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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Plagiarism, Copy Cats, & Copyrights

I belong to a number of Yahoo groups where this has been a hot topic. I know it's also been mentioned on some blogs because their owners have discovered copies of things they make, openly listed for sale original creations. I thought this would make a great post so am reproducing here in its entirety.
BTW: I asked permission first!
Sorry if this seems a long post but I think it will help everyone who is interested to read the replies I have received from everyone across all the groups it was posted to...

1st I want to thank everyone who has responded.

I have received a total of more than 40 replies since I sent this out to the few miniature and or clay related groups I am associated with. It's apparently a very popular subject and many have taken interest in what copyright is or is not by a show of the many replies. It's always been apparent to me, but many others still need to question the facts and laws surrounding the topic. What I found of all the replies I have read to be most important here, is that only a couple of people actually answered the question, "If you knew you were buying copied items though that were clearly taken and used without permission and without giving credit where it was due, would you knowingly still purchase them?"

Thanks Kate H. for your honesty and answering that : Nope. I wouldn't buy anything from a copycat who doesn't give credit where credit is due.
Thanks also to Doc P. for answering: It is important to give credit where credit is due and if you're inspired by the work of someone, give them credit.
And nope, I wouldn't buy from anyone who was copying others. The world is so full of inspiration, I don't really understand why people copy in the first place. -doc

Kate then asked a question of her own: How are we supposed to know when someone is being a copycat if we aren't aware of who the copier is? Is there a list some place?

Answer: Not yet that I know of, but the group on Facebook is sure to have one sooner or later at the rate they are posting infringing works and those complaining to have been copied from. They decided to add the word ALLEGED for all legal purposes when making claims of being copied but they did mention the woman's name whom' I will only say here openly is MW.

Now perhaps I should have kept my original post on this topic short and only asked that question because it's the one thing we as miniaturists and or artists need to keep in mind, Our Reputations!

Should we try and advance in an art while using someone else's creativity? Lets say we have been surviving on COPYING and the person or people we have been copying from suddenly stop because they feel the threat and say to themselves (as I had read was almost the case), "why bother to put in the effort and take time from my family to create more just because of this one or even a few bad people who can't think or dream up ideas for themselves". I mean where on earth would their creativity come from then? Having an empty mind without ones own creativity would be detrimental to their future existence. If they can't keep copying, and they never used their own mind and creativity to create, would they just stop what they are doing, or go on and find another niche to copy from. It would be never ending and in my experience, once a copy cat, always a copy cat. They seem to know the laws and there really is no recourse to claim and will stop at nothing with no morals to keep on doing their thing.

Now a few good points made from a few people who replied and I will include those below:

Many of the replies I have read agree and it's a known proper practice and common consideration to: give credit to where you got the idea or the technique.

One person even wrote to say: I take pictures of my figures and mail them to my own address - this way I could always prove that I am the first one who came up with an idea, just in
case .... (Cornelia)

Thanks Doc for you reply to Cornelia's post it brings up another complaint regarding this same copy machine made in the group on Facebook : that the part I wish people would understand--that it hurts like crazy when someone steals your intellectual property. It just really hurts. And yes, it can hurt one's business when this happens.

Another member writes: But my point is I'd drive myself batty if I worried about every copy cat who was cheaper than me. Someone always will be. And, honestly, its not wrong to do per se. You might not like it because your friend might not have the profit she wants and that is frustrating at times, but the person allegedly copying is free to do so. Also to clarify, because I've seen it addressed on another forum, I'm talking about something you've created with your hands, not by a mold that you've made. That gets sticky. Same with a tutorial you write. Someone who steals it, copies it and sells it as their own - that runs a different line. But personal minis you make with your hands is what I'm speaking of.

Another point made by Doc is: There are many ways to show proof of what you've done and when, and filing a copyright is one way. It's fairly easy to do and I've filed plenty. But copyright is automatic the minute you do your work in the US, so even if you didn't have time or inclination to file a copyright, you'll find some method that shows when you did it. My computer can show when I created each design or tutorial. It's all right there, for example.

