Friday, January 20, 2012


In 26 years of making my living as a bead artist, author and teacher, the subject of copycats has reared its head several times. I guess SOPA is one underlying reason for its return today. That, plus Sweetpea, who has been noticing that her images are showing up on Pinterest at an alarming rate, sent me a link to a really good post on the subject of copycats.

No way around it, when we publish photos on the net, display work in a gallery or museum, sell work at a studio tour, or in any way make our art public, there are people who are going to copy it, or at least try to copy it. There are even some who will copy it and say it's their own.

The worst offender for me was a student who copied my handout (word for word, plus the drawings!) for my beaded button class and made up kits with my instructions as the main feature. She sold the kits to quite a number of bead shops over a period of a year or so before I learned of it.
If you prefer posts with images, please scroll down to the previous posts... This one is all words...
Another student in the same class, called to tell me about it. She also reported it to her local bead society and made it her business to call all the bead shops, asking them not to carry the kits. I don't know what happened after that.

The truth is: her kit sales did not hurt me in any way (OK, except my pride). I still had and continue to have more teaching offers than I can manage to accept. I still teach the button workshop at filled-to-capacity levels. Nobody ever accuses me of stealing the idea from my student's kits (ha ha).

The way I figure it is this... It's a mighty big world. And there's an unfathomable amount of art in it. There's room for everybody and everything, including copycats.

That's the simple conclusion. It originally came from my artist friend, Carol Berry, who once said: "People copy my ideas. But I don't really care, because by the time they do, I'm already onto something else." Well, that's how I remember what she said... not an exact quote. It sticks with me as basically true.

The other thing that seems important to me is art vs. guns. Yep, art, most of it, in my opinion, is a peace agent, one of the best we have. It's an antidote to war, greed, fear, prejudice and inhumanity. I believe in putting as much art as possible into the world. That's one reason why, when the current printing of my books runs out, I'm going to make them available as free downloads. My first book, One Bead at a Time, is already available for free (here).

I put images (not itsy-bitsy ones, not protected or water-marked ones) of my art on all my blogs, my website, Flickr and Facebook. Other people copy them and put them on sites like Pinterest and sometimes I see them on personal blogs and other sites. Sometimes folks attribute the art, quote and/or photo to me; sometimes not. Today, I'm weighing in as not caring. Today, I'm grateful for every peaceful, soulful, contented thought that happens as a person, somewhere in this world, views my art/photo. It's the only way I know to bring more harmony into the world.

Just today, I joined Creative Commons, which is a way to publicly license my words, my art and the photos of it, allowing free use for non-commercial purposes with attribution... might as well give a little structure to what I believe anyway.

What about you? What are your thoughts about copycats?


  1. As long as we live and breathe, there are going to be copycats. Some people have no respect for other people's property or works. I often wonder how they were raised??? Certainly with no morals or conscience. My granddaddy would have skint me alive!

  2. I'm still gnawing on this subject, Robin, but I deeply appreciate your thoughts on the matter, as you know. Not sure which direction I will my moments of steam-coming-out-of-ears, I contemplate closing my blog down altogether to an "invite only" group. But heck, that's just not why I blog! THANKS my friend, for putting your thoughts here. I'm sure they will be helpful to many, as they are to me.

  3. Robin, you have a wonderful generous and loving nature. I have had people stand and photo my beadwork in the Gallery without asking for an ok, I choose to be flattered, unless they find the exact same materials, when they make their own, its going to be just that...their own. Happy Beading, and I hope the snow there in Washington is not giving you fits.

  4. I feel as you do and often say on my blog..."feel free to use whatever and however" I'm of an age that I don't expect to be here that much longer and anything of mine that is copied and passed along is a testimony to the fact I was here at all...

    But having said that it is pretty tacky to copy something word for word and use it to make money.... not a person I would want as a friend...

  5. Amen, Robin . . . .

    Kathy V in NM

  6. Dear Robin, I just found your wonderful blog and I still wish to surf around in it. But the first thing I did was printing out your free book. I am in awe, that is so generous of you and I wish to tell you how much I appreciate this! Thank you so very much! I will try out a small beading project - please wish me luck! :-)

  7. I'm a beader (under the name Vivage) and graphic artist (under the name virginiao. I'm fine with people showing my beading work on places like Pinterest where if you click on the image it takes you right to my blog where the photo resides.

