Copyright and Copy-Wrong–someone’s work looks SO like mine

March 4th, 2015

Well, it finally happened.   Someone has made a couple quilts that look exactly as if the person saw my two quilts pictured here and copied them without permission.   And she is calling them “original art” and protected by “her copyright.”  Sigh.  I asked her nicely to give credit, she refused (letter below and boy is it mean–letter removed under threat of legal action by the author), so have written to Etsy to request removal of the two “copy” quilts.  Like I really wanted or needed this headache?  So I decided to write this post to share what has happened to me so that both new and experienced artists might learn from what has happened.  I would add that I totally *encourage* my students to use my patterns and make copies–that permission is given in the pattern.  But these are my original art, not patterened, and may NOT be copied nor derivative works made.  Read on!

I made this quilt, A Sense of Place::The Wall, in late 2006/early 2007.  It was published in 500 Art Quilts (ed. Karey Bresenhan, Lark Books), has been exhibited and is on my website and on my professional member gallery at SAQA.com

I made this quilt, A Sense of Place::The Wall, in late 2006/early 2007. It was published in 500 Art Quilts (ed. Karey Bresenhan, Lark Books), has been exhibited and is on my website and on my professional member gallery at SAQA.com

This is a companion piece, The Tree, which was in the FiberArt For a Cause cancer fundraiser (and sold on Gold Donor Day, thank you again K. McNeese!)

This is a companion piece, The Tree, which was in the FiberArt For a Cause cancer fundraiser (and sold on Gold Donor Day, thank you again K. McNeese!)

From the artist’s Etsy shop and website, it looks as though she is serious about starting a career in textile art (good for her), is working at it (ditto), but is still on the first part of the learning curve and hasn’t quite figured out what is “her.”  That’s fine–all of us have been at that point!  That’s how we learn.

QUICK UPDATE:  both Etsy and Pinterest reviewed the person’s postings, my work, and have removed the two items that were problems.  I have to give BIG kudos to Pinterest, which removed the pins of the two quilts in question in less than 3 hours!  and to Etsy.  Etsy responded so kindly — really impressed.  End of Update.  Moving on!

This kerfuffle started on Sunday evening when I received an email from someone I know by name and have met once, briefly, in person.  She wrote to tell me she had seen a piece that she thought looked just like mine and  the artist in question had them for sale on Etsy.  After checking out the Etsy shop and the artist’s website,   I then wrote to said artist and offered to let her continue to sell these works as long as she removed the “original art” and copyright notices since they appear to be clearly derivative of my work and credit me with the original design (and link to my website).   I’ll post my letter to her in at the end of this post, then her reply to me below that, but I will NOT publish her name, Etsy shop or website here. I SO wish I could share a link to her Etsy and Website because you’d see clearly why I feel the works, while not identical, are so clearly derivative (and yes, I have screen shots of her Etsy and web pages on my computer in case she decides to get litigious).  Once you read her letter, you’ll understand why–talk about vicious.  Sheesh.  Anyway, I feel fine publishing the content of the email because it was sent to me, and is therefore for me to do with as I see fit despite her request that I not go public with it (why?  wonder if she realizes how bad it makes her look?).  Unfortunately, she declined my  offer that could have solved this whole mess. I don’t know how I could have been any more gracious or helpful while still defending my own rights politely but firmly.

The artist, in her reply to my inquiry to her (through her website), was very angry, spoke about synchronicity (when two people in different places do the same sort of thing at the same time) and more.  I agree that synchronicity happens, but in this case the two pieces I found are so similar to mine which were made years earlier than hers:  colors, composition, subject matter (trees in winter), down to a wall of colorful stones fused onto black, a wall that extends across from one side to the other, that it defies credulity that this could be synchronicity.  Are winter scenes of trees with bare branches in snow common?  Sure!   Am I the only one who plays with a colorful palette?  Of course not!   But all of those things, down to the stone wall constructed in an identical manner?  Nope.  I’m not buying that one.  It is entirely possible she saw my quilt in the 500 Art Quilts book and was not aware that it was in her mind when she made her pieces.  But to say the similarity is synchronicity strains credulity beyond the breaking point.

