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. There's an issue bothering me here that has been touched on but not talked about much – why are some brides being such jerks to artists? I don't mean to offend anyone specifically (and I don't think I can, because no one has been mentioned specifically), and I'm pretty sure the 'being a jerk' part is accidental – but I really think it's worth highlighting that when you e-mail an artist to say their work is overpriced and you're knocking it off, they're not going to take your apology, they're going to think it's rude.

    A friend of mine sculpts full time, and makes a living off of it. She knows that she under-prices her work compared to both other sculpture and even some commercially produced statuary. Still, once in a while someone complains about how much something costs. Usually these people do NOT want it, they are just interested in complaining about money. She also very regularly gets e-mails from people who have purchased her work, letting her know that they're planning on trying to cast it to make copies of, some who even intend on selling the copies. That's totally not okay, and luckily her work is extremely hard to cast so she doesn't think anyone's succeeded, because she doesn't want to go around telling off her customers OR having to sue anyone. But many art-appreciators don't understand art, what the price range is, or even that things like casting and reproducing sculpture is 'copying'. When sculpture has hundreds of years of art history to back it up that 'this is a copy' and people still don't get it, I can understand graphic designers getting an even worse deal with the public understand that they're work is not free game for duplicating, and it sucks.

    But what's worse to me is the attitude of communicating with artists that their work is too pricey and you're going to knock it off because you think you have to. I feel it's really rude and unnecessary. Again – I know that probably wasn't the intent of these e-mails, I hope not anyway – but that's the message that comes across.

    It's been said many times here. Approach the artist first, not after. Explain your budget, see if they can do something easier/cheaper for them that accommodates the style or feeling you want. Or Do It Yourself, don't flash copies of another artists work around to others. That's just sort of tacky.

  2. So, when I met with my cake baker, I showed her tons of pictures of wedding cakes that I thought were awesome, and when I showed her my favorite one, which happened to already be in our theme colors, she said, "Why don't we just make this one?" I was surprised because I didn't realize that was an option, and I loved that cake so much that I just said, "OK!" We did decide to add green fondant roses with black leaves, which weren't in the original cake design.

    I never thought much of it until this post. Now I'm wondering whether I'm a total, unoriginal jackass and I should have her scrap the cake design all together. Am I just stealing another bride's cake, or is it okay to use something that's in a magazine/forum specifically devoted to giving brides ideas?

    • As much as I love this post and as fascinating as all these issues are to me, I kinda hate that it is giving so many people a complex…

      Lizzie, don't give yourself a hard time. Would you have been able to seek out the original bakery that created that cake and have them make it and bring it all the way to your wedding from where they created it probably halfway across the country? Did the magazine that you got it from even give credit to the designer of the cake? I guarantee that every cake ever seen on theknot.com has been reproduced in little bakeries all over the country. And although the baker is probably very talented and deserves to make money, there is a certain practicality here that is being muddied up by all of these scenarios.

      I think the original post here is more concerned with swiping invites off the net and changing names and dates and claiming it as your own design. If your baker took photos of the cake and then submitted them into a cake contest as her own original work, that would be morally icky. But I would not incriminate you for what you guys did at all.

    • I'm with Emzy here. This is nothing you should be worrying about.

      People are reading this thread and starting to worry about the silliest stuff.

      First of all, there are many logistical considerations to take into account with your cake, as Emzy pointed out. Secondly, you didn't even end up copying the cake. You made changes.

    • Lizzie, unless the baker whose cake you copied lives locally or you're rich enough to fly the baler to you, then you had literally no option but to either hire someone locally or have a completely different design. Cakes don't go through the mail very well. 🙂

  3. At the risk of adding to the flames but with the intention of putting them out:

    I was in a mediation meeting with my old boss. Mediating us was the Head Cheese and the Human Resources lady. At one point my old boss said "Well that's how the world works. 'Poop' runs down hill. If you don't like it- tough." I replied that his statement served nothing but to make the entire hill "poopy". I was dissappointed that in a mediation situation this was the belief that was deferred too.
    I mention this because it seems to me that this is where several people and brides have placed themselves. Just because that is how the world works doesn't make it alright for you to follow nor does it make it legal, moral or ethical to do so. I am deeply saddened that there is a group of people within a community who has come together for being "offbeat" that are going to fall behind such absolute rubbish.
    We are a community of independent, intelligent, creative and strong people. We don't need to copy/duplicate or even "borrow" someones idea. Hence the term do it YOURSELF. We should not be okay with settling for someone elses design (however fabulous), if it is out of our range/scope for any reason. Instead we should be doing as several of us have already posted: Contact the designer and try to work with them, try a different avenue, employ your creative friends secret talents, start an original hobby. In short- create a cleaner hill.
    This discussion is, in the end, purely about semantics. What defines what, what does the technical definition or term really mean etc. But none of that is really the point. The point is what to do about it and each of us have a personal responsibility to do the right thing. Nobody really needs to tell you what to do, you already know. We all want to have fabulous things, and I include myself in everything I have posted. We are here because the way the industry worked didn't jive with our view of the world and how we wanted it to be. So let's not fall back on such an overused cliche' by using it now because it's convenient or cheap. There are enough options avaliable to everyone that there simply is no excuse for spreading the poopy hill disease.
    My kettle is black, no perfection here. I can covet with the best of them, my pc is full of coveted pictures! But I won't sell out my own values of being offbeat, independent and "different" either. We make our own way ladies/gents, and really, no one wants to share poop. So stop sending it down the hill.

    The question now, is since you have these resources available to you, what are you going to do about it? How will your wedding/planning change?

    • Thank you for this. I've started using pinterest a fair way through my planning, but I'm using it to communicate *ideas* to vendors and friends who are helping out and offering a variety of pins so it's clear I don't want a copy of one. The other use for it is to help my family "here mum, this is the size of balloons I have bought, aren't they excellent?" etc.

  4. This is a very interesting discussion! I've really enjoyed reading all the comments.

    I think for as much good as it's done, Etsy has also muddied the waters a lot. For instance, I first saw the felt-n-button bouquet idea in pictures of Princess Lasertron's wedding a few years ago, so I've always associated that idea with her, and have always assumed she created that design. But now I can go on Etsy and do a search for "felt flowers" or "felt bouquet" and find at least half a dozen sellers making very similar things. Anyone who hadn't happened to see PL's pics back in the day would probably think, "oh, felt and button bouquets are just a craft that lots of people do," and have no qualms about making something very similar themselves, using their own colors and their own special buttons, etc., as someone upthread did. Whereas before Etsy, I doubt the market for felt & button bouquets would have become so diluted so quickly and the bouquets would continue to seem more like original works of art (which I think they are) than a "craft."

    This is just one example, and might be a bad one, since I don't truly know the history of this type of bouquet, but I think it's so easy for anyone to sell any kind of derivative work on Etsy that it becomes impossible to know where and with whom an idea originated. And it's a lot easier (mentally, ethically) for a bride to "rip-off" 10 different people than one specific artist.

