Monday, January 25, 2010

Make- it Mondays: What Exactly is Original?

From: Buenahelena

In the land of Etsy originality is a coveted if not abstract quality to have. Catch phrases like OOAK (one of a kind) and "I took the handmade pledge" are stated often with pride. At our last team meeting we pondered the idea of originality and the dread problem of copyright infringement. (*Note: This post is only covering issues about handmade items)

Here is what Etsy has to say about copyrights: "Your content and your use of Etsy shall not: Infringe upon any third-party's copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret or other proprietary or intellectual property rights or rights of publicity or privacy (see also, Etsy's Copyright and Intellectual Property Policy)"

So what does this mean? Where do we draw the line? In my philosophy there is nothing truly original anymore, but out and out misuse is obvious. Below are some questionable examples from Etsy. Although they are in fact handmade, and many times well made, they are skirting that line of infringement:

The picture above is from Craftsquatch. He has been featured on Etsy and several other online publications. His work is handmade with love. His icons are...well...completely stolen...and nowhere in his profile does it say with permission. These icons were made by a designer somewhere who is not getting paid for their use on Craftsquatch's pillows. Mmmm...

The next item is from Simplybitten. In her store banner and descriptions, she makes it known that her work is inspired by Twilight. A smart idea, as inspiration can't really be owned. She does use copyrighted characters names, but uses them in her own designs as fan art and gives props to Stephanie Meyer with each item. Her Got Twilight? decal, however, could be infringing on two different enterprises....

So how can you be safe? Here are some simple guidelines:
  1. Give credit where credit is due.
  2. Take inspiration, but not exact patterns, logos or photos. Make a 25% change to the item/image to keep yourself in the clear.
  3. Don't assume that something is such a huge phenomenon that it is automatically public property.
  4. If you knit/crochet and sew from a pattern say so. Be careful though! Many patterns from magazines have a disclaimer that they are for personal use and not for you to sell with or without credit.
  5. Research like items out there in Etsy-land and see how you can tweak them to make them more distinctly yours.
P.S. I would love to keep this dialogue going, so comment your ideas and knowledge. I am also not saying that I don't break the rules sometimes....unintentionally.
P.P.S My Our Lady of Vogue wall piece...


  1. I was inspired by the "Terrible Yellow Eyes" project and decided to make a plush Max and "Wild Thing" monster as "Nubbins" (the small armless monsters I make). And I had a lot of reservation at first about selling them. I ultimately decided that if someone saw the pieces on my blog and wanted me to make them a set, I would do it as a commission, but I don't list them in my etsy shop (thought he temptation is great because I'm sure I'd be selling them hand over fist). But I only make them by special request.

  2. Thanks for putting these points out there. Good guidelines, I think.

  3. Yeah it's a catch-22, because there is a demand for things and I love certain characters or icons, yet they are someone elses...

  4. This is a great topic! I always struggle with it. I try to avoid carving copyrighted work, and I try to always find public domain images to work my carvings from. But it takes a lot of work.

    I think those that "steal" copyrighted works are taking the easy road, and we have to stick to our guns about not going down that easy street too.

    Luckily most of my sales are custom work, so the buyer is providing me with a photo or an image to start with.

    If I felt more confident in my "drawing" skills, I think I would be better off. Trying to work on that.

    Thanks for a good topic!

  5. Just got Adbusters #88 and read this great quote from Bansky that adds nicely to this conversation of originality and copyright infringement:

    "People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you're not sexy enough and that the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are "The Advertisers" and they are laughing at you.

    You however are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

    F*** that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It's yours to take, rearrange and reuse. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock somone just threw at your head.

    You owe the companies nothing. You especially don't owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have rearranged the world to put themselves in front of you.They never asked for your permission. Don't even start asking for theirs."

    Bansky, via

    (Banksy is an amazing, politically motivated, international graffiti artist.)