    What I'm not necessarily fine with is people stealing my graphic art work and trying to pass it off as their own. I sell fabric via Spoonflower where one person took one of my designs uploaded at Spoonflower and tried to sell it to customers who'd normally buy that design thru me. That person could have easily paid for some of my fabric, made something out of it and sold that to make some money and all would be fabulous for all parties.

    It's part of my livelihood and I freely share my creativity and hope it inspires someone else to use their own creativity to come up with something uniquely their own. I'd even help them find their creative voice but shortcutting their own creative voice to try and speak with mine for profit isn't something I'm comfortable with. I applaud you for being ok with others copying, I'm in a slightly different camp

  8. I love being inspired by other peoples creativity and the forum i'm connected with is all about sharing and learning in our Fibre related endeavours, I know thats different than what your saying but to blantantly copy and sell kits she made from your work is not the right thing to do. Your work is FAB-U-LOUS and i love looking through your blog to see what your doing, I'm not a bead artist, in fact i've only just discovered them to use in my mixed media projects. Your generosity is amazing and being new i did just learn of your books and did read your first book that you made available as an e-book, It was awesome and i thankyou for doing that. You do inspire me greatly :)
    cheers karen xo

  9. Hi Robin, I totally agree with your principles.....I am in awe of your artistry and feel so inspired that I
    made a beaded button the other day....your idea, which I did mention on my blog ! I dont agree with what that student did....but I do think all art should be shared and enjoyed by all !! If you put your ideas in the public eye, then you must expect
    people to copy you.....
    chris richards

  10. Anonymous3:48 AM

    Wonderful post Robin, thank you. It's so refreshing to hear such a positive outlook on this difficult topic. I totally agree with you. Thanks again for the post, good to hear what the "pros" think!

  11. Robin, you know that you are among the artists that I love and have been lucky to know in the cyber world. Your post here adds to my admiration of you.

    I am not an artist, and don't believe that I have copied anyone's anything. Before becoming active on the net, I really never thought much about copyright. I know many beaders that sell their work and designs that have had to deal with copycats and spent a lot of time and energy to fight it.

    I guess you can't fight someone with no morals or integrity.

    I never knew ANYTHING about bead embroidery until I bought your book, Beaded Embellishments. So, I can only thank you for sharing your art.

  12. I have been pinning on pinterest so that I can go back and look again or show my husband the wonderful work others are doing. I thought that the site automatically linked the image to the web site it came from. I will now start including the site address in the comments. I take inspiration from the work of others but would never dream of copying the thing exactly, is that legit?

  13. Thanks for your comments! So timely and wise! That is one of the reason I like pinterest as it links back to the original. As a librarian it was hard to bookmark and remember things to inspire me(not copy). I am mostly a quilter but picked up beading 6 years ago when I was very sick. I will have to follow you now as I like to combine my two passions. And need more beadspiration.

  14. Anonymous6:42 AM

    I was told by a friend a few years ago thay copying was the greatest form of flattery. I'm ashamed of the person who profited from your work but you must be very proud that YOU thought of it and not her!

  15. I thought I was of the same opinion as you until I was faced by a large commercial company using my imagery. It dawned on me that if the work was profitable for them, they could claim it was theirs and insist that I stop copying them! Suddenly I felt a lot more protective. I needed to fight and claim my ownership. In the end it all worked out- thank goodness. But, mostly I ignore any small time crafters who copy. If they think they can make the big bucks doing what I do, good luck to them! They should understand though, I don't like it, I will never respect them, and they make themselves look bad to the internet craft community at large.

  16. Anonymous8:08 AM

    Dear Robin, thank you for your wonderful blog and your generosity.

  17. My creations I really do not want copied--like my textile designs--I never put up online. I think Sweetpea should take it as a compliment that her art is showing up on Pinterest....that means she has a good audience! and just because it is posted there does not mean it will be copied. I love Pinterest for saving ideas and inspiration. You Know what Picasso said after seeing 10,000 yr old cave art in France ? " I have done nothing new." ie all art is derivative...