    • Felt and button flowers were in a craft book I had as a kid back in the 80's, and my grandma has kept a bouquet of them she bought in the 70's. Lasertron did NOT invent those, and it's annoying that she's been given credit for a project that's been around for decades. But she's so beloved around here that no one will care and will still give her credit for inventing something that's been around longer than she's been alive.

      Is she a copy-cat? No, because everything that can be done has been, and you can create something without realizing it had been done before.

  5. It's official. I am NOT going to make felt flowers for my wedding. I had thought they would be great based on the fact that they look (or my design would look) like the flowers clowns wear on their lapels. You know, the ones that they squirt water out of? I thought that would be cute and would match perfectly with our theme. But not anymore. I have friends who are artists and I respect the process by which they work and try to earn a living so I would never rip off an artists work. Not that I was going to but I hope you see my point. Felt flowers aren't being done in Australia (or not that I know of anyway) although crappy silk ones are EVERYWHERE!!!! I would actually like to start a business that offers alternatives to flowers for weddings but, again, I would never rip anyone off. SO back to the drawing board, I guess.

    • Penny, don't give up on your idea (that seems so original to me) because you are afraid that it will rip someone off. Have you found sellers that create clown squirty flower bouquets? I am betting not.

      Every idea is an off-shoot of another. If we all did this, no one would ever create anything new. All of this stuff gets tricky and confusing and while I am sure artists appreciate your stand on not ripping anyone off, even those same artists rarely create anything that is completely 100% original. Even if you think you have an original idea for a bouquet, it is incredibly incredibly doubtful that no one in the history of Earth has never ever created anything similar. Handful daisies, done every day. Roses, all the time. Felt flowers, gaining popularity. But even if you made your bouquet out of barbed wire and christmas tinsel, some out there has done that before, and perhaps someone reading this will say, "hey, that would be kick-ass, I am doing it." I promise I won't claim that they stole my idea.

      Have faith in your ideas. It is NOT ripping someone off if it is not something readily available or that you can even find has ever been done before (although my argument is that it probably has been done at some point, probably by a clown troop in the 70s at Coney Island). Just because you can pay an artist to custom create this idea of your for you, does not mean that it is wrong to create it yourself.

    • Please, please, please don't hold back on expressing yourself out of a misplaced fear that you could be stepping on someone's toes. Arts, crafts and all creative endevours build off of each other and help expand the artform and the creative world in general.

      Would you say that Picasso shouldn't have worked with cubism, because Braque was also exploring that style? Would you say that after Orson Welles made "Citizen Kane" that no other filmaker should have used the flashback narrative structure?

      I have never, ever seen anyone making felt flowers in the clownish-style that you describe. I love PL's work, but she did not invent felt flowers. They have been around forever. I remember them from my childhood and I'm sure they are certainly much older than that.And what you want sounds very different from her signature bouquets.

      Why deprive yourself and the world of your inspiration? This is silly.

    • I agree. If no one ever copied an art style or expression, only one guy would have ever been a painter or one woman ever a quilter. Intellectual property does not extend that far.

      It's how you take a medium and make it your own. Making an exact replica of PL's felt button bouquet is wrong, but making your own in your own style with your own button choices, color combos, and shapes? This is not unethical at all.

    • Felt and button flowers have been around since at least the 70's. My grandma still has a bouquet she bought back then, and they were in a craft book I got as a kid in the 80's.

  6. And as a side note, I am making myself a bouquet out of old jewelry. I found a photo of one that someone else had done, and I believe she may even sell them (on an inspiration board of course, so who knows?). Do I feel like I am ripping off her idea? Absolutely not. Her beautiful work is INSPIRING me to create an offshoot of the idea. I am a very crafty person who is DYI-ing almost everything for my wedding. I happened to have some old pieces that were my great grandmothers and my great aunts. I thoroughly enjoy digging through tangled masses of jewelry in junk shops. Even if I could afford her work, I would prefer to make it myself because I LOVE to make things.

    When I am done, I am confident that other than the fact that mine is also made out of jewelry, it will look nothing like the original. Am I ripping her off? I honestly DO NOT think so. If I weren't making my bouquet out of jewelry, I would be buying wholesale flowers and making it myself. Should I feel guilty that I am not bringing that business to a florist? If i decide to paint the walls of my kitchen should I lose sleep because there is a handy man who needs the cash? No. I really think this is very different than taking an illustration from Deviant Art and putting your name on it and letting people think you drew it.

    • I totally agree! I think my original comment was with regard to someone literally taking someone's original artwork, printing it out, and using it yourself. The waters get murky when it comes to things like dresses, bouquets and cakes — I'm an invitation designer so I can't speak on those things. But, if someone found one of my invitations online and printed it and photoshopped their own names in or had an artist clean it up for you to use, that would not be cool. It would be just as bad as taking an invitation you got in the mail for someone else's event, scanning it in and using it for your wedding. Using an idea you saw somewhere else and recreating it yourself is a different beast entirely. It's all pretty common-sensical — if it feels icky to you, you're probably always going to look back and wonder if you did the right thing. Just do your OWN thing (even if it involves inspiration from other sources) and you'll feel yourself in all of your wedding details much more!

      • You bring up an important point, that I think a lot of panicked commenters are missing, that the line is going to be in a different place depending on the type of art or craft you are talking about — dress, bouquet, stationary, ect.

        First of all, from a legal standpoint the requirements are going to be different depending on what type of work you are doing. Some things can be copyrighted, others can't.

        Secondly, from an ethical and logical standpoint, what constitutes copying is going to be different. When you're designing stationary, what is copying is pretty clear cut. When you're talking about making a dress that outwardly resembles a dress you saw in a picture, but is made to fit you, it isn't necessarily the same, unless the original dress was so unique looking that someone could clearly identify it from a picture.

  7. I've had this article opened for days and read every comment as it comes in. This topic is just fascinating to me and I've learned so much from this conversation. Thanks so much for this post, I'll be linking.

  8. This post got me thinking in kind of an interesting way about how I did things for my wedding. I did not have a lot of vendors in mind already, and did go looking for inspiration (and spent way too much on magazines, since I refused to acknowledge that I was reading enough of them to get a subscription). When it came to my wedding dress, I put serious thought into getting the dress I wanted made for cheap by someone else. I didn't have a lot of money, and my tastes run towards the expensive. But when it came down to it, I decided to re-budget and buy the original dress, because if I had it made by someone else, *it wouldn't be the same dress*. Something would be different, it would be not quite the same thing I had fallen in love with. If this really is *the dress* I want, why would I risk it turning out not quite right? By the same token, if you're willing for the final product to be different from the original (and it will be different; I know on the surface it may not be obvious what those differences are, but they're always there) why not actually get a *different* dress?

