Sunday, April 16, 2006

Copycats & Moral Dilemmas

Here are 2 of my reversible purses. I have several different styles, & have been teaching the "Reverse-A-Purse Class" for 3 years now. Recently I stumbled upon one of my former students at our Alaska Fiber Festival selling these purses. She also informed me she was selling at the Anchorage Museum too, which is something I had planned on doing this year. I was upset to say the least. I felt as if she had stolen from me.

I consulted a lawyer, who advised that I write to this woman & tell her how I felt, & what I thought she should do to make it right. I also let the museum know that this is my design not hers as she had claimed on her purses, calling them "P--'s Originals". How can she call them original? I decided, to compensate me she should pay an annual fee in exchange for a certificate that says I'll let her make & sell my designs. I thought a fee of $100.00 per year paid to a local charity in my name, & the receipt sent to me, was more than fair. It's not about the money for me, it's about right & wrong. She has phoned me (several times), & at first she thought this was a good idea. Then she talked to her friend, & then said she laid awake listening to her conscience. Apparently she & it told her this would be wrong, validating my claim (regardless of the fact that it's the truth), & now she thinks this would somehow take away from her own"work" which just happens to be a pale somewhat lifeless copy of mine. So I told her I think she is probably going to be hurting herself more than it will me. We have a small community here, & I have some good friends in our art community.

I have been wondering if I should withdraw from teaching though. If this sort of thing is going to happen, & I'm going to feel so bad about it, maybe I shouldn't waste my time teaching. Maybe I should spend that time producing my own work, & getting out there to sell it. I don't know what I want to do now. I'm torn.


Melodie said...

Ok Bee, I personally don't think that teaching is worth all the stress and heartache this is putting you through. You don't need the money, and you certainly don't need the teaching to fill your time!
You will find copycat products out there even if you don't teach it but at least you won't be helping them!
I vote for you to get busy in the Studio and get YOUR work out there for the public to view!!
Love, Em

Allison said...

Wouldn't people be able to copy your work if they just saw it at a gallery, as well as if they took a class from you? It's what those people do with their knowledge of your designs that causes trouble or not.
If you love teaching, I would keep at it...but if you actually don't, maybe this episode was what you needed to realize that and give yourself permission to stop....

Kay said...

I would agree with Allison. Do what is the best thing for you as an artist now. If it's teaching ok, but if not, do your own work. You only go around once, to be totally trite!

Deb H said...

Your Husband said:
I can still remember you coming home after teaching one of your classes, all excited about the looks on your student's faces as they created something they had never done or dreamed of before...all because you imparted some of your knowledge and skill. There are always those in the crowd who cannot come up with their own ideas and through thievery or ignorance take someone else's ideas and plans and run with it. When I was an artist years ago, others were copying my technique and charicatures and getting them published, but I always felt that mine were better and continued working at my craft. So, the question is now facing you...Do you let one person change your love of teaching and determine which way you are heading, or do you continue on knowing that you are the better person and artist? Who is directing how this business is going to be run? You or someone with no ethical responsibilities. It's up to you and I'm behind you either way...Remember, this is supposed to be fun! Warren.

MJAPA said...

I agree with everything that Aunt Mel said above.
Although WSF makes a good point too...

Love you!

Debra Spincic said...

Have you seen the pages and pages of purse patterns in the main pattern catalogs? How about the booklets at the hobby shops? It seems like every shape and form of purse has been explored. "Original" is a hard word to define and prove. "Technique" is a close second.

If you are so committed to your purse, why don't you go to the next level with your design? You can leave the simple (first level) design behind (& to those who want to copy it) and begin marketing a more sophisticated, involved design, which takes longer to produce (because of the "special" design techniques) and costs more money to buy.

One of the reasons your copycat was so successful making 5,000 copies of your purse is that it was easy to do. Would she follow you onto a much harder version (or even a modified version)? My guess is that she has a big inventory of her/your simple design and can't at this time. She has to sell what she has before spending more money on anything different.

You can present the Museum and others with a new, more sophisticated design and leave her in the dust. You know women, "They always want the new and different". You be the new and different. Let your copycat scurry to catch up (or not) and spend your energy staying ahead of the curve instead of lamenting over her.

I lived in the same geographic area of Caryl BF when she introduced her Tucks series to the art galleries in Chic in the 90s. Plenty of people were copying her (on a simple level) but she grew more sophisticated with her designs using the Tucks (which is a very basic sewing technique which is not original to sewing but she brought it out for the world to see in quilts)and moved on to bigger and better quilts.

The same can be done by you with your purses.

Allison said...

What a great husband you have!