Duplicate It Yourself: the dark side of DIY

Updated Oct 12 2015
Original photo by Flickr user Christoffer Mørch, used by Creative Commons license

Here's the scenario: you're looking for wedding invitations online. You find some you like, but they costs more than you want to spend. What do you do?

  1. Figure out if it's worth rebudgeting for so you can afford them
  2. Get inspired and try making something similar
  3. Find a photoshop wizard to make the same invitations for less
  4. Make your peace with the fact that it's out of budget for you and let it go

Recently, it seems as though more and more people are opting for option 3: taking high budget inspiration and aiming for low budget reproduction. And it makes sense, right? Love that $10,000 couture dress but can't afford it? Maybe you send a picture of it to a dressmaker in China and get your couture knock-off for $300. No biggie.

But what if it's not a couture dress created by a big name brand? What if you're reproducing something created by an independent designer or artist? Where's the line about what feels ok and what doesn't? And when does Doing It Yourself simply become Duplicate It Yourself? When does inspiration become swiping something?

There are not solid answers on the issue, and maybe that's why this is such a hot topic in the creative world these days. Join me as I try to figure out how I stand on it…

I got an email last week from an artist whose work I've featured on Offbeat Bride, telling me that she's been overwhelmed by the response … Unfortunately, the emails she was receiving weren't from prospective clients. Rather, they were from budget brides informing her that they can't afford her, so they're reproducing her existing artwork. She got one email with the subject line that put it quite literally: "My apologies for swiping your design."

I thought it was an isolated incident until I heard that other Offbeat Brides were posting on Deviant Art, trying to find someone to reproduce illustrations I've featured on Offbeat Bride. We're not talking about a Vera Wang gown here. For me personally, I don't really care about Vera Wang (I totally understand y'all may feel quite differently)… but I care deeply about independent artists who are trying to make ends meet by creating custom work for people … people who are instead taking the ideas and seeing if they can find someone to make it cheaper.

The issue is burning up all over the place. I got an email from Princess Lasertron a couple weeks back, linking to this post: "DIY is not Duplicate It Yourself." You should really go read the post, the general idea is this:

I feel like there exists a disconnect between the artist/blogger/designer's intent (to inspire) and some people's inference that this inspirational content is free to simply be copied.

The blogger goes on to posit that inspiration boards and wedding blogs are a part of the problem. Go read it and then come back.

I've touched on this issue before on Offbeat Bride, when I answered an advice question about when it's worth it to spend money on custom art. The comments on that post spiraled off in some weird directions that made it clear that many folks don't see a difference between custom designed illustrations/art and photoshoppery. Zoinks!

We also touched on the issue when we mentioned the XKCD wedding invitations. Here's an artist who's FINE with you swiping his art, but as this commenter points out — that's rare. Extremely rare.

Part of what I love about Offbeat Bride is that it gives me an opportunity to show off the work of so many amazing independent creative artisans … invitation designers, fashion designers, photographers. SO MANY AWESOME CREATIVE PEOPLE, all working their asses off to share their visions with the world. And I can't deny that it breaks my heart to think that rather than slurp up the opportunity to work with these amazing people, there are some who would rather just try to reproduce the end product.

I need to make a disclaimer here: My wedding planning process and priorities were unusual in that I didn't go looking around for ideas, and then try to find a way to make it happen. My priority wasn't on the end product, but rather on the people I wanted to be involved. I didn't go find inspiration, and then try to enact it. I had people I wanted to work with, and the results were almost incidental. I didn't even know what my reception decorations were going to be — all I knew was that Lower Location Manager Sarah was doing them, and that was all that mattered.

For me personally, that was a big piece of the joy of wedding planning: working with all the amazing creative people whose ideas I loved. I want to recognize that I did things in a different way than many folks, and so my perspectives on this issue might be different.

There's also some confusion, I think, about what constitutes "non-commercial use." I think some folks feel that if they use a design but don't SELL it for their own profit, that it means noncommercial usage. But when you do this, you're taking away business from the artist — which means it's commercial usage.

I want to clarify that this reproduction really isn't DIY. True DIY is DOING it yourself. True DIY is taking inspiration and seeing if you can translate it into your own work. What I'm talking about here is what the Decor8 bloggers refer to as Duplicate It Yourself. There's just a big difference between seeing something you like and trying to recreate it yourself, and seeing something you like and hiring someone to recreate it for less. As one artist told me, "I'm happy to be an inspiration, and not every spin-off is a swipe." But when you're trying to hire a creative to reproduce another creative person's work? It feels icky for everyone.

I recognize the grey area and my own logical and ethical inconsistencies. I don't have a problem with ripping off a $10,000 couture gown … but it strikes me as downright icky to rip off a $500 wedding invitation produced by an artist living in a studio apartment. I fully acknowledge that this opinion is indefensible, but I guess I'm saying I'm all for piracy, as long as you're ripping off The Big Guys. For me personally, it feels fucked up when folks start ripping off The Little Guys. This was the same point I made last year in my post about the ethics of an off-shore wedding gown.

But why should only rich people have the pleasure of working with the awesome artists? For some people piracy is a whole lifestyle philosophy. And how can inspiration ever really be owned? It's clear that this is NOT an issue of cut 'n' dry ethics, and my own thoughts on the subject are self-contracting and weird. I don't have any answers here, only feelings.

So, where do you draw the line?

  1. For me, the line is drawn when you go from being inspired by what you see, to COPYING EXACTLY what you see. Inspiration can come from a lot of places – ideas come from a lot of different places. But if you take what someone does and make an exact copy of it, that's wrong, IMHO.

    Now, if I take the hemline of one dress, the sleeve of another, and the overskirt of yet another, and make a whole new creation from the combination, I don't think that's piracy or duplication. However, if I see a gorgeous dress online, and I want THAT DRESS!!!, then I think it's only fair to the creator that you buy it from him/her.

    And, if I see a beautiful invitation that an artist did for a couple, and I like the idea of it, but want to make changes to it, again, that's okay. I feel you should approach the artist first to see if she/he can accomodate those changes, and if they can do it in your price range, but if not, then you should use their idea as a springboard to something fabulous that you CREATE yourself, not DUPLICATE yourself.

    • But what if what you see is a hardware type item? What if you see a Star Wars light saber handled cake cutter? Now, I admit, I don't like the saber they used(it's grown-up Anakin's and I think he's whiny), but if I did, should I be afraid to make it? Especially since the article was here, and the gentleman who authored it ENCOURAGED other folks to make one and showed them how.

      Not that your point of directly copying a dress isn't well taken too…I just think some things its ok to copy.

  2. The reality is that there are few original ideas or designs. Maybe a particular artist does the 'rock poster' style or gocco or whatever in a particular way that you'd love to replicate, but they borrowed all their ideas from others who came before. I agree with the poster above that exact duplication is an issue, but otherwise, I think you can go a long way in the inspiration department borrowing things before you've done much different than that 'original artist' did in creating their product.

  3. I'm sorry, but either offer the product at a reasonable price, hide your designs, or deal with the consequences. Little guy or big guy, it's all economics.

      • Exactly. My sister thought £200 for an engagement ring was cheap, I was cringing at the thought of having that sat on my finger. (I've never owned a ring worth more than £20.)

        It's all relative to how much you have and how much you're used to spending on things.

      • I recently attended an art opening of a friend of mine. Her work was reasonably priced, and I felt she was worth much more than what she charged since her work is amazing, but she smartly charges what she feels her buyers can afford.

        An acquaintance came up to her during the show, with an "I'm so cute and poor, can you cut me a deal on this piece?" story. The piece in question was an original painting at her lowest price listed. I knew for a fact that the girl who requested it spends at least that amount every week, on drinks, parties, & clubs. This was not a case that the art was too expensive. This was clearly a case of someone who did not place as high of a VALUE on original art as they did for other areas of their regular budget.

        Culturally, in the market-driven US economy, we simply do not put as high of a VALUE on original artwork as we do just about anything else: from shoes, to handbags, to home repair (electricians & plumbers make 2-3X the average working artist). The only people who see as little return for their effort as artists (profit vs. time and expense to create) are farmers.

        It would be awesome if someday "local original art" saw the same resurgence of value and appreciation as the organic & local food market has recently.

    • So an artist must either undersell themselves, not showcase their portfolio, or run around suing everyone?

      To put it in terms that someone who doesn't deal in a creative field might understand, I'm your boss. You cost me more money than I think you're worth. I can get a robot to do your job and not have to pay taxes, unemployment or benefits. Robots don't take vacations, they don't cause drama, it's just so much easier, cheaper and more convenient to me to let you go.

      If you want to stay, you need to take a severe paycut that's on par with what a robot would cost me, otherwise take off and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

      Is that fair?

      • Yup. Do I like it? Of course not. But that is certainly my boss's prerogative to replace me with something that can do the exact same job for cheaper.
        Luckily, most jobs require things that a robot can't do or can't do as well or my boss decides that zie really does prefer to do good things for zir community and keep humans employed.

        I look at buying the work of artists as a way of supporting the things that I love to see. I don't feel comfortable ripping off another's design because that is taking something that I haven't supported. If I liked it enough to take it, wouldn't I like it enough to support where it comes from?

        Not being able to afford it isn't a reason to rip off a design. It's a reason to use it as inspiration, perhaps, (I love the 7 points of difference rule of thumb that someone else pointed out) but copying wholesale doesn't jive with my moral code.

      • Unfortunately, yes. Because the market has decided that it is. (I wish that it weren't, but that and five bucks'll buy you a Frappuccino).

        It would be nice if the world didn't work that way, but it does.

    • Right, "reasonable" pricing can be highly subjective, and in the end us "little guys" are just trying to survive and usually don't even charge enough to sustain ourselves and still work reasonable hours. To that end, to hide our designs would eliminate any new business coming in (who wants to trust someone who can't show any previous work?), thus also ending these "little guy" businesses. So yes, economics play a role in everything, but it's about more than just the end consumer. Businesses (especially small businesses!) are people too.

      I understand if you can't afford a custom piece, but that's why there are tons of cheap options out there, and if you have the ability to come up with something you love yourself, go for it! Just don't rip off someone else's design and justify it by saying that the artist should deal with these "consequences" for putting their work out there and/or being out of your price range.

      All that being said, my beef is with copying EXACTLY someone else's work or designs, like using an invitation design exactly as pictured other than the names/words. As Sarah mentions, inspiration and trends can often turn out an assortment of similar-looking goods, but isn't that why people pay more for custom anyway?

      • I wanted to use images made by a certain artist I found on Etsy. All I did was contact the artist and pay a licensing fee for the images. Not only will she be paid for the use of her images, I also am putting her logo and stating, "Watercolor images the courtesy of ____________" with her logo. We will also be thanking her on the wedding program, so that her name gets out there. As an artist myself, I believe artists should be compensated when their work is used. It didn't cost much to license the images and we both get what we want! She gets exposure and recognition, plus a licensing fee. I get to use her images and design my own invites. Perfect solution and respectful of all parties! We shouldn't be ripping off indie artists in order to have a champagne wedding on a beer budget.

    • Amen. What's "reasonable"? Buyers tend to think "reasonable" is "as little as I feel like paying." Sellers need "reasonable" to be enough to cover their time and materials. There's usually a great disparity between the two.

      Apparently the original poster of this comment is not in a position ever to have to claim ownership of any ideas at work, etc. Artistic theft is no different from your coworker claiming credit for, and getting paid or promoted for, work you did. Yes, we are all inspired by others' work, but that's a far cry from outright copying.

      Artists have to publicize their work in order to keep getting more work, so it's unfair for them to have to worry about it being stolen at every turn by people who feel that, because they saw it, they can take it for free. Art is art, but art for a living is still a commodity.

    • If an artist's work is all hidden, how can that artist gain new customers? You may think that the prices we onshore artists set is high, but that's because you're used to rock-bottom, Chinese-sweatshop-labor at WalMart prices.

      Truth is, it's the rare artist who makes a truly comfortable living. I have charged thousands for gowns, but yet without my fiance bringing in a steady Apple paycheck, the bills wouldn't get paid, even in a modest home with absolutely no debt. Most artists price their work lower than they should to try to appease people, making, in the end, less than minimum wage after the cost of supplies has been taken out of the price.