  9. I'm a creative that comes from a long line of artists (in all forms) on both sides of my family. I'm also marrying an artist. Additionally, we're flat broke. So, my options always come down to this:
    1. Get inspired and try making something similar myself
    2. Make your peace with the fact that it's out of budget for us and let it go
    3. Find a creative friend or relative who has the skills to take the original idea and make something similar, but unique, for less

    Why am I ok with option #3? Because I never COPY the original. As a creative, that just seems lazy and uninspired to me. Rather, I typically see a piece as a concept that I like and think about how I can infuse that concept into our particular theme. For example, if someone created a crystal broach in the shape of a twig, I might opt to simply use real twigs covered in shimmer glitter.

    On the flip side, there are many wonderful things in this world that I would love to have for my dream wedding, but I can't afford all of them. So, I'd rather give some exposure to my family and friends' skills and talents by asking for their help. For instance, my brother is a struggling working artists (mostly graphic design), so I'm sending him some design samples and asking him to custom-make our wedding icon. Although we can't afford to pay him for his time, we will go above and beyond to pass on his talents through our website, at the wedding and as a future reference/referrals.

    If I absolutely love the exact piece, but can't afford it, I point it out to friends (because I love to pass on great things) and accept that it's out of my range.

  10. You know, every year after the Oscars, ABS makes reproductions of those famous dresses.

    However, an offbeat bride knows who she is and wants to make her own statement in her own way.

    With that said, I'm also not paying an "artist" $400.00 for invites when I can purchase traditional 110lb, raised letter invites for about $150.00.

    • While you may not want to pay $400 for invites, it sounds very belittling to put "artist" in quotes like that. It's your prerogative to pay for what you want and what's in your budget, but don't be condescending to those who make their living designing, printing and selling those invitations you don't want to pay for.

    • You are right, you can get "traditional" invites much more inexpensively as you can custom created "non-traditional" invites. But its the creativity and customizing that goes into OFFBEAT materials that causes them to be much more time consuming to create and therefore more expensive. That being said, i could never afford to pay someone to do it either…. Which is why I will be Doing It Myself. Again, the issue here is not whether you would pay for them, but whether you would swipe the image off the net and bring it to your printer to change the names and print them for $150.

      • I totally agree: on the subject of invitation design (or any design, for that matter), it is the creativity you are paying for. In that regard, copying is utterly evil because you are circumventing an artist (no quote marks) who has spent time and effort both learning processes of creativity and actually being creative.

        That having been said, artisans and artists are different. They occasionally overlap, IE: some artists are also artisans, but a lot of what people consider "expensive" about invitations, say, is the artisan craft quality. Letterpress, for instance, is a craft practiced by a printer who is an artisan. If that person also designs invitations, they are also likely an artist. Letterpress is expensive for many reasons, among others:

        1. much of letterpress is hand operated, which takes lots of time, and time is money
        2. typesetting also takes LOTS of time (see above)
        3. paper for letterpress is more expensive (assuming you want the letterpress "look", where the type is "set in" to the paper)
        4. letterpress machines must be maintained and housed, which creates overhead expenses (not to mention the press of a good press today… yikes)

        All these things, PLUS creativity, make letterpress invites costly. Part of that can't be "stolen", because it's tangible work by an artisan. However, in the case of invitations, the creative, design part CAN be ripped off. And so while I know your hypothetical $150 invites will NEVER have the quality of those hand pressed, it is still incredibly disrespectful to undermine the effort of any designer/artist.

  11. Being in the midst of planning my uber budget friendly wedding, I have to say I am guilty of what this post entails. I do not exactly feel good about it, but I did at least try to make it work. Here's the story:
    I plan on printing my own invites. I printed my own std's and thank you cards and what not by buying cardstock on ebay and finding great designs for free on various blogs.
    When it came time for invites, I scoured etsy for a digital, print it yourself file.
    Somehow, the search didn't filter entirely and I ended up with a few "material" invites. Well as fate would have it, after 50 pages of digital files, the one I completely fell in love with was not a digital file.
    So I checked out the sellers page and she had the same design on 15 different listings just changing the color and layout, wanting $3 to $4 dollars an invite. That would have been close to $500 for us. NOT HAPPENING!
    To some that might be great, but our money is going towards flying my best friend from out of the country. That was more important. So, I emailed the seller and offered $100 to have her sell me a digital file, not even one that could be changed, I would give her all the wording and she could make a pdf and I could print it. Well, she said no. No alternative and no room for movement on the price and I even went so far as to ask if I could get a discount for providing the cardstock and not having a response card. Still no luck.
    So I then put out a request to other designers to make something similar. Sure, I want it very similar, but I am not asking for exact. I feel this is my best option since I really did try to work with her to give her my business. I sell on etsy as well and I never pass up a chance to make a sale, because a cheaper sale is better than no sale and really, it doesn't cost that much to change the wording on a file you already have! So that's the 2 cents of a morally gray bride!

    • Also, just to follow up, they were not letterpress or typeset either. Just normal color printing. I just wanted to add that before I get broiled!

    • Well, that's up to her if she doesn't feel like you were offering her a good price for what she provided. Honestly, as a designer, I frickin' HATE it when people approach me with something and ask to duplicate it or to just "tweak it" for them. It may not feel like plagarism to you, but it probably will to the designer. If you want something that's yours, why not let a designer come up with something that's totally yours and in your price range instead of just having them copy something?

      She might not have wanted to give out a file, either. There's a big difference between paying for a one-time printing with paper costs, etc, than handing over a press-ready file. You basically have the original at that point, you'd own the artwork, there's no stopping you from using the design file over and over, sharing it with people, using different design elements for different things…even if you never planned on doing that. I am loathe to hand over native files for just that reason, unless that's what the client has paid for (in terms of logos, etc where they own the usage).

  12. Well, I think it all worked out in the end. I received over 50 responses to my request for a similar design and decided on a full invitation suite in a very similar style for $25 for the digital file. I offered the original seller $100! To be perfectly honest, I do not feel that bad. It's not as if I stole a painting. I liked a design, tried working with the seller and was forced to find an alternative. The way I see it, the seller already had the file, all she had to do was change the name! I even asked if she would do it PDF, so that saving the artwork wouldn't be possible. In cases like these, it's too bad she wasn't willing to work with me, so I found someone who was, for much less and got a beautiful custom design that was similar to what I loved about the original but with a little more "me" in it.

    • First, glad that you got a response, and were able to work with a designer to give you what you wanted. I really hope it wasn't a copycat job. But this:

      "It's not that I stole a painting."

      This is the thing that really irks me. I've heard it from more than just you. People seem to think that good design is just pushing some magic buttons on the computer and bing! Out comes something awesome. It's not. It's a lot of work, and a LOT goes into it. Good design is only part of it; the other half is having the knowhow to set up a file correctly for print. It takes time, shitloads of training and experience to produce a really good design from start to finish. (And yes, a print-ready PDF can be reused in infinite ways by anyone with a decent image manipulator. You can sometimes even open it back up in Illustrator and extract images and text, depending on how the file was created.) How I see it, it is exactly like finding a painting and asking someone to reproduce it for you so you can hang it above the couch. The artist probably won't find out that you've done this, but it's still shoddy ethics.

