The Copying Thing… how we’re responding

As I sit down to write this, my stomach is full of butterflies because sticking my head above the parapet makes me nervous. I would much rather hide away and avoid confrontation than get involved in anything that could lead to negativity or drama. I am hoping that as I write about this, by the end, I’ll be feeling not-angry.

We received an email today about a copier… the email said they’ve come across this page that has copied our jewellery.

As soon as I saw what page it was my stomach sank, because we’ve been contacted about them numerous times. I had a look and was horrified to see that it’s a couple of our actual signature pieces. (I’ve removed references to the specific pieces because I’ve been told the person has received emails, and we don’t want that to happen.)

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been copied, but I think this is one of the more blatant cases… the thing is, most original designer/makers these days are copied. Normally by hobbyists, sometimes by huge companies and, thankfully, those latter cases usually hit the headlines.

When it’s a hobbyist or other small business, though, it’s incredibly hard becasue talking about it can make the original designer seem unprofessional. It’s why we never, ever talk about it. We don’t put it on our page; we don’t enlist people to post-bomb the copier’s page… we don’t even contact them anymore.

I’m finding that hard today, though, and part of me thinks that this particular copier is so brazen precisely because we’ve never said anything. Part of me wants to email them, but what would it achieve? If someone isn’t above copying, they’re not above denying it.

I spoke to a few friends about it, though, and a lovely lady called Emma Boyes – she runs a gorgeous papercutting business called Emma Boyes – Paper cuts – was telling me about something she heard from Rob Ryan (who she lovingly calls the godfather of papercutting): he is probably copied more than most designers, and he’s come to the conclusion that he can’t let it get him down. He just wants to work all the harder to get his name out there so the copiers can never overtake him.

This afternoon, husbandman and I were talking it all through, and I found myself saying “I won’t get bitter; I’ll get better,” and a lightbulb went on. And that’s how we’re choosing to respond to this.

I’ve really decided – committed – to taking a pledge, and am calling it “The Better Pledge”.

Pledge

I haven’t taken a plegde since I was a kid watching Blue Peter, and it’s one I want to take seriously because this is a reflection of our business and, beyond that, how I see myself as a person. I can either rage and cry and feel wronged, or I can forgive and press on and use it to become better. This is me committing to not becoming bitter; to not seeing other jewellery-makers as the competition; to not allowing it to bring me to a standstill… “better” for me means wishing the person well – genuinely, no matter how hard that feels – and picking up and designing new things, and not worrying and knowing that if we’re being copied, it’s because the copiers look up to us, and if someone looks up to us, what we’re designing and making is worth something. There’s reason to rejoice in that.

Throughout the day, I’ve found my mind has wandered back to it, and I find myself shaking my head in incredulity that someone wouldn’t be too embarrassed to do that. I find anger rising up again, and then I remember that I’ve taken the pledge, and my focus shifts. It shifts away from the copier, and onto joy and forgiveness and feeling incentivised to run our race.

I think I wanted to write about this because so many people have been – and are going – through this very thing. I wanted to tell you that you aren’t alone… being copied makes you feel impotent, and alone. But if we use it to become even better, we are so far from impotent, and not alone. In fact, if you want to take the pledge with me, do let me know.

And I want to say something to any copiers out there who may read this. I’ll use the words of my lovely friend Jen from My Paper Cut Heart: “Why, when we all have our own lights to shine, do some people still insist on stealing a little of someone else’s light? Making both lights a little dimmer in the process. Let people know that they have their own light inside of them waiting to be seen and that the world needs that, not a replica of someone else’s.”

A business cannot and will not thrive based on copies; it just can’t. It will bring in a bit of cash temporarily, but it will ultimately cripple the brand and its reputation. Have faith in your own imagination and designs. If you won’t do it out of respect for others, do it out of respect for yourself. You have beauty in you – let it out.

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81 thoughts on “The Copying Thing… how we’re responding

  1. Once again, you have worked so hard, and someone else using your ideas. Once again,you have proved in words and deeds how generous and wonderful you both are xx

    1. Thank you, J. My heart was beating so hard as I posted it cos a huge part of me just wants to bury my head in the sand when it comes to this stuff but I don’t think that’s healthy, somehow. If it’s done out of forgiveness, it’s one thing, but if it’s done out of intimidation or fear, it’s something else completely!

