Inspired or a Ripoff?

Edit:  The seller of the original item has NEVER contacted me negatively on this issue, and I wish to clarify this.  I respect her and her work.  I have been contacted by several other artists regarding this issue, but not she herself and I do not want to shed any negative light on her in any way.


I wrote a post a while back, that I won’t revisit, that displayed what was essentially a copy of a handcrafted item that I wanted for my wedding.  I had contacted and followed the seller of said handmade good for about a month with no response, hoping to buy my own, and in the meantime, my gracious friend said that she would instead try to recreate a similar item for me as a gift, since I was having no luck with the seller.  I was incredibly touched and what she made for me was incredibly personal, and incredibly meaningful to me, not because of what it was, but because of the love and time that was spent making it for me.

It consisted of fabric, stuffing, a couple golf tees, some wire, and a couple other miscellaneous craft supplies. No pattern was followed, no item was purchased from the original artist and reproduced, it was simply a replicated hand crafted item, from one friend to another, made with love. These items won’t be reproduced for sale, and will never be reproduced again.

I occasionally still receive hate/disgust mail in regards to the fact that my friend made this item for me. Which is perfectly fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and as a blogger, I understand that you always open yourself up to criticism with every post, and I welcome honest opinions, as I stand behind and believe in everything I do, and others should be able to freely voice their opposing opinions.

So, here, I’d like to encourage the debate:

DIY brides are inspired at every turn by everything they see: invitation designers, artists, magazines, catalogs, books, and even bloggers here at Weddingbee. As a Bride, when it comes to DIY’ing your wedding, when is it okay to copy something you’ve seen, and when do you cross the line into “ripping someone off”?

Furthermore, as an artist, when you see something of yours reproduced, do you feel slighted? Do you feel that if a bride cannot afford or does not have access to a particular item you sell, should she give up on her dream of having said item for her wedding or is it ok to try to recreate such an item for her personal use?



Mrs. Penguin

Northern California
Wedding Date:
June 2008
One Month
It's Party Time!

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  1. Guest Icon Guest
    HCB, Guest @ 4:52 pm

    Thanks for the clarification… and the disclaimer.

    My family members especially appreciate when I tell them (after a random legal conversation) that they have not engaged me as their attorney and my comments do not constitute legal advice. 😉

  2. Guest Icon Guest
    Moore, Guest @ 5:00 pm

    Look at the companies that make money under the principle that one can DIY: Martha Stewart, Michael’s, Joann’s, Archivers, etc. They all provide ideas and EXACT instructions for how to DIY the projects. The bookstores are filled with magazines and books with the same concept. The line is far too blurred. It is my belief that if you aren’t making a profit it really shouldn’t matter. But here is the problem: You have to look at whether you caused loss of profit to said artist. By publicly demonstrating that with “fabric, stuffing, a couple golf tees, some wire, and a couple other miscellaneous craft supplies” you could make a very similar item at a far reduced price, you may have done damage to the artist produced product. Maybe certain products should be left to the privacy of your home or wedding day. Though I love seeing all the projects!!

    I think you make a great point. As a budget conscious bride I don’t feel I deserve less because I cant afford “artist” prices. I don’t want to know the artist that believes otherwise.

  3. Guest Icon Guest
    HCB, Guest @ 5:09 pm

    @HCB: Jay: Sorry! I re-read my last comment and realized it could be interpreted as sort of smart-@ss… in a bad way. I really didn’t mean to, it was more of an acknowledgment of our need to issue disclaimers even in innocuous situations. I hope that makes sense.