      • Here Here Guin!

        On this subject: "People seem to think that good design is just pushing some magic buttons on the computer and bing! Out comes something awesome."

        Wowo – I am dealing with this issue in my life right now and man, does it suck. It's worse than that though… In my experience, the thought process goes more like:

        "People seem to think that good design is just pushing some magic buttons on the computer and bing! Out comes something awesome that they could make themselves if they just had the free time and the right software (PS: could I have a free copy of Illustrator just in case I need to tweak something?)"


        And Lissa, just so you know, I am NOT trying to pick on you. I totally understand about budgets, and for your sake (and the artist you contracted), I hope your invites are beautiful and appropriately inspired.

  13. The Dalai Lama spoke at my church once about eating meat. He said that if you feel guilty about it, then it is wrong. If you do not feel guilty about it, then it is not wrong. He was the last one to eat lunch after the service, and the only one to have chicken. I think this is kind of similar. If you are doing something that you feel bad about, don't do it. If you feel okay about your actions, that is okay too! Personally, I might just 'steal' that XKCD save the date idea.

  14. Thank you for a very timely and thought provoking post. As a wedding invitation designer I've had this happen to me more than once and it is both disheartening and aggravating. I think there are many people out there who don't actually understand that this sort of thing is not flattering to the original designer; they don't see their actions as unethical (and illegal!). What is worse than the brides, is the knock-off "designers" who are willing to outright copy the artwork of another artist at a cheap rate. I see it happen all the time (and have seen MY design work copied by other "designers"). I hope this article helps educate brides and vendors alike.

  15. Oh I have done so many diy projects and have a lot of inspiration from others. I mix and match and do everything the way I want it. I never "copy" I alter and make it "me"

  16. I have to say, this is something I'm dealing with more and more on a daily basis. Not only is the customer not willing to pay the price, but will flat out tell me they've found "someone better" which equates to someone who will do what they want for cheaper than I would. It goes even beyond that when someone wants me to work up designs for them prior to purchase and then balks at the fact that I won't, refusing to order. I can't because then I risk spending my time working on something that a potential client will just take to someone who will do the work cheaper than me. So, I'm losing out before even given the opportunity it seems. I'm all for healthy competition, but when my brides know they can just basically take my designs to someone who will do it for less (and perhaps not necessarily as good), it's disheartening. Sorry, this wound up being kind of a venting session, but I completely understand the issues at hand and wanted to share. 🙂

    • I get your vent entirely. A few months ago I had someone e-mail seemingly interested in having a wedding gown from a movie recreated. I did the research on the gown (it's not a wedding gown you can actually buy anywhere since it was made for the film, and like more film gowns, your only way to get one is to have it replicated by a personal seamstress or designer), worked my tail off tracking down obscure photos of it, found out what fabrics were used, etc., then got a reply that didn't even bother to thank me, just let me know it's great I found all that because she has found someone through a website in China who will make any gown not on their site as long as pictures can be supplied. So now I won't do any in-depth research or send photos that take longer than a minute on Google to find. It blows sometimes because it's impossible to tell up front who wants the leg work done for free and who's genuinely interested.

      • Gosh, this is so sad! I had no idea this sort of thing would happen. Not helpful I know, but I'm sorry to hear about it!

  17. I think my ethics lie in a slightly different place. First, i'm opposed to off-shoring labor to get a better "deal." Places with cheap labor are usually places with human rights abuses & poor living conditions. That said, i'm all in favor of using local artists and artisans to create embellishments to enrich our lives as well as our weddings. But, i think that in some ways we're reaching a point of "over-kill." I think we probably have too many wants and trimming down those wants to what is most valuable and important to us would go a long way toward making it possible to support artists. I have no problem with someone creating their own interpretation of things they’ve seen. Any time someone makes something themselves (with their own time & effort), it’s usually because they want to be personally invested in the item or they simply don’t have the money to buy directly from an artist they respect. It’s not intended to deny income to the artist, the money may not exist to allocate it in those directions.

  18. This is a subject I am currently grappling with. There is a photo by the late French photographer Robert Doisneau which I am incorporating into our wedding invitations. Believe me, I searched high and low looking for a set of notecards, stationery, postcards – even small cheap reproductions – of this photo. No such luck. The closest I found was a boxed set of assorted notecards with one or two of this photo, and about twenty notecards with photos I do not want. If I purchased enough boxed sets to get enough for invitations, it would cost me around $400 and I'd have enough random Doisneau notecards for the rest of my life.

    What I have ended up doing is copying-and-pasting that photo to Word and creating an invitation that way. I'm not entirely happy with this, knowing that I am using this image without permission… And yet it's the perfect photo for our invitations.

  19. I've put the "overpriced" issue in perspective for a few pepole. Someone was complaining about spending $50 for "$20 worth of fabric" Which I told them was $20 worth of fabric and $30 worth of knowing what to do with it. You're welcome, in my mind, to buy the fabric and make it yourself, you'll usually find that it takes way more than $30 worth of your time, depending on what you think your time is worth. It might also take you more than $20 worth of fabric, because if you are like me, you inevitably end up messing up and having to start over. The problem is stealing the idea, and paying someone else $40 for my $50 product. It wouldn't even occur to me to do that.

  20. Why is it wrong to be successful? Why does an artist's annual income determine the moral code by which you treat them? Vera Wang was smart enough and talented enough to get where she has, and you have no right to justify stealing her art just because that financial sacrifice has less effect on her lifestyle. Morals are morals. Stealing is stealing.

  21. I recently completed a course in Intellectual Property, Ethics and Arts Law (in Australia -for those wondering which jurisdiction I am referring to) and this question came up numerous times. In Australia the laws on intellectual property and copyright are clear and simple; Copyright is assigned at the moment of creation, no one has to pay to register a piece of work for it to be covered under copy right (that's trademark law and that's not what we're talking about here). Copyright lasts the life of the author plus 70 years (this is the same for the EU and the USA). Under the copyright laws in Australia copyright infringement is defined as being a "substantial part" which is described as an important, essential or distinctive part. There is no definition that states what a 'substantial part' is limited to either – it could be tiny!!!

    There is NO law that states that designers can copy 5% or 10% of a design and be in the clear of a copyright infringement – that is a fiction and not a reasonable defense if a law suit occurs.

    If you think your diy copy isn't stealing think about how you'd feel if you were taken to court over your wedding invitation design infringing on someone's copyrighted work – if you can afford the cost of an out of court settlement you can afford the cost of an original, copyrighted piece of artwork.

    I know I sound tough here but I loved that class and enjoy being able to pass on free legal advice which is correct for the Australian jurisdiction!

