In the last day or so I have been doing a lot of reflecting on originality, creativity and ideas. I thought the above picture made me look suitably moody and contemplative. (I was, in fact in the courtyard of a favourite restaurant just soaking up the sun) There is a story behind all of this introspection that I would like to share with you. You may want to get yourself a cup of tea…or a glass of Prosecco – it is the weekend, after all.
Yesterday morning I was alerted by an IG friend that someone was using my images on her feed. Not only had she pinched my ideas, she hadn’t even bothered to make them up herself. She simply made screen shots of my photos and posted them, offering to make up the pieces to sell to customers. It was a very strange sensation to read the compliments she received for my work and to also read her comments in reply accepting the praise. Even stranger yet, one of the commenters was someone who follows me.
I stared at the screen for a long time and then discussed it with Mr Stitches. Neither of us were quite sure what I should do next. I put the matter to my IG friends and the consensus was that I should report her, block and name and shame her. I was a little overwhelmed with the anger a number of people felt on my behalf. Not that I didn’t appreciate it, I just wasn’t expecting it.
For me, I wanted to understand. Why was this person doing this? Did they think what they were doing was wrong? Had they even considered that I might be upset? I really wanted to know.
I have seen individuals get very upset when they feel their work has been copied. Indeed, it is theft, and in no way can it be justified and I totally respect their feelings. And yet, I have always felt, if I ever thought I was being copied, it would be really important to approach it with a healthy dose of pragmatism and humility. Is my embroidery hoop of flowers and words or my fair isle cross stitch sampler really that original? I would never want to be like the mean girl in primary school who would declare that all of the girls were copying her look whilst wearing mass produced high street fashion that imitated the look of various celebrities. By saying you are being copied without clear evidence, you are, in effect, saying you believe you (or your designs and ideas) are of a calibre that people look up to and want to imitate. Please don’t think I believe that anyone who says they have been copied is narcissistic. I know of many designers who have irrefutable evidence of being copied. I am simply saying that, personally speaking, I have always wanted to be absolutely sure before making any accusations.
Anyway, yesterday was a very clear example of theft of ideas and copying. It was really happening – and I was interested to see how it would make me feel. I didn’t share the user name with anyone, I just made contact with the person in question and asked her to remove the posts. In the meantime, some of my IG followers managed to find the woman’s page and a few of them were leaving comments on her photos telling her she was stealing. Only after this happened did the woman reply to my message.
What followed was a somewhat surreal direct message exchange. She immediately apologised and told me she didn’t have any “bad intentions”. Clearly she did, because she was ripping off my work. But I just wanted to know a bit more so we conversed for some time. She openly admitted that she uses pictures of my designs because can’t think of any ideas herself. She also told me that people see the pictures and pay her to make up the design. I then asked her if she was getting a lot of business out of my designs and she quite frankly responded, “Yes! I ship to India, it is an especially good market!”
I explained why what she was doing was wrong and that she had actually made more money out of my designs than I have. She apologised and took the pictures down and said she wouldn’t do it again. I ended by telling her that it takes a level of skill to look at a photo and adapt and make a pattern based on that alone. I strongly encouraged her to try to unleash her creativity.
OK, there was nothing about what she was doing that was right. I do realise that. But there was something so disarming in her honesty about being dishonest! I must stress that I started my blog and IG feed for a bit of fun. It is only in recent weeks that I have started to consider how I might progress with it now we have decided to stay abroad for a little longer. I do entirely understand that those who are trying to make a livelihood out of their creativity would very differently about this. Indeed, it is likely that I will harden my view as I make progress. At the same time, I can see the problem is endemic and there is very little I can really do about it. In a world full of knock off handbags and watches, what is one little embroidery designer going to be able to do to stop it?
I am still thinking it all over and arranging my thoughts on the whole subject. I would love to hear your views. It has actually been a bit of a wake up call for me. If I am going to progress with a creative business, I need to start watermarking pictures, etc. It has, rather perversely, been an encouragement to me too. A woman on the other side of the world has been copying my work – maybe I do have something worth sharing after all.