What does being copied look like?

It's been quite some time since I tackled the ugly topic of copying. I suppose I have developed a tough skin over the years as I have watched my style (a style I have developed over the past 11 years) be appropriated and emulated by many people. What can one do when their style is imitated? Not too much. And I realize this. I also realize that now and then it is possible to make things that look like other's work when that was certainly not the intention. I have been there myself. I have made things inadvertently that are similar to someone else's work because we may have owned the same stamp or used the same technique in exactly the same way. It happens.
 But when someone makes pieces that are identical in every way to mine I am completely within my right to speak up. And when that person has a history of following my work very closely I have no doubt that their actions are intentional. 

Let's take a look, shall we? 

The blue pair on the left were made by me over four years ago. The green pair on the right where made recently by someone who has copied me. Coincidence? I don't think so. You see, this person has a history of closely following my work. She has written to me on two occasions: the fist time she was asking if she could copy a necklace I made since I was no longer selling on Etsy. The second time, which was only in September, was her asking me if I would mentor and give her advice on where to sell her work. She has also very recently purchased from me. I had ignored her in the past, as I do with most people who I feel are emulating my work too closely. I try not to be distracted with such people because it is upsetting to me. It was only by accident when I was looking around on Pinterest the other day that I came across a board that was filled with my jewelry and a photo of my mold making process. Also on that board was the work of someone making pieces that look very much like mine. I clicked and it led me to an Etsy shop where I saw the earrings shown above.

The rest of her shop is filled with jewelry that is very much done in my style. Some of the designs are identical to ones that I have made for years. Since I sometimes use objects that are readily available to the public to make molds I realize that there isn't much I can do when someone tries to do the same thing with it. But when I alter a texture or stamp into something new, something completely my own, I will speak up. And that is what I did. I wrote this person a very calm email asking them to please stop making two designs of earrings that are in their shop. They are even making ear wires that are the same design as the ones I have made for my work for many years. It is painfully obvious that this person is trying to make work that looks just like mine.

What did she say? Nothing. I haven't heard from her but I have heard from her lawyer. You see, apparently it is I who is in the wrong! She hasn't done anything wrong, according to her lawyer, but if I go public with her client's name then I may be sued for slander. So let me get this straight...this person is concerned that if her name gets out as being a copycat it could hurt her business and make her look bad and that would be MY fault. So really, it's my fault that she copied me in the first place, by that logic. 

Anyhoo, a quick look around the internet and I easily discovered that her lawyer is more than just a lawyer. She is good friends with the copycat. She is a potter. And she makes jewelry. And that jewelry looks remarkable similar to my style. Imagine that.
I was pretty amused to discover that this lawyer has a shop on Etsy that I was already familiar with. In fact, I used to think that her shop and the shop of her copycat friend were actually the same person since their styles are so identical and they live in the same city. But nope! Mystery solved. They just work together, share molds, emulate other people's work, have no imagination...

The lawyer said that what her friend did was not copying because she used a brass stamping that is commercially available to make the mold from which the earring pieces were derived. By that logic it could be said that a jewelry maker who buys commercially available beads and findings can copy the work of another jewelry maker simply because they were able to buy the same supplies. We all know that is not true. It's what you do with the materials. And what you do with the materials makes it yours. 

What gets me the most in all of this is the lack of artistic integrity. Why in the world would any artist would want to make things that look just like someone else's work? For the life of me I cannot figure that out. I suppose that is the difference between an artist and someone who simply knows how to make things. 

Back to the issue at hand. This copycat is concerned that I am going to name her publicly and potentially harm her business. I don't need to do that. She has done all the work herself. When she chose to make jewelry that looks identical to mine she opened herself up to being discovered. Anyone who knows my work would spot her a mile away, and they already have. People know who she is without me having to say one word as to her identity. I guess she didn't really think that one out.

All I have asked of her is to remove the two earring designs in question. That is all. Instead of doing that she has gotten her lawyer friend to threaten me and try to make me feel as though I am the one who has done something wrong. What am I hoping to gain from all this? I don't want to sue her. I had no intention of outing her and humiliating her. I just asked that she stop making the earrings in question. But instead she had to have her lawyer friend threaten me. That is not the actions of an innocent person. And I won't be bullied into not defending my work!

