cloaked in naiveté, admiration and enthusiasm.The problems are multi-faceted.
One of the problems is that the copycats don't realize they are stealing from the professionals they most admire.
The issues are serious. By our silence, we in the arts and crafts community are cultivating a climate of copycats. Bringing this issue into the open is not going to be popular, but the undercurrents are eroding our economic, ethical and legal boundaries.
Today's post is about the ethical boundaries and economic impact. There are two general categories.
1) Copycats cloaked in admiration.
These copycats make work to look like the artist/maker they most admire. Instead of buying the work of their art or craft hero, they create sub-quality unauthorized knock-offs. While copies for your personal use with a "Non-commercial Intent" are legal under Fair Use, this practice has a negative impact on the craft community impacting revenue for practicing artists and makers.
Parallel examples are multi-faceted such as commissioning "copy cat work" from another maker. There are too many nuanced examples to illustrate them all.
2) Copycat workshops/tutorials.
The copycat workshop has several corrosive manifestations. One aspect is the enthusiast that wants tutorials and workshops instead of buying the master's work. The innovator, lacking a market for selling their work may ultimately relent to teaching a workshop purely for economic survival. Or the master might feel obligated or pressured to teach these copycat workshops by the very admirers of their work.
This copycat culture has become a breeding ground without clear boundaries. Instead of an expanding marketplace for quality and innovative art and craft, we have an expanding culture of copycats. The economy of workshops, schools, and magazines have significant growth largely as parasites on the innovations of the masters.
For the sake of brevity I have simplified the issues....but consider this overall to be a serious problem. A poor economy and eroding prices must increasingly compete with copycats who want to "make one for myself" instead of supporting the master.
Instead of enjoying an object or artwork for its visual impact, content issues, technical skill or innovation, these copycats see the potential for making their own derivative work. This is moving from BAD to UGLY.
Why do we want to clone and copy the original?
Why do we want to copy the formula for someone else's success instead of creating our own?
Below are observations from people that have written to me about these issues. The identity of the writer is not included, but their voices are not singular. No artist, maker or workshop teacher is listed below to protect their identity. I have heard these opinions echoed frequently over the past four years. The chorus is growing louder.
"I often get emails out of the blue about my techniques, I am not sure how to respond. There are a few techniques I have developed that I feel are unique in my field & that set my work apart in the marketplace. I am all for people learning and developing skills, but it just seems so easy to ask for instructions about how to make my work especially when these techniques are so intimately tied to my livelihood. I feel that I have a right to artistic privacy, but I feel like such a "bad guy" when asked for it."
"When will the Free Tutorial be available? As soon as I finish new work and post the images online, I have requests for the free tutorial. Things happen quickly on the internet, too quickly. Novel work does not necessarily get much time to mature or become established, making it seem even riskier to share special techniques so casually."
"I love your work so I made one for myself" is a shocking statement when I am standing at my booth at a show. Not only have I invested years to develop my skills and technique, but I have invested $1,000's in photography, booth display, and show fees. All of those compliments mean nothing more than they want to copy my work, ... as if this were an acceptable thing to do. This rocks my very foundation."
"Artist Wanna Bee has just pinned my work to "Things I Wanna Try in the Future" Pinterest board. NO, I didn't make it up. Guess what. Just try a search if you feel the necessity of nauseating evidence. The shocking spectacle in front of your eyes is a whole group of your work made by other artists."
"And there is a weird Robin-Hood-in-reverse quality where less-professional online communities develop a mob-like mentality to "liberate" a unique technique from the established artist/maker who developed the original."
As one established artist says: "What I fear is that people when they directly ask, are implicitly asking for the permission to copy outright."
"I've found probably close to 50 paint party studios copying mine and other artists work, and it's growing exponentially because people really enjoy this kind of past time, but have no idea that the art they are "painting" is in violation of copyright laws."
If "I love your work and want to make one for myself" has happened to you, it would be helpful if you left a comment or email me. I could anonymously add your quote to this post to demonstrate that these problems are resonating in the arts community.
"I love your work and want to make one for myself" is not a compliment, it is a copy.
Instead, BUY THE WORK YOU ADMIRE. The artist, maker, metalsmith, or artist has worked long and hard to not only come up with the idea but to perfect the techniques and make the item. Why not purchase the item and support a local artist who is doing her best to support her family, etc.?
Kate Brennan Hall has generously allowed me to use an image of her poster. Read her blog post titled Golden Rules of Crafting and see what she has to say about the topic. She sells her poster on Etsy.