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June 21, 2021 7 min read

Oh the age old saying of imitation is a form of flattery….well, yes & no. I actually hate hearing that, it’s totally not flattering to have your work ripped off & being sold in another person’s shop (this happened to me). It’s just an excuse to feel good about ripping off a designer. Look, designers love to share with others - really we do, but there is a definite line between sharing & stealing. Read on to find out what that is….

You may be thinking - you & other designers make videos & post pictures so what’s the big deal? You should expect people to copy if you do that!

You’re correct, we expect to be copied & it happens all the time. My designs were being copied long before I ever put out videos or pinned them to Pinterest. I caught another Etsy shop owner who lifted a popular wreath design from my Etsy shop & put it in theirs as an original piece. They took my pictures, (complete with the listing verbiage and all), & pasted it into their shop selling six of them before I caught it.

I’ve also heard many horror stories from other designers with the same scenario. Really well known designers have had their designs & product pictures stolen from manufacturers overseas that promote all across Facebook, Pinterest & Instagram, selling at unbelievably low prices by the tens of thousands.  Often, angry customers reach out to the original designer demanding their money back when fleeced by these scammers! 

Let me explain why this is wrong on many levels. First - it’s not just copying the design. They stole pictures & listed it like it was theirs - meaning they didn’t attempt to make their own copy or version using their own pictures. Second - it’s lying to every customer that buys. Misrepresenting that they had in fact made this product with their own two hands when they did not and worse, the customers that purchase are not receiving that exact item.

Whether or not you have a decent sized business or a new business with only a few sales or just make for craft shows, copying designs without permission in order to monetize from it is Illegal. 

So what’s the deal? Why do designers even make video tutorials if they don’t want people copying their idea? If you put it out there for everyone to see it’s okay to copy…right?

I & other designers put out free videos to show the process, help others learn & make the design for personal use - not to have them take the design & re-sell it. There is a BIG difference. If you want to make one for your home - no biggie, go for it! But if you plan to open an Etsy shop, website, store, or even rent a booth space - you should never copy another designer’s work for resale without their permission. It’s just wrong. Legally & ethically. It’s called intellectual property infringement - google it, it’s a real thing that’s actionable by law.

Now, if we don’t share a tutorial on how to make something does that mean we still don’t mind you copying a design for personal use? Well, if we aren’t sharing, it means we would rather you purchase that design directly from us. Sharing a pic of a new design with a link to purchase is not the same as sharing a tutorial…we are trying to sell it. Don’t get mad about that, in order for us to continue making free tutorials, we have to make some money to pay for materials. Crafting is expensive…we all know that!

How can I watch, learn & make things without infringing on a designer’s rights? How will I know what is considered copying or an inspired by piece that I can sell?

It’s confusing to keep it all straight or even to understand it. I get it, I really do. Social media posts & videos send mixed messages & it’s hard to know what’s right so I’ll break it down for you. When designers make videos, we do it for exposure & because we honestly do want to show off our talents & help others learn. It’s critical to understand that our video tutorials are meant to inspire you to create your own piece. You can take the education we are giving for free and make your own version. The rule of thumb is your creation should be at least 40% different than the original design that inspired you. That also keeps you out of hot water legally. And no, just changing the color of something is not considered 50% different. Differences are added up by elements of the design, color, shape, flowers, container…. So if you use different flowers in a different container then you should be good. 

What about Pinterest? The whole reason it exists is to give people ideas to copy, right?

When it comes to Pinterest, that’s a horse of a different color. You should be mindful that photos & pins on Pinterest are not ALWAYS UPLOADED BY THE CREATOR. Yes I used all caps to make sure that sinks in. There is nothing stopping a random person from going to a website, saving a photo from it and then uploading to Pinterest. There’s no permission obtained from the artist & it’s just making the rounds on the internet without the artist even being aware most of the time. So no, Pinterest is not meant to be a source for you to copy products to sell in your shop. It’s for inspiration only, a digital dream board if you will.

You should also not use Pinterest pins to send to customers or tell customers you can make that item for less. You are still monetizing from the original artist’s work by using their image to make a sale. Let’s have some morals & be honest with ourselves…if you were the original artist you would be very upset that your design or image was used to make money for someone else & you know it. Things look vastly different when you’re on the other side of a successful business. 

I bought a tutorial / am part of an online design group - can I sell a design I made using the tutorials? 

This is a bit of a grey area. You should first check with who you bought it from to ensure there are no restrictions. When you purchase a tutorial or if you are paying a monthly membership, you are essentially licensing the design from the original artist. This means you can recreate it (exact copy or a variation) & sell your piece however, some designers or design groups may have a user agreement that states you cannot sell more than XXX amount of the finished duplicated design. It is NEVER okay to resell the original tutorial or to make your own tutorial of the original design. Even if you use the original or your version as free content for your social media & not charge for it - NOT OKAY & this falls under intellectual copyright infringement. If the designer gives you permission to share the tutorial on your social media, that’s fine, but you must obtain permission to do so.

Selling or using trademarked or licensed products in your designs.

This trips up people the most of anything I have seen. Let’s use Disney as an example of trademarks & licensing. Disney puts out all kinds of cute things including crafting materials with their trademarked characters. Let’s say you bought some Disney themed fabric at a craft store & you wanted to make something to resell on online or in a local craft fair. You paid for the fabric, it’s meant to be turned into a finished product (it’s in a craft store for goodness sakes!) so you should be able to do whatever you want with it right?!? No. 100% no. Disney always puts a little disclaimer on all of their craft supply & just merchandise in general that states it’s only for personal use. 

You may be thinking it’s no big deal if you plan to sell at a craft fair or online because you’re small potatoes, they’ll never see it or know. Ummm, nope….don’t take that chance. Disney has people who’s entire job is strictly to look for trademark, copyright & license infringement online & everywhere else. If you don’t have a license agreement with any company that has trademarked characters, don’t use them in your designs…period. They will sue you & that is a fact. You’ll lose everything & pay more out than you’ll ever make selling product with their items. And they don’t care if you’re a single mom just trying to make a little extra money on the side selling a wreath - they diligently go after any offender no matter how big or small they are. The gavel comes down swift & hard on businesses & individuals alike.

I hope this helps some of you with navigating the confusing waters of copying, intellectual property & licensing. I’ll admit that I used to be in the same collective thinking that it was no big deal to copy until I saw the other side. I’ve never copied another designer’s work even when I thought nothing of the whole copy thing just simply because I had my own ideas or would always want to change something about a design. 

I would like to leave this thought with all of you….if you truly love the designer’s piece, why not support the designer & purchase directly from them? When you support artists & designers, you make it possible for them to continue providing the free content you love so much!

If you can’t support them financially by making a purchase, you can always support them by liking their social media posts, commenting & sharing their shop links or media content. Those gestures alone not only help them gain exposure but it also does the most crucial thing of all - it encourages them to keep at it. Knowing people enjoy their social content & designs makes them want to give more. If nobody is watching, listening or liking…why continue the hard work of making free content? 

Love to you all…continue to create, 

Stacey


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