    Anyway, I’m going to stop posting now… before I put my foot in my mouth. Again. :)

  4. Guest Icon Guest
    sup, Guest @ 5:11 pm

    It’s an interesting issue. I’m more inclined to go with what Jay and Carib Queen said. I used to work at a law school, where they had a benefit with raffles/prizes. One of the prizes happened to be a beautiful, ridiculously expensive bag. One of the students there didn’t win it and also didn’t have enough dough to buy it so she made it herself, and posted the instructions on her craft website. Unfortunately for her (and me), I had to contact her to take it down after a furious email from the dean. I don’t know the litigious aspects of what exactly went down, but all I know is, it didnt’ turn out well in that particular instance, even though she wasn’t selling it.
    As a bride, I, too, have been (sometimes maniacally) inspired by stuff, and sometimes being blatantly similar to someone else. I stopped short after I wanted this popular team mascot to come to my wedding, and after he couldn’t, I considered for a few days making his costume out of paper mache and hiring someone to wear it. Thankfully, my fiance is sane, and put a stop to it.

  5. Guest Icon Guest
    kelly, Guest @ 5:15 pm

    If your an artist, whatever you make is automatically copywritten. So that etsy seller already has protection under the law. Getting my BFA in photo this is drilled into me.
    But that said, everyone gets inspiration from somewhere. The key word is inspiration. A direct knock off is wrong. Taking a few hints here and there- ok, as long as you acknowledge where you got it from.
    And I detest how people say if it’s on the internet, it’s free game. So, just because I’m on the internet no laws apply?? I can do/say/take whatever I want? I think people forget that just because they are sitting at their computer alone does not mean there are not other people on their computers making those things- real people, real lives, real work.

    Inspiration not replication.

  6. Member
    stargazerlily 943 posts, Busy bee @ 5:28 pm

    @brendalynn: I’m not sure where you got the impression that I ever under any circumstances used the words “better” or “cheaper” at all, and I do 100% believe that, as you put it, “honesty & humility that come into play–attitude does count!” This is SO so true!

  7. Member
    stargazerlily 943 posts, Busy bee @ 5:35 pm

    @elle: Hi Elle! Again, I encourage constructive criticism and honest opinions, and thats why I really wanted to open up this debate. I hope you can share your opinion openly with us here too, as obviously this is a brides site, so you will hear a lot more brides opinions than artists, so I’d really like to hear from any of you at all out there…what you consider okay and not okay when it comes to your work. Obviously, its a heated and touchy subject for all.

  8. Guest Icon Guest
    Jenny Louwheeze, Guest @ 5:35 pm

    I would like to say that I am so very proud of you Penguin, for not only standing up for what you believe, but also allowing others to have their input. This is clearly a topic of interest, given all the comments here! I commend you and all the bees who put their work and their thoughts on this blog, whether it be original or inspired. Opening yourself up to the opinions of others is not easy. I believe that without courageous DIY-ers like the bees, the rest of us would be stuck paying outrageous sums for mediocre products… Way to go!

  9. mrsbee Member
    mrsbee 3235 posts, Sugar bee @ 5:37 pm

    sorry guys — was away for an hour. this post is getting a lot of comments (a common indicator of spam) which is probably why so many comments are going into moderation.

    i have to leave shortly to meet up with wb reader beanchar and miss lovebird…. so comments may continue going into moderation…. but i’ll clear them as soon as i return! :)

  10. Guest Icon Guest
    carib queen, Guest @ 5:56 pm

    Thanks, Jay for answering the damages question. Copyright class was a while ago!

  11. Member
    blushingaudrey 196 posts, Blushing bee @ 6:01 pm

    Somewhat of an aside on the issue–a couple of people mentioned fashion as an example, so I just wanted to point out that while the legalese that was posted regarding copyright is generally correct, fashion (clothing; I’m not sure what else is included) is NOT covered by copyright law. So this means I could copy a famous designer dress, down to the last detail, and sell it for profit and without citing a “source”, with no legal problems. The only thing I can’t do legally is say that it was actually made by said famous designer, because that would be fraud. This is not to say it would be ETHICAL to do so, but it would be LEGAL. (Note: I believe several bills were introduced to congress recently to address this issue, but I do not believe any of them passed. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

  12. radish Member
    radish 402 posts, Helper bee @ 6:09 pm

    Whoa! Holy comments Batman!

    I definitely don’t have enough time to read the previous 60 comments, and this has probably already been said, but I just think that is ridiculous.