There is a ton of stuff on the internet about copyright law in general and US copyright law specifically.  And I am NOT a lawyer.   But I do know that I and anyone I know who has seen her works and mine have immediately seen that her works **appear to be** a blatant copy.   I’m OK with people copying provided they do so with permission (she did not ask or have that), such as my students and people who purchase my patterns, and they respect the original artist and her legal rights.  In fact, I asked a few folks I know (some who know my work well, one who doesn’t) to make sure they see her Etsy listing to corroborate my version of events and tell me that they feel the works are copies–not identical but clearly copies. The artist –in her letter to me below (NOTE:  letter removed due to thread of legal action by the author)– even said perhaps I copied her and noted  that she made her pieces “a few years ago.”  Mine were made in late 2006, years before “a few years ago,” and the copyright statement on her Etsy listing says copyright 2013-2015.  Clearly I could not have copied what she made years later.  Whether she copied intentionally or unwittingly is not the point; she simply refused to acknowledge that her works are derivative.

Tuesday I wrote to Etsy to ask them to remove the two items in question since clearly the person who made them has furiously rejected my offer (see below) and won’t make things right on her own.  I don’t know what will come of it, but I am pleased to say that within two hours of hitting “send” on my email to the Etsy legal department I had an initial response.  I’ll post later with whatever transpires.

LESSON:  watermark EVERYTHING.

LESSON:  Go through the hassle of learning technology.  Just this past few weeks, in an online Photography class with Ricky Tims, I’ve learned how to embed my copyright information in photos, so henceforward all photos I post will have the copyright in the digital metadata.

LESSON:  Nothing will keep people from copying, or help those who don’t wish to listen or understand that what they have done is wrong.

LESSON:  You just gotta keep making your art and move on.  But you DO need to speak up, loudly, and defend your work and your rights.  So that’s what I’m doing.

LESSON:  For those of you new to art and art quilting, learn.  Learn all that you can.  Copy if you need to do so to learn, but be respectful.  And learn about copyright.  There are links below in my letter to the artist that take you to the source (for those of us in the US):  the US Copyright Office.

LESSON:  Document everything.  The fact that I blogged about these quilts in 2007 helps.  The fact that the metadata (digital encoding) on my photo files shows they were taken in late January 2007 helps.  I keep all my working drawings, patternings and notes in a manila envelope for each quilt, dated and tucked into a file cabinet.  Glad I do!  These two quilts were more spontaneous, but I do have the blog and photo info.

LESSON:  If something happens and one is as upset as this person clearly is in her letter below, perhaps one should stop and wonder WHY.  Perhaps she deep down realizes that the similarity is more than accidental and is upset that she has been caught out and called on it?  Who knows?

LESSON:  There are good people out there who alerted me to this.  We take care of each other.

So if you’re up for reading even more of this stuff,   my letter is below, followed by her response.  I leave you to draw your own conclusions.   Her words speak very loudly, but they may not be saying what she hopes.  They do say a lot about her.  It’s a shame, because she is clearly working hard and diligently at something she loves.  I hope she will learn from her mistake, and also learn that this is a small community and word gets around.  Again, I will NOT share her name.

My letter to her and her reply (with identifying information removed) are quoted below in their entirety.

On Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 8:57 AM, Sarah Ann Smith <my email removed to nix more spam> wrote:
From: Sarah Ann Smith <my email removed to nix more spam>

To ARTIST
Subject: HerWEBSITE Contact Form

Message Body:
Hi NAME!  Welcome to the world of art quilting!   I stumbled across your Etsy listing of a couple quilts, the XXX-NAME-XXX series, that look exactly like copies of my A Sense of Place: The Wall and A Sense of Place:  The Tree works.   Hmmm…  not good!  Especially since you are claiming copyright to these as original works when they are clearly derivative of my copyrighted original works.

I’m not about to be a big bad meanie.  I understand that you are somewhat new to art quilts and perhaps don’t understand copyright, copyright law, and some of the nuances because, frankly, it is somewhat complicated.  I’ll add a few hotlinks to US government sites that explain it at the end of this message.

