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Are you a “Copycat”? Although imitation may be the greatest form of flattery, there’s a fine line between imitation and infringing the intellectual property rights of another.

     Earlier this year, Amanda Kingloff wrote about copying, inspiration and ‘common courtesy’ within the crafting community (Craft Copycats: The Line Between Inspiration and Stealing).  Amanda began her article with beautiful photos of what appeared to be nearly identical tassel garlands. However, one photo showed the tassels by Confetti Systems, who had,  five years prior, designed the garlands, while the others showed garlands made by, respectively, an unaffiliated Etsy seller, Martha Stewart and Oriental Trading.

     Right along these same lines, last month,  wrote about a rift between Taylor Swift and some Etsy crafters who were selling products incorporating Swift’s trademarks (Jacquilynne’s article is hereBusiness Insider article re is here). For example, Taylor Swift owns a trademark registration for the mark “SPEAK NOW” for goods including tee-shirts:

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While likely well-meaning fans, some Etsy sellers began using Swift’s marks on their own products, like the tee-shirt below:

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     According to Jacquilynne’s article and Business Insider, Swift wasn’t pleased that Etsy was hosting shops selling the allegedly infringing products. Although it appears that Swift didn’t sue Etsy or any shop owners yet, she did send out some cease and desist letters. As often happens in these cases, no one left happy. Taylor Swift likely felt that the unauthorized products were making a buck at her expense, or worse yet, damaging her trademarks. The crafters/fans on the other hand, likely felt perplexed and upset that their ‘fan wear’ was being targeted.

     Apparently, Fox, who owns rights to the Firefly series, similarly tried to put a stop to Etsy shops selling replica “Jayne Cobb hats” that appeared in the Firefly series.

     Smaller crafters and businesses aren’t likely to have the resources to pursue potential infringers to the extent that Fox or Taylor Swift are able.  But infringing products pose no less of a problem for those smaller businesses. Infringing products cut into a company’s revenue and have the potential to saturate the market with inferior products that compete with the original version. Unfortunately, the problem is often deepened when potential infringers characterize the original artist’s enforcement efforts as and act of greed or heavy-handedness- whether the original artist is  a Fox employee or a struggling artist or a small business owner.

This is illustrated by a quote from Jennifer Priest that appeared in Amanda Kingloff’s article:

I have found copies of my work actually submitted by other designers for publication in a national magazine,” Priest told us. “You have to have your own threshold for when you will take action otherwise you will get so wrapped up in policing your images that it can take time away from running your business.

     Educating the public about intellectual property and artists’ rights is a long-term and ongoing mission, but Amanda Kingloff’s article has some ready “common courtesy” advice that can be relayed to potential ‘copycats:’

  • When you use someone’s photo, leave watermarks intact and provide a link with the site’s name (that gives them a nice SEO hit).

    When you share another blogger’s how-to but use your own images, properly credit that idea to the original blogger with a link and the site’s name.

    If you’re just posting a “hey look at this cool craft I made” on Facebook or Instagram, it’s just a nice gesture to high-five the blogger who developed the idea. Tag them in the post to share your inspiration with your pals.

Have a “copycat” story? We’d love to hear yours!

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