5.30.2011

Soap box...

I've written and rewritten this post too many times to count. When it comes to politics, religion, or any other controversial issues, I keep relatively quiet on Aesthetic Outburst. While I have very clear opinions about these subjects in my personal life, I make it a point to avoid controversy on my blog. Many of you have probably heard about the latest Urban Outfitters debacle. If you haven't, please check out the back story here, here, or here. As an artist, blogger, and and as a supporter of independent artists, I felt it was important to stand up and yell about this issue a bit.

Artists can (and often do) come up with similar ideas, independently of one another. Just this weekend, I was looking at Pinterest and happened to see this lovely print by Jaime Derringer of Design Milk. I've been making a similar pattern without ever having seen Jaime's print...a genuine mistake on my part to not research the pattern better. I didn't intend to copy Jaime and was genuinely mortified when I realized that I had been drawing the same pattern. With regard to the current U.O. situation, it's very clear that several artists have been making very similar work (see this post on Regretsy). Who came up with the necklace design first? I'll admit that those waters are pretty murky.

Here's the thing though: this isn't the first time an independent artist has cried foul. Urban Outfitters and Cody Foster & Co have repeatedly been accused of stealing ideas from independent artists (people like you and me!) and are making a profit from these stolen ideas. Do I really need to say this out loud?! Making a profit from stolen work is not OK.

My dear friend, Renee Garner, has written about this very issue here and here, and I think that Jan and Earl from Poppytalk wrote a really thoughtful response to this particular situation. I'm done yelling, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this issue.


UPDATE:
Abby from abby try again wrote a really interesting post about this topic and Renee wrote a post about this specific case

21 comments:

camille yanair said...

i think its only natural that artists have similar ideas. its BOUND to happen. when a bigbox chain store swoops in and starts making an (epic) profit off of those ideas, its disgusting. very well written post btw :)

Emily said...

When I first found Etsy, I was so thrilled to find something so awesome but at the same time I suddenly felt so discouraged. I was paging through hundreds of super talented artist's work realizing how not entirely original my work was. There really are no new ideas. There are new trends and new ways of presenting things. Obviously the incidents with UO are so blatant. There is no excuse for them. Thanks for informing me of this. I am not interested in supporting them anymore. I'd rather take the time to find it on Etsy. Your "rant" was totally appropriate and necessary. And BTW, I was the first to win a 20 in 20 giveaway. I love my painted wooden piece so much and have yet to even see anything similar to it. Thanks Abby

kate said...

I had no idea that UO was doing that! I think the rules of creative work are not well defined, but so important. Thanks for this!!

Jan | Poppytalk said...

Perfectly said Abbey! That is exactly the thing - and you've said it well. "...making a profit from these stolen ideas.....is not OK. "

And i think it's their statement that says it all. They actually think it's a non-issue.

Rachael, Pistachio Press said...

This I what I said over at Poppytalk, but I think it's relevant here, too:

Sadly, none of this is surprising to me. I don't see this issue being about the necklace design, specifically. It's much larger than just that one instance. Large companies such as Urban/Anthro etc have a history of ripping off designs, many of which have much clearer origins.

As someone who participates in trade shows, large retailers are often the focus for small independents like me. They are the ultimate buyer as they can help launch a business to a much more elevated status and they tend to place bigger (although sometimes one-time) orders. But even this is a trade off for independent artists. The big companies almost always want the items for less than the wholesale price, are late paying for the merchandise, and mark it up higher than retail.

It's even more frustrating because I think the makers should have more power to negotiate terms. The large company couldn't exist if smaller designers weren't willing to play ball. But for every artist who draws a line in the sand, there is someone else willing to sell their goods cheaper for the exposure (or due to lack of experience). I'm not sure what can be done about this, but talking about it and educating buyers/makers is a great start.

Rambling Renovators said...

On the one hand, I agree, stealing ideas on any level is wrong, and when you put corporate muscle and big bucks behind that action, it is even more wrong. Where is their moral code? As a successful corporation, they need to set an example of good behaviour.

On the other hand, is the transgression of UO more wrong than one independent etsy seller stealing the idea from another independent etsy seller? We all make choices. Do you (the general "you") buy knock-offs knowing full well that they are an interpretation of someone else's more expensive yet original design? Do you DIY something to get the exact look of a store bought piece at 1/10th of the cost? Is copying an all-or-none bad thing? Do we not all fall into the same boat as UO at some point?

As Emily commented, there are no new ideas. If that's true, what's the takeaway from all this? I think its to be true to yourself. Be creative, come up with original (to you) ideas. Take inspiration from others but don't replicate - improve, originate, transform. And if you find yourself in a situation where someone does copy your idea, ask yourself - did you copy the idea from anyone else?

Since I don't make a living being creative, I might see things a bit differently. I might feel otherwise if it was my "original" creations getting copied! But its a great discussion Abbey.

Aesthetic Outburst... said...

What a great conversation! Thank you all for contributing!

Emily- as makers, I think we've all felt the same.

Jen (Rambling Renovators)- I agree with you, it is about decisions. I don't think that the transgression of UO is more wrong than one independent etsy seller stealing the idea from another independent etsy seller. Both, for me, come down to profiting from stolen ideas. Making a copycat DIY project for yourself or your mom is one thing; it's when a person makes the decision to sell that copycat project that puts it over the edge.

With regard to UO, I think the difference here is the playing field. Small, independent artists simply can't compete with huge retailers like UO and can't afford to have their ideas taken.