Janet S. replies: Of course, there are ideas and knowledge in my head from classes and articles and those do serve me well. But I figure that once a technique or idea has floated around in my head long enough, it morphs into my own style of doing things. All my instructions for my kits are labeled with a copyright statement (and I got the idea to do that from Doc's tutorials posted in this group or, frankly, I wouldn't have thought of it myself) and all the photos on my website are labeled with a copyright. I guess that is the best I can do to try to protect myself.

Again from Doc : Yes, people steal imagines. Here's an example: Kenny Mathieson. (I found it trying to find the group on Flickr you wrote about so I'd appreciate a link to that.) Anyhow just imagine someone stealing your work and using it for personal gain to advertise something. It's hurts. -doc

Now one of the most interesting and well stood out replies to me because its what I do and what I have known many miniaturists to have done for years in this craft/hobby was from fellow miniaturist Melanie N. who replied: It's hard to say you wouldn't buy anything from a copycat, because in my opinion no one really copies anyone in miniature. For example, I made some miniature chocolate chip "SKULL" cookies that I saw a real life version of on Google. Come to find out Kiva Atkinson listed some EXACTLY like mine on Ebay after I did. If you know who Kiva is, then you know she has no need to copy as her imagination is amazing! She probably googled Halloween foods just like I did and therefore ended up creating the same mini I did. Like Jen said.. when we as miniaturists are recreating REAL LIFE things and making them in mini, does that mean we are copycats? If you think about it, as miniaturists what we are doing is recreating our world but in miniature, so technically, there is no such thing as an ORIGINAL miniature. Of course that's just my opinion.
If you think about it, as miniaturists what we are doing is recreating our world but in miniature, so technically, there is no such thing as an ORIGINAL miniature.

Okay I get this, which is why I am even bothering with the questions and posts about it. Being a part of a group where people are claiming they have been copied, and my being accused of being on the side of the alleged accused just for asking for proof of such I could see for myself. Doreen Playter answered this for Melanie well making totally good sense! Her post here will sum it up for all other posts, questions and concerns that I myself have and had when posting this issue:
Hi Mel - What Kate is referring to is not at our level of miniatures. We do things from real life and so yes we do copy what we see and we share our ideas and show each other how we do things so others can copy what we do. This is what I love about our level of miniatures, the giving and the sharing.

But in the world of fantasy there are "original" miniatures. What Kate is referring to is a group of artisans that make fantasy type miniatures for a living. They are not real life and they come from the imagination of the creator. This is not just the case of someone making a witch that looks like another witch. They make candles, trees, plants, washstands, broomsticks, etc all with a personality that is unique and one of a kind. They create all types of fantasia that is unusual and very magic and make items like a tree come to life. These creators have been very generous in showing their work and if anyone wanted to copy it they would probably to glad to help. But they would expect that person to tell where they got the idea from and that it was copied thanks to .......

However there is one person who is stealing these ideas and copying them and then putting them on her site and selling them as "originals". She never asked the creators for permission nor did she give any credit to the original creators. Not only that but she sold her items for a lower price in order to steal the business. This is not our world of miniatures because we do not do things like that and I for one would not like to encourage anyone who deliberately undermines the work of another miniaturist.

Okay the 1st of the last 2 posts I wish to include here is from Amara Z. who writes: I totally feel the original artist who feel robbed of their creativity and angered, and I believe everyone in the group feels the same because they are more or less creating things. At the same time I do acknowledge that it's very hard to copyright these things and define the boundaries, especially miniatures. Some of the great miniatures are copies of original items in the world, even branded items, for example a miniature of a Hershey bar wrapping, or a Louis Vuiton bag and this is perfectly valid in my opinion. Sometimes there are obvious copycats, and some are roughly using an idea as inspiration. It is hard to draw a line where exactly you consider something as a copy cat / imitation and when you say something is inspired.
How about things you make from the tutorials of the day, do you have to mention which magazine, or which URL if you don't follow 100% the tutorial or even if you do? I think EVERYTHING in the world these days are inspired from something else, from nature, from other people's work whether it's the same media or not. It is impossible to have every art named where the inspiration comes, and more often the artist doesn't realize they are being influenced by other artists. So with all due respect to some who say 'when you are inspired you should name the artist', I don't think that's workable in the real world unless you are creating something Very similar to that artist. "to be inspired" is not a copyright infringement even if you don't give credit. Having said that, original creative works are always being imitated around the world, the better they are, take Mona Lisa painting for example. It's also a compliment in itself.
Now, from the consumer side, will you buy. I think the general public will understandingly buy from whoever has more economic value, it is the way the world works. But, it is rare that the imitation can match the quality of the original and sometimes it shows and it will speak for itself in that way.

