copyright

inspiration vs copying

AdobeStock_44979491.jpegI’d like to think that people think of me as a generous artist.  I openly share my techniques in my classes, books and magazine articles, share images of my artwork both in progress and finished, create and share free projects for followers to download, recommend books, tools and supplies that I like and use and share where I buy them.  I give away a lot of my knowledge and experience for free and I’m happy to do it because I remember when I first started out how hard it was at times to find my way.  So I like to try to make things a little easier for others and like I said, I’m happy to do it.  In my last book “Colorful Fabric Collage” I walked the reader through all the steps they need to create their own quilt using the techniques I used to create my Tutti Frutti series of quilts.  I even provided several projects that they could blow up and recreate exactly as I had made the originals.  I was happy to do it because I know how hard it is for some quilters, especially beginners, to design their own quilts and I wanted to give them a leg up.  But I can’t give everything away!  I need to keep some things for myself because I’m a working artist.  This isn’t a hobby for me, I write books and magazine articles, I teach workshops both in person and online and I exhibit my art.  I work hard at all of this every single day because I love doing it which brings me to the point of this blog post…

Over the course of the last week I’ve had two instances where people have used images of my quilts in their projects without my consent which is why now when you view the images of my quilts on my website, you’ll notice that I’ve watermarked the images.

Here’s the bottom line: it’s never okay to use an image, any image that you find on the internet and use it for any reason without asking for permission first.   If you can’t get permission because you don’t know where the image came from or you can’t track it back to the original source, or you can’t get the artist who made it to answer your email – you can’t use it.   That means you can’t go to my website, download an image of one of my quilts, print it out on fabric and make a pillow to put on your sofa without asking me first.  I hear you saying “but I’m the only one who is going to see it so why do you care?”

I care because it’s my quilt and you didn’t ask me for permission to use it.  I own the quilt, the design of the quilt and the photo on my website.  On the bottom of every page of my website you’ll find the following statement: “All rights reserved.  All content on this site property of Sue Bleiweiss.  Do not copy or reproduce in any form for any reason without written permission from Sue Bleiweiss.”  I’ve put that there for a reason – I’m simply asking for the courtesy of being asked for permission to use my work.  I may be planning to submit the quilt in question to an exhibit or maybe I just want to reserve my rights to the quilt because I’m going to turn it into a pattern or include it in a new book.  I wouldn’t deny anyone the right to make a few dollars to pay the rent from their creations so don’t I deserve the same consideration?

In another instance this past week, someone read my book, made a replica of one of the quilts on my website instead of using one of the patterns in the book and then submitted to a quilt guild show.  The quilt that they copied was not included in the book and on the label of the quilt at the show they listed my book as “colorful quilts of whimsy” by Sue Bleiweiss which is not the title of the book.  In this instance the quilt was made by a teen so I don’t blame them but the guild (and the parent) should have been more diligent about checking sources and making sure that permission had been granted to copy my quilt.   So you’re probably thinking “well who cares, it was made by a teen for a local guild show and only local people saw it so what’s the problem?”

There are two problems: First is that the quilt was photographed and put on facebook by someone who recognized the quilt and my name on the label and the maker did not ask me for permission to copy my quilt.  I love that a young quilter was so inspired by my work that they wanted to use my techniques to create a quilt for a show!  But if ever there was a teachable moment for a parent or a guild this was one.  If they asked would I have given it?  Most likely I would have but I would have liked to have been afforded the courtesy of having been asked first.

Second: It doesn’t matter if it’s a local show, or a pillow on the sofa that nobody is going to see.   It’s a violation of my rights as the originator of the work.  Saying that it doesn’t matter because it’s local show or that nobody is going to see it is like saying it’s only breaking the law if nobody sees you and you don’t get caught.  It is never okay to use or copy someone’s work without their permission!

Now let’s talk a minute about inspiration…

inspiration.jpegThere is no better compliment that I can receive than to receive an email from someone who says “”I was inspired by your quilt and would love to use it as inspiration for a work of my own, can I do that?”.  My answer is always a resounding yes!  I love that people who look at my artwork and take my classes are inspired by what they see and want to use it as a springboard for an original piece of their own.  Maybe they’re inspired by the color palette or the theme or maybe it’s one individual element or shape in the quilt.  I think that’s great!  But there is a big difference between copying and being inspired by.  If you make a replica of one of my quilts on my website and change the colors, that is not being inspired by, that’s copying.  If you can look at the quilt you made and still recognize it as being a derivative of my original quilt, that’s copying.

