Inspiration, copying or similar ideas?

Imitation is the sincerest of flattery. Charles Caleb Colton

When does inspiration turn to outright copying?

I’m sure everyone takes inspiration from others ‘…I like how that bail is attached..’ ‘…that way of stone setting would be great with my…’  Classes, workshops, online tutorials, YouTube, magazine projects, books we all see the same projects and as beginners we might try to make the exact project…taking that aside when do you say the line between inspiration and actually copying has been crossed?

I believe different people coming up with similar designs is fairly common, after all we all start somewhere using the same materials and the same tools.  Think about disc cutters and dapping tools or form folding ala Charles Lewton Brain, so many similar designs come from these techniques and tools.

Further, when you come across a member of your community who has crossed the line, what is the appropriate action?

On one of my bi-weekly, time wasting cruises through an online shopping site’s metalwork ring catagory I saw some pieces that I  recognized by style; I admire the seller’s creativity and execution of the work.  However, upon closer inspection of the new pieces  I noticed…it was an entirely different seller.

I brought up both shops and looked at pieces side by side jaw dropped,  literally dropped.   It’s not that the pieces are similar, some pieces are  in fact almost identical.  If it wasn’t for the marker’s mark on the back I think anyone {but the actually makers} would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the pieces.  I checked the shop & sales dates it’s pretty clear who was the originator, I was so disappointed to find the person I admired is the imitator.

Do we let the parties work it out themselves?  Should the imitator be outed, shamed and shunned?  Or, do we just look the other way and pretend we don’t see it?  As a community, are we obligated to watch out for each other?  Personally, I feel the fool – I complimented this person on many occasions – geez, I actually gushed about the work…I ‘m feeling a tad bitter.


~ by khmetalwork on October 28, 2009.

11 Responses to “Inspiration, copying or similar ideas?”

  1. I would notify the original artist. It’s such a hard subject to bring up. Especially with multiple examples of copying. but I think it is very important for the original artist to know.

    I had a design that i made up recently that I thought was pretty original, and then after searching some of my favorite ETSY artists, I realized that my design was VERY similar to another artist’s work. I had to make the decision not to make my design any more even though I hadn’t seen their design before creating mine.

    It’s a matter of integrity I think. As you mentioned, it can be common for artists to have similar styles and designs and to seek inspiration from each other. But the line of imitation should not be crossed.

  2. This is so hard….for me to sort out in my head. So hard. I have always believed that there is nothing new under the sun, HOWEVER – sometimes it is really really hard to not believe that certain occurrences are not too similar to be coincidental.

    I personally have never contacted an artist and said – someone is copying your work – I guess there is always that little nigggling thought in the back of my head that provides a doubt. But now that I am typing this – I wonder if its a ‘reasonable doubt’ or just wishful thinking….or my not having the balls to step up and call it what it is.

    I have recently made the decision to stop browsing so much just for this reason. #1, I don’t want to have to tell someone that someone else is copying their work and #2, I am concerned that too much of someone else may creep into my own work. I need to look within, take from what I see around me in daily life, the personal design preferences that God has put within me – and let it begin to evolve and come out in my work. I guess ‘finding my voice’.

    I really don’t know.

    I have had my bubble burst recently as well. I seriously admired someone’s work – and now… just falls flat. On top of that, I think the other thing that concerns me is that there is a virulent mob mentality that forms in some groups….where I see a lot of bashing the original artist etc as a means of uplifting the one of their own….its scary. And sad. So now my bubble is burst in an even larger way. I can’t understand why there is so little empathy, or even basic respect, for the originating artist even IF the designs were not copied.

    OK, I’ve said too much…..

  3. Thank you both for your comments.

    Katie, I wouldn’t stop making something because you saw a similar design, that happens. I don’t know how complicated your design was – but think about domed disc earrings or irregularly shaped chain links. I don’t think there is a ‘that’s my design’ possibility.

    Janice, I hear you on looking within, it’s my struggle too. I thought I finally found a ‘this is mine’ as it related to my ‘faux filigree’ earrings and rings, but looking around I see the same designs…c’est la vie

  4. It really is hard. Even just recently I came up with some simple designs for a bracelet and earrings. They weren’t exactly complicated, just wire wrapped around another with some dangling beads, well, wouldn’t you know it, someone has already done something very similar and they contacted me about it. There are certain things that are just going to happen naturally. But I also feel that there are original takes on some designs. I have been having a hard time creating things lately for fear that it will come “close” to what some other people create. But I guess I need to just get over that and say as you “c’est la vie.”

    I don’t think I have contacted another artist about copying or anything like that either. What do you say? In teaching classes I knew right off that anything I teach is going to be reproduced time and time again and I had better get over myself when it comes to my designs because they won’t be just mine. 😉 But I must say, I love it when my students come in with a new take on the technique I have just taught them. That is the BEST!

    Very interesting thoughts! Thanks for posting about it.

  5. Thanks KH for the encouragement. I should re-consider my choice of not posting my item. After all, it’s not exact. It’s just similar lines and techniques. I’m not quite sure what I’ll end up doing with the piece. I know that I’d never blatently copy someone else’s work. It’s just an added motivation to keep challenging myself even more! Ah, the life of an artist. Always evolving!

  6. KH – It’s such a loaded topic right? I don’t even know what to say. I do not like the mob mentality that takes place on either side of the issue. The alleged originator gets their mob to tar and feather and the friends of the alleged imitator gets their mob to flay the alleged originator. Having been allegedly copied at least once(I think so because this particularly person seemed to take a little from shop A and a little from shop B) I just try to move on and brush it off. I do this for me so that I won’t become bitter and then never want to show anyone anything I make.

    I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and think they haven’t copied but I have had my moments where I lash out the alleged copiers after people have contacted me to point them out. I’m getting better at that letting go thing. *smile*

    The truth of the matter is we are all trying to recreate the beautiful things that surround us in nature so I try to hold fast to that.

  7. It’s a really touchy subject and generally I do let it go without comment. The incident that spurred my post was just so blatant, in your face: I’m copying what are you going to do about it. I find it really sad and I think it brings us all down a notch.

    That being said, I’m going to heed the advice from all my jewelry friends and move on.

  8. I think Nina and I are very similar on this. There is the old argument that we should just keep creating and we’ll always be one step ahead of the imitators – that is what I try to do. Just keep moving forward and not pay too much attention to the hoopla that goes on.

    The other thing I try to remember is that we’re not necessarily in competition directly with each other.

    The other thing I try to keep in mind, for me, I’d rather make friends than enemies.

    Here is a disturbing event through, regarding John Unger and his gorgeous firepits (most of you have probably seen him on Etsy and on 1000Markets)

    Now THAT is sad.


  9. I agree with pretty much everything here.
    And I also second KH’s sugestion that Katie shouldn’t remove her item since it was thought up “in a vacuum” so to speak, and only found something similar later. On the etsy forum thread that lead me to this blog, there’s a person whose avatar shows a piece that is very similar to a couple items in my shop. But I feel that the techniques used in both of our pieces is so common place, that I’m sure they’re not copying me, and I know I didn’t copy them. Plus I have enough other work in my shop that IS unique (much as it can be), that I feel it’s not worth worrying about.

  10. Janice,

    thank you for the link about John Unger.

  11. You are mighty welcome my friend!

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