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Fact: Little Goldfish Invitations and Stationery started in 2011, you can read more about that here, a little over four years ago.  By now, most businesses might have started to turn a profit, but not me. Why? Among other things, I think it’s because I refuse to copy the work of others.

Do you copy? Why I'm not a raging success (yet)

Do you copy?

A controversial topic, today I want to explain why I’m not yet a raging success after four years. To be fair, I did have a big thing called uni that kind of got in my way, but ultimately it’s because I pride myself on being original. Sure, everyone copies something at some time in their life, and I will admit that there have been one or two times (and this is the honest truth) where I have used something as inspiration at the request of a customer, but I have always felt incredibly guilty about doing so.

It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in, if you copy someone or something else you will get caught. In higher education, plagiarism can get you expelled from your degree/diploma/certificate program. If you replicate licensed products, chances are you will be sued and your ability to trade will be void. Imagine that you replicated a Disney product and were sued by Disney. Their legal team probably doesn’t get out of bed for anything less than $2000 per hour (this is just a random figure I pulled out of my head, I have no idea how much Disney’s legal team charge). I know that I can’t afford representation to take on companies like Disney, could you?
Did you know that if you make a product and put in its listing title or anywhere in its description, even the use of tags and keywords, that something is ‘Frozen inspired’ or ‘Minecraft inspired’ and so on and so forth, that is grounds for a lawsuit?

Copy = Success?

Disney et al. aside, I want to talk about businesses copying other businesses’ works – whether they are in the same country as each other or if they’re overseas.
The design industry has always been a cut-throat one whether it’s fashion, industrial, graphic or other. You cannot walk into a home décor store today without seeing carbon copies of something from another store. But how do you know which one the original product is?  So many furniture products today are inspired by either the mid-century modern look or the Scandinavian look, with American designers Eames often listed as being the inspiration for a piece. Just because something is Eames inspired does not mean that it has the quality and craftsmanship of Eames themselves (yes, themselves, not singular). That’s not to say that all of these works aren’t handcrafted or designed, but there is a distinct lack of originality to them.

Bringing it back to the handmade world where people often aren’t churning out ‘Made in China’ bulk lots, sellers are listing their plagiarised wares on platforms like Etsy and MadeIt and getting great sales figures. I’m not saying that these platforms condone the plagiarism, but how do they police such issues, particularly one the size of Etsy, a publicly listed company? It’s not only the blatant plagiarism of licensed products that happen on these platforms – and others – but it’s the plagiarism of other small businesses’ goods.

Riding on the coattails of someone else’s ideas and hard work has never appealed to me. Copying is a quick way to get that new product out, but at the end of the day what have I achieved?
In the last 12 months, one local maker friend of mine has recently added a new range of products to their handmade business. They work tirelessly to design their products from scratch, often thinking of ideas in the shower – come on, who doesn’t do their best business thinking in the shower!? – and then drafting that idea and designing prototypes until perfect for sale. Shortly after releasing a new product, on three separate occasions by three separate businesses, blatantl copies of these original thought-of-in-the-shower designs have appeared all over social media.

The internet often says that ‘…tweak a design by 30%  (or other amounts) and it’s yours…’ but I truly think this is baloney.  I asked my maker friend if they would be pursuing this most recent act of plagiarism, but they advised that they would not. I support their decision 100 per cent – time and money lost on pursuing the matter (fact: as soon as something is published, you own the copyright) will far outweigh any sales made by the copy-cat maker. But at what point do you stand down and accept that your works are going to be copied whether you like it or not?
These makers, and others – it is not isolated to these instances mentioned – even go so far as to copy photo styling and product descriptions!

Although sales normally translate directly with success, I like to think that I am successful because I work hard to design my own works. Not once do I ever label myself as a graphic designer – I am not and never will be unless I get myself a degree, even if I get a diploma or do a short course I will not be a Graphic Designer. I do buy some design elements – a perfectly legal practise – that are far too intricate for my design skill set in its present form but I never take the credit for designing them. I do, however, take the credit for completed products that I know I have laboured over.

But I didn’t copy…

How many times have we heard this from people? They have had the idea in their head for a little while now, but they’ve just not got around to publishing it, or they haven’t acted on it until the time they did. I am the first to admit that I am guilty of not designing things the moment I think about them and putting the designs off for a long while. Of course, when I see something that I have been thinking of doing I kick myself for not doing it first. And that’s that. I leave that idea alone and don’t pursue it.

Hobbyist or full timer, it is, in my opinion, the responsibility of the creator/maker/designer to conduct themselves in a professional and responsible matter. I’m fairly certain that if the shoe was on the other foot, that is that their works were being blatantly plagiarised, they would be jumping up and down in a pink fit. So then, how does them copying someone or something else make it okay?

Some may say that producing the same or similar works as others provides healthy competition but at the end of the day it gives those who are copying existing works – licensed or not – already on the market an unfair advantage to those who produce original works. Of course, all the world is a muse for designers, writers, and all creatives alike, but at what point does one draw the line? Plagiarism is always going to be plagiarism.

Am I silly for not pursuing something I have thought of, and putting my own touch to it? I don’t know. What I do know is that I cannot conscientiously produce works that bears any resemblance to someone else’s, I cannot willingly copy someone else’s work.