      1. Oh Anna…. you are such a beautiful person, inside and out. It must be INCREDIBLY difficult to see copies of your work made, but I think you are taking a brave and beautiful attitude. The copying is (in my opinion for what it’s worth) done out of envy – for your beautiful products and your success in business. What they will NEVER be able to copy is the Buttonsy ethos – the joy in design and the love that you pour into each and every one of the items you make. That can never ever be replicated. When I wear my Buttonsy pieces I don’t think of “a jewellery company”, I think of YOU! – and of course Travis. Funnily enough I was thinking of him this morning while having a bit of a tidy – I put my rainbow button bracelet away and remember how you told me that Travis made it (it was a special order because I have big wrists) and it was one of the first items he had made all by himself. I know that Rob Ryan, Cath Kidston and Kaffe Fasset (I am a huge fan of them all) are also all widely copied – but I also know that any copies can only ever be pale imitations xxx

      2. Good for you and hubby on this agreement and pledge. As I normally say… you cant keep good people down, so the wheel is turning !! Proud of you !!

    1. Thank you so much. I really agree that nowadays the baseless accusations of copying are everywhere… and, absolutely, sometimes people come up with the same idea. That’s another reason we don’t talk about it, really.

  2. Well done you šŸ™‚ Take it as a compliment (because your ideas are obviously better than theirs) and rise above it. As a small business ourselves we try to lead the field rather than follow the leaders. It takes time and effort, but I refuse to bring myself down watching every move the competition make, then worrying about it. Lead on… we’re all with you xx

    1. Thank you, Fiona ā¤ Yeah, we're using similar language, really. If it's a race, the person who's winning isn't the person who needs to copy – they're too busy running. I read once that if you're winning a race and someone heckles you from the stands, you can stop to argue with them, or you can ignore them and win. That's been encouraging ever since.

    1. Thank you so much. Goodness, yes, forgiveness is a really, really, REALLY difficult choice, but it is a choice. But it’s so hard to do sometimes because we feel that unless we hold onto it, there won’t be any justice. I really think, though, that the truth always comes out in the end. It just happens somehow ā¤

      1. Hi, just wanted to say I love the beautiful things you design and am saving up to treat myself, and some of my friends, and I think what you posted at the top is just the perfect response to the situation. I am responding here as I’d like your permission to use what you said just above my reply in a lesson in December; I’m an RE teacher and will be doing a lesson on forgiveness, and your words are ideal for use with my y8s – a good discussion starter! Thanks, hopefully šŸ˜Š

  3. Thank you for writing this. I have many friends whose work has been copied and I dread the day it might happen to my own work (although it might have already happened, I just don’t know about it!). I think I will take your approach. Although I’ll still probably get annoyed when my friends have their work copied, though!

  4. Beautifully and eloquently written.
    I decided long ago not to take a blind bit of notice of those who copy, they cannot BE me nor do they have my years of experience, knowledge or skill, yes I know I’m blowing my own trumpet (as we all should sometimes!) but, I know I am better than they are and have the customers to prove it.

    1. Thanks, Kate šŸ™‚ It didn’t sound like you were blowing your own trumpet – just acknowledging the truth. People who are skilled and creative don’t copy… they don’t need to. It really is just how it is ā¤

  5. I have to take issue with your comment about ‘hobbyists’, which is in any case not a nice word and is usually used as an insult. I used to make jewellery which I sold at craft fairs and online. It was my hobby and this caused certain sections of the craft community to look down at me and others like me. We weren’t real craftspeople, just ‘hobbyists’. Well, that may be so in some people’s opinions, but I and many, many others like me would NEVER copy someone else’s work. Ever. We get copied too – in fact I saw one of my designs in a major chain store, but how do I prove they nicked it?

    I’m really sorry you’ve had this awful experience. It’s a horrible thing to go through, it makes you feel dirty and exposed. It’s wrong and it’s not fair. But to label all craftseople who craft as a hobby rather than as business is not fair either. We have standards too.

    1. Hi, Bec – I apologise if anything I said was offensive, it wasn’t my intention. I definitely didn’t mean “hobbyist” as a pejorative. But people that craft for a hobby and happen to sell some stuff tend not to register as self-employed, or pay for work insurance… they undercut actual businesses because their overheads are lower and they don’t *need* the income. I think that’s why designers can be wary. That being said, businesses copy, too, as in this case. I really do apologise if I didn’t make that very clear, it’s never my intention to offend.

      1. I think you will find that most people who craft and sell as a hobby do register, have insurance etc: most decent markets these days won’t allow you in without insurance. To say we undercut small businesses implies that we do it deliberately to get at small businesses. Not so. We could equally say that small businesses are overcharging.

  6. It takes time, dedication, talent and passion to create a unique voice in any creative sphere.
    I think the copiers take the short path and just steal, they lack those four traits and have to stand still while the real creatives never stop moving.
    They’ll never have the fierce joy of an ah ha moment of their own, or the pride in making something that has never existed before or adding your own twist to something and stamping it with your own identity and making it anew.
    They stagnate while we evolve.
    I’m not sure if I could easily forgive but they have my pity.

