When Someone Copies Your Idea

The handmade community can be a very inspiring place. In the last couple of years, through my work helping to organize the Etsy: Made in Canada market for Calgary, I’ve been super-charged in focusing on my own handmade business. People around me are doing such creative things and it’s pushed me to think outside the box and come up with some products I’m particularly proud of.

In the last little while, I’ve come up with some particularly unique pieces & ideas. My work is no longer just printing out my images on high-quality photo paper (though, I will continue to do that!). It’s changed and now, I use the tools in my workshop to make new products from scratch. Happy to be creating something that is particularly unique, I’ve launched forward in the prototyping process and posted my progress to my followers on Instagram.

A lot of my followers on Instagram are also part of the handmade community. They run their own businesses and I follow many of them back because they make such amazing things. Most of the time, this interaction is fun and full of excitement, but sometimes it’s a negative experience.

Like when not even 24 hours after posting your latest idea, someone you know has started copying it. It’s extraordinarily disheartening.

The old adage goes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when you’re putting all your effort into standing out and coming up with products you can be proud of, it doesn’t feel like flattery. It feels more like theft.

This happens time and time again in the handmade community. I’m not the first person to comment on it and I certainly won’t be the last. Sometimes, there’s a fine line between being inspired by someone else’s work and stealing their ideas. Given the same set of tools and skills, it’s inevitable that two people will come up with the same idea, but it’s not the same thing when someone has rushed out to the local craft store to pick up the same materials and has started reproducing your ideas without credit or permission.

I’ve even had this happen a lot lately with my photographs themselves, too. There are a couple of Calgarian photographers I know of who have “recreated” my photographs to sell at their own tables or advertise their own work. Earlier this week, I was alerted to one in particular who’s latest work looked eerily similar to my series on Ghost Towns (notable posts here and here).

What do you do when someone does this? The truth is there isn’t much that can be done. With photography, it’s especially hard to determine the nature of the situation. Did he actually copy my work or was it just a coincidence that he happened to photograph the same subject matter in the exact same way, right down to the editing? It’s hard to say.

All I can really say on the matter is don’t copy, no matter how much you think the other person won’t find out. It’s not about that. It should be about personal pride in coming up with an idea that reflects your own process & artistic nature. When you see someone else’s great idea, be happy for them that they’ve come up with something unique. Look for something unique in your own work. There is enough creativity and talent within each of us that stealing the ideas of others is unnecessary.

3 Replies to “When Someone Copies Your Idea”

  1. Uuuuugh. Having your work copied is the WORST. However, it is inevitable. Just stay true to you and the copy cats will die off because they aren’t really being authentic.

    Great Ghost Town story though.

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