  22. "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 love this statement and it is essentially what chris and i are going for. we are utilizing our artist friends, working together with them, using our own creative ability to come up with a one-of-a-kind celebration for our family and friends to enjoy. we've also went as far as to include our families to help and set aside weekends where re all get together and work on certain aspects of the celebration. it's turned into a real DIY-family bonding-wedding celebration..or whatever you call it. we all want this day to reflect how crazy, colorful and interesting we both are.

    when i did start first planning, i was looking online for ideas and realizing i didn't like any of them. People were always offering up bridal mags and what not, ideas for there wedding, and while i was grateful, it wasn't chris and i. now that we've stumbled upon this do whatever you want mantra, were having so much fun with it!

  23. I find that my perspective on a lot of these concepts aligns with the writer of this article in that I enjoyed bringing together really talented people and letting them do their thing! As an artist I love having other artists contributing to my day.

    BUT I design clothing and I can never, ever endorse knock offs. I don't care if you think its just OK to knock of Vera Wang because she's wealthy, you are supporting a practice that takes money away from everyone in the industry down to the little people like me! You are teaching people that its OK to look at my clothes, take a photo to a seamstress and knock off my work. You are pumping money into huge Chinese factories and lining corporate pockets (who are the only ones who can afford to run places like that, forever 21 anybody??). Not to mention that you always get an inferior product with inferior materials and fit.

    I'm sorry but knock offs don't just hurt Vera Wang's pocket book, they hurt the entire industry, even me.

    If someone brings me a picture of a gown they are in love with I have to ask a lot of questions to figure out if they want what I can offer. I can make you a gown with that same cut and style but I won't ever, ever make you THAT gown. Why would I want to do that, its no fun for me and you get something that's not all your own and maybe not the best for your body shape? You are asking me to make you look beautiful and create what I consider art for your body. If you are in love with THAT gown, you need to buy that gown.

    All that said, my gown was made by my mentor who taught me pattern and drape in college. I did in fact bring her pictures and ideas but she ran with it and made something so amazing and unique. The designer gowns I was trying on we're 9,000 and upwards. There is overhead in larger businesses and often a small atelier can make you an amazing gown for less. My mentor made my dress, an amazing, custom, one of kind dress for half that!

    (insert plug for having your wedding dress made by a local atelier/designer!! you won't regret it! Us little designers are where its at!)

  24. Thank you for this article. I never thought of the copyright implications associated with this. I really think that a lot of people aren’t. While reading this I thought about how I would feel if someone copied a report of mine word-for-word and just slapped their name on it. I would be pissed, hurt, pissed, sad, and did I say pissed? Many people may think that copyright only applies to literature and music, but designs, well that is for the world to see and duplicate. Now that I know I will use the inspiration boards for just that –inspiration to create our day. One that is completely ours and unique.

  25. I'm late to the party, but I have to draw a line. It all depends on the mark-up. My friend saw a dress she adored but she couldn't afford it. She can sew–really well, too–so she just made the dress herself after getting the fabric on sale. Does the designer have every right to be mad at her for something she made with her own hands? I don't care where the idea came from. Saying that you should always get credit for your ideas, even if someone slightly changes it, is like saying that people aren't allowed to make mac and cheese with different flavors of cheese. It's saying that only one person could ever profit from mac and cheese because it was their idea.

    While I don't believe in having something made just to spite the people charging money, some of the fault does lay in mark-ups. I understand that people need to make some profit and can't just charge what it costs to make things, but I have seen online artists marking up their stuff by 400% of the cost to make it. That's ridiculous. I don't care how great your "idea" is. You are ripping people off.

    I used to have the same mentality when I was an aspiring artist. Then at one point I spent months designing something. I never once looked at anything else similar and was so proud of how it looked. When I posted it on a forum I got a very snarky comment from someone saying that I had blatantly copied their idea and "stolen" it from them and was trying to claim credit. The dress I had designed did look very much like this other girls, but I had never seen her dress in my life.

    The bottom line: just because you thought of it first does not mean you're the only one who has a right to make it.

    • I love you for this. I've been in the same spot, having designed something that ended up looking exactly like another gown I had never seen. I also thought I invented a new type of seam back when I was 18, only to find out that they were already done. You might know it as a French seam! If nothing could be made that had already been done by someone else, then no one could do anything.

      Someone printed out above about how those felt flowers are often credited these days to Princess Lasertron. But that is an old, old project. My grandmother has a pin-on button from the 50's made from pieces of felt cut into flower shaped with a button center! I doubt Lasertron's own parents are as old as that button. But no one is telling her to not make them because she's inadvertently knocking someone off. She's just the first to get her name connected with it.

      I disagree that marking up by 400% is automatically ludacris. One gown I reproduce (it's from a film, and is not available anywhere by from independent seamstresses, so there's no official place to get it from) costs about $200 in supplies, but I charge $3,000. It takes several weeks, and in the end, I don't really even make minimum wage. It's not like I'm making something with $200 worth of supplied in a few hours and marking up that high. But a lot of big-name designers do. I understand that they have studios and employees who they pay (and usually not very well, according to an old friend of mine who used to work for one, she'd personally make a gown using $400 worth of fabrics and supplies, get paid $200 at $10/hr, for a gown selling for five figures for the name on the label), but often the mark-up is so high that there simply is no way that most people could have the look. Having a smaller designer reproduce it for what the bride can pay really isn't causing a loss to the big designer. It's not like supplies are being taken from the big designer, nor a sale lost. Those who can pay $20k for Pnina Tornei are going to pay $20k for Pnina. Those who can't aren't, but might make work for a local seamstress. Better to keep work in America where we don't have slave labor than to buy a David's Bridal gown mass-produced by slave labor in China.

      This also isn't the same as taking someone else's graphic art work and just editing in different names and dates, literally directly taking their product and using it.

      I love you analogy of mac and cheese. I wonder how many here complaining about knock-offs buy store-brand foods.

  26. I'm all for ripping off whatever I want, thank you! At least in initial theory. It never fails that somewhere along the line i think "well, I could add this, or change that, and maybe use a different style for that…" and in the end it ends up distinctly different from the original. But that's just my natural level of creativity. I understand that many brains are not naturally as design-y as mine at which point my original statement stands. If you like it, gank it, if you feel guilty that's your problem.

  27. I am doing this with floral arrangers. They are $20 a pop at fiftyflowers.com so I iz makin' my own!! So far, its looking like they will cost around $7.50/8 each

  28. I disagree with this post entirely. You can't own an idea. This is one opinion on the argument of originality. As an artist, I understand getting upset that someone likes your work, and wants it, but won't buy it for whatever reason. As a postmodernist, I believe that every idea has been had before. Everything is appropriated. What about Mike Bidlo and Sherry Levine?

    Also, if making invitations using someone else's design is unethical, then sending off a picture of an expensive dress to have it made for a much cheaper price is unethical, too.

    Let's support the artist by spreading their name around, going back to buy some of their work, and encouraging people to do the same.