I will end this by quoting my boss, who says "If you have to copy someone, make sure you copy the best, and then improve on it."

Great Quote!!! LOL

and 2nd and last reply I am entering into this post is the best from Marlene who replied:
As creative people I think we also need to stop and think where we get our own inspiration and ideas. We are not making something out of nothing. Ideas are 'out there.' Our brain takes them in and uses them whether conscious or subconscious. I've also seen over and over again simultaneous ideas come forth with very similar pieces with no previous contact between the artists/craftsperson's. Making botanically accurate flowers - now who made the first one?? The real one in your garden - Well?? Art is imitative -- we would be totally frozen as artists if we could not freely gather ideas. The quality of craftsmanship is what sets us apart - the more tuned into universal thought you are, the more likely you will come up with things the same as other people are creating.

Now if someone buys your item, then sells that same item (not a copy) for a HIGHER price and says it is their own creation - -they you have cause for concern.

Just create and have fun - backbiting and recrimination just spoil the good emotions that should accompany all our efforts.
backbiting and recrimination just spoil the good emotions that should accompany all our efforts.

This is the very reason I was left with a bad feeling when I read about the situation with the alleged copy cat. Please note that this was from a friend on facebook in her blog and then in that group on there also. Let me add this person and few other people making the claims are not "friends" as much as they all are fellow miniaturists who befriended me like many other miniaturist artisans and collectors as well as polymer clay artists, jewelry artists, etc. on Facebook, knowing who I am in the "Mini Community". I agree with people like Melanie and Marlene and many others about having ideas, using Real Life items googled to make minis from and what have you and know that as miniaturists we sometimes will use these images and ideas for our mini creations. This is why this issue came up and why I brought it here to the groups and communities who I knew would answer with honesty and personal experience.

I wish to thank everyone again for your input, help, links, honest opinions and insight. You have all been very helpful in this matter and no one could have been more helpful than Marlene with her closing statement which I quoted above. Since its not my fight personally I will stay out of it to not spoil my own good emotions that should accompany all my efforts. Just create and have fun, like I have always done, as well as share what I know and help others to learn from what I learn.

My only hope is that my sharing all this with the copyright group and or those friends on Facebook which I plan to do will encourage them to do the same and stop worrying about someone they claim is copying their ideas. Perhaps the mini community on their own, one by one will learn who MW is and not buy from her, and she will stop. It is being made clear to me she has been and still continues to take ideas from another miniaturist work when most recent and then profiting from them. Weather or not she is intentionally trying to hurt those she is copying from is not clear, what is she has been talked to about this, said she would stop but still have refused to, continues to do it and still does not give credit of even the inspiration. She should not be allowed to give our hobby a bad name or change the way any of us have been doing what we have been for years in order to achieve our ideas and make our minis just the same.

~hugs~ Andrea "Cre8"


  1. When you have a lot of imagination and you are able to turn that imagination into objects,
    there is always someone behind you with little imagination able to copy you.
    I am creating dolls for 37 years (Dollmaker or doll-artist?) And I would like that all the dollmakers who use commercial molds or dolls in kit, they did indicate, for example:
    "Parker Levy mold doll or doll kit by...."
    And is not to make brand advertising mold, because I do not sell molds.
    Maria Narbon
    (Sorry for the translation, if is not correct...)

  2. Thanks for this post! - a lot of good advice and thoughts in it.
    I can only add that you should be honest about where you get your inspiration and ideas, ask permission and say thanks if it's directly from a fellow crafter/artist.
    And don't let thieves stop you from creating - creativity is an ongoing and delightful process which gives you life and love.

  3. Such a controvesial subject, yes? And one that will be ongoing I am sure, as long as we have the internet and the ability to reach hundreds of viewers.

    As soon as an artist (of any type) posts a picture of a work in progress on a blog or social networking site, it can circle the globe in a matter of be admired or copied, as the case may be. Who ever ets it out there first, wins. That's why there is so much secrecy surrounding fahion house collections, for example.

