Creative Business Q&A: Copyrights

I recently wrote an article, titled “How to Ride a Trend” (Handmadeology), in which I explained how to turn a celebrity-inspired trend into a commercial for your shop. One of the readers had this question:

I was thinking of making [something] similar to [a bracelet] worn by a character in a movie, but I was concerned it’s copyrighted and I’m not sure how to make a similar one without infringing. Is it enough to say “inspired by” and “styled after” or should I get permission and/or give credit to the original designer?—Laura

Copyright laws can be complicated, but Etsy has put the concept into layman’s terms under Basic Copyright Information for Artists, and I’m pulling this information for you from that article:

“… ideas are generally free to copy. And the line between an idea (unprotectable via copyright) and expression (protectable via copyright) may be difficult to draw. Artists may be inspired by other artists, previous art, and the world around them. For example, Cezanne is thought to have inspired Picasso’s cubism period and Boucher, Fragonard and Watteau inspired Renoir.

Also, copyright protection does not preclude another author from creating independently authored, yet identical, works. Copyright does not protect everything. For example, copyright does not protect facts, processes or utilitarian aspects of a design.”

In other words, you can’t take a famous product and claim or resell it as your own creation. You can (and should, in my opinion) be inspired by a product and make your own version of it.

And now I’ll tell you what I would do. If I had the materials and talent to create a piece similar to the one I saw and loved in a movie, I would create it. I would list my item, mention in the listing that I was inspired by a piece I saw in the movie (name the movie), and tag my item appropriately (including the name of the movie and maybe the actress who wore the piece).

If you want an example, search the name of any popular movie or TV show on Etsy. You’ll find many!

Laura, I thank you for this very honest question. Here’s an honest confession: I have tried to recreate celebrity looks for a few of my customers, and I’ll admit there’s an element of fear in doing so! I don’t talk so kindly to myself in the process. I wonder, will someone think I’m a copycat? Will they think this is stolen art? Once the project is complete, I look back on my fears and realize how silly they were.

You are unique: your style and creativity belongs to your individuality. No one can do things exactly like another, so there is no competition, and really no comparison.

What I produce is never a replicate. Yes, it’s inspired by something I (or a customer) admired, but it always comes out reflecting me. After all, I created it. What else is it to do?

People get nervous about this, but I’m telling you that if you loved the piece you saw in a movie, so did others, and yours will be beautiful. The rest of your question went onto say that you didn’t know who the original designer was—and that’s OK. You were inspired by that designer’s work, and in creation, your style will come out in the finished product. I say: create away. Until next time!

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Comments

  1. Great post! I think that this sort of thing bears repeating. I wrote a post in August called “Artistic Influence” where I showed my steps and rationale behind the influence of another designers’ piece. I especially liked your line
    “You are unique: your style and creativity belongs to your individuality. No one can do things exactly like another, so there is no competition, and really no comparison.”
    The biggest thing is to get out of your own head and know that you are unique and that even if you have the same exact materials that you see in the inspiration piece, you will ultimately make this your own.
    Thank you for the intriguing thoughts. Enjoy the day!
    Erin

  2. hey, thanks for answering my question! I lost track of the article I posted it on so I don’t know if anyone replied there. I’m glad I subscribed to this blog. 😉

  3. Thank you for this post!
    I second for 100%!

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