      When I charge $1000 for a gown, such as on an order I'm working on now, $400 of that has gone to fabrics, and I'm already in the gown about 80 hours. There's another 20 or so to go. That will mean $6 an hour of actually being in front of my sewing machine or hand-stitching something. This is highly skilled labor, yet I'd make more flipping burgers at McDonald's. Most artists would. But we do it for the love of what we do.

      • I so totally agree with what you've said about doing what you do for the love of it. I've tried selling different things that I've made over the years, and have known others who've done the same, and the overall reception from potential buyers is "wow, that's pretty, thanks for letting me look." I don't want your compliments, I want your $$$. But this is typical flea market mentality I guess. Oh, and because you made it, you should be willing to slash your prices. After all, you made it, right? It's not like you PAID for it. I swear, sometimes it makes me want to strangle people!

      • Aria, your prices need to go up. A $1000. gown is an off the rack David's piece of #*% NOT your handmade work. If your materials cost $400. (because I know they do!) then that should be less than 1/4 of the overall price. How many hours does it take to make that dress 50 70 or 100?
        How many years have you been doing your art? You know it's not something you learn in 4 years in school but took years to perfect. Up your hourly $ to reflect your expertise and your education. Really!

        Anyone can flip burgers that's why they make minimum wage, you should not!

        • I so totally agree with this but I'm looking at where I'm selling and if I up my prices I will be charging more than anyone else and with the flea market mentality how do I get something to sell when they can buy similar things from people willing to work for $6 an hour?

      • Wow. That's incredibly sobering. Many people, myself included, need those statistics to really understand the severity of your statement.

        Thanks for sharing.

  4. When I was a teenager, I had a painting teacher from South Africa that taught me that in order for a piece to be "inspired by" another design and still be an original work, it should have at least 7 obvious differences. For instance, on an invite, maybe: 1. Change the font style, 2. Change the back ground color, 3. Redraw or substitute any illustration, 4. Add a border, etc.

    By the time you make sure that there are 7 obvious changes, it becomes its own entity and usually your creativity is flowing and you put more of yourself into it. This is not a legal copyright rule or anything, just an easy way to make sure that you are not truly copying another artist.

    • This is a nice, simple rule to follow. It's easy to get swept away by a design you really love, but by following this rule you can feel even better about your end product. When your friends and family Oooh and Aahh over your unique invitation or dress design, it won't leave a sour taste in your mouth. You can honestly say "Thank you!" and "Yes, I DID make that!". The saying is "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", not "duplication is the sincerest form of flattery", after all.

    • I am a fashion design student, so for me, the concept of knocking off is pretty offensive. The rule of thumb my instructor gave us is that you must alter at least 40% of the original design to avoid being a knock off.

      In fashion, at least, there is no copyright so technically there is no actual legal or ethical issue with knocking off designs (not logos or trademarks, though). It is also very difficult to create an entirely original garment when you are talking about a garment category as steeped in tradition as bridal. However, what transcends all of this is one's respect or disrespect for an original designer.

      • It's true that in Fashion we aren't protected by the same copyright rules as the Graphic Artists and Illustrators. However, it's still someone's work and if there are dates etc that prove it then it's Intellectual Property theft.

        As I said earlier I am asked to 'copy' wedding gowns for clients but we almost always change at least 7 things in the process so it's never really a copy.

    • That is fabulous! I really agree with that. When you change things to your taste and do the work of those changes yourself, you have really made something that YOU can be proud of.

    • I love this rule! Over the years, I've kept a notebook of inspiration for my DIY, never more useful than now when we're DIY'ing our wedding. But I've been very careful to note exact replicas I've jotted down vs my own sketches. I have always felt that stealin' is stealin'… even intellectual theft. I don't want to shade the happy in our special evening with knowing I'm using someone else's magic without their permission. But again, that's just me and my opinion. Incidentally, it's hard to directly copy when you're working from pencil sketches anyway, kinda takes off some of the stress 🙂

  5. I think I agree with Nikki. I forget who but a writer once said "If you copy one man it's plagarism, if you copy many it's research" and I think the same applies here. Taking little bits from a design or several designs and incoperating them into your own is fair enough, but exact copies aren't.

    Having said that I also agree with Ariel that in many cases WHO you get to do something can be what makes it special. I wanted a DIY (or rope other people into doing it for you) wedding before I even knew the concept existed because my thoughts instantly jumped to "Mum could make the cake (she's made every birthday cake I've ever had), my friend Mel (artist) could do invitations, I could do flowers" etc.

    Before I knew it I had a list of people I wanted to ask to help out because I love what they've done on similar projects before and the fact that it'd save us a lot of money we don't have was just a coincidence.

  6. I'm probably gonna get eatin alive on this one, but I really don't see ANY difference between ripping off Vera Wang and ripping off an indy artist. The indy artist would miss the money more, sure, but theft is still theft.

    • You won't get eaten alive by me. I fully recognize my self-contradictory opinions. Why should it be ok to rip off one person and not another? I can't really defend it, but it's how I feel.

      • I agree with Jeri. There is no difference at all. Vera Wang started small and became big thanks to her hard work and inspiration. Ripping her off is the same thing as ripping off a small designer who will never have the chance to grow as she grew. Success is not an excuse for stealing. And anyway, if people rip off Vera Wang the ones who are going to suffer from it are those who work for her. Shops closing, people getting fired, not her. Art should be valued no matter who created it, big or small guy. Does it mean that if somebody painted Andy Warhol's replica they should have been valued as the original? Art is uniqueness. This is my opinion at least.

        • I agree with this too. The "big guys" and corporations are full of human beings too — so ripping them off still affects individuals. My suggestion is to use the free-market economy to bring down that $10k dress. Honestly, there is absolutely nothing more special about a Vera Wang dress than a David's Bridal for $600. Many "name brand" clothing, jewelry and makeup is made in the same over-sees shop by the same workers and simply has a different label slapped to it. Rather than ripping off the "big guy", just stop buying their over-priced merchandised.

          Rather than ripping off a "big guy" or a "little guy", I did what Ariel did and picked out my vendors first based on their personal relationship to me and my desire for my hard earned money to support them rather than someone I didn't know. I described to them my general likes and dislikes, my super low budget, and then allowed them to use their creative genius and expertise to make me something customized that fit my price range. This is so much easier than finding something that costs a lot and then trying to transform it into something you can afford by ripping it off and making change upon change so that it doesn't look ripped off.

          • Vera Wang is designing a line for David's Bridal, and some brides who have her regular, high-end gowns are bitching that the "specialness" of a Vera Wang gown has been ruined by "regular people" being able to afford them. No matter that the DB gowns won't be silk or as elaborate or anything, and will more or less be watered-down versions of her regular designs. But you know people will buy whatever she puts in DB just to say they're wearing a Vera Wang. So now we Indy designers will be competing with mass-produced Vera Wang gowns selling cheap.

      • Probably because the Big Guy isn't going to go under and have to resort to flipping burgers or something for a living by losing out on 1, or even 10, not-really-potential-customers, whereas the Small Guy may have to give up and do something else. 1 customer lost can be a tenth of the business for the year or more, if you do bridal gowns, like I do, that take a month or more. To the big guys, they get dozens of orders a month for many times more than a small no-name one-woman/man-operation can dream of.

        Maybe because people like Vera Wang aren't really losing customers because most, if not all, of those who resort to knock-offs would literally have to save up for a decade to afford one of her gowns, which easily exceed the total wedding budgets of many brides these days, whereas a year, or maybe even six months or fewer, of saving up can buy a gown made by a small local artist working out of her home. So the Big Guy, like Vera Wang, wouldn't be losing a customer anyway since that customer wouldn't be able to afford it to begin with.

        Ripping a thousand dollars off from me or any other Indy is going to sting a lot more than ripping a hundred thousand off from Vera Wang, for whom it's more of a pain in the ass than anything, whereas that 1% from me could mean the difference between keeping a roof over my family's head or having to go live in the spare bedroom at my fiance's mom's place and having to give up our dogs.

        These are, at any rate, why I have no problem with designs being ripped off the big name people who are driving around in cars worth more than twice my household's entire year income, but I've got a problem with people knocking off designs from the small names who barely get buy and have no stability in income or assurance of enough orders in any given month to be assured of making ends meet six months from now.

  7. Thank you so much Ariel! I think part of the problem is that we live in a society where everything is so easily accessible. We don't think about all the work that went into capturing the perfect photograph, or the hours that went into an illustration, or the multiple trials and errors that someone on Etsy went through before they nailed that pattern they're selling. All it is is a right click away, a quick crop in photoshop to remove the watermark, and it's "yours".

    When someone sells something creative like that, they aren't really selling the art, they're selling the skill and creativity behind it. No matter what your intentions are if you steal it, you're basically slapping them in the face by telling them their skill and time are worthless.

  8. I also feel I must add that there is a difference between being "boutique" and being "the little guy" (aka protection-worthy). Charging $500 for $50 wedding invites doesn't make you "the little guy" to me, although you may be an independent boutique company.

    • Can I just say? You're not just paying for the end product. You're paying for their expertise and the years it took them to get to the point where they could create the design that you love in their shop. How do you determine that they should, in fact, be $50 invites and not $500? I disagree with this line of thinking, because as a person who depends wholly on freelance to make the ends meet, the whole "I can get it for cheaper" mentality takes away the worth of my work. If they think their work is worth that much, it's their prerogative to charge what they feel it is worth. It does NOT give the go-ahead for someone who disagrees with their pricing to blatantly copy it outright.

      • I agree totally, but I do think every consumer has the right to say "that's too much" and then search for or commission something similar (not exactly the same mind you).

        • Consumers are certainly free to look for the best deal. (When I'm acting as a consumer, that's usually what I do.) As a seller, I'm always striving to find a good price-point; it has to be a balance between costs (of raw materials, packaging, the cost of doing business with entities like Etsy and PayPal, and my own time) and what the market is likely to bear. I'd much rather sell many items at a lower price than sell just one or two sets per month.

          With that said, value is a very subjective thing. I've had a few people write to tell me I must lower my prices, that my (at-cost) shipping charges are too high, etc. on the same day others have placed orders for the very items being complained about. If the majority of people are happy or excited about their purchase, I feel I've probably found the right price.

          As far as dupe-it-yourself is concerned–well, frankly I have no problem with people who say they can create the things I sell for less. They're free to do so. At least part of what they're paying for is the luxury of time–of not having to take time to buy all the bits and pieces and recreate it themselves. But what I do have problems with are the people who *hire someone else* to rip off an idea or design. You wanna make it yourself, fine. Peachy, in fact. But if you're going to shell out the money to get someone else to do it, what's the point? It certainly isn't DIY any more.

    • So how do you determine that cards are worth $50? Because that's the cost of the supplies? Or what you'd expect to pay for some cards designed by someone working in a sweatshop who cranks out 20 designs a day for $3, and then are mass-produced in China for $5 and sold to you for $50?

    • As a designer by trade and a small business owner of a jewelry design company, it is hard to compete with mass produced items. I made my sister's wedding invitations and bridal party jewelry for her and I ended up $300 for supplies alone. I can't imagine if I had offered to do it for anyone other than my sister because on top of the $300 the time involved was weeks of work.

      • Heh, so many people these days want custom, artist-quality and attention to detail for WalMart prices. Well guess what – we don't live in China. WalMart pricing won't pay our bills. I wish people would get this!!

        • Wal-Mart pricing also doesn't pay the bills of many people in China. Let's not pretend that saving money on certain kinds of goods doesn't have a cost as well–it's just a cost that is displaced and made invisible so we don't have to consider it.

  9. By the way I have to wonder, even if you are going to copy someone else's designs why would you email them to tell them that?

    Does anyone email musicians to let them know they're pirating their music?

    • I think sometimes copiers feel like that protects them from future backlash. Like "oh I copied him, but I already apologized so it's fine." it really puts the artist in an uncomfortable position!

    • re: musicians. you might be surprised!

      but really that's what i found surprising about that too. in reality, a wedding isn't a public event, so if you ripped off someone's invitation design, who the hell would know? but then you go and tell them and that is weird.