    You weren’t selling them, so who cares?! It was only for your own personal use.

    Even if some copyright law does somehow apply (and I’m obviously not a lawyer) I cannot possibly imagine anyone taking something that stupid to court.

    I mean seriously… if I have a dinner party and copy a certain dish that I ate out at a restaurant (which I often do!) and then I happen to blog about it my party, can said restaurant come after me for stealing their idea.

    It’s a silly analogy, I know, but really it’s kind of the same thing. It’s not like Penguin’s friend was making these items to be SOLD.

    Not to mention… when charging about a week’s pay for a small, relatively unimportant wedding item, it’s almost asking for people to just try and make it themselves. Because, let’s be honest here, it’s not that hard to do. That’s why there are so many rip-offs of this particular item out there.

  13. Guest Icon Guest
    Jay, Guest @ 6:15 pm

    HCB–certainly no offense taken! My non-lawyer family and friends crack up too. There’s even a Knottie who posts in the Buying A House forum that has the disclaimer in her siggy.

    If one lawyer can’t make even a tiny joke w/ another, that would be too bad.

    And carib queen….I *may* have pulled out my IP textbook to get the statutory damages figure. Shh.

  14. Guest Icon Guest
    Jay, Guest @ 6:16 pm

    Oh, and Mrs. Radish: recipes are held to be non-copyrightable, so cook and blog away. But cookbooks CAN be copyrighted for how the material is arranged and presented. Heehee.

    Check out the (rather silly) hubub about John McCain’s wife’s recipes on the McCain website being copied from Food Network chefs if you want more recipe/copyright fun.

  15. Guest Icon Guest
    Bumble_dee, Guest @ 6:20 pm

    I agree with the rest. There is thin fine line between getting inspired and hands-down imitating.

    And honestly though, when you’re a crafty person and you see something that you like (especially when it’s outrageously overpriced), sometimes you can’t help it but say: “But I can make that myself…”

  16. Guest Icon Guest
    LB, Guest @ 6:33 pm

    hey ms. penguin!
    i read the post with the (very very cute!) product that you indicated.
    i agree that since it wasn’t for sale, the reproduction (which was not identical, but similar) was ok.
    however, i think some of the controversy comes from the fact that directions of how to reproduce them was included in the post. this, while well-meaning, could be in violation of some copy-right law (i’m not a lawyer, but i think it is a possibility).
    since the directions were not too detailed i don’t think you have to worry too much. but, you could run into trouble with the fact that you were (unintentionally) encouraging others to reproduce the product in some way.

    either way, i know there was obviously no intent to detract from the designer’s work. your friend was just trying to do something special for you.

    good luck, and sorry about the harsh e-mails you’ve received.

  17. frenchbulldog Member
    frenchbulldog 1088 posts, Bumble bee @ 6:35 pm

    I also cannot believe ppl have email you to give you grief!
    I think you went above what needed to, to try and get the original DIYer/artist to create one for you and I think it was incredibly generous of you friend to make one for you… it would be a little bit of a different issue if the DIYer/artist contacted you and was upset, but stil not a rip off.

  18. Guest Icon Guest
    KatyStardust, Guest @ 6:43 pm

    Jean: I should clarify – if you had read my earlier comment, I had stated that I didn’t feel that Miss Penguin has committed an immoral act because she has said cited the original artist. And Miss Penguin, I do hope that you noticed what I had stated earlier.

    What I meant, in regards to the difference between legal and immoral acts, was for those stating that people shouldn’t get their feather ruffled by people stealing other people’s creative ideas from their blogs and then re-writing or re-creating them as their own. Miss Penguin didn’t do this – but I do think that it was an issue that was touched on and I wanted to address it.

    I still think it’s wrong to steal someone’s idea and claim it like it was your own without giving them credit.

  19. Guest Icon Guest
    motownpacific, Guest @ 6:48 pm

    WWMD? What Would Martha Do…or really, what has Martha done?

  20. radish Member
    radish 402 posts, Helper bee @ 6:50 pm

    @Jay: thanks for the advice, but it was just an ANALOGY to show the silliness of the situation… I am not actually worried about recipe copyright law.