One last note, the lawyer has actually given me permission to use her name. Her exact words are: "I am quite comfortable with my situation (sorry, not even a little bit ashamed) and if it makes you feel better, you can use my name and complain about me to whomever you want." 
 Her name is Marsha Taubenhaus.


Gaea said…
I won't leave expletives on your lovely blog, but I am thinking them and saying them out loud for you. This happens more than people realize and it is sad for all involved. There is a special place in hell for them both. Your lovely work speaks for itself. I've seen the work in question. The disparity in style between their pottery and jewelry is quite apparent. Stolen. Period. End of story. Well done for you. You are eloquent and to the point. I have your back.
I have a giant hug for you.. I think you got this.. you have explained everything in your blog post so I have no advice that I can offer different than what you already know about the situation and yourself. The only thing we can be hopeful is that people read your blog and purchase your items directly now that they know too.
I really don't understand why the response was from a lawyer instead of the person - a one on one - a dialogue that perhaps you both could have figured something out amicably. Why can't people just figure things out TOGETHER?

Take some comfort in knowing you handled it properly and had good intentions..

Kathleen said…
I dont know where these folk get off. It's hard enough making a design unique and developing your own style. You could ask your local business adviser, if you have one, for information on taking this further. Asking politely obviously aint working. Defend your property! Ask us customers for backup - will gladly provide it! :D
elisabeth said…
So sorry to hear this - yuck! The copy cat's work couldn't come close to yours.
Sigh... so sorry as I know how this feels and seen how stressed out some artists get when this happens. There's all kinds of cliches that these copiers will employ, but it comes down to no originality or integrity. I can sense the type of people you're dealing with and ultimately they're not happy passionate people.

You continue to be you with your beautiful work and those of us that appreciate original work will continue to support you and others in that vein.

I don't know what can be done about the copying, but for your peace of mind I would turn around and just look forward. Your post informs others of what is going on and then hopefully the right purchase choices are made.

Thank you for writing this thoughtful post.
Elaine said…
Despicable! I think that sums it up. What does a copycat stand to gain, except to have to look over his or her shoulder all the time.
Anonymous said…
That's horrible! And right, you have pegged the difference between an artist and a person that knows how to make things. They copy and are fine with it. An artist is never comfortable with copying.
Marsha Taubenhaus said…
I think your readers should understand the process you and she used on the piece you are complaining about. It is the same process all of us use when making that particular style of jewelry:

1. We find a commercially available COPY of a vintage brass stamping and purchase that COPY.

2. We make a mold (i.e., COPY) of the stamping.

3. We fill the mold with clay.

4. If the stamping was large, we cut it into constituent parts and make several earrings out of it.

5. We fire and glaze it.

The original part of the work is in the glazing, or if the molded piece is used for a larger, original design (I love some of your pieces where you do that, BTW). The rest is all derivative.

Since we are all making porcelain jewelry from brass stampings, and probably buying those stampings from the same sources (easily found on Etsy and other sites), it is inevitable that are all making very similar, and in some cases the same, pieces. Some of us are better at it than others (I count myself as one who is not very good at it! It takes a lot of patience, not my strong suit).

For example, late last winter I made and posted this piece from a stamping:


a couple of months later, you posted these:


Are they virtually the same thing? You betcha. Would I accuse you of 'stealing' my idea. Absolutely not. NEITHER of us can claim credit for this idea. The only thing we can claim credit for is our glazing (and in this instance, I like yours better than mine!).