    • I suspect it was a situation of trying to get back at them for having "too-high" prices. Its a little childish and reactionary but I see (and do admittedly) it in other scenarios such as: "Wow, 25 dollars for a soda and popcorn?? Ill just smuggle it in thank you." Its not exactly the same thing but the feelings behind the reaction are similar.

  10. Our friend was selling scarves and t-shirts with a screen printed design that I loved, and represents my partner and I really well for our invitations (I'm not going to say what it is here, because I don't want her work duped :-P). I could have easily used Gimp and created something similar, but I respect her intellectual property so I called to see if she could "sell" me the design. After talking with her this week, and finding out that she doesn't charge per invite, but hourly, that it would only be a bit more than doing it ourselves. I'm relived to have that time back, and will give her shout outs on my blog.

    To add to Ariel's point, we had the vendors we wanted to use in mind right away. We're staying away from wedding vendors, and hiring professionals because we like their work. It's actually going to come out less expensive, and feel less contrived.

    • You say you don't want to link because you don't want her work duped, but don't you think if it's good work and she has as good of prices as you say, it would bring her more business?

      • I would definitely put up her link, if she had one. She mainly hits the craft fair circuit, so I'm not sure if she's got anything up on Etsy either.

        I'm not going to mention what the design is because it's pretty genius, and fairly easy to replicate.

  11. There's just a big difference between seeing something you like and trying to recreate it yourself, and seeing something you like and hiring someone to recreate it for less. <— THIS IS IT. EXACTLY.

    If you are using someone as inspiration to go out and create your own things, even if you are a novice and end up basically reproducing their work…I don't feel like that's bad. You ARE doing it yourself, trying to replicate or expound upon something you like by making it and giving it your own go. But if you are paying someone else to commit what is essentially copyright infringement, that isn't okay.

    An aside. I'm still insulted that we are equating graphic design with photoshoppery. They ARE two different things. I tried pointing that out in the relevant article, but it was ignored. There are people who use different mediums. My friend Ryan is a professional illustrator and she spends 20-100+ hours on illustrations that she starts by scanning a simple sketch and coloring them with a touch sensitive wacom tablet in photoshop. Her artwork is beautiful, complex, and she is most certainly an artist. Just because she doesn't use paint or copic markers or colored pencils does not make her less of an artist. My fiance is much the same…he is a graphic artist and web designer and it is complex, artistic work. I myself am more of an analog artist and have done illustrations, murals on walls, commissioned tattoos, etc and I do not consider him any less of an artist than myself. Was Van Gough more of an artist than Poe, because one used words and one used paint? I think not. There are "illustrators" who use tracing and shortcuts and crap work just like there are people who simply cobble things together in photoshop. It is not about the medium, but about the skill of the artist using the medium. I'm a bit tired of this issue getting disrespect.

    To tie these together…it's this kind of attitude that often fosters the habit of plagiarism. "Oh, well, he just did this in photoshop it's not like it's art..I can just copy it or have someone else do it for me." Until we start giving ALL artists the respect they deserve, regardless of medium, this will never end. As technology progresses, so too do the methods of creation. Our tools can be an asset to our work or they can do the work for us…but it is increasingly apparent as our technology advances that man will always find a way to push the limits of creativity with the tools he has at his disposal. Computers are no exception.

    • Kayla, apologies for my klugey language around Graphic Design & photoshoppery. I have profound respect for graphic designers, and in fact have spent most of my adult career working in tandem with designers. I apologize for my midwording coming off as dismissive of the work of folks who do graphic and web design.

      Thanks for taking the time to clarify — I've removed my reference to "graphic design" from this post because you're right: it confuses an issue that's already complex enough!

      • Thanks Ariel. I know you are really respectful of artists and all their artistry, so all the murkiness around this was really frustrating me! I love when people make art in diverse ways..offbeat ways, you might say! I really respect your determination to help us focus on all the aspects of wedding planning…including some of the ethical and moral responsibilities that often seems to fall by he wayside due to things like WIC. Our wedding should be a reflection of our lives and ourselves…down to what we believe and who we support. These types of posts are very important food for thought.

        • I use a projecter and tracing from photographs to paint large portraits in my own style. Im a crap drawer but a gifted painter. But because I use these 'shortcuts' does that make my work any more crap than someone elses? Its not plagiarism because its a unique representation that i have created. Im offended that I could be considered any less of an artist than to other artists.

          • You'd be right at home with the very well-respected illustrators of the middle of last century. They used any shortcut, including projectors, to get to the final piece. (They did it mostly because of time constraints doing work for editorial, but whatev.) I'm positive that Al Parker would love some photoshop. I am a digital artist and I DARE anyone to say to me that my work is not legit. I could work on paper, but I love that undo button like nobody's business.

    • Hmm. Just to put this out there as a respectful counterpoint…I am an independent artist and illustrator, and some of my work does involve using a Wacom tablet to "trace" (or at least draw on top of) my clients' existing photographs. I still pour HOURS of my time and loads of creative energy into creating something new and unique for every client, and even though I also work in traditional media, I definitely consider my digital illustration to be "real art". Furthermore, as a former budget-conscious OBB myself, one of my goals is to make original commissioned art more accessible to a wider variety of clients, and employing what some might (unfortunately) consider "shortcuts and crap work" is one way to make that possible.

      I do think this POV fits in with the intended spirit of your comment, Kayla–just wanted to point out that artwork derived from existing images is not automatically derivative and devoid of actual skill.

      And to Ariel–thanks for tackling this tricky but important topic. Posts like this one are what keep me coming back to OBB, even though I am perfectly happy to never have to plan another wedding in my life! :o)

      • Oops, I have no idea why my happy face at the end there turned into a yellow surprised-face one, but it was supposed to look like this: : o ) without the spaces. Sorry for the emoticon confusion! I was going for camaraderie, not shock, haha.

  12. For me, the satisfaction of do-it-myself is that I DID IT. If I ripped off someone else's design, high or low end (and a rip-off is a rip-off) I would not have the same sense of creative fulfillment. I also know that other people may not feel as creative as I feel, but when I make things for my wedding, I like them because they're ME, not because I copied someone else (The Big Guys or little folk). Cheating is cheap. Creative production is satisfying. I'll be inspired by other artist's designs, mood boards, etc, for sure, but I'm not going to slavishly copy them! And I don't agree (if you can't tell) with the "it's okay if they're a big company/designer" notion. That's similar to me saying, for one of my research papers, that it's okay to plagiarize James Patterson or Dean Koontz, because they're popular and 'big', but it would be wrong to plagiarize a local poet. My professors wouldn't buy that argument for a minute!
    My point is, though, that I do-it-myself because I LIKE to create. Yes, it's often cheaper as well, but if there's a detail I don't love creating, I'll let someone else do it or skip it altogether.

  13. Ariel, your support of independent artists/professionals is an inspiration!

    I totally understand that we're influenced by everything around us, and the more we see, the deeper it seeps into our psyche. But good grief, people are emailing artists telling them they're actually swiping their designs? Yipes.

    I have tried to create my own version of things I really love, but truly cannot afford. I also rely on family and friends to gauge if it's really 'me' in the piece. Sometimes, when I've finished, not much resembles the original. Similar to what Emzy has said. I bow to the person(s) who inspire me, and I hope that I can give that back to the inspiration ether.

  14. it's funny bc it seems like such a selfish concern to have, but i, too, have always felt protective over my ideas and creations. when another person takes credit and compliment for something that you have put time/brain/blood/sweat/tears into… that is a shitty, shitty feeling. for sure similar to being robbed.

    on the matter of "taking the ideas and seeing if they can find someone to make it cheaper"… welllll that isn't DIY at all if you are just hiring someone else to do it. funny enough, i feel that there is a little part of this that is just good-natured naivety, for instance, trying to support local business by asking a LOCAL artist to recreate an invite design seen in a magazine…

    everyone is inspired by things they have seen, it's hard to claim originality at all, but i like the idea mentioned above about creating 7 differences. and ALWAYS give credit when it's due.

    • One interesting aspect to the "giving credit" thing … I've heard of artists being contacted by duplicators who've said, "I'll give you credit by putting your website on my version of your design!" To which the artist says, "Thanks but no thanks: I don't want my name associated with your poorly done rip-off of my work!"

      So even "giving credit" comes with its nuances…

    • Jess I don't think it's selfish at all. I once 'photoshopped' a design for an online contest (it was a photoshop contest). Most of it was just 5 images combined, the only truly original bit was the font I used (and even then only because I couldn't find what I wanted elsewhere). But it still took me 5 hours to do.

      Later on I saw the same image on someone elses Myspace page. Now I had no further use for this image, had never and would never sell it and had no objection to them sharing it (I was actually touched that someone else liked it, I lost the contest to something that took 5 minutes!).

      But I was still annoyed by it because tons of people were commenting on this image congratulating this other girl on how well she'd done it and not only did she make no effort to correct them, she was actually thanking them for it! Sure, take the image, that's fine but at the very least don't pretend you made it when you know damn well it was someone else!

  15. I'm clearly in the minority but I do not have a problem with someone making their own copy of something they liked or getting someone else to do it.

    In fact the fashion world has been fighting for decades to get copyright protection for their work… and haven't been able to, which is why you'll find hundred of copies of a popular designs from different lines.

    What do they do? They try to distinguish themselves on quality and other factors.

    An idea is valuable… but not that valuable.

    If someone chooses to make their own copy – they are sacrificing time and experience, if they hire someone else they are sacrificing money and perhaps also experience or reputation or maybe not and the original designer was just overcharging.

    What is the solution for the artist? All the usual – quality, convenience, how pleasant they are to work with etc. That's what they are really selling, not just the brilliance of the design.

    • The problem is that the time and experience required to duplicate an artistic design is not nearly as much as the time and experience required to create that design in the first place.

      If the artist is to make a reasonable amount of money from his or her art, it has to be done by dividing the value of the time and experience spent on the art by the number of copies expected to be sold. However, this does not work if most of the copies are simply duplicates made by other people, from which the artist gets no money. At that point, the artist has several choices, none of them appealing: 1) overcharge the few people who buy from the artist, so that they are in effect paying the shares of those who copy without paying; 2) undercharge to the point that the artist cannot make a reasonable living from his or her art, meaning that even talented artists may find that they have to take up something else for a living, 3) spend less time on the art (thus coming up with something not as good) so that the artist can charge less, or 4) hide the art where no one can find it to copy it, which will also mean that the artist cannot promote his or her own work. The copyist, by contrast, can produce relatively high quality work with a much lesser expenditure of time and experience.

      The analogy with fashion doesn't work. The reason that a dress can't be copyrighted is that the courts believe (rightly or wrongly) that most features of a fashion design are functional rather than artistic. However, what we are talking about with invitations, etc., is swiping a work that IS covered by copyright. If we do that, then we say that the person who put the time and experience into creating the art cannot charge any more for it than the copyist would–which means that the value of the artistry is treated as zero.

    • My family owned a women's clothing company for many decades. We hired designers, manufactures, had a show room in Manhattan, and sold to the big upscale department stores. However, in the 80's the department stores started their own lines of knock-offs of things that they already sold for a fraction of the price. So if a customer wanted a silk L.A. Law plunging neckline blouse, they could spend $100, or buy the Macy's brand for $30 for a polyblend version.

      We paid designers to research trends and create, and they ripped off our work. There was little that we could do, and business suffered. The business was eventually liquidated in the 90's and re-emerged as an athletic and corporate screen printing and embroidery company.

      • That really sucks. It's awful that department stores, who already make scads of money selling the real deal, turn around and steal designs from their clients and take the credit for themselves.

  16. What a great post! This is a topic I had never thought of before… mainly because as a crafter, I can't imagine stealing someone else's idea to save a buck. Thanks for drawing attention to this issue!

  17. I think the point, at least when wedding planning is somewhat moot. If you can't afford something, you can't afford it. So if I use a picture of a designer's $5000 dress and have my dressmaker make a similar one from me, the designer isn't really losing any money as I couldn't have afforded the designer dress in the first place.

    And when someone asked me where I got my dress I likely would have mentioned my dressmaker AND the designer I referenced and maybe that friend WILL buy from the designer.