  7. Beautifully written, I particularly like your friends quote. We all have a light to shine and making someone else’s dimmer instead of fuelling your own fire is unnecessary! Keep going we all know true stars shine brighter.

  8. I found this quote a while back… copied it into the front of my sketchbook:

    They copied all they could follow
    But they couldn’t copy my mind
    So I left them sweating and stealing
    A year and a half behind

    from “The Mary Gloster” by Rudyard Kipling

  9. Well done, it’s not easy to rise above. As a cake maker I have had similar experience where when confronted the person totally denied it. As a cake maker I sometimes take inspiration from others work but if a customer wants an exact copy I always contact the original designer and ask permission.

    1. Hi, Angela – agreed! We’ve had people show us photos of something they’ve seen and asked us to make similar, and we categorically decline. We won’t do that to another designer or to ourselves.

  10. I have followed your page for quite some time. You are clearly ahead of the rest. Once you are clear from the fog, the sun will shine even brighter on your business.
    Keep up the fantastic work xx

  11. Thank you for writing this. It’s so beautifully written and hard hitting. Only this week, I came across another small business that had copied one of my designs, and was heartbroken. What’s worse is they have a larger following and will end up making a larger profit from something they did not create. It’s the sixth time that I am aware of, and it never gets easier. I wrote to the first two, but let go after that.

    I will join you in the pledge to be better. Others may copy; make a profit even, but they will never know the joy of creating – that is something only true artists know, and can really take pride in.

    1. Hi… do you know, one of the other comments in the thread, madmarchmoon wrote that copiers will never have the excitement of that “ah ha!” moment. You know the one where you see something from your imagination become something *real*… it makes me so grateful to have those moments. We’re the blessed ones, we really are.

  12. Why not put a header on all your photos. The “original Buttonsy” often copied never beaten. My ideas, my creativity the one and only Buttonsy accept no pale imposters.

    B beautiful bespoke
    U unique
    T trendy
    T treasures and
    O objects of desire
    S sincere service
    Y yours for ever

    x

    1. Hiya, Anita šŸ™‚ Ack, we’re not really self-aggrandising enough to do that! Also, I think maybe it could come across as bitter, somehow and we want to stay joyful ā¤

  13. It’s like being punched when you see your work copied, but over the years I’ve learned to take some enjoyment from the cat & mouse game, because while you swim they can only tread water. The time it takes them to break down the process of your work & put it back together again to produce an inferior copy is all the time you need to produce your next amazing piece & have it gloriously displayed & time-stamped on social media. While they constantly chase their tale you can dance ahead. Their way is more exhausting & can’t breed success, which seems sad for them, in a way, especially as they can’t see that for themselves when it’s glaringly obvious to the wider market. Xxxxx

  14. I can honestly say I have no idea who the copiers are because why would I need to know them? I live in Buttonsy world and what a beautiful joyful place to be it is. Your beautiful jewellery and sparkly new ideas keep me happy and committed to supporting you. I love the anticipation of your next post and new idea or rejuvenation of an old db favourite. Keep up the good work my lovelies x

  15. Recently I was admiring the necklace of a work colleague. “It’s a Buttonsy”. She smiled as she spoke and gently stroked the pendant.
    I was wearing Buttonsy too.
    We didn’t just share an appreciation of your designs, but also of being Buttonsy people.
    No copy will ever elicit that.

  16. Well, you have so many loyal buttonsy/jar of joy friends, that you will survive even if the copier goes down. I certainly won’t be buying from them, I trust your things are made with love in your heart for nature and beauty and goodness and kindness – and I’d rather wear that than things from an envious second rate talent person who can’t even come up with individual ideas.

  17. I can understand your desire to stay positive and focused on moving forward – and appreciate it. But I do have to ask one question. As I understand it, if you make no effort to defend your copyrighted work – then the idea/design/product goes up for grabs by anyone interested. So is your current plan simply giving up on the idea that your work is not worth defending? Please don’t interpret this incorrectly – I love your pieces and outlook – just a little worried about the approach.

    Mary in MN

    1. Hi, Mary, thanks for taking the time to comment šŸ™‚ No, I hate to think that our responding this way means we don’t feel our designs are worth defending. It’s more that we believe that doing the right thing is what matters most and, for us, doing the right thing means forgiving and not looking over our shoulders anymore, cos that can drive people nuts.