    • I've been coming to agree with this more and more. Yesterday I read how in Europe a patent is issued for actual functions or items whereas in the US patents are routinely issued for IDEAS. The company that created Angry Birds is being sued by another company that patented the IDEA of buying new levels in a game. Several companies were sued by Amazon over the IDEA of one-click buying.

      Dress-designs are nothing more than ideas. Unless someone's copying an invitation and then literally just changing names, dates, and locations, then it's the same thing. I say this as a gown designer. I sell my service and quality. I can't stop someone from copying one of my designs, nor would I want to.

      That pretty way to bustle a dress? Chances are the exact same thing was done in the Victorian era. Cap sleeves? Those have been done too. If only the original person had the right, then we would all pretty much have to stop what we were doing altogether because there's really only so much that can be done before different people are inventing the same thing. In my early sewing days, I came up with a cool seam only to find out years later that it was invented centuries ago. French seams!

      This reminds me of the truche-drama on etsy where a seller, truche, claimed that Urban Outfitters or one of those similar companies stole her idea to put heart cutouts on pendants in the shape of states. Now I had one of California back in the 80s. Other sellers on etsy had sold similar pendants before she even made an account. Now maybe she didn't see the others. Who knows. By the thinking that ONLY the very original should have the rights, then no one could make that pendant at all. Even Wai-Ching's white-with-watercolor-accents thing isn't original to Wai-Ching. In the late 90s I had a white shirt with bell sleeves that had watercolor inserts that were fluttery. In fact I might still have it around somewhere. Yet anyone else who does that now will be screamed at for ripping off Wai-Ching…even though she wasn't the first.

      My only real beef with knock-offs are when they're ordered out of China or another country that uses sweatshop labor and disregards human rights. If you're going to get a knock-off, then don't participate in abuse. Ordering anything from China that can be bought from countries with human rights laws is creating demand. A wedding gown easily will take at least one person at least one week. That's finding the abuse of another human (maybe more than one) for a week (maybe even more). If saving on a wedding gown worth funding abuse when there are non-abusive options?

  29. No, I'm sorry did not read the previous 196 posts above before responding here. It's 4:44 AM. 'Nuff said? ;-}

    I do agree with you 100% on not ripping of individual artists/designers. I would hope that they, and you on your blog too, simply use the computer trick of blocking reader's ability to just right click & copy photos. Many web sites that rely on photography for showcasing their work do it, providing some control over such thievery. If brides can't easily tote a printed copy over to a seamstress or crafter to copy pearl by pearl, and the seamstress or crafter can't/won't stare at thumbnails on their monitor for hours to see view details, it should force them to be a little more creative with the "inspiration" photo they saw online. KnowhudImean?

    Linda in Calif

  30. I'm a DIY bride and I bought books/magazine for inspiration and not to duplicate other brides work. I found this article to be insightful and true. Dive in and let your DIY muse inspire you to designing a wedding that fits you and your husband to be personality.

  31. This is such a good post and one that poses some difficult questions. I would have to agree that if you are taking D.I.Y. to mean: duplicate it yourself then what you are doing is decidedly unethical. However, I am a fan of D.I.Y. Indeed I am a bit of a D.I.Y. bride myself but it is only acceptable when that D.I.Y. results in you creating an original item that while possibly inspired by another, or a group of other, artist(s)is not a direct copy. Personally, I take my inspiration from more than just the work of others and often find that when stuck for ideas a walk round the block and a look at nature can provide more inspiration than anything else.
    I have artistic friends, one of whom is a milliner who creates wedding headpieces and it is dreadful to see her hard work and creativity degraded and undermined by being ripped off by others.

  32. Plagiarizing is wrong. I think we can all agree on that. However, Plagiarizing aside, I would like to address the issue of "lost business" or "lost revenue."

    This is an issue which is paralleled by online piracy issues. What a lot of people don't realize, is that the majority of piracy *doesn't reflect* lost sales for the software or entertainment industry. Counter-intuitive, I know, but let me give you an example.

    Adobe Photoshop is $300. I will never spend $300 on a piece of software. That is difficult for me to do. It is much easier that I a) go to my friend's house who has Photoshop or b) buy less expensive (albeit less awesome) photo-editing software or c) pirate the software (or d) write the software code myself). The *easiest* thing for me to do is go to my friend's house. Barring that, B is my next easiest option, and then C (d is prohibitively difficult for me, as is coming up with $300 to spend on software). No matter what, Adobe isn't getting my $300, so even if I opt for C, they haven't technically lost any revenue. If I had the money, the truly easiest thing for me to do would be purchase the software.

    For the most part, people always go the easiest route *they can afford.* Another example. Crystal bouquets – I found a vendor who makes them for $250. I cannot afford it – there's no room in my budget. No matter what other option I choose, that vendor was never going to get my $250 for one crystal bouquet. I can make them myself using a tutorial I found on this website for cheaper. It's *easier* for me to make it myself than shell out $250. Even if I didn't have the time to make it myself, I'd have to go with a less expensive bouquet, whether or not it was made of crystal. I'll say it again, that vendor will never see my $250. It's not lost revenue. The people who have money and no time will find it easier to shell out the $250.

    As far as taking someone's exact design and approaching a different vendor with that asking for a better price – that is copyright infringement and designers/artists should take appropriate steps to protect themselves – watermarks on the digital representations of designs, disclaimers on their websites, litigation if need be when somebody definitely profits off your designs. But it's not really lost revenue.

  33. We are approaching the dark side of DIY a bit, but there's reasons (other than saving money). My dress is coming in three parts: Corset, skirt, and train. I'm also wearing red, and reds are hard to match, and I really didn't want to risk getting three different products from three different companies. I just don't think any of it would match. One is a product sold on online stores, but the the other is from an Etsy seller, so we might have to tweak it a smidge so I don't feel bad about "stealing her product"

  34. Ok, i realize this comment is two years late. But I felt a need to formulate my view of the matter, and then why not post it.

    Personally the idea of intellectual property is something i instinctively don't believe in. In my romantic world view the most fertile ground for new ideas is a world where the old ones are free to take and change as you will.

    The counter argument of this is of course that if it's not financially sustainable to be creative no one will be.

    That is also true and is why I (not as often as I'd like to but hopefully more often once I'm no longer a student) pay full price for art, buying directly form the artist.

    Bascally when ever I pay for art of any kind, movie tickets, a painting or a pair of earrings made by an acquaintance. I do it because I see it and think: "Wow this person did something great, I want them to be able to keep doing that."

    What I think I'm trying to say is that I'm not against copying per se but that I think the danger is when it's done without keeping the artists ability to keep on creating in mind.

  35. I love this article! As a wedding planner I run into brides all the time who I consult with, come up with a great design concept and they run with it to DIY or to someone who does it cheaper (and not so good). It happens to my floral designer colleagues all the time as well. Now, I weed them out by charging for design consults and I don't disclose any ideas until they pay! I like to work with people who see the value in great work. I am very transparent with my prices and if you cannot afford me, don't waste my time.