Someone who saw your work immediately recognized the pieces as a take-off of my work, so it is clear that you were inspired by my work.  THANK YOU for liking it so much you wanted to copy these pieces.  We all learn by copying those who came before us.  However, to be blunt, it is not right for you to state that your SERIES NAME pieces are original artworks and subject to your copyright.  In fact, that is illegal (check those links at the end of this message).  In asserting such a claim you are in fact infringing on my copyright on my original artwork, created in 2004.

Because you are just starting out and probably do not understand fully how copyright works (for example, changing something 10 percent is a fallacy, copyright is still copyright), I am willing to let you display these works on your website and sell the existing works if, and only if in any place where they are published (including your website and Etsy shop), you remove the statement that they are original and copyrighted by you , and add a statement that they are “based on original artwork by Sarah Ann Smith at www.SarahAnnSmith.com” and that I have “given NAME  permission to sell these three works only.”  Further, you may not make any further works based on my artwork.   I know each piece takes a lot of time, and respect your right to earn a living.  But I also need to protect my own ability to make a living from my art.

Here are three hotlinks that may help you understand copyright:
http://www.copyright.gov/
http://copyright.gov/help/faq/index.html
http://www.cendi.gov/publications/04-8copyright.html

This link http://copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf  talks about Copyright Basics and is quite helpful.  It says in part   “Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusiveright to do and to authorize others to do the following:
• reproduce the work in copies or  phonorecords
• prepare derivative works based  upon the works”

Your quilts fall into the “derivative works,” and are therefore not legal.  As I said, I’m willing to let you sell these, as long as you remove the statement that they are original to you and add a statement that they are based on my work, with a link to my website.  These statements need to appear any place on the web or in a gallery/craft show/shop, wherever, that you display or sell your NAME OF SERIES pieces.

Your work is lovely, you clearly love color and fabric as much as I do.   I’d like to encourage you to keep learning and listen to your own muse.  No one can make YOUR art as well as YOU do.   Copying is a good way to learn, but making your own original art is even better.

I’ll check your website to make sure you have complied.   Thank you for attending to this promptly!  We’ve all got better stuff to do –like make art– than deal with copyright violations!  Cheers, Sarah Ann Smith.
This e-mail was sent from Artist’s WEBSITE

And here is her astonishingly virulent reply to me, in its entirety, but I have removed names ( it’ll be obvious where):

 

LETTER REMOVED, 3:37 pm March 13, 2015 under thread of legal action by the author.

 

And back to me:

Enough said!  I find it curious that she refused to even go look at my works, since she would have seen the similarity instantly.  Maybe she didn’t want to know the truth???  At coffee with my BFF yesterday, I showed her the other person’s pieces on my phone, and (because they were little on the phone screen) my BFF at first thought they were mine!   How clear is that?   Anyway, let’s hope Etsy does the right thing.  I am sure the artist will not remove  one that is on her website, but frankly that one is simple a generic winter scene and doesn’t have the stone wall, so it doesn’t bother me.  It’s the two on Etsy that are clearly deriative.  Now, on to more fun things to do with my life!

 

How to write an Artist’s Bio Statement

February 27th, 2015

So I’m curating a SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) exhibit, Food for Thought.  That’s not as fancy as it  sounds–it means I am in charge of the paperwork.   In preparation for the exhibit being at the National Quilt Museum, someone else in SAQA asked for the Artists’ Statements about their pieces and a brief bio on each.   So I put together a quick email to request the latter from each of the artists (we already had the former).  I was going to put my bio, but thought ugh and boring, so made one up.  So here’s my ideal “short bio” for your entertainment.  Please note the website, Gallery and magazine cover are fictional!   (At least I hope they are, I made them up!)

Yosemite Sam
Boondocks, California, USA
YosemiteArts.com

After a career as a hunter of pesky wabbits, Yosemite Sam discovered his true calling as a mixed media artist.   His life tracking wabbits and other vermin in the woods still informs his portraits of nature and choice of materials which include mud, rabbit pelts, spent cartridge shells and red plaid wool shirts.  From the soft glow of dawn to the bright light of noon in the high desert to sparkling stars, Sam’s work exudes a sense of time and place.