    • This is pretty much the point I was about to make. I think the people that can afford and are willing to buy the work officially produced by designers are a different market entirely than the ones who can't afford it and are willing to rip it off.

  18. This post is really and at the same time has me worried.

    I'm an Aussie and I fell in love with a dress design on a UK website, that has a price I did not want to pay but could stretch to. After sending them an email anyway, (cause my fiance said go for it if i love it that much), discovered that they would not make it in a colour of my choice – what you see is the choices you get.

    In that case (and some minor detailing i would want changed and different lace etc.), is it fair enough for me to take that picture to a local dressmaker and ask them to help me make my perfect dress using pictures of that design as a starting point with the customisations and colour that i would like?

    • I think that is completely fair. The original dress maker doesn't have the dress you want. They have a good jumping off point.

  19. The issue of intellectual property is a sticky one, and certainly it won't be solved here. But as much as I love Offbeat Bride, I do take issue at times with what seems to be kind of traditional theoretical definitions of what constitutes Art. Basically, Art is not okay to steal and Not Art is.

    Essentially, what is easily accessible, publicly available, mass produced, and often inexpensive gets roundly rebuffed as Not Art. What is difficult to obtain, difficult to produce, difficult to find, and often expensive is Art. It's really no different than any major art museum. Only inaccessible (what normal person has Picasso in their living room?), difficult to produce, and most importantly, valuable works are fit to be considered Art. But a very beautifully reproduced and mass produced paint-by-number of the same painting is Not Art. A really interesting invitation made by a mass-marketed online paperie is Not Art. A mass-produced Vera Wang is Not Art. Even though at some point in the production process, it was probably Art.

    I don't like OBB's contention that Not Art is okay to steal because, well, it's Not Art. Therefore it is not valuable. This really bothers me because these Art/Not Art distinctions are the bars of the same cage that so often excludes Indie artists and art forms in the Mainstream. A handmade quilt, a knitted sweater, a stuffed animal? To the Mainstream: Not Art, for the very same reason that to Indie, Vera Wang is Not Art. It's not valuable *to you*, and therefore okay to duplicate, steal, or undervalue.

    The way I see it, this is Indie applying the same parameters that has suppressed it for so long in the Mainstream, in return. And I don't think that makes it any more justified.

    • My issue isn't that Vera Wang is Not Art — it's more that Vera Wang doesn't need my $10,000 as much as a struggling indie artist needs my $500. It's not an Art/Not Art judgment I'm making. It's a "who do I think deserves it/who do I want to support" judgment. I'm not into the whole "indier-than-thou" ethos, so I don't care if Vera is mass produced. But I do care that Vera has plenty of cash already, and the $10,000 I don't give her isn't going to make a difference in her ability to pay her mortgage on her second home.

      I hope I've been clear that this is only my opinion — and a pretty indefensible one. I certainly don't purport that where I draw the line is where anyone else should draw the line.

      • Definitely, everyone is entitled to their opinion. It's just a vibe I get from some posts that Indie stuff is somehow more artistically valuable as well as more deserving of our money. Which some people think that it is, and that's totally fine, but I figured I'd chuck my two cents in the pot. Part of the problem is the valuing of art as a commodity in the first place, but anyway. I understand that the purpose of OBB is to showcase independent thinkers and creators, which is *awesome*, but I don't want it to be at the expense of Mainstream. Like other posters have said, I just don't see the ethical difference between ripping off Mainstream and Indie, or Not Art and Art, or rich and poor artist, or cheap and expensive. That said, I admire that you admit your own feelings knowing that although it makes sense to you (and many others), it may not (and doesn't have to) make sense to others.

        This is really the only issue I've ever had with OBB, which is pretty amazing considering the breadth of stuff that OBB covers every day.

        • I should add that I definitely think that we should all be consumers according to our values. I understand buying from X over Z because you like their LBGTQ-friendly mission statement, or their use of environmentally friendly materials, or because they simply need your money more, etc. What I'm saying is just because you might think Wai Ching is more deserving of your money, doesn't mean Vera Wang is less deserving of your respect.

          I think there is a big difference between choosing who to give your money to vs. who to rip off. Only one may deserve your patronage, but neither deserve to be robbed.

          • Yes, Rainbow Connection, that's exactly how I feel.

            If I only felt bad stealing from the not-rich–well, I'd rip off all middle-class artists out there (who are very wealthy by global standards) and use that money to help China achieve first-world status.

        • Funny thing, I use this logic on people all the time. If a person/designer/company etc starts out small and then becomes successful they are then labeled as "the man" and are evil, but what if their favorite indie local store selling a similar product makes it big? Gonna turn on them too? (see Seattle and coffee companies) Sorry, my little rant, don't want to open the "what makes this company bad or good" can of worms, just generalizing.

          • I've noticed that companies more likely to be referred to as "the man" are the companies that treat their employees like crap that they own and can treat poorly.

  20. The real decision that needs to be made here is wheither you think the product you are buying is worth the price you are paying. I do not think it is simply a matter of Big Guys vs. Little Guys. I live and work in China and see all the places you can get a knock off wedding dress on my bike ride to work everyday. If you buy something here, it's a crap shoot: sometimes it is worth it, most times, it's shoddy. If you can't afford to have the dress of your dreams, learn to live with it. As much as I am personally obsessed with weddings, I try to remember that when I get married I will have way bigger things to deal with than a "perfect" dress: I will be embarking on a path, a discovery, an adventure, possibly the greatest trial of my life. The dress, is not all that important. I understand that looking good is, but ripping off somebody, anybody, is a moral decision than should never be taken lightly.
    Being a fashionista comes at a price, and if you are about to embark on a sacred journey, you have to start thinking about how to live within your means, and enjoy those limitations.

    So you don't have the perfect wedding dress. in the grand scale of human suffering, not having the perfect dress does not even register, if you ask me. Knock offs are theft, no matter who you take the pattern from. Screwing the Big Guys may come as some satisfaction, but it does not aliviate the fact that it indeed theft, no matter how you look at it.

    Maybe living in China for three years and seeing everything being copied (clothes, DVDs, cars, bikes, food, you name it) has made me more sensitive, and more anal to the entire concept of copying, and if you do indeed decide to get a copy of your dream dress, more power to you. I'm getting my dress made here myself.

    After all, it's a hell of a lot cheaper:)

  21. What is interesting for me about this is that we had what was very much a DIY wedding, we had three instances in which we wanted to use someone else's work. What we did in each instance was to contact the artist and ask what it would cost to get permission to use the work in question.

    Instance #1: We bought a gorgeous ketubah (Jewish marriage contract). We thought it would be nice if we could tie together elements of the wedding by using portions of the design in all our paper goods–invitations, programs, photo sharing cards, etc. However, ours was a very small wedding, so we were on the other side of the equation Mz Fitz describes–the cost of getting a design we could use couldn't be spread out among enough invitations to make it economic.

    So we contacted the artist, and asked whether we could pay something to use her artwork in our designs. She gave us two choices. One was to pay her for the use of the RAW image file. The other was to use either a photograph of our own ketubah, or one of the lower-resolution gif/jpeg files available on the Internet, as the basis for our designs, at no cost. Because we were trying to use the design on a 5.5" by 7" invitation, not a 20" x 26" ketubah, the lower resolution image was quite adequate for us, and we used that. However, whenever we showed pictures of our invitations, etc., on the Internet, we linked to the artist and indicated we had used the image with permission.

    The second instance also involved our ketubah. The artist for our ketubah did not have a Hebrew text that really worked for a same-sex couple. We found another text that we liked–but it didn't come with artwork that we liked as much. We therefore wrote to the author of the text, and asked what it would cost to get a license to use her text. She told us that we were welcome to use it without charge.

    The third instance was in dealing with our photographer. We told him up front that we wanted to be able to reproduce our own wedding pictures, whether for making prints or for posting on Facebook. We therefore asked for a price for a disk of the edited images, with reproduction rights. We ended up paying only $400 for that, with the proviso that he could also use his images of us for promotional purposes on his Web site. That was a much better deal than his normal posted rates. However, it worked for him, too. He is in Massachusetts, which had just opened up marriage to same-sex couples from other states. Having our photos on his site was a way of promoting his openness to such marriages.

    So, it's not always a question of either having the budget couples going without, or having them contributing to the starving of artists. When dealt with honestly, there are often ways to make both parties happy.

  22. I wonder how many of these couples contact the artist before swiping the work? I fell in love with a tiara on Etsy, but it was out of my budget. I wrote the artists and explained the situation. They mentioned that they just so happened to have a prototype design for a silver version that they would sell me with in my budget. Perfect! They even made me matching straps for my dress for super cheap. http://www.etsy.com/shop/Thyme2dream

    So before you copy, remember that artists are real people who really want their work to have an impact on the lives of people who love it. I have yet to meet an artist who was offended by me saying "I love, love, love your work, but it's out of my budget. Would you ever consider selling it at half price?" Sure, some have said no, though they still thanked me for the compliment. But most of them have been able to work something out with me.

  23. As someone who is craftily challenged I absolutely love Etsy for purchasing anything and everything, particularly for my wedding.
    Personally, I know if I tried to copy their work it would be a very poor imitation.
    Speaking as one who is craftily challenged, I'm sure some people duplicate because of a lack of confidence in their own ideas, so if like me, you are not as crafty or artistic as some and feel in need of a little more guidance you can always refer to some of the thousands of tutorials that people are so kind to put out in the blogosphere, not least the wedding diy section here http://offbeatbride.com/filed/features/wedding-diy or this feature on Etsian's tutorials: http://www.etsy.com/storque/how-to/how-tuesday-top-10-spring-tutorials-by-etsians-7440

  24. I know I said this in the offshore dress conversation, but I'm not ok with exact duplication of big guys or little guys. Ripping off people's art is NOT COOL. But! That's only a small thing, moving on to the big picture. So glad you brought this up, it made me think.

    It's funny, the Decor8 post you sent us over to… I was expecting it to be harder hitting. Because I think blogs and inspiration boards are actually becoming a BIG part of the problem. IE, when blogs are doing it right (or inspiration boards for that matter) they challenge you to take other people's authentic inspiration, and re-create it, re-juggle it, into something that is authentically you. You know, to have authentic art inspire authentic art. But blogging has, more and more over the last… I'd say 4ish years (not all blogs, just blog culture in general)… moved to towards this place that is a grey area of both copyright and ethics, at least to me. More and more blogs are creating no orignal content, just re-posting re-posting re-posting (yes, sometimes with permission). And I think that culture starts to lend itself to the idea that reproduction is ok, it's not ripping people off, it's inspiration! Whee!

    And as far as I'm concerned when we copy, or even copy in spirit instead of allow ourselves to be inspired by… well… we cheapen ourselves a bit. Yes, we screw an artist, but also? We lose a chance to enrich the world. And that sucks.

  25. I think that the important thing for consumers to realize about independent designers is that they are real people–in many cases, ONE real person. As customers, you are not meaningless to us. It might be hard to go into a Target and pick out some printable invites and feel like they care about you and your event, or cruise through David's Bridal and buy some jewelry for your bridesmaids and think that the company is really interested in providing the perfect product for YOU.

    Because most of us live in a culture where buying mass-produced items at deep discounts is easy, unemotional, and normal (which is great and I think is a wonderful privilege!), we also apply that detached attitude when we work with independent artists.

    My suggestion when working with indie designers and small boutiques is to negotiate cost to fit your budget. You can't go to a customer service rep at most box stores and ask them to help you fit something into your budget, but small-shop designers do it often and they would love to help you. Don't see it as an insult if you can't afford them. It is more insulting to ask for a price quote and then say "that's too expensive, so I decided to make it myself." That's theft and that's rude.

    • Many artists are indeed open to working with you. You won't know until you ask…respectively. That also doesn't mean you should try to take advantage of it and try to haggle with everything, but if you earnestly cannot afford something then talk to the artist!

    • Yeah but I think you have to differentiate between someone being unable to afford an artist's work and asking another artist to copy it and someone being unable to afford an artist's work and attempting to make something similar on their own. I don't see any problem with the second situation. Most of us who aren't artists aren't skilled enough to copy another person's work. But we might be skilled enough to use the basic idea to create something of our own and I don't see anything wrong with that.

