After finding 3 bloggers in two days last week that were sharing files based on their copies my work, and losing days to addressing those infringements and looking for and finding others, I have come to believe that educating a growing knockoff community about a few things may be a more productive approach to preventing infringement for me. So, I’m posting this where I can to help get some info out about knockoffs and how they make copied artists feel.
If you are unfamiliar with what I call the knockoff community, let me tell you a little bit about it. It is a community of people who refer to what they create as knockoffs. It’s probably what you are familiar with when you think of a knockoff, a cheaper version of a particular item. Catalog items are frequently knocked off, as the expense of many of those items puts them out of reach of many in the community. So, they find a way to make their own version for a lot less money. They then share these knockoffs along with instructions on how to make your own knockoff. There are websites devoted to knockoffs, and a lot of cross-linking and featuring goes on between the sites that serve as the hub of the community.
In my experience, most of the copiers I have dealt with were good people who had no malicious intent and felt that they were doing something to help people. All apologized and complied with requests to stop distributing their electronic copies of my work.
It is very upsetting to many artists to find their work copied, or to imagine it being copied when they see another’s work copied, and artists seem to come to each others’ aid when they see copies or knockoffs. So, a discussion has started. Some of the best discussions I have seen were started by folks who are part of the community and want to hear people’s opinions on whether what they do is possibly unethical or a violation of copyright.
I am also disappointed at the callousness of some of the segment of the public that sees nothing wrong with copying the work of others. In discussions I have been in, artists have been called arrogant, professionally jealous and overly proud with an overblown sense of ownership. If someone tells you they think their rights have been violated, it does not help to belittle them. You can certainly see nothing wrong with copying if you choose to, but there is no benefit to the conversation in kicking someone when they are down.
It has been great to hear opinions on whether knockoffs are infringement, and if not, at what point sharing knockoffs or how to make them may be infringement. But, our opinions and what we non-lawyers think we know about copyright law are not what determines if a copy is a violation of copyright.
The holder of a copyright has the following rights regarding a copyrighted work according to copyright law:
- The rights to reproduce the work in copies, prepare derivative works based upon the work, distribute copies of the work, and display the work publicly.
- The creator of a copyrighted work also has the right of attribution and other rights concerning the alteration of that work.
If someone avails themselves of any of those rights without the permission of the copyright holder, they expose themselves to the risk of the copyright holder claiming infringement and the resulting penalties if it is determined that infringement occurred.
I don’t know if stating that one is copying or has copied an item, and then posting images of that item online and instructing the public how to copy the item infringes copyright of the copied item. I think it’s close enough though, so that if I am the creator of the copyrighted item I should contact the copier and let him/her know that he/she created an unauthorized copy of my work. If copies are being distributed, I have no choice but to send a cease and desist and request removal of the downloadable files and whatever other remedies I find necessary.
I have to do that to protect the rights provided by my copyright. Those rights are the basis of what allows me to make and sell reproductions of my artwork, which is how I support my family.
For me, whether or not copies dilute my brand or offend my sensibilities or hurt my feelings does not factor into my decisions to pursue copycats. It comes down to whether or not a copy violates my rights.
I would hope for people who condone or actively participate in copying (and those who encourage others to copy another artist’s work through tutorials) to consider several things:
- 1) Is traffic on your website or helping others save money really worth the pain in the neck of being sued for infringement and the possibility of having to pay damages (possibly up to $30,000 per for infringement, up to $150,000 per for willful infringement)? If the argument for making the knockoff is the high cost of the original item, should you not then avoid exposing yourself to that high cost risk?
- 2) Though infringement is technically a violation of rights, to many artists and designers, it feels like theft. It feels like something has been taken from you. It is a troubling experience. For myself and many I know, it does not feel like flattery. It feels like someone likes your work, but not enough to obtain it through proper channels. When someone is encouraging people to make their own copy and not buy from you, it does not particularly feel like you have inspired someone. It feels like your ability to derive future income from your work is being affected. It feels a bit like someone knocked you down and took your lunch money. It feels like that person is saying, “I like what you did, but I don’t think your skill, expertise, vision, years of hard work, talent, and dedication to your craft had anything to do with how it came out. Anyone could do it.”
- Please keep that in mind when you embrace an opinion that copying does not hurt anyone. You may not agree that creative people have rights, but it’s not necessary to say there is nothing new under the sun. No one would ever create anything inspiring if we all believed that. If you need to quote a bible verse while telling an artist your negative opinion of his or her rights (happened multiple times), why not: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…
- 3) I have never seen anything in copyright law related to art/design/craft that says that you can make one copy for personal use. But, if that is true, it may be prudent to consider whether sharing your copy online and using it to encourage others to copy goes beyond personal use. Sharing it online will likely alert the original artist of your copy, and if it’s in a post about how to copy the item, you may have to defend your actions. Hopefully, the artist will only ask that you remove the post, the images and not share or distribute the files to anyone.