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Is Copying Someone’s Creative Work a Crime or a Compliment?

By Deborah Lambson September 05, 2021 Lifestyle

As a watercolourist and a glass bead artist I’ve been on plenty of art discussion forums over the years. At least once a year the subject of copying comes up, usually because an artist has found that their work has been compromised in some way.

I firmly believe that we all copy. I mean, what is original, really? Yet there is a vast difference between an outright copy and using an image or an idea as a springboard for your own version.

My particular art happens to be making handmade glass beads. I’ve been crafting them for more than 10 years now. I’ve become a professional just by virtue of years under my belt.

I have a love of subtleties using color and pattern. I like to look closer for beauty, and I hope that my glass beads urge people to do that. If you were to categorize the genre, I guess I would like to be settled under Organics.

Although that suggests freeform and lack of design, I think my beads have my own ‘stamp’ on them, and I’ve been told that my work is identifiable. My style is rather safe from the copiers out there. My work comes from my soul; my talent – if any – lies in color combinations and texture combinations.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

You might say, it’s a bead. What is there to ‘copy’? You’re right, the round bead is not, as far as I know, under any copyright. Yet each of us has their own style. Some far beyond simply ‘organic’ but very specific designs.

Some years ago, there was a wonderful glass artist who began to wind glass onto her mandrel into the shape of a seahorse – a highly detailed seahorse. She began with her own pulled and twisted rod of several colors of glass that could be used as the spine of her horse, and it went from there.

Highly imaginative, it was one of a kind. It was like no other sea horse bead our group of glass artisans had ever seen before. It took skill and patience and so, not easy for the average glass artist to copy.

She began to command quite high prices per bead and for the span of a couple of years she was the queen of this type of bead.

Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time until someone else spied a look alike – very alike. It was a seahorse bead that was not created by the original artist. It was a copy in every way, right down to the specific twist design that detailed the spine of the bead. It was in fact this detail that made it unique.

Part of me was outraged for my fellow artisan who had developed this design through her own long hours of diligence, patience and skill. But then I began to put myself in the other artist’s shoes.

She was new, just learning the craft. She also underwent hours of patience and practice to advance her abilities. It was no small feat to craft this type of bead.

However, this second artist sold them, and because she herself knew they weren’t ‘as good’ as the original, she offered them for less. She undercut the original artist with her own design.

The ‘crime,’ in this case, was not just that she copied to the letter, offering nothing new or different in any way. It was that she sold them and did not credit the design to the original artist – a simple kindness in the artworld that is often overlooked.

Should We Give Up Using Social Media?

How do we use social media as a means of selling art without risking our work getting copied? It’s simple, you can’t. If it eases your mind, you can put your copyright symbol across the face of the image.

The sad fact is that anyone with any photoshop skills will be able to remove the symbol and use your image for their own purposes if that’s their intention. Once you upload that photo of your work, that image is no longer in your control.

Artists who copycat other artists are risking their own gifts. They’re relying on someone else to do the hard work. That hard work is the very thing that is necessary to create true art that speaks from the soul to the soul.

Art, whether it’s been created with paint, clay, glass or other materials, is literally, the unspeakable, translated into physical, using line, paint and color. In my opinion, any copy is void of that soul and is just a hollow replica without meaning.

Make your art, post your art and don’t waste time worrying that you may be copied. If it should happen, take it as a grand compliment and continue learning, growing and running faster.

Jazz musician Louis Armstrong said it best, “A lotta cats copy the Mona Lisa, but people still line up to see the original.”

If you are an artist or writer, have you had any experience of someone copying your work? Do you think that copying someone’s idea is a crime or a compliment? Please share your thoughts and experiences below!

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The Author

Deborah's glass beads and jewelry have been sold throughout the world. Her jewelry is in galleries in both Canada and the United States. Work can be viewed on her website Proud of her strong Canadian roots, Deborah and her husband lived overseas for 7 years. They enjoyed extensive travel, experiencing different cultures. She now resides in El Paso, Texas.

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