      Personally, I was unable to afford the a feather bouquet in the style that I wanted. So I made my own. It wasn't in any way a duplication of another artist's work, even if I'd wanted to duplicate these things, I wouldn't have had the skill. But it was inspired by pictures that I saw online. It was mine and I love it. But at the same time, I never would have come up with that concept, if I hadn't seen a certain artist's Web site.

  26. I will go back and read more comments later (I have to run now) but I wanted to say: I agree with the first comment totally: the line is drawn when you are copying directly (ie swiping an entire graphic or piece of art) rather than doing something similar that is inspired by a design…and when you pay someone else to do it for you. If the design is your own, but inspired by another artist, and you did it yourself, that's cool. If it's exactly the same and you paid someone less to do it, that is really not OK.

    The line gets gray again when you look at stuff that's easy to make and do make it yourself, but make it to look basically the same (and you're not a professional). But I still figure – most of the time stuff like that is stuff that barely qualifies as "indie art": earrings strung easily with glass beads, ribbon hot-glued around a vase etc. and as such, is fair game.

    I also agree with Ariel that I don't feel bad ripping off the big guys, but I do feel bad ripping off the independents.

    And I say this as a person planning a wedding who doesn't have the money for custom art or any such thing: although I agree with Ariel, I should point out that using such work does not always translate into a loss of business for the independent artist. Case in point: I saw a graphic artist whose work I absolutely love awhile back (not on OBB) and would have loved to have hired her to do something for our wedding. But I didn't, because no matter what I couldn't afford it. I did not try to copy the work, instead letting the whole idea go. If I *had* hired someone to do the same thing for less, though, it would not have been a loss of business for this artist. I would not have been able to pay for her work regardless of whether I hired the other guy or not (which, as I said, I did not). Same for music sometimes: I don't illegally download but if I did, it's not like the music industry is losing money: I wouldn't buy the CDs regardless of the availability of a free copy.

    • Copying does result in loss of business when the copier gets undue credit for the design. Other people see that who could have supported the original artist. The person who put all the original work and effort into it.

      This has affected me personally.

      there is always room for a new twist on an old design.

      • That's true, and I do agree with you, and I do think copying an original design detail-for-detail and then taking credit is wrong. but let me play devil's advocate for a sec.

        It still doesn't matter quite so much because the person who saw that design (that was credited unfairly to someone else) wouldn't have seen it at all otherwise, as the consumer may not have bought the original artist's work to begin with. So those people that could have been exposed to the artist's work still won't be.

        And if someone does see those copies and goes home to search for something similar online, and finds the original artist's work, that's actually more business for the artist. (I realize they are also likely to see the copycat's work, though maybe not – a person hired to copy a design specifically for one event may not put that design online for fear of a lawsuit). It could put it in the heads of those guests to look for something just like what they saw, and lead them to that original artist, when if they hadn't seen it they would have never thought of it. Not saying it will, but it could.

        But anyway. I do think stealing an exact original is wrong, and I do think that if you like an idea and choose to make it "your own" by creating something inspired-and-similar-yet-different, that's much better and far more acceptable. That's what I did with our wedding invitations, and because the end product was soooo different (we really only took inspiration from the format of the original – which is hardly the first of its kind – and chucked all the aesthetics out the window in favor of something that suited us) I don't feel I "copied" anything. If we'd taken the entirety of the original and just photoshopped our names in – that's just wrong. No matter what I said above!

      • And actually, I can give you two good examples of times when piracy actually helps an artist:

        1.) Music – I began to like the Dandy Warhols when a friend of mine played some of their music, which she'd downloaded for free (that is to say, unethically and I guess technically illegally). Because I liked them, I went onto iTunes and bought some of their better songs. That friend probably would not have paid for one of their CDs, but they made money because I was willing to pay. I would never have even heard of them if not for piracy.

        2.) Princess Lasertron: until I started looking for bouquet ideas, I had no idea that it was popular (or even "done") to have felt/button etc. flowers in a bouquet. I saw tons of pictures of them, and not all were made by you. Some were handmade, some were bought from different sources but the idea was similar, while not quite the same. I do remember that the first such bouquet I saw was not made by you. I think it was hand-made by a bride, actually.

        I thought it was intriguing so I searched Etsy (just the sort of place one would buy something like that) and came up with your name as someone who does them. I'm not planning to have one (I have a n artisanal fan from Taiwan as a "bouquet") but if any of my friends were to get engaged and express interest in a non-traditional bouquet, I'd refer them to your shop.

        So you would get business because I saw someone else's similar product. If I hadn't seen that almost-copy, it wouldn't have occurred to me.

  27. First, imitation is not the same as duplication.

    I think a lot of this depends on what specifically we're talking about. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation. The idea of a bouquet is not copyrightable. The exact execution of a bouquet in its physical form (including materials used, color, and method of assembly) may be copyrightable as a sculpture, but the mere concept of a bouquet made out of felt and buttons is not itself copyrightable. It is an idea; when executed with skill, it can be a beautiful idea, but it is the finished product — and the images of the finished product — that are subject to copyright protections, not the idea of a felt-and-button bouquet itself. The fact that Michelangelo made a sculpture depicting David at the moment he sees Goliath did not prevent other artists from depicting the same scene in paintings and sculpture. He didn't own the rights to the idea; just to the finished sculpture and images of the finished sculpture (speaking as if the David was sculpted in the time of modern copyright laws, of course). The idea of making a bouquet out of non-floral items, be they felt, buttons, candy, old jewelry, feathers, Christmas ornaments, or any other found item, is not itself copyrightable. The method of assembly also is not copyrightable (it could possibly be patentable, but that's another question and assumes that the average DIYer looking at a photo on the internet assembles their item in the exact same manner as the commercially available version and that the method of assembly has been patented, which is not automatic). I see a lot of people touting their "expertise" in copyright law on OBBT, especially lately, but copyright law is a complicated thing. There is a reason lawyers specialize in this area. It's not a black-and-white concept.

    The use of an image, altered to create something new, is not necessarily copyright infringement if there are enough differences in the original and the new work.

    I understand that independent artists and crafts people are very appreciative when someone decides to work with them, and understandably dislike copycats, but we're also talking about personal use. People who are making things for their weddings are not, as a general matter, going about selling the items they make.

    I disagree with the idea I read above that "I understand if you can't afford a custom piece, but that's why there are tons of cheap options out there." So, if I can't afford your services, but I'm crafty enough to make something similar myself, I should just forego doing this at all and stick with the cheap, mass-produced white tulle crap that is readily available?

    I guess I draw the line at common sense and economic sense. There is an artist on etsy who paints beautiful watercolors on silk. I could not ever hope to make something that could compare to her work, and I have gladly paid her a pretty sum to make me three wraps. I could have asked my mom (also a watercolorist) to try her hand at painting on silk, but I decided to pay the artist who is trying to make a living through her art. On the other hand, am I going to pay a premium to someone on etsy who is selling Yay! flags that I can make myself just as nicely and without the hassle of involving another vendor in my wedding? Absolutely not. Just because an etsy vendor has decided to try her hand at selling cootie catcher wedding favors does not mean that no one else can ever make another cootie catcher without paying her a premium.

    Weddings cost a lot of money. Everyone can agree on that. Too many weddings are cookie cutters of one another — even indie weddings seem to follow certain trends and particular styles (how many peacock feather themes or rockabilly themes have we all seen recently?). Are brides and grooms to be prohibited from finding ways to make the wedding they want at a price they can afford simply because someone on etsy is selling something that they like at a price they can't afford? I'm all for etsy; I support etsy artisans and craftspeople regularly. I may not be particularly creative, but I am crafty and can hold my own in the DIY arena. I enjoy making things; I even enjoy making things that look like things I saw in a store or online. They are for my own enjoyment, and not for sale, and there is still a nice satisfaction in making something from start to finish that I enjoy – even if the concept came from somewhere else.

    In art school, student artists are often asked to paint their own copy of a Master painting. Obviously the student paintings cannot be sold; they are copies. But does the student have to destroy their own work, or can the student enjoy the painting in his/her home, knowing it is not a real Matisse? As long as it is not being touted as an original and is not being sold, it is fine. It is known as a "study." Copying art has a fine tradition; it teaches technique and application, and is necessary to pass along the skills required to create new art. Someone who successfully copies a piece of art now has the skills to go on and try their hand at creating something of their own.

    I don't think anyone around here is claiming that their dress is a real Vera Wang if it's not. I think many have been inspired by Stephanie James' dresses, but they don't claim that their tea length dresses are hers. Many people have made felt and button bouquets and boutonnieres, but they don't claim to be Princess Lasertron works if they're not.

    Hiring someone to make an exact replica is, of course, a different matter. However, I find it hard to believe that anyone is making an exact duplicate. A felt and button bouquet will be altered to the particular wedding colors. Dresses are altered by fabric choice, color combinations, etc.

    What we're really seeing is copycat style — imitation not duplication; as general matter, style is usually an idea not a fixed image.

    • Just to be clear, when I said that there are lots of cheap options out there, I was not implying that if someone could make something glorious on their own (or with the help of a talented friend) they should succumb to the wedding industry crap. The rest of my sentence read "… and if you have the ability to come up with something you love yourself, go for it!"

      I was referring to the people who take an artist's design and then find a different professional to reproduce it, exactly, for them for cheaper.

  28. I do have two examples, though, of things I was inspired to do for our wedding that did come from other sources that I don't believe is duplication.

    The first is my dress. I was initially inspired by two things simultaneously: a certain dress (the designer is well-liked on OBB and OBT) and old-style Japanese prints of geishas and courtesans, including the not-really-Japanese-but-still-awesome "Courtesan" by Van Gogh. (Who painted it because he was inspired by similar prints – natch!).

    The dressmaker/designer's work is absolutely fabulous, but a.) far out of my dress budget and b.) mostly designed for slender women with boyish builds. I don't exactly rock a kimono so actually dressing like a geisha was out.

    So I took the focal point of the designer's dress (two silk sash ties down the back), changed the fabric, added a vintage obi, made the sashes at the top much longer to form a "train", changed the neckline from straight to V, changed the fabric from a light, wispy white to a cranberry red dupioni, altered the skirt from a floaty A-line to a structured bell (the shape of which was inspired by a Vera Wang dress, of all things), changed the sashes from soft blue silk to stiff embroidered copper brocade and am *thisclose* to having a dress (my seamstress thinks she can get it done by next weekend).

    Is that stealing? I don't think so: the idea came from a certain designer to have a specific focal point, and the skirt idea came from Vera Wang, but the final dress is not going to look anything remotely like either dress.

    The second thing we were inspired by were our invitations. A friend of ours who is a professional in graphic design (he also does web development stuff, it's hard to explain really) saw it and offered to make something "along those lines, but different". I was hesitant until I came across something like 5 or 6 other invitations online that followed a similar pattern, where the invitation tells the story of a couple and realized I was hardly the first person to take this concept and translate it into something unique.

    And I do feel the outcome is quite unique: not only a different story, but different typefaces, different paper, different colors, a different border (which is entirely unique and inspired by nothing but my own brain), different size, different "envelope", different details…and different look.

    So yeah, did a professional do our invitations? Yes. For free, as a gift to us. Did the general concept for that invitation come from something I saw somewhere? Yes, it did. Do I feel like I "stole" that artist's work? No. (The friend who did the invitations has a pretty strong sense of ethics and is familiar with design copyright law, so I also trust that if he felt he was doing something unethical, hed've spoken up).

  29. I actually ran into this issue with my mother. I paid for custom-made invitations through a fabulous etsy seller. The design was fantastic. My mom wanted me to get return-address labels with the same design, and she offered to make them for me herself. While my mom's been printing homemade cards and address labels for YEARS with clipart, I had to explain to her that this was a little different, and that while I'd paid for the invitations, I hadn't…bought the design itself, if that makes sense. I'd paid for that design on the specific invitations, but not for the right to own the design. Plus, the artist was selling return address labels herself! Sure, I *could* have easily done them myself…but I felt icky even considering it. I bought them from the seller directly, and that was that.

