I’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…
There 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:
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