Sunday, March 31, 2013

Art as Intellectual Property: Who owns ideas?

Well, I suppose I should address this.

Over the past few weeks, I've gotten a really large number of emails and messages about various places on the internet where versions of my artwork are popping up, obviously not made by me.

Some are "inspired by" my work, some are "homage" to my work, and some are blatantly attempts to re-create my work. I thought there might be some confusion about the difference between things that make artists feel flattered, and things that make them annoyed/take legal action, so I decided to create a handy guide, below.

"Hey! I really like this artist's work, and I think they are awesome! I'm an artist too!  Would it be okay if I --

 ...make one too?  Yes! Go get artsy!
...learn from that artist's work and hone my own skills? Yes! That's a great way to improve!
....take a picture of it and put it on the internet, crediting the idea's originator? Yes! Get excited!
....give it to my mom/boss/uncle/boyfriend?  Yes! People love creative gifts!

It doesn't work that way.

 Would it be okay if I...

...sell it?  No!
...even if I credit the idea's originator?  No!
...even if I only sell one of them? No!
...but I put the idea-owner's name on there, that makes it okay, right? NO!!!

Just because I say "Walt Disney thought this idea up" on my website, doesn't mean that I can legally (or ethically) make my own Mickey Mouse dolls and sell them. Even if they're good. Even if people LOVE them. Even if I just do it once. It's still wrong. It wasn't my idea, therefore, it's not my property to sell.

Good ideas are HARD. For every good idea, you probably have to discard a lot of bad ones. Sometimes the best way to know an idea is a good one, is to see how easily other people pick up on it and decide to do it too. It's flattering, but not really in a way that feels good.

If you're good enough to re-create someone else's efforts, you're probably good enough to come up with your own ideas. There is room for all of us. Let's all be creative together, but not by being willing to take money out of the pockets of someone you claim to respect, because you can't be bothered to come up with your own creative solutions.


  1. I imagine it feels like someone stealing your children. None of those half-baked copies even come close to yours. Yours have souls, because they truly come from you. I hope one day to make a home for one of them with me. Looking forward to your new projects.

  2. Totally agree! But be careful, people don't like to hear they can't steal other peoples designs! It makes them mad, believe me!

  3. I made a doll based on you, because I was in love with them! But I have not done a complete ripoff for them! In my dolls do not have teeth, and they are not as well done as yours .... and I did not do so for the public sale! I was just trying to do something wonderful for myself! Sorry if I hurt your feelings and pride!

  4. Hey Dani, I see your stuff on Instagram, nice to see you here too :) I think what you are doing falls into the "flattering" category. Artists live for creativity and expression, and knowing that something I made inspires someone else to be creative and make things too, makes me happy. It's just when people take the designs of other artists and sell them, as if they came up with the ideas themselves, that is hurtful. And not legal! I'm happy to inspire, I hope you keep being creative :)

  5. I think you've articulated the boundary between inspiration and exploitation very well. :)
    It would be nice to see a cultural shift in creative production values. It's hard to walk into a Convention artist alley and not find it choked with fan-art reproductions of copyrighted characters. Or open up DeviantArt and not be overwhelmed by the volume of reproduction. People do it partly because it gains sales&recognition faster and easier than only developing their own properties :( And, because buyers/commissioners can add pressure to what they want to see- the pressure to pander. It's not good, but it describes part of a creative commons ailment in the vitality of original content production & commerce. And a resistance to break away from the safety of leeching off reproducing designs that were successful already. But there's reward in success garnered by one's own merits :)

  6. But isn't there a wealth of difference between a student who is trying to fund their art through selling 4 or 5 dolls and Walmart mass producing your design? The student will increase awareness of your work, (and its not like these dolls are their only work) but Walmart will completely eclipse you.
    I think knowing which battles to pick is important, and how to pick them... otherwise you might be straying towards encouraging your fans into internet bullying to completely shake the confidence and get-up-and-go of starting artists who might, given the chance, evolve the idea through doing. (and this is surely to the benefit of the art. All art is derived from somewhere else) You have a larger platform, and you should be aware what effects this kind of blog post creates.