The problem with the internet is that readers often get only one side of a story. I hope you don't mind my hijacking your blog to let your readers know that in this case, there are two sides to the story.
Anonymous said…
Nancy is very clear on which items are being copied. ONLY the two that she altered and changed to make her own. Nothing else. The copier chose to to the same alteration, copying what Nancy did. It is crystal clear to me that Nancy's work has been stolen.
I am a fan and great admirer of your work ! So sorry this happened ! Although I adore your work I would not think of copying, frankly, I do not have time to get all of my own ideas made !! It's a very very small minded person you are dealing with ! Thank goodness she did not make a mold of your original sculpture !!
Round Rabbit said…
Your comments, Marsha, only continue to illustrate how little your comprehend about what exactly your client has done. The glaze is not the only thing to make someone's work their own. The IDEA, the DESIGN, the CONCEPT are what make a design ours. You client did not come up with those ideas on her own. She copied what I had done. The fact that her glaze is a different color is inconsequential. I have made those earrings in DOZENS of colors over the years. Some VERY similar to what your client has used. So save that argument. It's lame. And as for your shell earrings that you made last winter? I made them over four years ago. https://www.etsy.com/transaction/29033803?

Marsha Taubenhaus said…
my point exactly. You used the shells, I used the shells. Neither of us was copying the other. We were both "copying" the stampings! I wish we could have a genuine dialog about this complex issue, instead of the ad hominem attacks. Oh well. I've done my best.
flowers said…
That is why I learned how to carve my own images, and found a place to make my own stamp plates. Because I though what if I made something with a similar image. What if someone said I copied. How sad, you know when someone is copying you. What a way to justify copying someone's idea. Derivative work, ummmm...funny.
Round Rabbit said…
You sound so nice and reasonable when you post to my blog, Marsha. Nothing like your last email where you mocked my work for being derivative and said that you like your friend's work better. Or how you didn't care if your work was derivative because that's what happens when someone puts their work on the internet. I agree that this style of work is derivative. It's derivative of MY work and MY style that I created many years ago.
Unknown said…
You can't steal what's not yours LOL. And I have no dog in this race.
Anonymous said…
As much as I love rabbit's work...this is not copying in my opinion...if the stamp/design is readily available how COULD it be? Many artists are inspired by others work...she noted two things that were similar...if only two things are similar I would even go so far as to say your following her designs, either.
Round Rabbit said…
Yes, Flowers, that is always a good idea. My molded work represents only a portion of my complete body of work. Many of my designs are my own be they in the form of texture plates, stamps, carvings... I happen to love the fine detail of brass stampings and antique buttons and that is why I use, and will always use them, in my work.
Susanm said…
"I used shells...you used shells." Talking this argument to its logical conclusion, there's no such thing as art forgery or copyright theft. Van Gogh paints sunflowers and if I happen to paint them in the same style - well they're just sunflowers. Of course, this is totally absurd. While the internet makes it easier to copy someone else's work, but it also makes identifying copycats a snap. I'm going to vote with my wallet and spend my hard-earned cash on original work.
Anonymous said…
Marsha, are you saying that if two artists buy the same type of paper and cut the same design out of the paper neither 'owns' it because it is derivative of the original product -- the paper? That is absurd.

That is like saying that a painter can copy another painter because they happen to be using the same pre-stretched canvas.

I believe the argument here is over the design it self -- the structure of the piece. According to what you are saying there is no issue here... if that is true -- why do we see companies like Black Hills Gold defend their designs legally when others make knock-offs of their leaf designs?
Round Rabbit said…
Anonymous, would you still feel the same way if someone copied a pair of earrings that someone made? Let's say they purchased all the same beads, arranged them in the exact same way and then put them on the exact same ear wires. That would be considered copying. Just as this is copying.
flowers said…
Don't get me wrong. I am not telling you what to do. I am saying what I had to do. After talking to a lawyer about using commercially available supplies, I contacted the original artist of the items I wanted to use and got their permission in writing. I was told this was necessary because they still held copyright. For any stamps I used I would only use angel stamps. Or Dover clip art, they are easy to work with on this copyright stuff. I used to use a certain cookie stamp, until they decided that they didn't want you selling any work created with their stamps. I will use the original stamps I brought before the change. All in all I just think what has happened to you is in poor taste.
Anonymous said…
I've been following your feed on Facebook regarding the copying issue. Yesterday I was feeling very sorry that you were placed in a situation like this, but today I read your blog post and was feeling something like guilt.

The middle of your blog post sounded like me. I purchase your work (the first purchase was about 3 years ago), I follow you on social media, I pin from your blog on Pinterest and I dabble in pottery at the local community center. I also collect the work of Mary Harding, Jeff Campana, Lee Wolfe and Todd Pletcher and pin their work and process on Pinterest.