  18. I read your blog post last night at work and had a nice sleep on it. Having someone copy is one of those teeter totter moments. Should I be flattered that they thought so much of my design that they copied it, or should I be upset that someone took what I did and is making production pieces from my imagination. The one good thing about this is that I'm always kept on my toes trying out new things keeping one-two-three steps ahead discovering different techniques and projects that not only keep me interested, but ahead of the copying game.

    I teach so I am very flattered when students show me what they made with my instructions. It makes me so happy that I shared knowledge with others. So far, I haven't had anyone profit from my projects, but then I don't care if they do if they've either paid for a kit or even asked my permission. Neither have I experienced someone taking my teaching materials and passing them on as their own making money from it.

    I met a person here in Ohio who was doing as you stated in your blog. She had actually copied your instructions from you button class & was going around teaching it at small groups. As far as I know she was not the person selling the kits, but I did strongly inform her that what she was teaching was your property, and before she could teach it using your print outs then she was essentially stealing. I'm not sure what happened after that as I lost contact with her.

    As for copying a design...well, there are times when two different people come up with similar pieces at the same time being inspired by someone else. This happened to me last year. The other person who'd come up with a similar project & unfortunately the same name accused me of stealing & actually sent me a legal notice. I was hurt, shocked, and oh yes a little upset as I had rarely seen her art work & my work looked nothing like her. I could have had a war, but instead I became the adult and thanked her for letting me know there was a conflict but that I did not get my inspiration from her. It did wake me up that there are those out there wanting to wage wars for little reason. I did immediately tell the person I was inspired by that I got my idea from her...and I am never going to teach that class as I don't want the original accuser besmirching my name even more than she did. I also don't want the bead store I work for get sued by that person. So I guess I'm just sharing this to show that there are times when people are innocent when assumed to be guilty. It still hurts that this person said nasty things about me, but I'm also blessed that so many people stood up for me & warned me (a very special friend warned me of this before I even had a clue). Sorry to go on and on about this...guess it still does bother me.

    And Robin though you & I have never met, I want to thank you for your generosity in sharing your out of print books to the world. I always let my student know about the large heart you have.

  19. I'm not famous enough to be copied, so I don't have to worry about that, at least not yet... but I do think about the issue fairly often from the other side of the street. I have occasionally inadvertently used a detail of something I was inspired by - this happened once with you, Robin, and I knew that it had come from you, but not where, so I asked you. That piece was never intended for sale, so I wasn't worried about that, but I didn't want to put a piece of mine up on my blog with "stolen" elements. I have made many healing dolls from your spirit doll template.

    I have this problem - I make things, sometimes starting from someone's else's pattern, but with my own colors and design elements added. People want to buy them, or they want me to customize it somehow for them and make a different one and buy that one. The end product can be widely divergent, yet the seed idea came from someone else.

    I solve this problem by ALWAYS acknowledging the artist who created the original pattern, but still feel sort of wrong about it.

    I'd be interested in other artist's reactions to this question.

    I have also come up with similar original ideas to someone else at the same time - this is a problem writers and researchers have, too. It's not copying, it's more the morphogenetic field that we're all drawing energy from.

  20. As long as we want to find community of others with similar passions we are going to ahve to deal with copycats. No one can really exactly copy what it is we each do, but it can be hurtful and offensive. I'm with you about art vs. guns and the need for art shared is so very powerful, that overrides my fears of copycats. My beaded cuffs are showing up in places but no one can do them exactly like me and when i add my own beads that I create and found objects that I collect, it becomes even harder. i simply enjoy the community far too much to let it run me over!!
    Great post Robin!! thank you!!!

  21. Good for you with Creative Commons.

    I read through many of the comments and they were all thoughtful.

    At some point I have difficulty defining what constitutes copying. Who owns peyote stitch? Who owns a netted bezel? Who owns a cross shape? Who owns a floral shape with with Russian leaves attached? I am always inspired by others. I do use bits and pieces of others works and adapt them to my own needs (honestly, I can never quite follow the directions bead by bead.) So am I copying? I have seen posts trying to set percentages of similarity that constitute copying. I don't have an answer. I do think of myself as honest and moral so if I rely on someone else's work as part of mine I give credit. I hope everyone is doing their best to live up to the high standards they would want for their own work.