  7. zoogenesisApril 01, 2013

    Anonymous: Hopefully the effect 'this kind of blog post' has is for people to stop funding their art by selling other people's creative ideas. It's an important lesson for any student (artist or otherwise) to learn. She also didn't drop names or link to anyone in order to encourage internet bullying.

  8. Anonymous:

    1) When I was a student, I "funded my art" with a part time job. Sob stories don't make anything less wrong, they just change the context. If Walmart steals my designs and sells them, it's wrong. If Jane Doe steals my designs and sells them, it's wrong. Dollar amount has nothing to do with how it's still wrong. Besides, if I need student art to "increase awareness" of my own, after being a professional artist for over a decade, I'm doing something wrong.

    2) I DO know what battles to pick. I picked this one. It's important to me. Sorry if you don't agree.

    3) I'm an artist. I'm not a teacher. If I can encourage someone to be creative, that's awesome. But you see, it's not my job. My job is to make cool stuff and sell it, thereby paying my monthly bills. If someone is discouraged because I said "don't sell ideas you didn't think of", perhaps they need to find another mentor who is softer on theft of intellectual property. Or maybe they need to understand the difference between learning by studying what you respect (as we ALL did in school), and making money by ripping off other artists.

    4) There's no encouragement of bullying here. I don't link or post names, or call anyone out in public, because I don't behave that way. What other people do with their internet connection is up to them, I'm not their parent.

    5) yes, all art is derived from somewhere else. And some is derived right from other people's brains and hard work. And is therefore wrong to sell.

    6) I'm aware of the effect this blog post creates. For the people that don't understand the difference between what is legal and what is not, hopefully it clears up some confusion and spurs them to ask good questions and do research. For people who already understand and have had similar issues (often artists), it reinforces their feelings of it being wrong and unfair. For people who don't want to be told it's wrong, they probably feel a bit butthurt by the whole thing.

    If you want to continue this conversation, please post your name, Anonymous. All my public discourse online has my full name attached. It keeps me accountable and shows respect for those I engage, because we are on equal ground, and nobody is allowed to hide.

    1. Dear Amanda! You are right with everything you say. It is all yours. No excuses, no "buts" acceptable. I admire your work :-) Christina.
      Sorry, I don't have any of the below accounts to sign in...

  9. Hello, Amanda!
    I was inspired by your works and made similar to them for myself.
    I hope, you won't count it as plagiarism, I am not going to sell them.
    Thanks a lot for your creativity! It is fine!
    Yours faithfully, Hellas Magaramova.

  10. Si, realmente es muy difícil ser creativo hoy en día, ese es el mayor mérito de un artista, las copias son mediocres y tristes, no tiene que ver con la técnica, aunque puedan ser muy buenas copias, tiene que ver con la pobreza de espíritu artístico. Seguro es bueno poner un sello distintivo al crearlas para evitar copias y al menos gritar que son de una solareconocerán

  11. Dear Amanda. Thank you for your understanding. In fact, I love to be creative. Sell ​​Now data toys I'm not. I made ​​them for that would, in my house, too, was a small miracle that brings light and joy you have inspired me to something like that. Amanda you are my muse. Thank you for what you are doing such lovely things. Thank you again. Goodbye.

    I hope for further cooperation.

  12. Very well said *applauds*

    It's sad that people think it's okay to steal ideas and make a profit of it.

  13. I worry so much about copying since I spend a good deal of time looking at art/dolls/stuff/memes (ha) on the internet that I am constantly striving to make everything different, even piece to piece. Obviously more people could be served with a healthy dose of my particular brand of paranoia.

    The example you posted of the response to the "haters" is absolutely infuriating to me, and it's not even my art being copied. Horrible.

    This was an excellent and mature response to all of that, so go you, rock star.

  14. I could get all stabby and state that although part of what attracts me to your art is its apparent simplicity and humility, evidently it must be much harder than it looks, judging by the calibre of the copies, but I'll keep to just this: I'm so sorry for you, I can't imagine the frustration, anger, rage, powerlessness...

