Craft Copycats: The Line Between Inspiration and Stealing

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Take a look at these tassel garlands. They pretty much all look the same, don’t they? So you probably assume that they were made by the same person. Shockingly, no, they were not. If you pore over the design and party blogs, you know that Confetti Systems (top left) designed this tissue paper/tinsel tassel garland probably well over five years ago, but after having appeared, with admiration, all over the blogosphere, it has since been copied over and over by Etsy sellers (top right), Martha Stewart (bottom right), and Oriental Trading (bottom left). 

One could discuss legal ramifications endlessly on this topic, like what is copyright-able, trademark-able, and patent-able (that’s a deeper topic for another article), but the reality is that if you put a crafted item out in the world, it will most likely be ripped off in some way, shape, or form.

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(Who carved it first? Sweet Paul’s Pumpkin Diorama from 2010 on the left; The Paper Mama’s Pumpkin Diorama from 2013 on the right.)

The Internet provides us with a seemingly endless database of material, ideas, and inspiration at our fingertips, but with that expansive access, crafters and artists are finding that their work—both their photographs and craft ideas—is very often being copied or used without permission. But how can this be policed? And where do ideas originate?  

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(Owl Jar Lids by Crafts by Amanda)

From the perspective of blogger and author Amanda Formaro, who develops craft how-to’s, this issue is paradoxically frustrating and flattering. Formaro has made a career as a crafty content creator. She writes two blogs, Crafts By Amanda and Amanda’s Cookin, features her ideas in magazines such as Parents and Redbook, publishes craft books, and is a designer for the craft line, DecoArt. “I look at myself as a teacher and as someone that provides inspiration,” Formaro says. “There are many talented, creative people in this world, but not everyone can come up with ideas. My hope is that I will inspire someone to craft. Period. If that means they follow my instructions to the letter, great! If it means that they will deviate from the instructions and be inspired to make something similar, great! Either way is fine with me. However, copying is something completely different.”

When asked if she had ever seen her crafts, photos, and ideas on the Internet with no link-backs or credit attribution, Formaro said, “yes—countless times and for many years in fact. Quite often I find my project photos on other blogs and sites without proper credit,” she said. “I have also had Etsy sellers use my photos in their shops, which is not only copyright infringement for the use of the photo, it’s also dishonest and a misrepresentation of their product. I really don’t mind that a maker is using my tutorial to create things and sell them to help put food on their table. But I do insist that they make it, photograph THEIR work, and use that in their shop.”

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But there is a common courtesy that has developed online and in social media when it comes to idea appropriation and “inspiration.”

  • When you use someone’s photo, leave watermarks in tact and provide a link with the site’s name (that gives them a nice SEO hit).

  • When you share another blogger’s how-to but use your own images, properly credit that idea to the original blogger with a link and the site’s name.

  • If you’re just posting a “hey look at this cool craft I made” on Facebook or Instagram, it’s just a nice gesture to high-five the blogger who developed the idea. Tag them in the post to share your inspiration with your pals. 

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(Luminary by Crafts by Amanda, Stained Glass by Good Grief Glass on Etsy)

Inspiration can come from so many different places, from driving down the highway, listening to your favorite song, to looking at beautifully crafted things on Etsy. 

Formaro gave us a great example of how inspiration can be kindly handled. She saw a beautiful stained glass design on Etsy which inspired her to make a colorful luminary. In her blog post, she showed the picture of the artwork, gave the link to that artist’s Etsy store, and encouraged her readers to visit this shop. “That project has become quite popular,” Formaro noted, “and because I linked to her Etsy shop, for all I know she has gained followers and sold product as a result. At least I hope that she has, because we’re all in the same boat in a sense. We are all trying to bring beauty into this world while making a living doing what we love—our craft.”

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(Paper Hearts Mini Album by Hydrangea Hippo on Etsy)

On the other side of the coin, crafters, artisans, and designers who are selling their wares, rather than just sharing their ideas, are growing more and more frustrated and losing more and more money as people steal their designs. 

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Jennifer Priest is the founder of the blog, Hydrangea Hippo and Etsy store of the same name. “I have found copies of my work actually submitted by other designers for publication in a national magazine,” Priest told us. “You have to have your own threshold for when you will take action otherwise you will get so wrapped up in policing your images that it can take time away from running your business.”

With Pinterest providing thousands of craft options from a tiny search topic in .24 seconds flat, we don’t have to take a trip to a museum, a bookstore, or a workshop to learn how to make anything. It’s the joy of the Internet, but also a headache for protecting authenticity. Priest suggests “putting a lot of effort into developing a strong look for your brand and your work. I did this without even knowing it and people have said to me that they can spot something I made without being told that I made it. The alternative is to never show anyone anything, which is just plain silly.”

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