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

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Client from Hell

(Any former clients of mine who read this, I am NOT talking about any of you! Any folks who were this rude, did not get a dress…and I do thank Susan for keeping the pitch fork in my behind until I came to my senses.)

A dressmaker on the Celtic Flame board asked for perspectives on a situation with a client…a client that should now reside in the “former” category but instead has been allowed to bulldoze her way into the “current and continuing to be rude, condescending, grasping and non-paying” category. As I wrote in my short reply to the original post, this chaps my ass!!!!!

I feel bad for the dressmaker. She has allowed herself to be badgered into this situation…yes, it is her fault. But this happens a lot because the smaller dressmaker does not want to make anybody angry, does not want an idiot client like this to say bad things about her because it might affect her business. I understand that…I bet most, if not all of us understand that. In fact, I’m sure many of us have found ourselves in situations when we are completely taken aback by potential and/or current clients who make the astoundingly condescending assumption that because we are not a BN (big name) that we are there solely to be taken advantage of, to work for nothing, to spend our own money making them happy just so they might pass our name on to other prospective clients….what do they call that crap? Oh yeah, EXTORTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I found the definition of extortion here in this internet law library:

EXTORTION – The use, or the express or implicit threat of the use, of violence or other criminal means to cause harm to person, reputation, or property as a means to obtain property from someone else with his consent. USC 18

The Hobbs Act defines “extortion” as “the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.” 18 U.S.C. S 1951(b)(2).

Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Well it is. The feelings that this behavior from clients brings on are depressing & overwhelming! And it has to be downright mind-blowing when you get clients who are bold enough to actually threaten you with a bad review as I have heard about from dressmakers but thankfully not experienced…I have this image of my head exploding were I ever to be confronted by such subnormality! Where do they get off treating dressmakers so badly?

So what is this behavior?

This current story goes like this (I have made things a bit more obscure to protect the dm, NOT the client who should be locked in the stocks and pelted with rotten eggs): The dressmaker sold a semi-custom dress 3 months ago, an OTR (off-the-rack) that was bought during construction, so it was fitted to the dancer and a couple of time-consuming design enhancements were made at their request at no extra charge. At the final fitting, 2 days before a feis, they asked for another whole “addition” to the dress and that was delivered, also no extra charge. Should have been the end of the story.

The client called not long ago to say she was dissatisfied with the dress as the side panels were not laying flat. She wanted it fixed in less than a week. The dm offered to look at the dress to see what needed to be done, not wanting to have a dissatisfied customer sharing her opinion with all who would listen. The problems were OBVIOUSLY caused by the dancer – an obvious crease line across the panels from being sat in and side panels that were distorted because of the dancer’s particular way of pushing forward with her arms. The dm agreed to take the dress to flatten the panels and pull it up a bit at the side seams to make it harder for the dancer to distort the panels as she danced. Then, the mother says that the (emergency) “addition” was not what she had asked for.

Here is when the dm should have said that seeing as how the “addition” had been thrown in free of charge, if the client wanted a new one, she was going to have to pay for it…and the alterations she was about to do. But she did not. She spent more of her own money, spent valuable time fixing the dress, and gave it all back. At this point, even though our dm had not said up front that there would be charges for her work, an ETHICAL HUMAN BEING would have asked what the charges were. But this piece of work simply took the dress. THEN the dm saw her at a feis, and the client mama from hell and her dancer complained that the “addition” still wasn’t what they wanted -they liked one her friend had better- and they told her how to make it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The dm had one last question for us: “Do you other folks think I have any obligation to spend another day and $20 in materials to make her another gift???”

NOOOO!!!!!

Here’s another: The dressmaker spent hours consulting with an entire family on a dress. (Right there, Susan would have fired the clients!) The dm went out of her way to help them, spent hours searching the world for their desired fabric. She made a mock bodice which fitted perfectly, did two fittings, and at the final one, the girl had the dress on for at least half an hour. There was never any mention about the dress being tight, uncomfortable etc. 6 months later, they are not happy with the fit of the dress. And this is all her fault, and they want the dm to alter the dress. For free.

This dm is getting ready to tell them a firm NO, thank goodness. She says, “I provided a well tailored, perfectly fitting dress made to their requirements. (Dealing with this dress is) NOT AN ONGOING SERVICE. It is not my problem if the girl has had a growth spurt or wants the dress to be as loose fitting as her pajamas. This time I am going to be firm and not be taken for a ride.”

One of my dressmaker friends had a former client come to her to say that the dress did not fit and it was her fault…although they were happy because it fit “so perfectly” when she danced in it at the Southern Region Oireachtas 6 months earlier! And, in the same incredibly long and convoluted email, the client went on to blame this dm for the fact that a dress she had bought from her 18months EARLIER was not selling…and she really was hoping not to have to resort to telling folks what a bad dressmaker my friend is!! It was the weirdest piece of deluded rationalization I have ever read.

Idiot dressmaking clients (if you are not an idiot, please disregard this question), would you call Gavin or Siopa Rince or Elevation or etc, etc, etc to tell them that you no longer like the cape/applique fabric/lining/tutu or that the dress that they made for you 6 months ago/ 1 year ago/ 18 months ago does not fit now (because your daughter grew, but you don’t admit that) and that IT IS THEIR FAULT AND THEY HAVE TO FIX IT? FOR FREE???!!! And then threaten them with smears on their reputations if they don’t? No, of course you wouldn’t! So, why do you do call your lone dm and tell her that? Why is her work of less value? What is it that you think she owes you?

I choose to believe that this kind of client is not the norm…if it was, there would be no lone dressmakers. I have really been lucky with the clients I have worked with so far, knock on wood. But, I know there will be a time that a loony gets by Susan’s PITA radar (she IS my first line of defense), and it will be my luck that the fireworks will start after Susan is done with her part, so I will have to figure out how to handle it myself. I know it will not be easy, believe me.

After writing this, I am thinking I should finish my contract and state very clearly where and when my obligation stops. Perhaps we all should.