  36. Big designers have their label. Mass-producing manufacturers have their prices. Small artists have always had their pathos, their individuality and great customer service. That hasn't changed with the internet.

    When looking for a wedding dress, I discovered a designer on Etsy who made infinity gowns. She didn't create the idea of infinity dresses, surely. I found them off the rack and all over the internet as well. It's a fairly simple design, it seems, and I could *probably* do it myself. But it wouldn't be as great–I have only had minimal experience sewing, and would have to teach myself how to work with a stretchy material. And that's after I found a piece of fabric within my price range large enough to cut out a circle skirt!

    Off the rack is cheaper than this seller, but I would pay $100 for one of her dresses and wouldn't for a department store dress. Why? I know her! Well, sort of. She uses the internet to her advantage. I follow her on Instagram. I liked her on Facebook. I regularly check both, along with her Etsy page. (I could probably follow her on Twitter if I did that.) She gets new ideas, buys new fabrics, takes suggestions. I've seen a picture of her daughter. Her Facebook feed is full of customers who have emailed her pictures of her bridesmaids in her dresses with glowing reviews.

    As long as artists are creative enough to create their products, they should be creative enough to sell themselves, as well. That's where all their selling power is, within the people-to-people interactions bigger companies don't do well. I could never email Wal-Mart or Dillards and ask them to try adding pockets to a dress because I just love pockets and I highly doubt Vera Wang would respond to an email from me. But Etsy sellers will at least respond to your emails and Facebook messages and will often take your comments enthusiastically, maybe even say they have been toying with that already. You get more for your money with smaller sellers, when you factor in customer service. To me, it's worth it.

    The same goes for OffBeat, actually. If I had seen the book on a shelf at a bookstore, I doubt I would have picked it up. It would have felt like just another opinion telling you how to do your wedding. I stumbled on the site through Google forever ago, probably because of short-haired brides or girls who propose, and haven't left! It's more than a blog. It's a community. It doesn't pop up every few moments trying to get you to sign up. It doesn't shove advertisement in the middle of a photo slideshow. The hints of business are subtle and all voluntary. This site is about real people and that's what makes it worthwhile. I feel like I almost know Ariel now–I've seen her on her wedding, I know her views on a fair amount of things, I've seen her house… These days, I check for the book when I'm in a bookstore and if it was ever there I wouldn't hesitate to grab it and make sure all my friends read it when they get engaged. My fiance knows it is a great gift if he's ever short on ideas.

    Bottom line, after my digressions: Has the internet, with its inspiration boards and knock offs, brought bad things to small artists? Sure. But I think it has brought really good things as well. And as long as artists can evolve with the times and accurately target their viewers with the internet, those buyers will keep buying.

  37. I had an interesting experience when I was trying to figure out my wedding invitations. I wanted something steampunky, but decided I really needed to make them myself as soon as I saw how much people were charging for the ones I really liked. So I started doing google image searches, and kept a folder of pictures that I liked that I might want to cobble together and create my invitations with. I found this Clockwork Wings ala DaVinci's notebook image and fell immediately in love with it. That would be perfect as a header-type image, I thought to myself as I right clicked and saved the image.

    I ended up paying for a couple subscriptions to places like istockphoto and buying a couple vectors that I could dissect and use for my own nefarious-but-legitimate purposes (a zebra in a bowler hat and a hare wearing spectacles, to be precise), but that Clockwork Wings picture really stuck in my memory.

    A couple months after the wedding I was attending the Steampunk World Fair somewhere in NJ. Man, our thank you cards were *really* late, but I was having a hard time finding anything I liked. I came across a booth for one artist by the name of Amy Houser (http://www.amyhouser.com/). I absolutely loved her whimsy Victoriana style, so I asked if she by chance did thank you cards. She pointed out some lovely blank Mr & Mrs Cameo notecards. Perfection! I bought 30 on the spot.

    As she was packing up my order, she tosses a couple business cards/bookmarks in the bag and something catches my eye. The image on the bookmark is the very same Clockwork Wings image that I had fallen in love with months ago. I choked for a moment, and sputtered at her "Is this yours, too?" She says yes. "Err… Wow, I've been to your website! I love this picture!"

    I can only imagine how awkward it would have been if I had actually used her artwork when creating my invitations. She was polite enough not to ask.

  38. I'm a small-time graphic designer myself and its the 'Duplicate it yourself' feeling that has made it so I rarely publish my work online without a massive watermark and wodge of text explainig copyright.

    They say imitation is the highest form of flattery… not if you're basically stealing someones idea!

  39. Honestly, I'm a little bugged that you venture the idea that its okay to rip off the big guys, but not the little guys because I take issue with ripping anyone off, period. Look at it this way: would you illegally download a Lady Gaga song? Okay, maybe that doesn't seem so bad. Well, would you walk into the cd section of Barnes and Noble and steal one of her cds? Or rob her house? Stealing is stealing, plain and simple. I take serious issue with this because my parents are successful graphic design artists who have brought me up with the knowledge of what is in the public domain and therefore up for grabs from anyone, and what is not. Duplicate It Yourself walks the *very* fine line between stealing and borrowing and is best to be avoided – take the inspiration you get from whatever and use that- the inspiration -to do your own thing. the fact that people are triumphantly telling artists 'i'm using your work and not paying for it!' is blatantly rude and unethical, and would still be true if it was a Vera Wang gown, or the mom-and-pop etsy invitation designer. When it comes to Duplicate It Yourself, just don't.

  40. See, I find it fascinating that this article was posted 3 years ago and today it's even more of an issue with Pinterest. It's so easy to find something you like, pin it, and then try to copy it. I'm not an artist, I've got limited artistic skills, but it wouldn't feel right to ask someone to copy something I liked. I did do some DIY for our wedding and I did get inspired by stuff I saw on OBB. However, we didn't copy exactly what we saw. Inspiration isn't copying. Then again, we did take an idea one of the florists we asked for a price and ended up doing a version of that idea with another florist with other flowers (vases filled with green apples and blue flowers, the flowers ended up being a different variety than what was originally proposed, and I came up with the idea of fruit… yeah I know, I'm trying to justify myself!).

    So yeah, the line is thin. Really thin and you can justify pretty much anything one way or the other.

  41. "We're not talking about a Vera Wang gown here. For me personally, I don't really care about Vera Wang " – What happens though when an independent artist has great success and goes from struggling to make ends meet to running a fabulously successful enterprise? Do they also fall into the "I don't care about them" category?

    • The point at which an artist's work is available commercially in chain stores, then yep: I'm generally less worried about them being able to pay their rent.

  42. Ariel, I see your book is available through amazon.com and barnes & noble. I'll be writing my own book/starting a blog called 'the laid back bride' and i'm 'borrowing' a ton of your ideas and selling them as my own. according to what you just said, you won't care because your book is distributed by amazon and b&n.com and i'm not worried about whether or not you'll be able to pay rent/support your family.

    doesn't seem so ethical now, does it? morality and ethics are what you do when no one is watching.