    In fact, I couldn’t really care less 😉

  21. Member
    stargazerlily 943 posts, Busy bee @ 6:54 pm

    @KatyStardust: Hey there, I dont think anyone has said anything today that has crossed any sort of line, so no worries…I think you were just speaking in general terms not really referencing specific act in particular. I read what you were saying :)

  22. Guest Icon Guest
    KatyStardust, Guest @ 7:01 pm

    @Miss Penguin: You got it Miss P. 😉

    In general, it just ruffles my feathers when people don’t show the same courtesy I try to give in regards to creative credit. I ALWAYS spend the extra minutes citing photos, ideas, and inspirations when I blog at both websites. It’s not always an easy task – but I would hope to expect the same from my readers when it comes to the creativity I share there.

  23. Member
    HappiestOne 132 posts, Blushing bee @ 7:06 pm

    There is a difference between ART and CRAFT – recipes, knitting instructions and many other items fall under the “craft” arena, there’s certain steps to follow to make multiples of one thing and add your own flair. And then there is art – which is different, which requires special skills or techniques and is not meant to be replicated by the masses. I think Etsy sort of blurs those lines and makes things that are craftsy into things that are artsy and vice versa.

    I gotta say that I’m really disappointed that people think the web is someplace for free ideas, logos, artwork, and anything else they need. As a creative professional it’s disheartening to see that no one knows how copyright works, or thinks that I have a right to show my work online and NOT be ripped off or copied.

  24. Member
    tshiph 3 posts, Wannabee @ 7:45 pm

    Everyone has said everything I could, but I just wanted to add, Miss Penguin, that you rock. I know that I would feel really hurt if I was getting hate mail and I sincerely hope that you don’t get down about it. Your birds are awesome!
    Haters gon’ hate.

  25. Guest Icon Guest
    QuirkyParsnip, Guest @ 7:46 pm

    I think that as long as it isn’t to sell, than it is perfectly fine. God forbid you get inspiration for something or when you can’t get it for whatever reason you improvise. Its for someones bloody wedding, its a special day and honestly one little set of cake toppers shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Who was the first one to bling out monogrammed cake toppers? How many bloody websites do you see it on, or DIYers doing it? I don’t see how this is any different. People need to get over it and get on to things that actually matter in life.

  26. Guest Icon Guest
    Jay, Guest @ 7:54 pm

    Mrs. Radish–I was mostly kidding. And I wanted to reassure people that copyright isn’t nearly as ridiculous as some people seem to think it is.

    LB–posting directions is most definitely NOT copyright infringement. You cannot copyright a method. You may be able to copyright the words used to describe a method, but “method” would go with patent law, absolutely not copyright.

    I usually don’t get this riled up when people “play lawyer” but since this is an area I particularly care about, I want to try to correct some false impressions and mis-information being bandied about.

  27. Member
    enmoore66 330 posts, Helper bee @ 8:30 pm

    I just read through all of the posts (whew, there are a lot) to make sure my comment won’t be redundant.
    On weddingbee a lot of people post how to DIY in order to save money. They fail to note that while the total cost of MATERIALS may be less than purchasing the actual item – there is a cost of TIME. So even though I now know I can spend 7 hours gocco-ing napkins, I’d rather pay the extra $30 because time is just as limited a resource (to me) as money is, and my time is worth more than $4 an hour. (This is not meant as a dig to you DIY – a lot of people enjoy DIY and thus it is rewarding – I just cry a lot and thus I need to be saving a lot of money to DIY).

    So how does it tie in with this post – I still buy a lot of stuff I know I can “make for less” (as in the item Peng’s friend made). It is not because we have a large budget, it is just that the pros (save money) don’t outweigh the cons (lots of time). There is value in the materials, there is value in the know-how, but there is also value in the time it takes to make something. Peng tried to pay the artist for her materials, know-how, and TIME. Posting directions does not change that the artist is also selling her time in creating her art and thus it retains value. (I will concede that value was lost by spreading the know-how) – but I’d still buy one instead of DIY.
    And, I’m not a hive freak – I am DIY my invitations, I just have hired an ETSY designer to deal with the software side and a printer to print… but I AM assembling them! (I think it will be fun).

