Sunday, June 26, 2011

Looks Like a Raven, Acts Like a Raven –A Raven By Any Other Name?

Hers are above and mine are below.

Is copying really the best form of flattery? Or do “great minds” really think alike? I’ve known many artists over the years whose work has been copied, replicated, altered, duplicated, inspired, and flat out ripped off. I’ve had an experience in every one of those categories with my art making being on the receiving end. Sometimes copyright infringement is hard to prove but I know it when I feel it. When I see visual art that’s similar to something I’ve already created my stomach tightens and my heart rate quickens. For me it is an emotional experience. When I first saw another company’s Ravens silk screened onto squares of batik fabric I thought they looked very similar to the Raven Quilt Panels and Raven Garden Flags that Jana and I have been producing for over a year. After researching copyright definitions, consulting with other artists and legal professionals I wanted to have a better understanding of what really was considered copyright infringement. Whitney Smith’s Sprout Vase was clearly ripped-off by a major retailer though most of her copyright issues have stemmed from her work “inspiring” other ETSY artists! This is what the United States Copyright Office says:

What is copyright infringement?
As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.

After making a couple of calls and speaking directly to the company owner who is distributing the Raven Panels and who I’ve known for years, I learned that more than likely this is a situation of the similar Raven Quilt Panels being a case of a creative process that ended up with a VERY similar product but without malice or intentional copyright infringement. That’s what I’m hoping. Nevertheless, I did follow up with an e-mail to the proprietor of the company to make her aware of the similarity by attaching copies of our packaging covers showing our copyright mark. Here is what my first e-mail said in part:

Thanks for taking my call this morning. As promised I'm sending you images of the batik Raven panels Jana and I already sell. I was surprised to see how similar your Ravens silk screened onto the various batik fabrics are to our designs we created, produced and started selling last year. I was the designer and the original idea of Raven Garden Flags was also mine. Jana's idea was to sell the silk screened panels in the Quilted Raven for quilts, flags or other projects. I'm hoping that you reconsider selling such a similar product.”

Her reply explained how her company came to produce such a similar product and claimed she had not seen Jana and my Raven panels before. She also claimed it should be OK to sell her product because at the moment Jana was only selling her Raven Quilt panels at one of her stores The Quilted Raven. However, my two final points in response were that our distribution is not her concern and ultimately “while I appreciate the process that led you to create a similar product, after seeing such a similar idea I felt it was my responsibility to make you aware of our pre-existing product design so we may protect our copyright.”


Tracey Broome said...

I know that stomach tightening and heart racing feeling well. Also the rage that comes after that! The odd thing is that when people do it, they don't even seem to realize what they have done. This one is just too close to be anything but a clear rip off. What a pain in the ass, I know how you feel!

Tracey Broome said...

PS: how is Kristen doing? I don't even know the child but I have been worried about her :)

cindy shake said...

All good Tracey! Thank you. Though their expedition has been off to a WILD start -the UCGC Healy had to rescue a sinking Tug Boat yesterday in the Bering Sea! All crew members survived and Healy was called due to their close proximity but she said everyone was subdued not knowing what they were going to find. It was a tug pulling a barge and the Tug had already sunk the crew had on survival suits and had climbed aboard the barge...

cookingwithgas said...

The one thing I will say is I would know your work any where and when I looked at the other my first thought was that does not look like Cindy's work.
Your work stands out and even though it is a pain when someone else is on the same path as you. you need to carry on and continue to let your work speak for you.
Just like movies, designer clothes, music and all there will always be someone to "borrow" concepts and ideas.

Patricia Griffin said...

Yours are better.