    I was so thrilled when I found out XKCD is creative-commons, because that gave me the freedom to use their binary heart illustration for our wedding programs guilt-free!

  30. There's a thin line between inspiration and stealing. If you're not sure if you're crossing the line, consider how you would feel, as the artist, if someone used the work in a particular way. If you can contact the artist, ask him/her. You may be pleasantly surprised but if the artist says no or asks for compensation or conditions, respect that. If in doubt, don't use the work and move on.

    Adaptation is wonderful but lifting someone else's ideas and hard work and taking credit (even implicitly) is stealing. While we may not all be artists here, think about how you feel if one of your co-workers takes credit for something you have done. No matter what your vocation, that hurts and is very damaging.

    Ariel, for someone who gives such thoughtful, even-handed advice- and as someone who makes a living from their intellectual property – I am surprised and disappointed that you would condone "stealing" anyone's work. Big or small, people deserve to benefit from their creativity and efforts. That includes paying the rent in a tiny studio AND paying the mortgage on a second home. At what point is a person/entity big enough to steal from? You mentioned that it is somehow ok to steal from Very Wang because she is big and successful and doesn't "need the money"… the people who work for her certainly need that money even if Vera can live without that incremental sale. Are you also suggesting that once Offbeat Bride sells a million copies (and, really, how could it not because it's an excellent book) it will be ok for me to take large parts of your work and pass it off as my own? If so, I think that my career in publishing is about to get off to a very successful and easy start.

    • Yep, I'll say it again: my opinions on this issue are indefensible and contradictory.

      That said, about my book — while I understand what you're saying, it's sort of a moot point because it became clear to me years ago that selling books ain't never gonna pay the bills.

      I know how many people read this FREE website each month (250,000) and I know how many people paid $15 for the book over the last 3 years (10,000). [Side note for those doing the math: my publisher keeps 85% of each book sale, and I give 15% of my 15% to my literary agent. Mama ain't paying the rent with book royalties.]

      I've given up on book sales ever supporting me, and at this point I've switched business models and give away content every day on offbeatbride.com and make money from advertisers. I guess what I'm saying is I've beaten you to your publishing piracy: in essence, I pirate my own book sales every day that I run offbeatbride.com.

      This is an issue a lot of authors deal with — if you make your website "too good" and give your writing away for free, who's going to buy the book?

      Anyway, I know this wasn't really your point, but as a writer, I've learned the hard way that the vast majority of readers will refuse to pay for my intellectual property, so I've changed business models. Such is economics for creatives.

      • On the plus side, I and many other OBBTers frequent your advertisers, follow you on twitter and link to you on my personal (no advertising non-hosted) blog so sending the love back to you as best I can.

        • Oh goodness: I didn't mean to come off as admonishing anyone! I'm not complaining that people don't buy the book, because advertising has worked out great for me. I don't have to be frustrated by how few people buy the book because OBBs have been very good to me — they may not buy the book, but they patronize my advertisers, so it works out just fine! 🙂

  31. 'Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination…And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to."

    An idea doesn't belong to the person that created it. It's like a living thing. It evolves and moves from one person to the next. It's not stagnant. The only way to make money as an artist is to be exceptional. Have exceptional ideas and execute them in a way that others can't duplicate. You can buy a knock off Vera Wang gown – but it's not the same quality. You can create your own photoshopped invitations, but they aren't crafted the same way. When you take and idea and you don't nurture it, the end product isn't the same. Stealing ideas (also called inspiration) only works well when you make it your own. When you let that idea spread in you, evolve in you – and then you release it again thru your creativity.

    I can steal an invitation – but I can never duplicate the craft involved in making that invitation because that's not my art.

    But let's not kid ourselves. Very little is original these days. When we buy art in any form, we're buying the craftmanship behind that art. If I have the ability to craft something, then I will – even if the idea wasn't mine.

  32. This is what I love about Offbeat Bride – fearlessly going into and discussing murky hot topic areas in an open and honest way.

  33. 1) It is frustrating when "inspirational" images are posted online but without sources, especially when you decide you want THAT ONE EXACTLY and don't know what the original source is. It is a occasional problem with bloggers, and a ubiquitous problem in discussions groups (OBT notwithstanding). Be you a full-time blogger or a late-night lurker, this is something we all need to be diligent about.

    2) I don't condone plagiarism under any circumstances, but there are steps that artists can take to make plagiarism less appealing. Offer different price points for products. Offer a range of custom options (I'm always looking for the eco-option). Make it easy for the consumer to buy your design, and they'll be less likely to steal it.

    • Yes yes! This is what I was going to say re: #1. Many, many times I will see inspiration boards online but have zero clue where the stuff came from. Or maybe you see pictures of a wedding where they used some element you love but the vendors used aren't listed.

      Case in point, a cousin of a friend got married last year and had a felt bouquet. Asked my friend if she knew where it came from and she hadn't a clue. I did a search on Etsy and found one or two vendors but nothing really like what was in my friend's photos from the wedding. So I decided to try my hand at making my own. It's been a lot of fun because I've been able to use my own colors and the plethora of cute buttons for sale in Japan, along with buttons my students have donated from their school uniforms for the project. It wasn't until I was well into the process that I figured out it was Princess Lasertron who originally makes these bouquets.

      So have I stolen this art? Maybe. I don't really know to be honest. I've been putting my own flair into the project but it's still basically the same product, right? Is it? I look at it and see my ideas put into it but someone else might look at it and think "DUDE! RIP-OFF!!"

      I guess this is where this sort of thing gets murky.

      • No, you didn't–you used your own ideas, colors, buttons, etc. Inspiration.

        As to knitswift: "Make it easy for the consumer to buy your design, and they'll be less likely to steal it." As my grandma used to say, "You can have anything you want, but you can't have everything you want." If there isn't enough wedding budget to include a $5,000 dress, then there just isn't, and it doesn't justify stealing.

    • A great resource for this problem is tineye:


      Give it an image, and it will search for copies of that image elsewhere on the web. Very often, it will lead you to the original posting of the image! (It won't find everything, but it's a good place to start.)

      I definitely recommend it. It's super useful!

  34. What do we think about adapting from designs that are no longer sold by the original artist/dressmaker etc? Have they then had their share of profits from that discontinued design such that to DIY it is no longer stealing because you wouldn't be taking their money?

    • If the original seller no longer offers that design, I don't know what the copyright law is on that *but* I'd feel a lot less bad about copying said design if I couldn't buy it from the person who created it to begin with.

      But the argument that it's no longer making the person money is still a bit moot – a lot of people wouldn't have bought the original work regardless of whether they copied it, so in that case the original artist is *still* not standing to make any money.

      • I see what you mean there. If you could never afford the original anyway, the designer would never had had opportunity to profit from you, so as you say money is a moot point.

        I ask only because I tend to covet dress designs etc that are older. Older to the extent that nobody will be selling one second hand anymore (dresses from say a 2005 collection will either be sold already or boxed up safe I would imagine) so to some extent if I were to want one of these I'd have no choice but to go to a dressmaker or attempt it myself

        • Copyright laws generally do not protect clothing designs, and a reproduction will usually be made out of different fabric and have enough other details so that it would not be an exact duplication.

    • I'm wondering about this too because I have a sample card (like holiday card) from YEARS ago that I couldn't afford to buy then, but could now. However, I cannot find the original artist online anywhere. I can't decide how I feel about making/having something made inspired by the original since I can't buy the original any longer.

  35. I agree with you, Ariel, but that leads me to wonder: Are our invitations a rip-off? I saw an invitation on Etsy that was literally a piece of cardstock with printing on it tied to a slightly larger, different-colored piece of cardstock with a ribbon. On the front cardstock there was a single leaf cut-out (hole punch). We loved this idea — simple, easy to DIY — so we'll be doing it in our colors with a different font and probably a few more leaves punched out. I'm sure the seller didn't fashion the hole punch herself, so am I stealing or was I inspired? I'm not trying to be an ass when I ask this, I'm actually having a moral dilemma here based on your post.

    • Maybe I'll get flamed for this but honestly, two pieces of cardstock with a leaf punch out and a ribbon hardly constitute a "unique design" that you would be "stealing". I highly doubt she was the first person to ever come up with the idea of an invitation with those specs.

      If she'd created a unique design, drawing, piece of art, created her own calligraphy style or typeface (which is VERY hard to do), made her own distinctive paper etc. then I think the line gets gray.

      But if it's morally wrong to use two cardstocks, a shaped hole punch and a ribbon because one person on Etsy does it, then…that's like saying "oh this stand at the flea market has earrings strung with three blue glass beads. I can't possibly ever make or buy a different pair of earrings featuring three blue glass beads because I have to buy them from her" – uh, no.

  36. This entry is right on target. As an artist, I find it insulting when a person asks me to recreate something they have seen elsewhere instead of asking me for an original. I also feel cheated for the original artist because they get the admiration, but none of the profit; it's not fair to them at all. Thanks for posting this!

  37. Um not to rain on your parade Ariel, but just noticed one of the archive tag labels is "steal this idea". Perhaps not the best terminology given there's several articles about not coveting wedding porn to the extreme?

      • That might be me reading into it too much… In my head stealing an idea isn't that dissimilar to stealing a design. After all a design was somebody's idea originally

        • But that idea probably occurred in some variation to more than that one person (the "wedding cans" idea may be the first of its kind that WE have seen, but how do we know that nobody back in the 1980s, before we all had internet, did the same thing and just didn't happen to get media attention? How do we know that this idea has never occurred to anyone else, whether or not they put it into practice?).

          If it's a piece of original art, I'd say it's unique and shouldn't be "stolen" (I do think "inspired by" is OK as long as the two are very obviously different) but an idea to create that art is not protected by any law.

          • The difference: the wedding cans people aren't trying to make a business out of getting married by recycling cans. They're not selling anything — and in fact, they've encourage others to follow suit. It's just not the same thing.

  38. Great post.

    I am an indie designer & artist as well as an OBBT member. I think the only real thing that you can do as an artist/designer is to forgive the copy cats and let it go. Offer the best product that you can with the best customer service and just hope that word gets around that you are worth the money. You can't please everyone, and pleasing one customer is hard enough sometimes. You know what your product is worth and some people are willing to pay it, some people aren’t, and some people are going to copy your design for a one time thing.

    The only point where I would start getting up in arms about it is if someone was making money off exact reproductions of my work. If it’s just a bride here and there copying this or that idea…so be it, my inspiration comes from somewhere too.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that as a customer I would ask the designer to work with me at a lower price before trying to find a rip off version. As a seller I hope that what I offer comes off as better than the rip off versions.

    “Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats.”
    -Howard Aiken

  39. Good post! And the comments have definitely been worth reading, that's for sure!

    I'm an academic, so I'm pretty aware of plagiarism issues and how it works with text. I know plagiarism is not the same as copyright, but I tend to apply my academic background to my crafty life and I think it ends up being quite fair.

    I've seen a whole issue rise up between two indie designers on the issue of copyright infringement and I think it illustrated something quite clearly: An exact design used is stealing. A similar design is not. Cute little birds, the ones that are almost paisley-shaped, are popular. You will find them EVERYWHERE. Owls are popular. I'm not sure what this year's big trend is, but I'm sure it will be popular. Just doing something similar is fair game. We all know what those little birds look like and, let's face it, they all look pretty much alike. If I put one together myself and it comes out looking pretty much like one I saw on a website, well, that will happen. If I go to a designer and say that I want one of those little birds, even if I show them a picture and say I want it "like this," that is fair game. If I do a screen capture, crop the image, and use what I found, that is NOT okay.

    I admit, I have found myself tempted occasionally. Especially if the design is the simplest thing ever and I honestly feel like there isn't much to claim as individual. I still try to avoid it though.

    I try to go by these rules:
    1. If I make it or have someone make it, and can hold it up to the original and it is exactly the same, I stole and I should be punished. The 7 points of difference is totally fair.
    2. If I find a tutorial on how to make something and do it myself or get a friend to help following the tutorial, it's fair game. It is never going to come out exactly like the original, and the person is intending for their work to be duplicated.
    3. If I can afford it, and really want it, I'll buy it. If I can't, I may look around for someone doing something similar if I can't do it.
    4. If I find similar things everywhere, it is utterly fair game.