  28. Member
    Lior 30 posts, Newbee @ 8:31 pm

    As an artist myself, albeit very small time and hardly selling any of my work at present, I dont have a problem with people being inspired by my work and creating replicas providing they are for PERSONAL use only. Whenever I see someone copy my work and try claim it as their own for profit I see red, but if its just for themselves I dont mind. Of course I prefer them to contact me and get my ok – which Im more than willing to do, but yeah, not for profit = no problem

  29. Guest Icon Guest
    ann wood, Guest @ 8:52 pm

    I think your friend’s bird is charming and falls very safely on the “inspired by” side of the line.

  30. Guest Icon Guest
    mary, Guest @ 9:06 pm

    I don’t see the problem at all because it is for personal use. My brother in law’s mom used to make all her kids clothes because she couldn’t afford to buy them brand clothes. Every time they saw something expensive in the store, she tried to copy it. I mean sure they didn’t look exactly the same, but either way it was “inspired” and I don’t see how it is wrong unless you try to sell it.

  31. Guest Icon Guest
    nosylibrarian, Guest @ 11:40 pm

    i’m very interested in intellectual property, and as a librarian, i have to know something about it (thought not as much as an IP lawyer)…

    i think that one negative thing coming out of etsy and the ease of selling products on-line is that everyone has an expectation that everything they do should be successful…and if it isn’t, then we see this creative community who on the surface is all about sharing ideas, starting to get upset about copyright.

    while someone mentioned that copyright is meant to spur creativity in the market place, and protection is an incentive to create, you can also freeze a market with overly-aggressive laws.

    like it or not, a lot of this tension is market driven. i think the craft world, much like the music world, is getting a little crazy over-saturated with product, and people are finding other ways to participate and have access.

    i don’t understand the people that think posting instructions were crossing some imaginary line…the instructions were how *she* did it, not this other seller who couldn’t be bothered to be a responsive business person.

    i know i sound a bit harsh, but in a highly saturated market, it takes more than just artistic talent to have a successful business. we can has over the finer points of copyright law all day long and not have a good answer, but the people and business who succeed are going to have a better plan for selling their work.

  32. Guest Icon Guest
    Birdy, Guest @ 12:06 am

    those people are HATERS, miss penguin. brush your shoulders off. seriously, just like everyone said above, your friend was NOT trying to profit but to do something very sweet using her crafting talents! there is NOTHING WRONG with that, and no one said the original crafter was a copycat even though it was the lord above who designed birdies in the first place 😉

  33. Guest Icon Guest
    Cy, Guest @ 12:22 am

    What frustrates me the most is the fact that this idea was most likely conceived by someone else first, before this artist! Most ideas are. I hate the ‘OMG COPIER’ attitude on etsy and craftster sometimes. Usually, the ‘first person’ to ‘do something’ on those sites is not the first person to conceive the idea. But due to a bizarre community social effect, there is backlash against anyone other than the OP. The majority of the time, it’s a basic idea that anyone could come up with the inspiration for, and make in their own home.

    It is a fine line – I can’t remember what the original post is (can someone enlighten me? pretty please?) but as an example, if you make a ‘clothespin doll wedding cake topper’ or ‘stuffed birds with wire feet’……. maybe some prominent artist is choked because they make those as well and are successful at doing so…. however. They in no way have the rights to go on an OMG COPIER rampage, and neither do the fans of their work.

    Now if, on your clothespin doll, you copied everything right down to the placement of the painted mole on it’s face, and the fabric print of their ‘dress’, they might have reason to be upset. If your stuffed bird uses the same fabric, etcetera…. then possibly. But really…. I can’t believe that you are receiving hate mail from people over this, it is ridiculous.