Here’s my advice when it comes to copying – don’t do it.  Copying won’t make you a better artist and  it won’t make it easier for you to find your own artistic path for one very important reason:

 When you copy and make a replica of someones artwork you’re not actually learning anything.  You don’t know why the artist made the choices they did and how many different scenarios they worked through before they made the decisions that led to the final artwork.  You don’t know all the prep-work that the artist did to prepare to create the artwork – the research, the experimenting, the sampling, the re-working, and the mistakes.  What materials and supplies did they use, what techniques did they try, abandon and finally decide to use and why? All of that is part of the art making process and when you copy, you deny yourself the opportunity to learn and grow.  By skipping all of those steps you will never learn to create your own unique original work.


Here is some further reading on the subject of copyright and art:

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-art-copyright-explained

http://www.arsny.com/copyright-basics/

http://lostquilt.com/protecting-quilts/copyright-infringement/

Update 4/14/17:

Some additional resources for learning more about copyright on the US copyright website:

US copyright website: https://www.copyright.gov/

Frequently asked questions: https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/index.html

Visual arts registration info: https://www.copyright.gov/register/visual.html

30 thoughts on “inspiration vs copying

  1. This is a great post and I agree with all the points you made. I have stumbled across people who have copied my work and it has taken a simple email to inform them of Intellectual Property Theft. I think it is interesting that you already give so much value for free anyway, so I understand your annoyance when people decide to copy. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. Thanks Sue for this great article. I wish all quilt guilds agreed to keep this inspiration vs copyright infringement on their members minds. I am sorry to hear of you and Lisa P Boni having this happen to them.

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  4. Unfortunately its a problem that is not going to go away. All we can do as artists is try to protect our images (which I must do!) and know that anyone who copies is not growing artistically, and therefore will not suceed to create anything new.

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  5. It’s not just the copying of work. I once had an entire summer school copied and taught at another college the following year. Absolutely step by step the same. I know that once you have shared an idea it’s out there and I am really happy with that. It is why we teach. But you do hope for some development of the techniques before someone gets paid for passing them on.

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  6. Here’s my question….I bought a pattern (not yours, so thus is a open questions)…pattern is appliqué, and repeats the pattern several times…12 to be exact if I make as pictured….the pattern cost $22 (huge amt fr a pattern) The pattern came with one copy of what needs to be traced on to steam a seam, etc. id like to copy in order to use myself only, and to make sure I have access to the correct pattern pieces if damaged etc. to trace 12 times or more, I’m afraid I will lose accuracy by the 12th time…and what it I want to make again.

    She has printed on paper, do not duplicate. But honestly I’d like to have a few more copies for myself only and my quilt. Thoughts?

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    • Suzie I don’t think this would be a problem and if it were my pattern I wouldn’t have an issue with you doing that but you should email them to ask. In my classes I always encourage my students to make a tracing of the patterns that I give them and work from the tracing so that they preserve the original pattern if they want to make it again. But I can’t speak for that designer who created the pattern that you’re working with so your best bet is to reach out to them and ask.

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  7. Lots of good points here, Sue! I’m most intrigued by your recommendation that people not copy another artwork because they’re denying themselves the opportunity to grow and learn. I’m not sure whether I agree with that — but it’s definitely something for me to think about. : )

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    • Hi Michelle, when I talk about copying I’m not talking about working from books or patterns. Indeed that is one of the best ways to learn and I absolutely encourage it! But let’s say you want to explore how to make a quilt using just line and space to convey your visual message. You could spend time studying these concepts and their role in art history, sketching and drawing ideas and develop an understanding of how to visually represent them in your own way – time well spent! Or you could just make a copy of one of my quilts in my line and space series. Your result will be a lovely quilt but what have you learned about the concept? You have skipped all the steps that I did before I made the quilt not to mention the time I spent cutting and recutting the lines to get just the right width and the right placement. That’s what I mean when I say you deny yourself a learning opportunity when you copy 🙂

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  8. This was a great post, Sue. Thank you for writing it. And I completely agree, it’s disrespectful not to say that the quilt you made a for a show was sold as a pattern or in a book by someone else… but I think it’s often more that people aren’t aware that they should do so (though you’d assume they do).