    It does get grey, however. I've seen challenges or suggestions online in some crafting circles (especially cardmaking and stamping) where it is actually encouraged to try to copy someone's design. Then again, it never ends up the same. It always involves a different paper, etc. At which point it is inspired by, but not a direct copy.

    So basically, I'd agree with the idea of similar=good, exact duplicate=bad.

    If you want to delve into clothing issues, I've been told by a friend that Ravelry is ripe with this very debate. A friend of mine who designs patterns puts it this way: You can't copyright a technique, and you can't copyright a specific style. If a person can sit down and figure out how to do a dress with a particular detail, they are doing it themselves. It's murky, but it's true. It is still in the realm of similar. As long as you don't take apart someone else's dress, hold up the pieces, build an exact pattern from that dress, and make everything exact, it's hard to fault making something similar. Better to make a few changes, though, just to be on the safe side. Especially if what you are inspired by is very original. 🙂

    • At what point does "I made it and it looks exactly the same" go from "it was really simple" to "that's stealing", though?

      Let's say it's something simple. I made an example of earrings which are basically three glass beads strung together. What if you see that on Etsy, and you like it, but it's being sold at $20 or something. You go to Michael's and you find earring hooks, jump beads, pins and they happen to sell just the glass beads that the seller used so you get three of those. And you pay $5 and you go home and make the earrings. You hold them up to the picture of the ones you saw online and they look just the same?

      Is that stealing to you? I'm genuinely asking, because it could be to some. I say it's not: if it's something as simple as a few beads on a wire, it's hardly an original idea and you don't need to buy it from someone who decided to make it and sell it on the Internet.

      If it's something much more complex though (let's say you love Papaya (is that the name?) papers and you somehow manage to Photoshop a bunch of images so as to create a design that looks just like their stationery, without using any actual images of theirs. Is that stealing? I'm inclined to think yes, but at the same time I wouldn't fault someone for making something like that and using it for personal use.

  40. For me the puzzling thing is not whether it's okay to steal an artist's design, but why you'd want to?

    I mean, if I've come up with an idea or design myself I am going to find it very difficult to give up on it when budgetary issues come into play (why yes I did have a brief moment of insanity and consider spending $1000 on a cake). But why are people so emotionally attached to other people's designs? Surely if an invitation or something isn't your (general) own work, inspired by your own unique circumstances, you'd be flexible enough to alter it? It's not really reflecting you specifically, after all.

    I think that along with your wedding not being a contest we have to add, "Your wedding is not a work of art… unless you're actually artistic." If you love art and design and creativity then it's going to be natural that your wedding will reflect this and aesthetics are going to matter.

    But if you're not that kind of person, wouldn't it be better to focus your energy on something that's more suited to your personality? A well-written memorable ceremony? Building bonds with loved ones through the process of creating the wedding? Humour? Holding the most successful, entertaining party of all time with the best food and music and everyone ends up hugging and drunkenly singing Bohemian Rhapsody in opera voices? (Ooh, can I go to that wedding?)

    That way you don't need to swipe someone's work of art just because it's pretty. Because pretty is not actually the point of your wedding (unless you're an artist anyway and express your love through works of beauty or something). When things are too expensive it's an opportunity to find something better, more fitting and more *you*.

    I don't know, putting your energy into the aspects parts of the wedding you're passionate about in everyday life seems like it might make things so much simpler.

  41. Until reading this post I hadn't given this issue much thought and now realise I may be guilty on 2 counts…

    1. Dress – I came across a picture of my dream dress online, however, I could find no reference to who the designer is. I have tried to track it down to no avail so intend to get a replica made.

    2. Invitations – I have made my invitations myself based on a passport cover I saw online. I have a different background image, different wording, different font and also different medium (as it is now a postcard and not a passport cover) however the colours and layout remain the same.

    My motivation for these 'copies' wasn't monetary, more me being able to source exactly what I wanted. Sorry designers!

    • I have to say I really, really don't see any problem with your DIY passport-themed invitations. I'm sorry but the artist whose work you saw online is not the first person to ever come up with the idea of using a passport theme in wedding invitations. (Even if they were, you can't copyright an idea.) And the invitation you made sounds very different from the original you saw, so I don't think anyone could legitimately accuse you of stealing. Ideas are free for everyone to use as a jumping off point. You took that passport idea and made it your own.

      In terms of the dress, if you really can't find out who made it originally then I don't think there is anything else you can do, but have it made. Dress designs can't be copyrighted anyway, so it wouldn't be illegal regardless.

      • This is pretty much exactly how I feel, except much better and more succinctly said!

        You shouldn't steal something outright (that is, get an exact copy made) but ideas are up for grabs. I questioned myself on that when a friend made our invitations, but the invitation I got the inspiration from (which was not for sale, mind you) was hardly the first of its kind to take that format, nor will it be the last, and while products shouldn't be stolen/copied, ideas are up for grabs.

        Our inspired-by invitations have a Morse Code border that I came up with myself (a friend made a font for it so I could create it and everything). Have I ever seen such a thing before? No. Has it been done before? Possibly/probably. But if another invitation pops up with a decorative Morse Code border, that'd be cool, because it's not like I now own the rights to a Morse Code border, just like nobody owns the rights to a story invitation. If they actually stole my custom font to do it, well, OK – though I'd question why they didn't just make their own. It's not like it's hard.

    • Jen – If the photo looks like it was taken by the manufacturer, you can run it through TinEye.com. If the same photo is on a designer's site, tineye will find it.

  42. I read the Decor8 blog daily, so this issue has actually been on my mind since I read that post.
    For my own wedding, which has been in the long-term planning stages for..omg a couple of years now.. it has been important for me to step back from the 'inspiration' and think about exactly what *I* want. Decorations, dress, everything. Do I really want a carbon copy of someone else's fabulous invitations, or do I want to find a way to make mine equally as unique and fantastic? There's always a way to get what you want without stealing from someone else. If you can't afford one artist and you ask another to come up with something INSPIRED by another artist's work, that's one thing, but it's completely unethical to ask an artist to copy another's work.. and even more unethical for the artist to agree. Unfortunately, calling something unethical isn't going to stop the problem. I don't think there is a big-picture solution.. but those of us who think it's important will continue to support the little guy.. and hopefully that will be enough.

  43. I am so happy to see this discussed so well! I got into letterpress printing 15 years ago, because I love fine press and beautifully printed books. I also opened a fairly large handmade and fine paper store. We always tried to keep our prices low, and creativity high. We spend about half our time educating people about eco papers, letterpress printing, creative options, and DIY. We started with every couple, from scratch, so we could completely individualize. We would help every couple create a totally personal DIY (the couples had to print, if we didn't print letterpress) — and assemble. My partner is a fine artist, graphic designer, and letterpress printer, so we would create unique art.

    After a few years, "Westside" people (we were located in Pasadena) would come in with other people's designs for us to copy. They wanted a cheaper price — but for all their friends to think they spent a fortune. This really bothered me. (Of course, we refused, flat out.) We actually were forced to change our business around.

    There are artists, and artisans, and manufacturers.

    An artist makes a "unique" object. (in a perfect world 🙂 Lots of blood, sweat and tears. And skill.

    An artisan makes pieces one by one, but from a recipe or mold. That recipe or mold, is the intellectual property. That is where a lot of the sweat and tears occurs. That is usually what people try to knock off. (Vera Wang dresses are partially manufactured, but there is a lot of artisan skill in the beading, etc.) The skill continues in executing the design.

    Manufacturing is totally automated – the automated process is the intellectual property.

    I get google alerts for DIY wedding invitations — about 90% of the posts involve knocking someone off.

    Few people equate the amount of skill and intention it takes to create a custom design. I think it is because so many objects have become so cheap.

    Think of it — about 150 years ago, each nail was handmade.

  44. Someone just forwarded this OBB Article to my facebook page as Ive been ranting about this piracy thing for quite a while now. Its great! Thank you!

    I wrote this "Message To The Consumer" and it caused quite a stir. It is not directed to the bridal customer, but does concern all artists, designers, makers of beautiful and unique things. This is not to promote my clothing – Im just trying to explain what happens to my colleagues and myself when we get copied. Sure we have tons of ideas, but not the bankroll to produce all of those great ideas. So when we do finally get an idea out there that takes off and we end up losing our hard earned livelihood to someone who took our things and copied them stitch by stitch, we cannot recoup the loss. It is devastating. Such is life. But if you want art to be able to continue and help the world be a more wonderful place to live in, you must support the artists. You must.

    Here's what I wrote:
    A Message To The Consumer

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 2:14pm
    Lately business almost everywhere has tanked. It has tanked for just about everyone. People don't have the spare cash they used to have. Or if they have it, they are fearfully hanging onto every penny for dear life. I get it. We're in a Depression. Things have changed. They will get better, but things have to change before it gets better and we are very uncomfortable for now.

    My business has tanked as well. I turned away from my custom clothing business a few years ago and focused on a few products that were becoming popular in our little belly dance community and were actually starting to pay my rent and put food on the table. And as this is my sole means of support in an extremely expensive part of the world, you can imagine how happy this was making me. I wasn't running out and buying myself expensive shoes and clothing, I wasn't filling my flat with velvet curtains, lush rugs, and satin sheets, but I was able to run over to Ikea now and then and buy pattern boxes or a cheap little throw rug. I was able to keep buying fabric to make more things. My name got out there and I was able to take care of my basic needs. The future was looking up for this starving artist type.

    And then, as is what always happens to those of us who have put forth great ideas or concepts and do not have the means to mass market/mass produce/have a backer or a second or third income coming in, we get squashed. We go under. We go work for the man and often disappear entirely. This is about to happen to me, I fear. I hope not. But the danger is ever present.

    Over the last few years, I focused on putting out designs and products that were special, different, fit well, were well designed, and made you feel good about wearing. I created my price points to allow me to eat, buy more fabric to make more things, and to hopefully be affordable for most.

    There are two well known "designers" – one here in California and one in Canada, besides a few smaller others, who have taken my designs and mass produced them or are trying to. They sell them online. They sell them at festivals and events. People are buying their products and not buying mine now – the very same thing, basically, and I'm close to going under. My product is better. It is lovelier, it is well made, it is unique (or was at any rate), and you may no longer be able to buy my wares soon , because there will be no point in my trying to make them for you. I have asked these women to cease and desist. They refuse. They claim that they too are running women owned businesses and gotta do what they gotta do. This just backs up my claim that most women are vicious and all this talk about supporting your sisters is bullshit. (sorry, a little anger here) I did make peace with one person who is doing her product a bit differently, but it was still too close to comfort for me.

    My patterns are copyrighted, they cannot be reproduced for mass consumption unless by me, and my resources for fighting back have dwindled now because people are going for the knock offs. But I'm not letting go of this. If it doesn't help me, maybe it will help someone else down the road.

    This happens over and over and over and over. Piracy is deadly to small artists and designers who cannot defend themselves. I have been harping on this for years now. I dropped the ball for a while, but its time to get back in the saddle again and speak up. When you buy knock offs, you are usually getting an inferior product, are making a purchase from a pirate who did not do the original hundreds of dollars of work that it takes to get an idea into public domain, they do not have the skills or talent that the originator of the idea has – although they often think they do and DO have the skills to snow you, the consumer, and they are taking money away from the person who started the idea. They care nothing about what happens to the originator of the idea/design. They want to steal their ideas, claim them as their own, and hope that the original goes away. This is about greed and nasty competition. This is happening in our belly dance community. Tribal. Wasn't it supposed to be better than that?

    While I am not trying to sound whiny, it is happening to me and my colleagues at a very bad time. And I want the public and the consumer to be aware that this is happening all around them. Not everyone can be aware of these things. I doubt that most care. But for those who have a conscience and do care, please buy from the original designers. You are getting a piece of the artists soul. Our designs are our babies. Its what we are here on earth for – to create. We deserve as nice a life as anyone. We deserve a living wage and our prices have to reflect that. I know that most dont think of these things. I hear so often. "you want that for this?" Yet you want beauty and special things in your life. You have to provide the maker the means to do these things for you. Its not rocket science.