However, I do not sell anything I make and I do not set out to copy your work or style.

With a full time job that affords me the disposable funds to collect pottery, I only have two hours a week in class to work with clay. It might take 20 years to find my voice at that rate, if I even have one. What I do have is an hour or so a day to scour the Internet and try to learn all I can. Your blog has been very helpful in that regard.

What your post got me thinking is that maybe you don't want your work or process shared by those of us playing in clay. Maybe people like me posting your process on Pinterest is perpetuating the issue of copying. That got me to thinking that maybe I should remove those pins.

But it also got me thinking about your style and what you keep referring to as "familiar" jewelry. I've never tried to make jewelry from clay, but if I pressed a vintage button into clay to make a mold, executed a round earring from that mold and glazed it in a translucent glaze, would you consider that a bad copy of your style?

I'm sorry to ask such a naive question, but as someone who collects artisan work and dabbles as a hobbyist, an open dialog about how you would like your process treated on Pinterest and what you consider a "familiar" style in regards to vintage stampings would be helpful.

And I'm very sorry for the exact copy above, that is ridiculous even to someone with as little knowledge as myself.

Heather Haviland
Sacramento, CA
Sherrie zeitlin said…
It is atrocious that this happens in every area of the arts.
It is a tough one to contend with, live with, accept and to just walk away from when there is nothing else one can do.
When I taught college this happened all the time. A colleague sent me an article recently in a major magazine asking how did I get my work in.....I said you didn't look at the name it's not mine.
I always try to look at something Hamada said when confronted with this in Japan.
When we are both dead and gone his best work will be attributed to me and my worst work to him.
It does not solve the issue it only helps to settle the soul.
Unknown said…
Susanm and Anonymous,
Thanks for asking substantive questions. No, I don't think that if both of them used the paper they would end up with the same product. If Nancy had made an original stamping, and used that stamping to make the earrings, and the other person copied that stamping, I would consider that intellectual property theft.

However, that's not what Nancy is complaining about. She is saying they both used the same commercially available stamp, but that she cut out the stamping in an original way, and that by using the same cut-out, the other person was stealing from her. I don't agree. The cut-out is simply a small part of a larger pattern, it is not altered in any way. I simply don't believe that merits the outrage that is being expressed.

And Nancy, I was not mocking or belittling your work. I merely said that as between the two examples of the two sets of earrings, I personally prefer the glaze that she used, although (as I said in the email) yours are also quite lovely. Glazing is very much a question of personal preference. I tend to like glazes that have different hues and colors, and you tend to use glazes (or underglazes) that are all one color. No offense intended.
Round Rabbit said…
Thank you for your comment, Heather. First of all, no, I have no problem with people learning from my work. I have no problem with people making things that are similar to my work. The problem is when they start selling it.

As I have mentioned I came to terms a long time ago with the fact that people were emulating my style and selling their work. I am sure you can imagine what it might feel like to have something you have poured your heart and soul into so easily taken from you and viewed as fair game. I don't like it but I tolerate it because there is nothing I can do about it. As artists we all want to be original. We want our work to be fresh. And that is what I have worked tirelessly for the past 11+ years to achieve. When someone takes what you have developed and portrays it as their own ideas it just flat out hurts. There is a lot of my soul in my work. It is not just simply a job, it is an extension of who I am.

I can't stop people from making jewelry that looks like mine. but I can speak up when they copy something exactly. If this were about writing it would be called plagiarism. If this was about a t-shirt that a graphic designer made using clip art it would be called theft. If this were about a beaded necklace made in an identical fashion using the same beads and findings it would be called copying. It is not hard to understand. I have not asked this person to stop making jewelry altogether but I AM asking her to stop making pieces that are identical copies of mine. I don't think that is an unreasonable request.

And the fact that I use some commercially available textures to make my molds from is irrelevant. Artists have used such devices for centuries. It does not somehow make it ok to copy what I do with those designs.