    Craola uses Mickey on regular occasion, including in his new show,but you don't feel any need to explain or justify, the feeling you get looking at his art is immediate joy and awe, at least as far as I'm concerned, not awkward malaise at obvious plagiarism.

    If an artist feels obligated to add a footnote, an implicit apology to accompany "their" work, well...

    Again, so sorry for you, I hope you legally eviscerate them, but I hope even more that you're not too affected by them.

  15. Oh yeah, should it not have come across, I looooooove your art! Ahum, please forgive this brief yet awkward groupie moment.

  16. I love this post that you've written! And I also love your crazy adorable bunnies! I do 'remake' art and dolls originally from other artists, because to me, "if they can make it, so can I!"
    I copy quite a few dolls from the internet because I love them so much I have to have them for myself. But I NEVER sell them because they are not mine to sell, even when my friends beg me to, I just give it them as gifts in the end. :)

  17. Copyright infringement and 'duplicating' ideas happens in all areas of creativity.. I am a knitwear designer and constantly see pattern designs copied - especially with the most recent newer 'designers'who want to start selling patterns but can't work out the maths to get their sizes on their own - its frustrating - its illegal - but some people have no scruples nowadays - money is the name of the game for a lot of them :(

  18. Elegantly stated - and I so agree with everything you've said! This was also covered in the recent Synergy conference by keynote speaker Hariette Estel Berman ( you can see her talk on SlideShare if you are curious).

    We need to talk about this, often and always-apparently - as people do seem to forget this in an age where images and information are so abundantly available. Just because theft like this happens all the time doesn't make it right....

    And we need to use our real names when we discuss it! This is directed at anonymous posters who seem to think it's ok to slip the 'thin edge of the wedge' into the ongoing discussion without disclosing their true identity. Shame on you!

  19. First I want to applaud Amanda Louise Spayd for articulating her concerns so articulately and concisely. BRAVO!
    For those of you seeing more clarification on the issues presented here, my Keynote Lecture (mentioned by Claire Maunsell) is titled: "The GOOD, The BAD, and The UGLY in the AGE of the Internet." I will not post a link here as it probably isn't allowed, but it can easily found in search.

  20. Christy PetersApril 29, 2013

    Mimicking an "idea" is not tantamount to infringement of copyright or stealing. To come into question, patent copies or exact reproductions have to exist, and gains have to be quantified. While not impossible, such cases are difficult and costly to prosecute. Believe me!
    Welcome to the 'art' world which is as much about commerce as it is "creating". Hopefully, your product is more desirable than the imitations.
    You've publicly voiced your distress, now, back to work! :-)

  21. I wonder if some people don't understand the difference between copying someone else's work and using someone else's technique? For instance, many of us make use of Skinner Blends and Welker's Pixelated Retro Canes, etc., and of texture stamps we can purchase, but these are not finished works. It's important that people understand the differences.
    This is a great start toward educating people about what can be copied and what cannot. There's probably more ignorance out there than theft, but that doesn't change the outcome. (Karen Lee Price Luda)

  22. Martina MedenicaMay 05, 2013

    Oh yes. And what I like the most when someone asks me why did I purchase someone else's work since I can make the same thing myself?!!! WTH?!!! Seems to be that lot of people are missing the point... To be fair lot of people aren't creative enough so copying is ok in their opinion.. If the situation was opposite I doubt they would approve it...

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Hello Amanda! I have a big respect for your activity and your concept in artworks. I think, you create a wonderful form. Scary and nice. I watching for your blog for years. I'm sorry but I have a big influence of your activity in my works. But I clearly understand, what's the inspiration and what's the plagiarism. I never sell my works. But I want to do it sometimes )
    I create my works with pleasure, like i'm dreaming. Then I see it, i think, i remember another artists. And I start to worry , what i've done? :) New art-work, or copy? And I try to do something new, if it have an necessity.
    this is my way of art-evolution.
    And I very happy, that I read this post.
    By the way, I want to show you my new work. And ask some advices.
    Can I do it ?