    • HAAAAAAAAA! Point taken, but if you knew A) how many people have done exactly that and B) just how little money authors make from their books, you'd understand why I'm laughing.

  43. Thank you for this article. As a designer, I am inspired by others constantly. However, inspiration and duplication are VERY different things. In fashion, companies are constantly knocking off others for profit. The culture of copycat, idea theft and entitlement of using others work has gotten out of hand.

    If you can't afford someone's work, at least acknowledge them, promote them or ask if they can do something for you in a smaller budget.

    For my wedding, I designed my own dress, made my invitations, programs, invented my cocktail menu, etc. I am a freelance design consultant who also does this for clients. I was shocked that the caterer and an "event planner" guest actually thought I would be flattered when they told me they liked my work so much they were going to copy it for their own clients!!!

  44. Just a polite note to say:

    Photoshop & custom designed art are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    I 100% agree with your overall point. I'm a freelance photographer & illustrator, & nothing drives me more bananas than being hired for my unique vision, then given a bunch of pics from Pinterest to recreate. Also, I've had my work outright stolen (images downloaded & used on bags & tshirts in Etsy stores or the like), as well as copied. It's enormously frustrating, all of it.

    But, to my original point, Photoshop gets a bad rap. People frequently incorrectly blame photoshop for things where photoshop is not actually the problem. Photoshop is an incredible tool. I ended up majoring in Photoshop in school. My final portfolio in school was complex composite "photo illustrations" that I printed as digital negatives & then printed from (platinum palladium prints, specifically). That was all possible with photoshop, & I got a gallery exhibition as a result!

    So while some people absolutely do use photoshop for evil, just a polite request that we don't demonize the tool. Photoshop can be used to create great art too.

  45. As someone who works with offbeat small business fashion designers (some of whom have been featured on your site) it really does hurt to get those emails or especially to see the poor quality reproductions of their work. These people work their asses off to create amazing things and trust me they try to keep prices down. Most have very little hired help and do all their own production in small studios or in their own homes. They have families and budget struggles all their own. Having personally witnessed the breakdowns caused by finding out they've been ripped off is extremely hard. Chinese shadow businesses can disappear and reappear under a variety of different names all over the internet in just a matter of days. Stopping it is often impossible. Don't put creators out of business. Try working with them, many have payment plans and want you in their stuff just as much as you do. If they go under then you don't get those great new ideas anymore. Both places I work for offer amazing gowns and their highest price as of yet is is still under $5,000 for a complete custom fitted outfit.

  46. I found a dress I loved on the internet and contacted the company who makes it to ask about sizing and altering certain things like the sleeves and lace plus color options. The company made the dress in the colors I wanted but to make it plus size was $600 MORE than the regular price so I was looking at $1300 for a dress. Also the sellers message to me seemed a bit unprofessional and rubbed me the wrong way, and I couldn't get straight answers about changing the sleeves from long detailed off the shoulder sleeves to just "tank top" sleeves. Being frustrated and unwilling to pay $1300+ on a dress, especially a dress I couldn't get made the way I wanted, I contacted another seller from etsy who made all my bridesmaids dresses from her own original designs. I showed her pictures of that dress in particular as well as a couple with the sleeve/top I wanted. And she offered to make it how I wanted for a price I could afford. I was ecstatic. And I love my dress. But after reading this article I started feeling really guilty. I guess technically I stole a design from one independent artist and gave it to another independent artist. My reasons weren't particularly the price difference, that just happened to work out in my favor…it was more that the original artist was located in Europe and I have been burned on etsy from sellers outside my country and they had horrible communication. But…on the other hand the original dress is a remake of a dress in a really popular movie and at the time I didn't feel like it was that artists/company's original design. There are also other shops on etsy that offer that dress or one very similar. I've run into that a lot on etsy. I search for a certain product and get 20+ sellers all selling the same item. How do you know who is the original designer to support? The dress is the only thing I feel I have stolen and I feel awful that I didn't see it before. I have had lots of inspiration from independent artists and have used that as a starting point to DIY wedding stuff. I'm pretty good with crafting so usually it's only when I can't get the seller to make exactly what I want that I try to make it myself. But it's what I want, not their exact design. And whenever possible I always buy from the artist.

  47. I completely agree with this article. There is a noticeable gap between being inspired by something and just copying it outright. And I like how you put it: "I'm all for piracy, as long as you're ripping off The Big Guys". That's my opinion as well. Macy's isn't going to miss rent because you took their dress idea and got it somewhere else but a struggling artist will.

    Plus, isn't the point of DIY-ing doing it **yourself**? If you're having it made by another creative person, you're not really doing it yourself at all! You're honestly just outsourcing something to someone else because it's cheaper and that's just business not being creative or doing something on your own. All you're doing is finding a way to stay in budget and that's not called DIY that's called being stingy.

  48. I am an artist and I regularly get asked to reduce the cost of something, or alter it, or mass produce it, or whatever. I have watched people photograph my work and then say they are going to reproduce it at home. The truth is, when you consider the time it takes for us to think, design, acquire supplies, execute, realize we screwed up and execute again not to mention booth rentals, etsy fees, packaging costs etc, most of us are making minimum wage. The do it yourself movement has added to the devaluing of creative genius and intellectual property.
    We are for sure doing a lot ourselves. The local artists I know and love are gifting some creative talent. I am doing a lot of the design myself, but when it came to actual art we will not compromise. We will always pay the artist what they ask. That has meant we couldn't afford some things. I wanted the wicked sexy $8 a pop letterpress invites. I instead paid the artist to design me a graphic that I printed myself. My wedding ring was featured on George Taki's Facebook page so there were several knock offs. We found the original designer and bought from him. the impact on my budget meant I don't get my hair and make up done, but it's not the designers fault I can't afford both. We made a list of the artists we wanted at our event, looked at the tiny stack of money we had, figured out what put priorities were, paid every artist their asking price, and then did without some other things that were less important. To do otherwise is to weigh your needs with the artist and decide you are more valuable than they are. They deserve to be robbed so you can have what you want. It breaks my heart.
    My wedding has no cocktail hour, bridesmaids, matching china or wedding cake, but it does have an amazing celebration of some kick ass artists and I am totally okay with that.

  49. Hi,

    I read your blog, and it was so much tantalizing. Well, I have a query therefore from the artist folks: one does DIY and post it freely on internet, in fact you could see so many posts on Pinterest, many of which says that make your DIY vases, DIY gift packing ideas, DIY turn your old furniture into beautiful piece etc. etc. What if one tries to really try making it oneself and put it on for sale while giving all due credit to the artist and also make some kind of arrangement where remuneration could be given to the artist based on whatever profits made? What if the re-maker takes a due consent wherein the remuneration and the no. of pieces that can be made are mentioned clearly? It is almost like giving production rights to someone who thinks that the idea is sell-able, where the inventor gets the fair share and most importantly the credit.


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