You spend countless hours developing a unique product, refining it, tweaking the pattern, sourcing the perfect materials, taking beautiful product shots, writing winning marketing copy for the listings, and cultivating a community around your work. And then, one afternoon you’re sifting through Pinterest and there’s your image of your beautiful handmade product, the basis of your business, repinned on someone’s “DIY” or “Must Make” board with the comment, “I totally going to make this for my son!”
What is your reaction? How does seeing this pin, reading the name of the board, and the comment make you feel? Are you disappointed that they didn’t want to buy the original from your?
Are you angry that this person is explicitly stating that they intend to copy you?
Are you worried that they’ll turn around and start a business that will compete with yours, maybe with prices lower than yours?
I think it’s natural to be flooded with these feelings upon seeing something like this and it’s not exclusive to the environment of Pinterest. I’ve sat behind my table at a craft fair and had a mother pick up one of my pieces and turn to her daughter and say, “We should make something like this!” only to return the piece to the table and walk away.
These feelings of rage, of anxiety, of fear, doubt and disappointment can well up in you in those moments and can be brought under control as there are D8 gummies for sale which should be under doctor’s prescription. Check out the best CBD capsules in the UK. But I’d like to put forth a new way of framing these experiences after the intensity of feeling dies down.
Create a relationship with this person who is making you feel threatened. Talk to them, reach out to them, comment on their pinboard, visit their blog, chat with them on Twitter.
Because you will become human to them. When you reach out you let that person in. You become known to each other. People are less likely to overtly copy someone that they feel they know. And, the other side of the coin is that they’ll know you’re out there, that you see them.
But more than just becoming human to them, become helpful. This person loves what you’re doing. They are inspired. They may never get around to making a copy and may not have the skills to. Could you help them to develop their skills? Could you encourage them in their own creative work?
When I first began posting my work online there were two artists whom I admired so greatly it hurt. I followed their blogs religiously, examined every Flickr photo they posted, loved their work deeply, perhaps too deeply. I tried to emulate their styles in my own work, perhaps at times going too far and crossing the line into mimicry.
One of those artists sent me a very angry email, an email that made me embarrassed and ashamed and put me in tears. She was angry and I was angry. I’ve never bought her work. Everything she does leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, even eight years later.
The other artist offered to help me. I asked for some advice and she was so generous. She looked at my work and told me where she thought my strengths were. She gave me advice that led me down the path to writing my first book. Her own career has been incredibly successful and I’ve bought
multiple works of hers. Every success she experiences gives me joy as if it were my own success.
So most crucially here, could you turn this threatening potential copycat into a loyal customer? I would say yes. Not a definite yes, but a pretty probable yes. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.
I’m not advocating allowing people to explicitly copy your work and offer it for sale. Certainly you should protect your intellectual property and enforce its value to those who might not understand it. But don’t allow the emotion of the moment to destroy a potentially positive, and possibly lucrative, relationship. Set fear and anger aside and forge a bond with your copycat. In all likelihood you’ll be able to resolve the situation positively and bring an admirer closer to you and that’s a very good thing.
Loved this post and shared it with blogging friends. Thank you!
Linda Hicks says
For years students have copied the Masters in the museums. That is how some learn. That was a motivation for the building of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. I always feel anything I do is a gift and I am happy to be copied. I would be flattered. However, I was always so embarrassed when we would visit artists’ studios and my mother insensitively would say, “You can do this.” I know she was trying to encourage rather than embarrass me and insult the artist; and I hope the artists were not threatened by a grade school admirer’s getting some praise. None of us start from scratch or are extremely novel in what we do and it is better to give than to receive. Always good to be polite as well. But here is to hard work and all moves into more originality!
Jenny Smith says
Thanks for sharing!
It’s great that you are so honest about the topic. This recently happened to me, where someone that I respected and admired accused me of of copying their design. It was not the case, and I guess I just ended up being disappointed by their reaction/action towards me. Plush Artistry is such a small community and we need to support each other. And, as is evident of your experience, the support is greatly appreciated and valued.
I will check out your new book and congrats!
Abby,my two cents.It works both ways.There are lots of successful designers who copy the work of lesser known artists.The successful designer would already have a large audience while a new designer would still be building up her shop traffic.Should a question of copying be raised,guess who has more credibility?
Oh,forgot to add.Regarding the “I can make it too” crowd,am not sure which is worse.The “I can make it too” crowd or “give it to me for free cos you are anyway making it” crowd.And kudos to you for calling a spade a spade as always
Thank you Abby, for posting this! I face this occasionally in my Etsy shop. On the one hand it annoys me but yet on the other hand they say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery so in a way I feel honored that someone admires my work enough to copy it. In the very beginning of this adventure I too imitated too closely and got an initially kind then a threatening reprimand from the other artist. I didn’t understand her anger & frustration at the time. I do now. Imitation is how some of us learn and I’d like to believe that it’s never the intention to “steal” another persons work. So when this happens to me, instead of getting angry, I just try to remind myself that I must be doing something right!