I'm sorry for getting so off track here. Bottom line is that I have no problem with people learning from and emulating my work. I have taught people my techniques in the past and have even contemplated doing a book. But I would encourage those people to take what they learn from me and use that knowledge to make something that is their own.

I hope that answered your question.

Kim Phillips said…
If both the blue and green pieces up top were made from purchased molds, I don't see what the beef is about, because neither one is original, both are derivative. I was amused, however, that Marsha's shell earrings are displayed on an image of a Modigliani painting, so the presentation isn't original, either. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Modigliani_8.jpg ... This or that glaze on a purchased mold...is that really something to get your panties in a twist about? With pieces that similar, both on Etsy, it's really about who is the better marketer. P.S. I'm an artist and have been ripped off a few times, by exact copies of original designs.
Round Rabbit said…
Once again, the earrings were not made from a purchased mold.
Jenn Grover said…
This "lawyer" is wrong. Time for a copyright lawyer, Nancy! They would have a hay-day with your case.

"...that's what happens when someone puts their work on the internet..." That clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of copyright law. I have done a lot of research into copyright infringement and the Nancy is clearly in the right in this situation. The courtesy she extended by writing a polite letter before seeking legal actin was obviously wasted on this person, but at least Nancy can sleep at night.

Round Rabbit said…
And once more: I make all of my own molds and always have. My flickr account shows countless photos of my mold making going back years. The person who has copied me has one of these photos pined on Pinterest. Even she knows I make my own molds.
Round Rabbit said…
And, incidentally, if anyone would like to learn how to make their own molds you can reference my Summer 2009 article in Belle Armoire Jewelry magazine entitled, "Vintage Inspired Jewelry." In that article I give a tutorial on just how to do it.
Round Rabbit said…
I need to fix the title of that article I reference. It's proper name is "Vintage Inspired PORCELAIN Jewelry."
Nicole Hanna said…
It does indeed merit, if not outrage, at the very least some mild disgust. According to the copyright office itself, a process cannot be protected. The stamping, the molding, the glazing are processes anyone can use. But during the process, she altered the stamp, which constitutes an original design. And design IS protected. And that you, as a lawyer, copy in the same manner as the unnamed offender, is a laughably obvious conflict of interest here.

But let's put aside the legality. What we have here, in the copying of the original work, is an example of, at the very least, lazy art which showcases a lack of integrity and originality and represents a business person with questionable practices.

I have no horse in this race. I don't know anyone here and happened upon the post in my newsfeed. But I am a jewelry artist, and the copying you are attempting to defend is, quite frankly, a depressing example of entitlement in the artistic world today.
Holly Young said…
You said it perfectly when you defined the difference between an artist and someone who just knows how to make stuff!
Unknown said…
I buy from this amazing artist! People who copy...there's a name for it. Worked for an extremely well known, long established bead artist and had the privilege of meeting and getting to be friends with nationally, well known designers and artists. It's incredible what these amazing people, what happens between the initial idea and the finished product. COPYING OTHER ARTISTS NEEDS TO STOP. It stops within the community of these artists. Don't be threatened, stand up and fight! As one wonderful post stated, legions are behind all of you! Ask and your army will march! Be strong and thank you for all my BEAUTIFUL pieces!
Anonymous said…
I find it extremely odd that a NY attorney would openly argue her point on a public blog or are you an imposter Marsha Taubenhaus? I also find it extremely odd that you don't realise what your friend has done wrong. Yes it might be a commercially available stamp but this stamp has been modified by the creator of the original earrings which your friend has then COPIED to exact detail. A genuine artist does not have to copy other people's work as their mind is full of ideas of their own.
Patty said…
Despicable and sad. And so bizarre that someone reportedly in an artistic profession seems to have none of the creative strengths that true artists are known for. I hope you succeed in your quest to stop them.
Lori Anderson said…
It takes a lot of guts to stand up for yourself. People are so quick to make mincemeat of anyone who does so. I realize people use same molds/beads/glass rods/gemstones, but it comes down to INTENT. And from reading, knowing your copier follows you and has bought from you, it's hard for me not to see intent.

I hoard your pieces, Nancy. I think I should use one in my Bead Hoarders Blog Hop to show support. Yes.

Popular Posts