Stealing Designs and the “IDEA” of Custom

There is a new thread on Celtic Flame about stealing designs.  A dressmaking mom writes that another mom in her school told her she was wasting her time coming up with her own designs because there was so much to COPY on the internet.  When she first wrote, she alluded to a website that sells embroidery, so I wondered if she might be talking about Taoknitter Arts.

An answer that she just posted to another reply makes me think she is talking about my website.

Big sigh. 

Susan and I have hashed out the pitfalls of posting clear pics of the designs since I started.  She has dealt with this issue far longer than I have, and I respect her viewpoint, her advice and her experience.  I will not bore you, or myself, by re-visiting  the mental gymnastics (complete with teeth gnashing) that helped me arrive at the current presentation of the designs on my website.  If you look at it, I think you get it.

But, I do want to say that I know I take the risk of people copying things.  I have this tendency to believe that all folks are inherently honest and honorable.  I do, routinely, get blind-sided by self-serving idiots with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, and I sometimes finally get really irked by stupidity and mean-spiritedness, but I have yet to see a change in my basic trust.  I now know what it sounds like when Susan shakes her head at me over the phone.

It would make me crazy to try to police things or try to find a more complicated way of managing the designs.  But let me be clear, copying a design is stealing and I am not shy about approaching the thief and making it public if I have to.  I did, by accident, see an exact copy of a dress I made for my daughter.  Susan designed it for us.  The design was never made available, but there it was, perfectly copied on someone else’s dress.  When I contacted the overseas dressmaker, she was great about it, very sorry, and told me that the design had been given to her by the dancer. 

I get contacted rather often by dancers who send me pics of designs from other dresses, even BN dresses, wanting THAT design digitized.  Sometimes I get a design “created by the dancer” only to be led by the dressmaking gods to pics of the EXACT design on a finished dress…that blows my mind.  Once I explain that I will not copy because it is both unethical and illegal, they usually calmly explain that they did not know that and we go forward.  Only once did I not hear back after my refusal…I think that was embarrassment.

I do think most folks either do not know or really do not think about it.  One poster on CF wrote: ” I think the problem is that most people don’t equate “appropriating” someone’s design as stealing because they don’t physically take something.  It isn’t like shoplifting where you actually take something in your hand.

It’s more like cheating on a test.

Ask your friend if she encourages her dd to copy her neighbor’s answers on exams in school. Why not? It is just what she did. She used someone else’s work and passed it off as her own.

Ask her if she’s going to brag about how she aquired her designs – Wow look what I copied off of the internet and I didn’t have to pay for it! If someone asks her where the design came from, is she going to say “Oh I digitized it myself” or something equally evasive. If she’s so proud of her cleverness, why not tell all?

Ask her if she thinks the TC will be happy if she finds out the design was lifted. Is she OK with her school being known as the one where it is OK to rip off other people’s dresses?”

Interesting viewpoint.

Susan made me laugh when she pointed out that truly, the only thing I should worry about is if someone else’s poorly digitized “copy” was thought to be mine!  Now that would be a drag!

There was also a point made by someone about using designs from a site on the internet.  She wrote: “While there are a couple of sites out there that have drawn up several dress designs specifically for irish dancing use, you have to remember then, that your dress won’t be an original. Chances of running into another dancer with the same pattern are slim but just something to keep in mind.

That mind set has never occurred to me!!  Yes, yes, I know that the conversation about whether or not a BN dress is really custom when they re-use designs in part or in whole pops up routinely.  But, it has always been my assumption that each dressmaker brings a totally different perspective to making a dress and so it will be rare that 2 dressmakers will use the same design the same way let alone the same fabrics.  In fact, what I love about my clients is that they always do something I did not envision.  Very often, they ask me to modify the designs by taking something out, putting something else in, taking it apart or trying something new with a piece of something else!  I love it.

Still, I guess that is a concern for some people.  I appreciate that.  And I also thoroughly appreciate my creative dressmaking clients.  Thank you for spurring me on!

I thought that the above might have been a rant…I guess it was just a bit of mental popcorn…

There are a couple of links in this brief post about Copyright Law: Substantial Similarity

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kristine
    Mar 16, 2009 @ 07:59:52

    Well said, Ann. Clearly you won’t let a bad apple ruin the whole crop:) I hop that other mother follows the thread all the way to your blog! Good for her if she wants to try digitizing, (I sure as hell don’t!!) but let her do her own. You work too hard…

  2. Colleen M
    Mar 16, 2009 @ 19:42:44

    I thought the exact same thing when I saw that post. What amazes me is that if someone was going to go through the trouble of copying your design and then “teaching themselves to digitize” why don’t they realize that they would be getting a much better value by actually purchasing your digitized design? I think they speak from ignorance, and when they get to realize just how much work digitizing is, it will put an end to the stealing bug. It’s not worth it. (That is aside from the poor ethics involved.) I don’t think there is a better value out there for folks than purchasing your work to make a dress. In the end it will be evident.

  3. Katherine
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 05:34:21

    I think it is abundantly clear on your website that the designs are for purchase and are not to be copied. You’re being too nice–if they copy, they are willfully stealing. True, they may be telling themselves it’s not wrong, but they MUST know it is just like copying a test as the CF poster noted.
    Not to get into politics, but the confirmation problems this year have pointed out that there are plenty of folks who cheat a little on taxes. I’m sure there are all kinds of other “cheat a little” circumstances. I am sorry to say that I think there are elements of our society that look upon those “cheat a little” situations as a win for the underdog, at no cost.
    I also don’t think you can worry about it too much because if they do go through the pain of digitizing, they will likely mess it up and not do the lovely work you do so in the end, the design will look like a copy, not your original.

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