I’m glad you have this attitude. I had a friend a few years ago who painted her walls similarly to mine and apologized because she knew I didn’t like people copying my style. She lives in another state, so it really doesn’t matter, but I realized that 1. I didn’t love those colors anymore because I was moving on and 2. I was more happy that she was being stretched outside her box than that she was copying me to do it.
I think it’s great to have more people making in general. Even if that person doesn’t end up buying from you, you can at least tell them to send their friends your way if they want something similar.
I agree with this. If I’m inspired by things I see in museums why can’t I be inspired by something I see at a craft fair or artisan market? I’ve improvised stuff and I don’t pretend to myself or anyone else that it was my idea or that it’s as good as professional work. I just have fun with it and it’s a hobby– I don’t sell anything. I’ve browsed these places with my kids loads of times and we do have conversations about the pieces, and sometimes it’s “wow, that’s really cool” and other times it’s “I don’t like it.” I can see that’s uncomfortable for the artist to hear if s/he sitting right there, but we chat about the things we’re looking at.
Great way to look at it! I think it’s hard not to be inspired by other creative people and I hope that I can return the favor in some small way by inspiring others. Creativity breeds creativity. =)
My only issues have been people using my portfolio photos and claiming them as their own products – I’m always afraid that if someone orders from someone using my pictures, the item’s lower quality will be a bad reflection on me if someone searches for the source of the photo. (I had to start watermarking everything I post just in case.)
Well said. Thank you.
Tanith Donaldson says
Thank you for this. I love that you address the emotional issues you face in your work. One day (not tooooo far in the future I hope) I’d love to have my own creative business, and the fears and anxieties about putting your work out there are my biggest obstacle! So thanks for opening up about them and suggesting ways to deal with them.
I think you have a great approach here. Responding with negativity is only going to create more negativity.
Also, you made me guiltily go and check my pinterest boards to see if I had done this!
I just happened on to this post by accident but I loved it so much and found it so refreshing and honest that I had to comment. The way you reframed this issue is brilliant and well said. I think most artists have people they admire and want to emulate at least in some way – that is the way humans work.
Caroline B says
After being on the receiving end while sat behind my stall at craft fairs, I try and be a bit more tactful if I say ‘I could do that’ and make sure it’s not in earshot! I think the thing to keep in mind is that you can’t supply the whole world with what you make and as long as someone isn’t going into mass production copying your idea, a little inspiration to others is not a bad thing. I draw the line at outright copying though!
So saying, have just finished the moorhen I had to design and must again thank you and your book for all the helpful tips and ideas regarding patterns for stuffed birds. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve it half as well without them.
Rachel L. says
Fantastic! Thank you for always challenging me to see the world of craft business as one of abundance and not of scarcity! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in worry and jealousy when you are trying to be original. This advice is such a relief for those “Pinterest moments”! 🙂 Openness and kindness are definitely the best policies, while still standing up for what you do. Love it!
I like this post. I struggle with this myself, not wanting my products put on Pinterest for this very reason after three years of hard work creating a unique item. To me, it’s easier to ask that my work not be put on Pinterest than find myself worrying about copycat creators. I have reached out to people who say they can make my products, and your right, creating that relationship is more important than being angry, but it can be hard to get to that point. Thanks for this post!
Thank you for this. The thing that has made me angriest is when I have seen people either pin my animal or post it in a forum and say that they think the price is crazy and that they can make it in a quick evening. I know how long it takes to make the item or maybe at least to make it well and it isn’t that fast. I understand that people will be inspired/influenced by beautiful things they see. I just hate it when they belittle the hardwork I have done. I know that if they attempted to copy my item in the time they say they will that there is no way it would be anywhere near the quality of mine. I have been tempted in the past to say something but held my tongue because I didn’t want me or my brand coming off angry. I always have the hope that someone else will see what they posted and be excited about it enough to come to my shop and buy it…and seeing my corrections on there won’t help that.
Beth Grim says
What bothers me the most when I am selling my wares at a craft show is when someone is talking to their friend about how she could make one of my plushies, and they are TOTALLY ignoring me, and then walk away without a word (to me) . It bothers me because I enjoy interacting with other crafters. I love to talk sewing and exchange ideas. I am immensely flattered when someone is inspired by my work. When a person is respectful and curious, I don’t mind sharing with them how I make something. I think everyone should make stuff, and if I can facilitate that, great. I’m not worried about being copied or ripped off; I know how much time it takes to make these things, and I also have faith in my own skills and design sense; someone may try to copy my work, but no one will make it just the way I do! And I think that if someone actually tries to make a copy, they will understand how much time and skill goes into making these things. It’s also been interesting reading folks’s comments here about Pinterest. I’ve been having fun with Pinterest, but do wonder sometimes if I’m inadvertently offending someone by pinning their work.
