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Saturday, April 28, 2012

A thread has come up on Facebook ….yet again about copying. A well known miniaturist received a comment on her blog to a post from last year in which the blog owner complained about copyists.
This is what she received:

"Hi, I've been reading your blog and find your art wonderful! I especially liked the …………. In fact, I would love to try to make one myself! I'm not sure I understand why you're upset in this post. Isn't copying the best form of flattery? And don't many mini makers use tutorials to help them create? Is that copying then? Some blogs even HAVE tutorials that show you exactly how to make stuff. I guess those people don't care if you make it (their's (sic) originally) and sell it as your own? I want to start selling some of my minis, but I am very confused and I don't want to be labeled as a copycat or a bad person. Any advice?"

A number of people posted to the Facebook thread, some who aren’t threatened, some who are because they supplement their family income, some are simply extremely protective of their “babies” and then there’s the opinion from the “sidelines”:

“I too would like to make minis to sell... but fear of failure and not wanting to be a copy cat stops me cold! The trick is to make something NO ONE ELSE DOES or to make it so DIFFERENT that it doesn't look like another's. (Examples ~ dolls, teddy bears, furniture... there are thousands of makers, but all the good artisans have their very own style, technique, etc.) Am I right?"

Being a miniaturist means we imitate life ...just in a smaller version. Does that mean I want to discover that someone is making an exact copy of one of my castles? NO! Have I used someone else’s techniques to build mine? YES!
Even though I've taken those techniques and adapted them and changed what didn’t suit me, does that make me a copycat?????

I am fascinated by how Rik Pierce produces his creations and save his techniques whenever I come across them. I noticed that another artisan who is now teaching a workshop at the Chicago Bishop show, had taken a class with Rik. That building/workshop appears to be based on those techniques. Does that make him a copycat????? Does it give him license to earn money giving a workshop?

The lady, who left the comment that started the Facebook thread, wrote several posts on her own blog in which she showed photos of things she had created in miniature ….they were all mini reproductions of items from the Harry Potter movies.
I, myself, have made M&M candy people in miniature. Does that make the both of us copycats …since we’re using intellectual property that has been copyrighted? PROBABLY!

I’m not sure that it’s any longer possible to “make something NO ONE ELSE DOES or to make it so DIFFERENT that it doesn't look like another's”. Blogs, Facebook, etc. …even websites make everything too inter-related. Even if you don’t mean to copy and don’t work with a photo of someone else’s creation in front of you, can you be sure no one has ever made one like it? NOT LIKELY!

Should you stop trying out tutorials or acquired techniques? NO! least not in my opinion. Applaud the generosity of the person who wrote the tutorial or taught the technique. These are how we learn and grow in our chosen hobby.

I’ve noticed that in the last year or two, complaints about copycats have increased and tutorials have decreased and nearly died out. It’s an extremely sad commentary. Is it warranted? Can we do/change anything to reverse the situation....

One caveat before I end this post:
The only reason I sell is because I make more than I can use ...I do not use the money that I earn to supplement my income, so my view will be different from someone who does. It certainly doesn't make me right or them wrong!


  1. Interesting you mentioned Rik Pierce in your post. He is so giving with all his techniques and hints. I took one of his classes once and he told me he has no secrets. He will help you and tell you how he does all his work. I did not get the feeling that he cared of someone when off and started a business with what they had learned in his class. I try to be that way but I must confess that I don't do as many "how To" as I used to. I actually did a "chocolate frog how to" for a magazine many MANY years ago.

  2. Good points Karin. I love tutorials and have learned much from others and in turn have offered my help to those I trust. I hate copycats as much as the next artist. My miniatures are a business I work hard at. I worry sometimes about making things that others make but know that mine are totally different. I find it depressing not being able to show WIP on my blog and know many others share my feelings.

  3. Hi Karin:
    I think the key word is SELL. Your castle for Maureen is absolutely fantastic!! You paid to learn the technique and you have obviously altered it to make it your own. The lady who is taking ideas from others blogs should either ask the blogger to purchase the idea, or offer to pay a percentagge of sales. To just take the idea and use it to sell is Stealing!! I regularly check the websites of others wgho do what I do, just to make sure I am not copying them!! One must be original!
    Jan in Cambridge

  4. This is a very old topic that seems to have no logical end. Someone is always going to "steal" an idea or tutorial, make inferior but rocognizable copies and make money off the product. This happened to me when I was in the Art doll world. My dragons sold for over $500 a piece. A lade bought one, took it apart, made a pattern, (with over 100 parts, it must have beed diffficult) and started selling extremely poor copies at major craft fairs. Her whole booth was filled with dolls made from ripped off patterns from other designers! And the dolls wher flying out the door! I found the lady and simply asked her to stop making m dragons, she said no and laughed! I took to court and won, not only for myself, but for all the other dollmakers to the tune of $100,000! By the time I split it with all the other dollmakers it didn't come out to much for me and the lawyer was free. It was just the princeple of the thing. She was also ordered to never sell dolls again!
    So, sometimes, justice IS done. By the way, dollmakers never share, that's why I love the miniature world!

  5. I think intellectual property and creativity are really changing in the face of all the available inspiration. I had a sewing idea recently and started planning it in my head. I had not seen it anywhere and in the next craft magazine I purchased there was a project to do a very similar (but slightly different thing). Obviously I didn't copy it, I had never seen it, and obviously they didn't copy my idea, I hadn't even mentioned it to anyone.

    So as well as people who probably do copy. There are people who independently come up with very similar ideas, because they are drawn to the same visual inspirations as others.

    This is where I think intellectual property becomes ridiculous and it goes all the way to high courts but are viewed as ridiculous even there. Just recently Apple won a large law suit against Samsung for stealing ideas from them and the judge commented on the farce of being able to claim a copyright on a rectangle with rounded corners!

    Coming up with something unique and brilliant is something worth heralding. Creative minds need to be acknowledged but I think we are a bit beyond, "I invented Electricity" or "I Invented a Kettle" and all the rest is not really that brilliant because 50 other people exposed to the same stimuli that you or I are can come up with the same ideas and put it into practise.

    in Summary, copying someone sucks, but not everyone who appears to be copying is doing so and we should definitely not stop sharing ideas and thoughts for fear of things we have no control of.

    PS the example above with the lady reverse engineering the dragons, is the type of copying that needs to be addressed. But (for example) Making macaroons out of fimo or sculpey or paper clay or air dry clay or anything else for that matter can't be like the judge said it's a farce to think you can patent a very popular dessert that has been around for ages regardless of the scale or medium you make it in.

    Erm I'll Stop Now.

  6. The miniature community is a relatively small one and the people who are in it like to share what they have made with others. In any community thieves are going to end up getting a bad reputation if they get caught stealing other people's intellectual property be it designs, writings, photographs, images, etc. Aside from the legal aspects of violating copyrights there is also a moral issue here. Be inspired but don't be a copycat. Teachers intend for the methods they use to be copied but they don't intend for their projects to be copied directly and then sold by their students. However if you make a kit that was sold to you by another artist and then sell it that is acceptable but in that case one should be polite and state who the designer of the kit was. I have seen a ton of Greenleaf dollhouses being passed off as being that person's original, one of a kind dollhouse. It is simply stupid to say such a thing as everyone recognizes those dollhouses for what they are.


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