Sam has exhibited in galleries across the West, including a one-hunter show at the innovative Sierra Spelunking Gallery inside a cave in the mountains.  His break-out work, Bugs B. Renaissance, was featured on the September 2023 cover of Sunset magazine. His work has been widely published and is in public and private collections.   A confirmed bachelor, he is now a confirmed vegetarian.   You can find his work, blog and recipes at his website.

I believe that the fictional gallery recommends patrons arrive with flashlights and/or Petzl headlamps.  ENJOY!   I’ll be back with new work (class samples) soon, I hope!

Taro and Florida

February 12th, 2015

Jeepers…talk about busy!  I can always tell when I’m slamming busy because the blog is neglected more than usual!  Well, I’ve got lots to share once I can find time to process the photos and then write!   It is the end of high school wrestling season, and tomorrow Eli is headed to the State tournament in Fryeburg.   Send “wrestle your best” thoughts and “NO INJURY” thoughts!  I’ll keep you posted.

Nourish the Body, Nourish the Soul, (my pattern) Taro block

Nourish the Body, Nourish the Soul, (my pattern) Taro block.  Click to see larger.

In between waiting for practices to end and going to meets, I’ve been working on class samples for my new series of workshops called Quilting the Garden.  These will debut in North Carolina (Charlotte Quilters Guild) in April when I travel there to teach.  I’ll share those soon.   And I’m teaching Hawaiian Quilting by Machine in Florida.  However my two main quilts that I take are in the 500 Traditional Treasures exhibit and I won’t have them to take to the class…erk!   So I decided I needed to take the one sample I have, but make some new pieces.  So Tuesday I cut out the designs, yesterday I did the stitching, and today I quilted one of two.  I’m HAPPY!

(c) Sarah Ann Smith; fused applique, satin stitched.

(c) Sarah Ann Smith; fused applique, satin stitched.

The design is the positive and negative (you get both from one square of fabric) Taro block from my pattern Nourish the Body, Nourish the Soul.  We needed new Euro square pillow shams–the ones I’ve been using I had appliqued during the first Gulf War, and they look it–tattered!   So I took the 18 inch block, added borders, and presto!

(c) Sarah Ann Smith.  The blocks at the top stage.  These colors make me happy!

(c) Sarah Ann Smith. The blocks at the top stage. These colors make me happy!

I hope the students like these!  I FINALLY managed to video myself on my iPhone with some technique stuff for the class.  Now need to upload that and get the videos into my Keynote presentations for the class.  And order supplies to be shipped.  And finish the samples for the April Workshop.  And the remainder of the wrestling season.  And begin a quilt that is due in April.  SO excited to begin that one–I may disappear for a while again!  OK, gotta run.  That’s it for tonight!

Photography with Ricky Tims

January 31st, 2015

ERK!  Gosh it has been a LONG TIME.  I’m sorry!   I didn’t realize I hadn’t been here in so long.  As you might gather by my extended absence, I’ve been busy.  I’ve been prepping a new workshop that will debut in full in North Carolina in April (see my Teaching/Classes page for the workshop listing)–email me if you need a link to sign up, they’ve got an awesome online system, did a test-run of the class with a local group, have been working on a bazillion samples and writing an article for MQU (Machine Quilting Unlimited), did a quick trip to California because I’m now on San Domenico School’s (my old high school) Alumni Council

The lesson for Week 4 is to get a photo that is "sharp as a tack."

The lesson for Week 4 is to get a photo that is “sharp as a tack.”

AND …..ta daaaaaaAAAAA drum roll…. taking an online year-long workshop with Ricky Tims to improve my photography, Photoshop and Lightroom skills (the latter two were non-existent and I’ve improved to rank beginner).  So today I’ll share about week 4 of Ricky’s Photography class. In the next week or two I’ll get you caught up on the rest!

Earlier weeks focused (pun intended) on Selective Focus, Find a Line, and Windows.  We’ve also learned about organizing in Lightroom, using Photoshop, getting our copyright information into the metadata (basically digitally encoding it into the image so that if someone tries to remove the visible watermark, the copyright stuff is still embedded into the digital file/info..don’t ask me how, that is way above my pay grade!).