    This comes from an artist that sells work online. Too many people get choked up about someone else using the IDEA and not copying the exact item. It’s like teenagers that get mad at their friends in high school because “OH MY GOD, I THOUGHT OF PUTTING THAT STICK-ON-EARRING IN THE CORNER OF MY EYE FIRST!!!” 😉 – aka immature. It also accomplishes nothing but alienating people and creating rifts.

  34. Guest Icon Guest
    Nicole, Guest @ 12:36 am

    I’m an artist who creates and sells jewelry at art fairs sometimes. For the most part, if someone is doing a one-off, making just one of something “inspired” by one of my creations, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. If they were selling that one item to someone else, it would bug me, but I’d only be REALLY upset only if it was being mass-produced and sold! Don’t even tell me all the artists writing hate mail aren’t gaining inspiration from others in some form or another.

  35. Guest Icon Guest
    jnicholea, Guest @ 12:58 am

    Everyone keeps going back to how she posted step-by-step instructions, but I don’t see how that is any worse than posting about the reproduced item at all (if you think it is a bad thing to do). It has been said over and over, but almost no ideas are original anymore. If I see a photographer took an amazing picture of the Eiffel tower and I do my best to duplicate that exact image am I infringing on copyright? If I like Andy Warhol’s version of Marilyn Monroe and I use that image to inspire the painting of my own am I doing anything morally wrong?
    If the materials are available to all, shouldn’t the deisgn be considered unique to all who produce it?

    I don’t know anything about law (as is evidenced by my post I am sure), but someone mentioned moral issues, and I don’t think that Miss Penguin was morally wrong either. What she created was not in fact an original design to the artist, if I remember correctly she received a little inspiration herself when she created it. Like from nature?

  36. Guest Icon Guest
    Red, Guest @ 11:40 am

    As as baker (or as I like to tell people, a cake artist :-), I sometimes think it would be nice to copyright a cake design. However, in reality, it would just be silly. For one, it’s not really enforceable – almost any change to the original design would discount it from being a duplicate and therefore a copyright infringement. And second, I believe that competition is healthy. It may not always be fair but it’s healthy. For the most part, if you offer a quality product and service, there will be people who will recognize and support your work. Just think of all the people who pay outrageous prices for designer jewelry, clothes, etc.

    At some point, everyone has benefitted from competition, from someone looking at a product or idea and saying, “I can make that cheaper, better, faster, etc.” Don’t get me wrong, if someone’s got a lot invested in an item and want it to be protected, then he/she should get a patent for that item.

    As an artist and business person, I appreciate our free market and believe competition is healthy. Bring it on!

  37. Guest Icon Guest
    Watercooler » Weddingbee » The Wedding Blog, Guest @ 8:36 am

    […] Inspired or a Rip-Off? by Miss Penguin […]

  38. Guest Icon Guest
    Is Imitation the Sincerest Form of Flattery? « BridalCheek, Guest @ 9:27 am

    […] weddings — laragale @ 8:27 am Tags: copying, wedding bee, wedding planning, weddings Miss Penguin’s recent post on Wedding-Bee inspired me to tackle an issue I have been mulling over for quite some […]

  39. Guest Icon Guest
    kim, Guest @ 10:07 am

    i believe that for these matters, it only becomes an issue when someone takes the idea, makes it and makes a profit from it. if it’s just for personal use, then what’s the big deal, you know?

    there’s several circumstances in which you really just have to DIY something that you see… whether it’s cost or accessibility. it only should really become a problem if you take that item you’ve made, sell it and essentially take the money straight out of the hands of the artist that thought of it to begin with.

  40. Guest Icon Guest
    Mrs Popcorn, Guest @ 8:17 pm

    I did the same as your friend did, for my cousin. I copied the cherry blossom hairpins from for my cousin to wear for her wedding.

    I think I’m about on the same page as you: done as gifts between friends or for personal use, is just fine. there are also many ideas out there that are generic enough that nobody should get huffy if someone else figures it out on their own and makes it for sale as well, though buying something and then reverse engineering it to copy would probably be going to far.

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