  22. I think the best thing to do is try to bead something that no one else can really figure out how to recreate;) Others have borrowed my beaded images before sometimes crediting me, sometimes not. Personally I am flattered when they do it. Life is too short to be bothered with chasing down all the copycats in the world. Just create something new that is obviously you! :D

  23. Anonymous2:17 PM

    I'm a relatively new beader and I find that when i design a piece, I generally end up seeing that someone else has beat me to it. Not exactly, but more or less. I guess it's because my pieces are pretty simple. However I'd never dream of blantantly stealing something that belongs to someone else, such as a tutorial or photographs.

  24. Imitation is the greatest form of mom used to say. Guess that's what I live by...of course I'm not in the 'business' of art work. If someone copies my work, it's flattering. I know who are the 'real' teachers and who do the copying. i'd still take a class from you!!!

  25. I love your thoughts about that subject, Robin.

    Like you I believe art is a peace agent. Browsing the internet, I notice the artists and craft people are often much gentler and open-minded than your average internet user.

    I will never forget how you came into my life and what you brought to me. Stitching a spirit doll from one of your books was the first step for me on what has become a long healing and creative path. Being part of the Bead Journal Project was an important thing for me. Now I am learning metal work.

    Thank you for all your wonderful art and thoughtful posts.

    With blessings.

  26. This is a great discussion on a complicated subject. I will assert my rights if I find someone has copied my stuff, but I don't spend a lot of my time looking for it. Life's too short. This is the risk I take when I put photos of my work online, but I'm not giving up the wonderful online communities I belong to.

    Regarding people copying kits and teaching classes, I have a notice in all my kits:

    "Reproduction of these instructions by any means is prohibited. If you wish to use these instructions for teaching, a complete kit must be purchased for each student; discounts are available for multiple purchases."

    I haven't had anyone take me up on that, but at least it's out there. I've also been pondering whether we could come up with a licensing scheme whereby teachers could license their classes to be taught by others. Any thoughts on that?

    In the end, I like this quote...

    They copied all they could follow,
    But they couldn't copy my mind.
    And I left 'em sweating and stealing,
    A year and a half behind.
    --Rudyard Kipling

  27. I put a lot of other people's stuff up on Pinterest becuase it links back to their site. It's a great source of inspiration and I don't think it is copying at all. I adhore copying other people's stuff and get very angry when I discover it happening!

  28. There is one famous phrase from the quixiote it goes like this " dejalos que ladren sancho, porque eso significa que estamos cabalgando" ( let the dogs bark Sancho, that means we are moving on) succes is allways surrounded by both envy and admiration, so why bother focusing in envy only?

  29. A very timely and well put discussion Robin. With SOPA being n the forefront of late, discussion in our house has been lively on this subject. I have discussed my thoughts, with credit to you for the instigation, on my blog

    All best wishes,

  30. Aurora (above) is right about pinterest--it's basically like an online scrapbook that other people can view too. They embed the original link in the picture (even for "repins") so that anyone can easily find the author and so that the image is attributed properly. This probably does increase the likelihood that something will be copied but that is more because it increases general exposure to one's work rather than the format in itself.
    The general idea is a tough one though. Where do I draw the line between inspiration, learning and copying? I am making a bird pin for my grandmother. So I searched for stumpwork birds, looked at pictures until I thought I knew how to do it and now I'm giving it a try. Am I stealing the work of the people whose pictures I learned from? It's hard to believe that I am.
    That said, I'm very aware of the risks and I don't put pictures online that I really don't want out there potentially being used without my consent (like pics of the kids). It annoys the family that they can't see the latest jelly-faced smile but oh, well.