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  9. I appreciate you mentioning it as a learning opportunity and wonder what you suggest could the guild or parents have done at an earlier stage? Perhaps inquired if the quilter had written you for permission I suppose. I wonder how the guild could bring up this conversation for the benefit of all members? How do you clarify and educate without shaming? It’s a sticky wicket for sure. Another artist I appreciate (her medium is pen and paper) has a really good video about similar stuff here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV1gkAOMaYY

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    • Sometimes a little shaming is a good thing! Not to the teenager, but to the parents? She shouldn’t be told she’s a terrible person, but she should be told she did something wrong and calmly and clearly educated about why and what to do next time.

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    • Well I don’t think anybody needs to be shamed and I think that in most cases these situations happen because there is a lack of knowledge about copyright and how it applies to an artists work. Bringing this subject up at a guild should be no different than talking about anything else but if they need an opening for it then there are plenty of resources and examples of these situations that they can refer to available on the internet. Talking about it in terms of protecting the guilds own members from having their own copyrights infringed upon is another way to start the conversation. Or reach out to an artist and have them do a talk or lecture at a meeting. “When you know better you do better” and I really think in most of these cases people are just not aware of what the word copyright means and what the consequences to them and the artist are when they ignore it.

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  10. Hi Sue, thank you for setting this out so clearly. I completely empathise – I’ve just had a similar incident today, finding one of my images on Pinterest but with the URL going to a blog with a tutorial! The writer said they tried in vain to trace the original image that inspired their tutorial, but that didn’t stop them posting my image all with their (incorrect) instructions anyway. There’s nothing I can do now to stop the image of my work being linked with their tutorial. I need to make sure I watermark my images, but once someone has made that fatal first step of copying and not attributing, the damage is done.

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  11. Hi Sue, just found you via Kim Thittichai. Totally agree with your post, I’ve seen so many tutors copied including myself. A tutor I have known for many years walked into a quilt store and found a class advertised using all her material and photos and their tutor had just reprinted everything and put their name on! The store owner was mortified and apologised, removed all materials/promos and cancelled the class. It’s left a very bitter taste for her. X

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  12. Sue – I enjoyed your article, the points you make are incredibly important, really it should all start from just the concept of common courtesy and go on from there! I work in a different medium – millinery – but the points you make are just as relevant here too. I would like to post a link to your post on my FB please, too.

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  13. Well said Sue, I agree whole heartedly. I’ve recently had issues myself of a shop copying and running a class from a magazine pattern I did and didn’t credit myself or the magazine.
    I know also that by copying/studying someone’s piece or technique though you are learning your own ways of doing things. I paint so to copy the masters like we see students do in the galleries is a form practice.
    That being said these days we are all contactable 24/7 so there is no excuse or reason that we can’t be asked.

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  14. Sue, It’s because people don’t like being told no that they can’t do something or use something without that persons permission. Use to run into problems teaching classes where grown woman couldn’t understand why they couldn’t share a pattern with their buddies instead of everyone in the class having to buy their own pattern. And, here’s the biggy, catching someone opening a quilt book, using their cell phone to takes photos if all the instructions, yardage needed, patterns and had a fit when we stopped them to tell them they had to delete all those photos and buy the book. But why, I only want the one pattern, not the whole book. Some people just don’t get it and never will!!! I think your thoughts were spot on and not threatening at all!!!

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  16. Thank you for this. I recently had it happen to me, where someone exactly copied a block of mine, then wrote me after the fact to brag about how wonderful everyone thought “her” block was and how honored I should be because “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery .” It’s appalling. May I post a link to your post on my blog?

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  17. Thank you for the well considered and articulate explanation of the issue and the reasons that copying amd disregarding the personal and legal/ethical boundaries are a violation of the artist’s trust and rights.

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    • Here is a point that needs airing. Although copyright requires permission to repeat an artwork, and allows the originator opportunity to bring suit when profit has been lost; dissuading use of images functionally, impairs your ability to earn that income and reduces your visibility among the community. Making a statement near your copyright moniker i.e., for personal use with acknowledgment of the artist. Would give you free advertisement and distribution. This threatening interpretation cuts your nose-to-spite-your-face and alienates your target audience.

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      • Judy I am not intending to be threatening. I am simply reserving my right to be able to choose how my artwork and images are to be used. Putting a blanket statement on my site that says I am allowing for personal use by anyone and everyone may limit my rights in the future should I decide to license my designs for reproduction, use them in a book or for another reason. I am simply protecting my rights as the originating artist. I will add that I very rarely say no to anyone who writes to me and asks for permission to use my artwork or images and I usuallly offer my support, tips and advice to the maker however they need it. But there are situations when I have to say no. I am simply asking for the courtesy of being asked first and I’m not sure why that gets interpreted as threatening or harsh.

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