  25. You, Amanda, not a teacher of course. But only you can tell me about % of "Amanda Spayd style" in my works :)

  26. AnonymousMay 05, 2013

    I have to agree with anonymous on some points because I have been the target of cyber bulling because of something I made (and posted a pic of on one of my favorite sites) without stating where the inspiration came from (my oversight) but it was never stated that it was totally my idea. This item was made using a certain shape of bead that can only be used in limited ways. The designer was very gracious about it but her fans were very unkind, to the point of saying wicked things. Of course, I felt absolutely horrible but it was an unfortunate and totally innocent mistake on my part.

  27. Oops...I posted as 'Anonymous' in that last comment but I don't want anyone to think it was the first anonymous comment replying to his/her own comments. So this is me!

  28. AnonymousJuly 01, 2013

    I absolutely love your work Amanda! I don't think you need to get upset by imitators - from what I can see, they are an incredibly poor standard anyhow! You have already established yourself and your brand and will always be the original. There are imitations of everything out there, from perfume, jewellery, clothing, pottery etc etc and yes there are imitation Mickey Mouse's out there! Some folk are happy to buy imitations, others will always want the original. So, just keep being you and creating your own beautiful art and don't sweat it or waste any of your precious energy and time thinking and writing about those devoid of creative ideas and copying your work.

  29. So well said! I have been coming across this problem a lot lately with artist friends of mine. I've been shocked at how obvious some of the copies are and that they are posting pic on facebook and staring up pages full of copied work..rah rah raah! Apart from that...lovely to 'meet' you..just found you via a share on facebook....I think your work is awesome xx

  30. first of all, i absolutely see your point and agree with you. with that said, please don't take my comment the wrong way but have anyone mentioned to you befor that your drawings seem remarkably close to totoro's character? maybe he's not widely known in the u.s. and a lot of your fans have no idea what I'm talking about. so, where's the creativity and originality in taking totoro (who is basically a huge bunny) and draw different versions of him? and even though i find your creations adorable and amazing, I'm sure you're not the first one who started making creatures with big eyes and crooked teeth. as someone said, there's no originality in art. everything has been said and done before, we only get recreations and plagiarism nowadays. again, I'm not trying to be disrespectful here. is just something to think about. and since you posted here fotos of your trip to japan, I'm sure that the big bunny by the name of totoro is not unknown to you.

  31. Copyright doesn't cover ideas. It covers actual, tangible work. If someone makes a direct copy of your piece, it's a copyright violation. If they are inspired by your idea, or even copy your idea, it's not a copyright violation.

    In the case if Disney and Mickey Mouse: there's nothing to prevent anyone from creating characters based on a mouse with big, round ears. However, if someone creates a character that looks identical to Disney's, that's a problem. Not a copyright problem, though. That's a trademarking and licensing issue.

    Does someone copying your ideas suck? Yes. But honestly, I could pick out one of your pieces from the sea of doppelgangers in a heartbeat. As long as those fools aren't making exact copies of your pieces, they're in the clear. They're also risking the fury of people who know your work, and know what they're doing isn't truly original or unique.

  32. 3) "I'm an artist. I'm not a teacher. If I can encourage someone to be creative, that's awesome. But you see, it's not my job. My job is to make cool stuff and sell it, thereby paying my monthly bills. If someone is discouraged because I said "don't sell ideas you didn't think of", perhaps they need to find another mentor who is softer on theft of intellectual property. Or maybe they need to understand the difference between learning by studying what you respect (as we ALL did in school), and making money by ripping off other artists.

    5) yes, all art is derived from somewhere else. And some is derived right from other people's brains and hard work. And is therefore wrong to sell. "

    perhaps it's time for you to stop selling your art. since it's not even an original idea but it comes from other people's brains. even your business name is a rip off. just go to any big online store (amazon, ebay, etsy, etc) and type dust bunnies. all you can find is items related to totoro. even your logo seems awfully close to the movies title. lisa above is a hundred percent right about copyrights. there's also a thing called the three differences. they can be whatever. size, color, material.. if a piece has three differences from the "original" the artist is clear.