    1. Hi, Stacey šŸ™‚ I have started to look into it now. Am still unsure when it comes to jewellery but I think we automatically have intellectual property rights, which is something I’d like to learn about! Thank you so much. x

  18. I agree with the fact that you’re viewing this in a light which is healthy for you. That will give you strength to use your copyright too. The copiers don’t worry about it, as they think nobody will know. You telling them that you and lots of others DO know, is exactly the right thing to do and empowers you. Job done! Keep on doing what you’re doing x

    1. Hi, thanks for commenting, I appreciate it šŸ™‚ I think that’s the thing about being copied, and not wanting to make a fuss… it sort of leaves you feeling very alone and in the dark. I feel like writing the blog brought it all in the light, without our lowering ourselves to being mean in any way. And so many people are going through thus stuff, it’s incredible.

  19. I always say to myself “let them try and copy that” In the early days I used to share paintings in progress etc openly share my process… not anymore, one of the most upsetting cases was a person who had purchased my cards and prints and then openly started to do her own version, just changing the odd flower direction etc.. I try hard not to let it get to me, I move forward and say again “let them try and copy that” your work is yours designed and created by you we all know that. you are the only Buttonsy šŸ™‚ x

    1. Hiya šŸ™‚ Gosh, I hate that that happened to you – it’s crazy how many of us have experienced this. I honestly don’t want to wax pretentious but there’s so much joy in creating something new… what’s the point in just copying something else? I just can’t see where the joy is in that.

  20. Ripples on a pond. Insects glide, raindrops fall, a finger can stir up a thousand tiny waves. But what happens eventually? The pond returns to still waters. Constant. Clear.

  21. Thank you so much for putting these thoughts out into the world. You have no idea how many of your fellow artisans are jumping up & down with hands raised, shouting ‘YES! THANK YOU!’ after reading this.
    I read this and promptly typed out my own feelings on the subject, to share with my loyal customers. We must keep fighting for our creativity! ā¤

    1. Hi, Anna, I didn’t see you’d left a comment until now! Gah. I hope you’re doing ok with all of it šŸ™‚ It’s been 4 months so, goodness, it’s probably old news now. I apologise for the ridiculous delay!

  22. I love what you have written, I also love your work! so sorry you have had to go through that though.

    Unfortunately some people just don’t have imagination of their own….and to be honest, I pity them….
    Recently at an event, I had someone steal one of my scarves, not the same i know, but as i didn’t see until it was too late when i found the empty hanger, So I couldn’t do much about it, I tried to be positive about it telling myself that “at least they liked my work”….better than getting upset i found.

    keep doing what you are doing and remember the best form of flattery is someone who copies your work….but always remember YOU are the original šŸ˜‰

    1. Hi, Kimmie, thanks for your comment šŸ™‚ I think a lot of copying is almost unintentional. Or, at least, not malicious. There are so many tutorials and stuff out there now I really believe a lot of people have sort of forgotten that there are lines, and that not everything out there is a free for all. Still very upsetting, though!

  23. Beautifully written. And it resonates in my heart. I am a crochet / knit designer, and we have the same problems all the time as well as copyright infringement on our patterns. I will take the pledge. Getting angry doesn’t help me at all. It just ruins my day and steals my joy.

    1. Hi šŸ™‚ It really does steal it, yes! I didn’t write this to condemn the copier, or people that copy; I wrote it for the people that are being copied. I don’t think it’s about them so much as it’s about us. We really can’t control what they do, but we can control our response ā¤

  24. Thank you so much for this post especially since I find myself in this exact predicament right now that I’ve actually just “put my business on hold” till the dust settles. To this I am joining your pledge to rise above it and push on. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi, AnnaBella – thanks for your comment. Don’t let stuff like this keep you away for too long… I really so do know it makes you want to give up, but it would be a shame, cos then someone else has decided what will happen for your creativity. That shouldn’t ever happen ā¤

  25. This really resonates with me, but as a consumer, not a maker (except of gardens). There is a deep pleasure in buying a genuine work from its original creator, and I would feel duped if I unknowingly bought from one of these copiers, and subsequently found out they were blatantly ripping off someone else’s design.
    I was recently faced with wanting an original/officially licensed work that I could not afford and a knock off that I could. I wriggled and squirmed and eventually concluded that if you – the maker – are still alive, I cannot buy the knock off. I wrote a post ‘When is it stealing?’ about it here: https://andthegarden.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/when-is-it-stealing/

  26. Hi I have read this with interest and myself shall look into ACID as I have something up my sleeve at the moment. It is so sad that someones eureka moment can be swept away in a blink of an eye.

    1. Hi, Adrienne šŸ™‚ We’ve been told to join ACID countless times now so I think we’ll take the plunge. It seems like it’s worth doing for any maker/designer now. I hope things go well with your sleevey idea šŸ™‚

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