  31. I HATE it when people say..."I would feel complimented when someone copies me" Or " You should be happy they liked your stuff enough to copy it"

    Right now, I am in the midst of a huge copyright issue. Found a website, and their side Ebay site that is taking some of my early designs, as well as other designers and mass producing them in India... Read about it on my blog I will be posting more as more developes in this saga

  32. Sildah, just thought I'd drop a quick note here (hope you see it) and suggest an option for you, somewhere you can post photos of your kids & not worry: set up a 2nd blog that is "password protected." This means that only people you give the password to are able to log in and view what you post. I have one blog like that and it works perfectly. It was a little bit of work initially to set it up, but there's no bells & whistles on it...mainly for the viewing of photos - safely! Hope that helps :>]]

  33. Anonymous6:07 AM

    "People copy my ideas. But I don't really care, because by the time they do, I'm already onto something else."

    Ha! That's my philosophy! I'm never standing in the same place for long as far as my work goes, so by the time I am finding things that resemble mine, I'm way past it and it is so yesterday to me!

  34. great post...I agree with your outlook....though it may hurt one's pride/feelings, one knows the truth.

  35. I waffle on this as well as free how to's. Often its how it’s done that effects how I feel. Sometimes there is a fine line between inspiration and copying. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is in the public domain and what is not. It can be a very complicated issue. I am glad you are blogging about it and getting us thinking.

  36. I don't mind if people are using pinterest to pin my work (colored pencil as beading is just a hobby for me). I pin lots of other artists still lifes and other beaders beadwork, yet I would NEVER copy their work. I will pin something because I fell in love with their color choices (beads) or the way they embroidered around a cabochon. I'll pin other's still life because of the way they lit the still life, or how they arranged their fruit. Then when I'm looking to set up my next still life, the lighting or arrangement will inspire me but never to copy. The bead colors will inspire me, or I might incorporate some of the way the cabochon was beaded but only a small portion. What irks me is those who do copy and put their work on etsy, etc. I've written other artists to let them know that they're being copied. What I do if I'm copied is send an email asking them to take down the work. If they're posting a work from a lesson in my book, then I have no problem as they have permission to do so.

  37. I've never used Pinterest, I think I'll have to try it. I love when people share my images, because I write my URL for the website on each.

  38. I have also recently seen some of my work turning up on pintrest. I guess I feel flattered. I also enjoy seeing others work and have pinned others work simply so I can go back and admire it and be inspired. I also feel that if someone is going to misuse my work there is this wonderful little thing called 'karma' in the universe. It will catch up with whoever is doing the misusing.

  39. Anonymous3:44 AM

    Just wanted to leave a note with a little different perspective. This may make some people upset but I think that being allowed to post your opinion is what blogs and the internet are for. I am a recreational beader. I love to bead but can only devote an hour or less a day after a hard day at the office. I do sometime take apart several articles in magazines and books I purchase to make a new design of my own, but most of the time I do not have the extra time or the extra will to do so. I just have enough time to follow the instructions provided and bead.

    Here is where the copyright issue rears its head. I could never wear everything I do make. (could not afford any more beads if I did) So sometimes I sell a piece I made from a magazine or book(that I have purchased from a retailer)to one of the other gals at the office. I usually charge only what the price of the materials are because I am making the piece for fun and only want to buy more beads(or beading books)so that I can continue to bead.

    At first, I agonized over doing this. I had read many articles and blogs online saying that copying a design from instructions was not responsible, moral, or legal. But here is the other side of this. I am not portraying the piece as mine. I freely tell all who asks which books or magazines the design came from. If I can remember the designers name I will tell them who came up with the design. If I cannot remember I will suggest they purchase the book or magazine. I pay for the book or magazine and the beads to copy the piece from the instructions provided. I do not see how this can be hurting anyone. I am not taking any money from a designers instructions just the piece I make from them. And I rarely make more than one of the pieces. So I am not mass producing anything.

    Well, that is one opinion from a small town in Iowa where I have to drive an hour and a half to find even a Micheals or order everything off the internet. Please don't hate me for it.

  40. You are such an inspirational person. What a wonderful outlook. I do know of someone who actually copied my art and I was probably half flattered, half mad. I simply asked them not to and they gracefully complied. Looking back I am glad I didn't get nasty about it. You have offered another outlook on it...a healthy attitude. I do admire you for that. Thank you.


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!