Prairie Bird said...

Abbey, don't feel like you inadvertently copied Jaime's print. You're both drawing tessellation triangles (http://bit.ly/jt0emx) a well-known and endlessly repeated mathematical pattern. Also, if you copied him, he copied Buckminster Fuller.

Sarah Rae said...

Although I'm always for the underdog and as a handmade artist and being married to one to boot, there's always similarities in ideas. The closer to ideas get, the more grey that line becomes. We all pull from everything and obviously straight up copying is a no no. That said...

In the first 24 hours, she made $36,000 in sales from folks suddenly "supporting handmade." I'm curious how many people would have bought handmade before they knew about the injustice that occurred or knew about such happenings in the independent artist/retail world. How many of them would have checked Etsy before heading out to buy something at Target, Old Navy or UO?

There were other people doing the same thing as her... before her too, but they didn't get any credit and I'm sure she didn't share the $36k she made.

Aesthetic Outburst... said...

Sarah Rae- Yes. As I said in my post, with regard to the design that sparked this most recent debate, those waters are pretty murky. I would certainly question public outcry based SOLELY on this artist but, as you said, it's not just this artist whose designs have been stolen. To me, her sales figures corroborate the fact that people think what UO did was unethical. These buyers may not have supported handmade before, but perhaps they will now. Let's hope so.

Christine P said...

Your pattern and Jaime's are reminiscent of Paul Klee. I don't think you need to worry about unintentionally copying her work. As for UO, can one expect anything but the worst behavior from a national retailer grabbing for business

Elizabeth said...

Didn't they also steal the copywriting? That really pushes it over the edge.

I love your triangles and am totally enjoying the trend. I'm not sure why you would feel mortified to be drawing them, especially since you are doing your own thing with them?

Margot said...

I had no idea this was going on. Thanks for posting this, and for linking to other articles to read up on.

Karen@oldbeginnings said...

People do come up with similar ideas everyday, yes.
UO clearly did not - coming up with a similar idea and presenting it in the same size/material/finish and with the same copy? C'mon.

One issue is lack of exposure. The small independents aren't known to the masses - so many people don't know they're buying a stolen design. The UO's of the world bank on this. They didn't bank on social media in this case, tho.

This takes Buy Handmade to another level.

There has been a threatening shift (to large retailers) towards handmade. I'd like to see a huge shift towards doing the right thing vs. greed. Hopefully in my children's lifetime, if not mine.

Sara said...

It does become a difficult situation when talking about truly simple designs. With regards to your triangle design, both your version and Jaime's version are beautiful - because they are simple. And they are triangles. No one own geometric shapes.
I know a kid I went to HS with who is now a designer in NYC. His designs are great and he's rising star - but again, his design are really simple. There is currently a question as to whether Tiffany & Co has stolen his design: http://www.mediabistro.com/unbeige/tiffany-co-twist-collection-similar-to-kiel-meads-forget-me-knot-jewelry-designs-unbeige-exclusive_b13764
In this case it is likely that their crappy knock-off is indeed a knock-off, given how popular and ubiquitous he has become in NYC ...
And so ultimately I agree that independent designers are frequently at the mercy of larger outfits.

elizabeth said...

wow, that's pretty bad. I wasn't aware that UO was doing that. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I believe we pick up inspiration everywhere. I hardly think that you stole Jaime Derringer's work... I remember doodling that EXACT pattern on my notebook in junior high school. I promise you at that time in my life I was just "doodling" and not copying someone else or even trying to. I'm sure you weren't either. If it's blatant, it's a probably a bad idea and profits should not be made. It's a thought provoking topic and I appreciate you bringing it up.
Personally I hardly ever buy anything from chain stores. I hand make it or refinish something that would otherwise be thrown out. Those large retailers will not get my money, especially when they do things like this. But lets face it, we all get ideas and inspiration from the things we see. I'm just sayin'....

Jenny said...

Have you read this post on Regretsy that shows that another artist had done a similar design before even truche designed those necklaces:

http://www.regretsy.com/2011/05/27/urban-outrage/

Not to absolve UO of anything, and not to place any blame on Truche, but it's definitely not a simple example of a big company copying from one artist.

It may be as simple as the fact that this idea is more generic than other ideas -- just look at how many other etsy users sell similar designs.

Aesthetic Outburst... said...

Elizabeth- I've heard that they used the copy directly from her etsy shop, but I'm not sure if that's true. I'll try to do more research to see if that is indeed the case.

Jenny- Yes, I linked to the Regretsy post in my post. As I said in my post (and in the comments), I think that the waters surrounding that particular necklace design are pretty murky. I would certainly question public outcry based SOLELY on this artist but it's not just this artist whose designs have been stolen. Also, for the record, independents stealing from one other isn't OK either.

Jaime said...

Hey - I just saw this post for the first time :)

Don't sweat it. They're just triangles. I wasn't the first person to ever draw a triangle pattern ;-)

I think this is waaaaaaaay different than the UO issue.

Keep drawing them and exploring where the triangles will take you.

Mel M. M. McCarthy said...

Fantastic post on a tricky topic. The interesting thing (to me anyhow) is that the pattern you & Jaime Derringer were drawing could also be attributed to Buckminster Fuller the inverter of the Geodesic dome... though not likely originally- it may be seen first in a cave somewhere ;o). All kidding aside, I think if we try to keep our ideas original & do our best to credit sources of inspiration it's the best we can do.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts & the links too.

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