    I think we will find fewer willing to put anything but finished products out for least then they can say here it's done and it's mine.

    Even things in real life converted to mini are subject to infringement laws. Charles Schultz was very protective of his Peanuts characters, for example. Ceramic artists who copied Snoopy in plaster of paris were forced to break their molds.

    As for buyers...just like those who will settle for a designer knock-off, there will be those who will buy a "copy" for any number of reasons. Original scale miniatures are generally not mass produced and that's what makes them particularily collectable. There will always be those happy with a fake. Me, I'll save my money for the real thing ;-)

  4. There are many real life objects that are not allowed to be copied in miniature without permisssion from the company or individual holding the copyright. Examples, CocaCola or an other brand name product.

    You can't make a copy of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, room, piece of furniture a stained glass window or anything else he designed. This is true of building designs of many other architects. It is also true of the designs of many modern furniture designers. You can't copy in miniature a lot of contemporary fabric designs. Size does not matter, a design is a design and it is protected.

  5. There is a great video an ETSY seller made about copying!

  6. Oooh wow, I just now stumbled across this post!! As a miniaturist with a pretty fertile imagination (bordering on the bizarre, as some would tell you ;-)), I, like other food artists, sometimes get inspiration from real life, quite often! Case in point: I made "mummy dogs" last year, and they did very well. Melanie made them this year for Halloween. Did we copy eachother? Absolutely NOT. Try Googling Halloween treats (which is what I did), or go to your local bookstore (I also do this), and BAM they are not difficult to spot! I've also been making eyeball stew and bone soup for a number of years, and not just for Halloween! Those Frankenmallows I listed recently? Yep, the idea was from a cooking magazine I spotted in the local supermarket, in the checkout aisle. Those were not exact copies, but rather my own interpretations (for example, the Frankenmallows were cupcakes, not marshmallows at all).

    I think that artists know in their gut when someone is "stalking" them....and I, like others I know, have had that happen. The thing is, I think it's a waste of time and energy getting worked up about, because oftentimes, the copies are poorly done...and customers KNOW. The only time I will intervene (sometimes when someone points something out to me, I am not even aware of it) is when it is something completely sprung from my own imagination, and something so "out of left field", that there is no way in hell that another person could have come up with it. For example, someone emailed me and told me that there was someone on ebay Germany who was listing complete copies of some of my weirder items. I only wish that I had the picture of her auction to show you because it was jaw dropping. What I did was message her and ask why she felt the need to try and duplicate some of my items to the "t". She replied that she didn't know she was doing anything wrong, and apologized. She then removed those particular listings. I thanked her, and it was no longer an issue. Now, I would not have even bothered if it wasn't so insanely obvious.

    There was also a time when someone saved a few pics off my website and listed them on their own website, for sale! Again, someone I do not know emailed me and told me this. I went to the link she provided and found that it was a Thai person living in the UK. In that case, I asked her why my items were for sale on her website and she replied that her husband is the one who updates her site and made a "mistake" of some sort. They were then removed.

    So, long story short (haha!!), there is a definite distinction between getting INSPIRATION from a fellow artist (and real life), versus straight up rip offs. You know it when you spot it.

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  9. "But in the world of fantasy there are "original" miniatures. What Kate is referring to is a group of artisans that make fantasy type miniatures for a living. They are not real life and they come from the imagination of the creator."

    YES!! Bingo!! Everyone makes fruit and bread, etc. But when you are talking about fantasy, that's a completely different ballgame! At times, my weird food DOES fall into fantasy! But in the case of some of my Halloween treats? Most of the time (not always, but most), inspiration has come from seeing pictures of real life food! The wackier, the better. They are not always exactly the same, but tweaked. I just went and had a look at Mel's skull cookies. In that case, it's a no brainer. We were drawn to the SAME Google image! Same thing with the mummy dogs I made last year. So, you see, two or more artists can totally be drawn to the same things....but it's when you are making something wholly from your own imagination, something fantastical, that copies are so much more obvious.

    The thing is: we as artists put our work out there for the world to see, and that is a wonderful thing, but there will ALWAYS be unscrupulous people who take advantage. I just don't like to see anyone get TOO consumed with this issue, because I have seen it turn some very talented people bitter and paranoid :-/.


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