Thank you for writing this. I post things to my ‘make this’ board all the time. I keep my ‘make this’ board distinct from my ‘diy’ or ‘tutorials’ board as this is where I put things that I can’t afford but do want to emulate (not copy!). I am thinking of changing the name of my board now, I had not realised that it could be hurting people’s feelings and that is definitely not my intent. I like to pin them as inspiration for myself and to pass them along so hopefully they get more exposure, especially to people who can afford them.
Interesting post, shows once more your generosity.
My daughter and I make sea urchin jewelry. We were first on Etsy, but many have followed, offering similar items for a lower price.
But you know what? They don’t sell.
The time and effort that you put in the development of an item always shows and because it is your idea, you can constantly come with new designs.
So we ignore copycats, they are just…copycats 🙂
Thank you, Susan!
Being polite is very important. I think people sometimes just don’t realize that the person behind that table made everything you see! I’ve made the same mistake myself.
Thank you, Jenny. You are so right that we are a small community and there’s room here for everyone to succeed.
That’s an interesting flip side, Anupama.
A very good attitude, Shirley.
you post on such great thought provoking topics, I appreciate you sharing from your personal experience 🙂
Very helpful thank you
Exactly. Word of mouth is a very strong form of marketing.
You’re so right, Brooke. There is no justifying stealing someone else’s images and calling them your own.
Be bold, Tanith! All kinds of crazy stuff happens along the way, but you can recover! I say jump in!
Thank you very much, Natalie.
I saw your moorhen, Caroline, and I love his long yellow legs! I’m thrilled that you are enjoying making birds.
You put it very well, Rachel.
You’re welcome, Cody. I think taking yourself out of the Pinterest game entirely is totally fine, too. There’s no reason you have to be everywhere.
Yes, I think replying to these belittling comments isn’t a good idea. Your work isn’t for everyone and it’s impossible to make everyone understand what goes into it.
I think in those moments it might make sense to raise your voice and ask a question, or give some praise. Like, “Oh, you sew, too?” or “Oh wow, you make plush?”. Sometimes people talk to their friends in front of you because they are actually too shy to talk to you directly. If you begin the conversation it can go in a positive direction.
I’ve noticed some makers feeling sad or angry when they see their work pinned to DIY boards. I’m not sure you need to change the names, though. I think the sentiment is just fine.
I love your attitude, Esther.
Tanith Donaldson says
Thanks Abby!! I look forward to your blog posts and I love how you always so generously share your knowledge. xx
This is a bit off topic, but I’m irked by the “Must Make!” or “DIY” pins on Pinterest for a different reason. I think in many cases people re-pin stuff without clicking all the way through to the source, so when I see those pins, I think they will lead to a tutorial or pattern, not a product for sale. So while the original pinner might be implying “I know this is for sale but I can make it cheaper!”, others probably are just blindly repeating it.
That's a good point, Holly. Those pinboards can lead you to think they are all tutorials, when in fact they may not be at all.
I’ve read this post probably three times. And I can’t get it out of my head. I’m a great admirer of your work, and have made your free Octopus tutorial. If I’ve pinned your work, or another person’s work on a DIY-named Pinterest board, be it for knitting, sewing, or any type of craft project. It’s not to copy it so I don’t have to pay for it myself. There is something that inspires me–a color pattern, a technique or something I can’t even describe. I’d hate for you or other craftsmen-women to think I’d blatantly copy what you are doing (outside of a tutorial). Most people who can actually do what you do, probably aren’t going to make a replica. Most.
If people aren’t using Pinterest for inspiration, as a pin board traditionally is in creative industries, they aren’t likely to be actually producing something either. Just making a social media profile full of “things and stuff” they want. As a previous commenter pointed out, it can be very misleading whether an actual pin is a tutorial, an item for purchase or pattern to purchase after hundreds of people have pinned it.
Anyway, love your blog and how you talk about both projects and the struggles of a small business owner. Thanks for the Octopus tutorial. It was the first thing I made for my daughter when she was 3-months-old and started napping in her crib last year.
I agree with you about why I would pin someone's photo to a DIY board. I'm a visual person who clipped magazine images for year (and still does) in order to remember a particular visual element (a line of stitching, a color combination, an ear shape, etc.). Not to copy, but to incorporate an idea into my own design. I think many, many pinners are in the same boat as us. And others are, as you very rightly say, just creating a "things and stuff" page with no intention to actually make anything. Still, I've noticed quite a few makers feel troubled by seeing their work pinned in this way. That was the impetus for this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.
Great idea! I’ll give it a try next time.
I really needed this today, so thank you! (your two artists experiences was what I needed) Your words are so inspiring and helpful to a newcomer in the pattern making business!
Lisa Press says
Thank you for your blog post today that pointed me to this old post. It helped me to realize that this is a common issue. I have seen my dolls in many Pinterest DIY boards and I don’t feel angry but it often makes me feel worried. This helped me to flip the worry into growing my base of supporters. Thank you!
Oh, that’s awesome. And I totally think that’s the way to think about it.