  33. Dear Anonymous(es),

    You obviously have some beef with me. If you'd like to talk about things, please introduce yourself. If what you say is important, you should be proud enough to sign it.

  34. @Lisa, yeah, it's kind of a shame there isn't better legislation in place to protect artists (visual, music, etc), but unfortunately there isn't.

    I'm not losing sleep over it, because realistically there's nothing I can do, especially when the bulk of it is happening in countries I don't live in. All I can do is outpace them, and push myself to make more, better. I'm going for the "carpet bomb" method, and just trying to cover the internet with my bunnies, ha ha ;)

  35. dear amanda,
    i don't even know you, how can i have a beef with you? the first thing i said on my comment is that i like your art and don't get me the wrong way. what i don't like is when artists take inspiration from something, someone and claim it as their own. do you deny that your drawings look like totoro's brother or sister? isn't it strange that "dust bunnies" are also characters of that movie? is it all just a big coincidence maybe? and again, i don't have a beef with you.

  36. AnonymousMay 09, 2014

    While I LOVE her work I think saying "you can NOT make fakes for sale" is total hogwash. She just doesn't want someone as competition is all. She promotes creativity, promotes being credited (that's fine) but she FAILS at noticing there are waht? BILLIONS of people out there trying to get creative... wouldn't you think at least a few had the bright idea of making a large eyed sort of creepy but ultimately cute series of characters in the shape of a damn bunny (or any other animal really)? EVEN if they make a complete "ripoff" doesn't mean they ever saw her work or ever knows she existed. If she quit her job to do this full time, this all is for a damn profit, no matter waht anyone says. She also thinks people will buy her cloth concoctions for HUNDREDS of dollars... didn't she say she wants these things for all her fans... HOW?! I don't know about anyone else but I am a huge fan of her work but I don't have hundreds of dollars lying around to spend on something she made for a FRACTION of %25 of waht she sells them for. In my opinion, if you WANT her stuff, MAKE her stuff, even for sale, because it seems to me she is holding her creating to SUCH high esteems that not only are almost none of her vast numbers of fans getting them but her perfections aren't even for us common folk. Just make them for yourself, find a way, if she can do it with everyday items, even if she never tells, then YOU ALL CAN TOO!!!

    1. Hogwash? There are many Intellectual Property lawyers who make their living defending the creative rights of artists, musicians, architects, etc., who would beg to differ.

      I also "think" people will buy my items for hundreds of dollars, because they do. Quite regularly. I sell items from $5 up to $2500, and they ALL sell.

      Of course it's for profit. It's my job. I have to pay rent, utilities, buy food, pay for gasoline for my car, just like anyone else. I pay taxes and insurance and tons of other fees, just like anyone else. If you want to build a creative empire based on making art and selling it for slightly above the price of the raw materials, be my guest! Just come back later and talk to me about how that business plan works out for you ;)

    2. This comment actually made me drop my jaw. That is almost a huge accomplishment, even if you're completely, disgustingly, horrifyingly wrong, wrong, wrong. Just.. wrong.

      I find it INCREDIBLY hard to believe that someone could make something that is a complete "ripoff", as you say, without seeing Amanda's work. People have the same sort of ideas, yes.. obviously creepy bunnies are not that out of the realm of possibilities that no one else is doing them, but creepy bunnies with cloth bodies, flat faces with big eyes with specific shapes of the ducts, forehead imprints, the same giant crooked teeth... I doubt anyone else would come up with that exact formula of ingredients without seeing Amanda's work before. Everyone has their own particular breed of madness. No one else is crazy in the exact same way (and I hold to the opinion that we're all delightfully insane.. hahah).

      Selling work that you copied from someone else is not only against the very spirit of copyright/intellectual property, it's also a huge dick move. Forgery is still a crime, whether you think her pieces are too expensive or not. If they were, no one would buy them, would they?

  37. For new comer painters and photographers on line selling provide best platform for showcasing their work. Because on line selling no one want to know your experience, peoples just know your work.
    Sell Your Art work


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