    And is this piracy thing an ok thing to teach our children? We teach them not to steal, but we are stealing on a day to day basis when we don't buy the original product. This makes us hipocrits. Like with any product on the market: know what it is. Know whats in it. Know where it came from. Know who's behind it. Know what this product is doing to your environment and the living things in it.

    Please note that I am not talking about being inspired by something and making your version of it. I am not talking about making something for yourself, your friends, your troupe, or your family. I am always pushing, pushing, pushing people to sew, to make, to create, to buy supplies and fabrics – to support the dwindling fabric stores and the almost non existent fabric industry in this country.

    I WANT people to be creative. I want everyone to find their creative "Happy Place" and luxuriate there……..what I am pushing for here is awareness of piracy for profit. Its not fair. Its not cool. Its deadly.

    Thank you

  45. Hmmm this is tough. I have fallen in love with many independent designers gowns. The problem is that an independent gown doesn't seem to run much cheaper than a big name gown. I can't afford either. I will not be paying for either. So I totally understand what you are saying but I would argue there are many people who would not buy it anyhow.I'm not buying a $1000 dress when my budget is for no more than $500. So whether the design was copied or not, that artist was never going to get my money.

    I think this is one of those issues that it's important to discuss but it can't ever be resolved. I have shopped and shopped wedding dresses and decided that with a few exceptions, no one has anything terribly original unless they make the dress themselves. Everything seems knocked off of someone else. How do I know who the originator is? Hell even big name brands do it. When I went to David's Bridal website I noticed that all the dresses were inexpensive versions of the dresses on Alfred Angelo. Probably AA is knocked off of a more expensive brand yet.

    I don't go out of my way to steal. If I like a song, I buy the album. If I like a shirt, I buy it. With weddings though, it's easy to see why people latch onto anything they can get made cheaper. Let's admit the fact that most things are being sold with an enormous upcharge because it has the word wedding in it. So people feel powerless and taken advantage of. Then people feel better about stealing or copying things because they figure they were being ripped off to begin with. Like stealing office supplies even though it mostly inconveniences your fellow coworkers and not your company.

  46. good lord! I love this site, but I can't deal with ill-informed discussions of 'stealing ideas' and making some kind of social distinction between stealing from the big bad Vera Wang Incs and the cute little fuzzy artist toiling in a studio. Hey- what if that artist was living on a massive trust fund – would that change your mind? Full disclosure – I am an attorney who does a lot of IP work for small designers and performers. The world of ideas is vast, and once you put things out to the public as your own – to sell for profit – there are things you can protect, and things you can't. Ideas, in and of themselves, are not protectable commodities. There are laws that regulate "stealing" of intellectual property, and there is inspiration everywhere in the world – as beautiful as your work may be, you may – or may not- have the right to keep it to yourself. I apologize for the rant, but "I stole your idea" is one of my pet peeves.

    • Michelle, I think I've been extremely clear that my vera/indie social distinction is personal, self-contradictory, and indefensible. That said, not all of us are IP lawyers — so if you've got information that could make this discussion less ill-informed — SHARE IT! 🙂

      • Oh goodness – I think I ranted a bit! : ) I certainly didn't mean to come off as a jerk.

        I do understand the personal impulse about the corporations v the indie artists (and, alas, I didn't let sink in that it was a personal position only)! And the only reason I won't go into legal specifics, is that it's so hard to give general legal advice on a website when everyone's issues are so specific. And I am also a performer, so I am sensitive to copying v. inspiration issues in my own life as well.

        I recommend that artists in business take courses in these issues – generally the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts run inexpensive and well-taught classes. The US Patent & Trademark Office and the Copyright Office have very informative websites as well. I personally consult with people on a free initial basis before determining if they can DIY any filings or registrations on their own.

        In determining the line between copying and inspiration, it's really a case by case thing. I think that someone writing an artist and saying "I stole your idea" is the height of crassness – even if it was a popular idea to begin with (that may not have been steal-able), it makes it personal and I can't imagine why people would be so rude.

        Sites like Etsy, YouTube (for people who market through video) and Ebay have policies against dealing with straight-up theft of images and works.

        Sorry to ramble on! Just wanted to contribute to the discussion in a more positive way.

    • I agree.

      But I do not think the law = ethics (they overlap a lot, though, which is good) and beyond what the law protects, there are ethical considerations not covered by the law. Those are worth discussing too.

      That said, while plenty of OBB readers have probably seen things they love and tried to re-create something similar, if what they're doing is taking that idea and using it to inspire their own work (rather than doing something that really is against the law, like directly stealing images, which I do believe is addressed in IP law), honestly, I think that's OK from an ethical as well as legal standpoint.

  47. Very interesting discussion. It is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly where I fall on this sliding scale. So much of it has to do with what I consider to be a reasonable price.

    I think we can all (or mostly) agree that certain designer products come with a big markup, because of the name attached to the label. That is why it is easier for some (though not all) of us to justify knocking off a Vera Wang gown.

    I refuse to believe that the materials and labor that go into a $10K gown are really worth that much more than the materials and labor that go into a $1K gown or even a $500 gown. Are they somewhat better, yeah probably. But not that much. It just isn't logically possible.

    So, in my mind it is completely justifiable to knock off that gown — no to mention legal, since the gown can't be copyrighted — because you don't care what the label inside says.

    When it comes to smaller designers, it is sort of creepy to think of asking someone to outright copy another person's work. But at the same time, at least in the wedding world there are a lot of people doing similar work out there and some of them do it for less.

    So while I personally wouldn't feel comfortable e-mailing someone a picture of another artist's work and asking them to duplicate it outright. For example, if I really liked a set stationary with, say, nesting birds on it, but couldn't afford that particular artist's work, I wouldn't feel any hesitation to contact another, cheaper artist and say I wanted stationary with nesting birds, and allowing the second artist to come up with whatever take on that theme they would like.

    I'm fully aware that the example I gave above isn't stealing or copyright infringement. But it is a solution to the problem that makes me comfortable.

    Personally, when it came to my own wedding, I couldn't bring myself to ask another jeweler to copy the artisan ring I really wanted. So we just saved a little more and I got my dream ring. But I also saw some feather bouquets online that I really liked but couldn't afford. (In my mind, it's a lot easier to save up for something you'll wear every day than for something you'll use once). So I made my own instead, completely from scratch and it was a hugely rewarding experience.

    • This is why I should re-read before posting.

      What I wanted to say in the third-to-last graph:

      "So while I personally wouldn't feel comfortable e-mailing someone a picture of another artist's work and asking them to duplicate it outright, I don't see any problem with using the basic ideas as a jumping off point."

    • The beadwork on a very expensive dress does take time and skill: I know this because not only is it mentioned in "One Perfect Day" but also, I live in Asia. As I designed my own gown with inspiration from several sources, while I was working out what I wanted I sourced a few people here who do this stuff by hand as their livelihood (mostly older women from wealthier families who never needed to work in a designer label sweatshop: Taiwan doesn't have them as it's a developed country now). Embroiderers and beaders? Yeah. Very expensive and *very* skilled.

      But the people who put those beads on those designer wedding gowns, who have the same level of skill as the ladies I sourced, make next to nothing in sweatshops across Asia. That $10,000 is NOT going to them, howevermuch it should. So I don't feel ethical buying it, and while I didn't rip off a gown, I wouldn't judge someone for doing so because really, the designer is ripping people off, too. (You can argue that the earnings of those workers may be low but it's something – I argue that that something, if it keeps them as poor as they are and working themselves to death as they do, is not good enough). That $10,000 goes mostly to the designer who came up with the idea of the dress. Yes, this takes a lot of skill (as I learned while designing my own) *but* – $10,000 while the people who sew the gowns make $10? I call shenanigans!

      But yes, I agree, asking one designer to rip off another artist's work as an exact duplicate is icky, *if that work was unique enough to be noticeably the same*. I still don't think that covers things like simple tulle wraps, little bird charms, basic feather bouquets etc.. But making something very similar yourself? That's a lot more of an ethical (if not legal) gray area.

      • To be clear: I wasn't trying to downplay the amount of work that goes into a high end designer gown. I read "One Perfect Day" and I know how much work goes into those dresses (and how little of the money people pay for their dresses goes to those workers).

        But I still don't believe that a $10K dress has $9K better raw materials and better workmanship than a $1K dress. Unless those beads are actually made from precious materials, the price difference just can't be that great. A huge chunk of that differential is markup. And that is why I don't think knocking off a high-end designer is the same as copying a small artisan dressmaker.

        That being said I did not wear a knockoff wedding dress. I wore a designer prom dress that I bought on clearance. And I bought everything else on Etsy, except for my bouquet, which I made myself and my shoes, which I already owned.

        But I do buy clothes from places like H&M, Target and Forever 21, all of which imitate high end designers and sometime outright knock them off.

        To clarify the feather bouquet situation: I said this in reply to another comment above, but when I made my own bouquet I did not copy any specific designs I saw online. I just looked at some pictures for ideas and then bought 300 feathers and went to town. What I came up with didn't look anything like a single bouquet I'd seen online, other than that it was made of feathers. In all honesty, even if I'd wanted to copy somenone, which I didn't, I wouldn't have had the skill to do so.

        That is a big part of the reason why I don't have a problem with people making stuff for themselves. Most of us who aren't artists, and are just trying to save a buck, aren't even skilled enough to rip someone off, even if we tried.

        • Hi, I'm a lurker 🙂

          I just wanted to point out that the way retail mark ups works. As fas as "where does that $10,000 go". At a normal/reasonable retail mark up:

          about $500 would be salesperson commission
          about $4,500 would go to store (rent, management, etc… and it's actually hard for retailers to make money on luxury products because people do not buy as much)
          about $2,000 goes towards materials, labor and shipping
          about $3,000 goes to running the wholesale business – advertising, photography, administration, designers (including Ms. Wang herself, but also dozens of other artists)

          Whether or not its worth spending thousands of dollars on one dress or not is a personal decision (and I would say not personally!) And of course you shouldn't buy from a company who's labor standards and ethics you don't agree with. But its DEFINITELY not as simple as the money going to a big name designer or to sweatshop workers. It's going to the person who sold it to you, who set your appointment, who owns the boutique, who modeled the dress in the catalog, who packed the boxes at the warehouse, who answers the phone at the Vera Wang office, etc. etc. etc.

        • I agree here too. Most of us aren't artists (I'm not, though I can draw fairly well). We couldn't rip something off exactly even if we tried. And if the thing is that easy to copy, it honestly IMHO does not fall under the realm of something unique and artisanal enough to qualify as original art (see above about things like simple tulle wraps or easy beaded earrings), but rather a simple craft that a lot of people could do…so I see no ethical dilemma with doing it yourself.

          Same for felt flowers – yes, they were really unique and original and one point, and it would be very wrong to take a picture of one of Princess Lasertron's works and ask someone else to do it for cheaper. But if you took the *idea* of felt and button flowers and made something out of the same kinds of materials that suits you, that is just not stealing in my opinion. It's making a craft.

  48. This is a really interesting ethical dilemma that, like all ethical questions, really has no answer. But for me, cost is a big issue. If I find local designer's piece that I know cost them $10 to make, and they are selling it for $80 or $90, then I can't help but want to make it myself. But if they're selling it for $20 or $30, I feel that's fair, and am willing to pay. I have my ethical codes about what is a "fair" markup, and when that fairness goes away, so does my business.

  49. Why duplicate something 100% if you could have something that is uniquely yours?

    Look at the invitations you love so much, and try to pinpoint exactly what it is that you love about them so much, then try to incorporate that into your own design that you either have someone else make, or do yourself. I fell in love with a particular invite only to realize the only thing I liked about it was the font!

    My end result invite is a composite of things I liked from about 50 different invites I saved on my computer. So I wouldn't forget the detail I liked about the invite, I saved them with names that would remind me, such as nicefont.jpg or placementoftextiscool.jpg etc.

    • Dude, you do that too?! I do that with everything. I've got so many pictures on my jeffin' computer just on plans for things.

  50. I handmade my own felt flowers for my wedding. I probably spent 30 hours or more on them. I loved doing it and stiull wear them. They do not look exactly like anyone else's.
    Is that stealing?

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