This shot was (duh) indoors, before I went out.  I think of this as "chaos, clutter, artist at work."  I've also taken some sketchbook courses online over the past year, and am learning to work more with watercolors.  I want to loosen up, have my art quilts be a bit more spontaneous (well, everything in my life pretty much could benefit from me being less of a control-freak).

This shot was (duh) indoors, before I went out. I think of this as “chaos, clutter, artist at work.” I’ve also taken some sketchbook courses online over the past year, and am learning to work more with watercolors. I want to loosen up, have my art quilts be a bit more spontaneous (well, everything in my life pretty much could benefit from me being less of a control-freak). Anyway, this photo is “tack sharp” from the closest edge the window and even into the view.  It was challenging because of the brightness outside, so I had to lighten the interior in Photoshop.

Since I’ve been crazy busy, I didn’t get out early enough this week to get the shot I wanted.   I got home from California between two storms, thankfully.  I got in before the “Big” Blizzard early in the week that dumped about 0-4 feet of snow—drifts around the house made it nearly impossible to figure how much we actually got.   Then yesterday, Friday, it started snowing again.  So I went out in the snowfall before it got too windy and thick to take pictures.  And took a few indoors, as well.  Eli will be pleased that I did NOT share the one of these with him trying to get out of camera range!

I totally love our view and took many photos.  I also learned a few things (some of which I knew but had forgotten) about taking pictures in "weather."

I totally love our view and took many photos. I also learned a few things (some of which I knew but had forgotten) about taking pictures in “weather.”  This is standing near the top of our driveway, looking down to the neighbors.  Our driveway is just this side of the line of dark green pines that partially obscure the neighbor’s house.

As for photography in weather,

  1. –a plastic bag around the camera  keeps it from getting wet from  melting snow
  2. –a lens hood to keep snow off the lens would have been a brilliant addition.  Next time.
  3. –a cloth (lens or cotton or linen) to wipe off the wet-from-snow lens would be good, too.  Fleece (my preferred garments in winter) don’t soak up enough water!
  4. –it is impossible to feel the timer button on the camera in gloves.  Why a timer?  Even with a tripod, if you are going to have a slow shutter speed (1/40 second or slower), using a timer helps avoid any wigging of the camera.  So gloves came off.
  5. –even if it is relatively warm for winter and snow (28 F, or about -1/2 C), even my fingers eventually get cold!
Looking West-Northwest to the pergola/walk-through to the big meadow.  There was a falling down fence when we moved in 4 years ago that is now pretty much fallen, but the posts are good snow-depth markers.

Looking West-Northwest to the pergola/walk-through to the big meadow. There was a falling down fence when we moved in 4 years ago that is now pretty much fallen, but the posts are good snow-depth markers.  I LOVE how you can see the streaks of snow falling in this shot…look above the pergola infant of the big tree.

A VERY large old apple tree (apples taste like yuck, but the deer and turkeys like them) and a huge birch tree on the stone wall/hedgerow between the big meadow and the downhill meadow.  Meadow is codeword for big open space that we don't mow but once or twice a season.

A VERY large old apple tree (apples taste like yuck, but the deer and turkeys like them) and a huge birch tree on the stone wall/hedgerow between the big meadow and the downhill meadow. Meadow is codeword for big open space that we don’t mow but once or twice a season.  This is where a cloth to wipe the lens would have been really useful.  But I like the photo so much even with the blots on it that I’m sharing.

The trees and scrub at the bottom of the big meadow; the driveway is to the right of these.

The trees and scrub at the bottom of the big meadow; the driveway is to the right of these.  Again, going for sharp through the entire depth of field–at least as sharp as the atmospheric conditions allowed.   Taken, as are all of these, on a tripod.

Eli is the only one (so far) to have tried out my Christmas snowshoes.  Got a quick snap of him going by just on the bottom side of the driveway--pretty much along the property line.

Eli is the only one (so far) to have tried out my Christmas snowshoes. Got a quick snap of him going by just on the bottom side of the driveway–pretty much along the property line.

So now I need to get to work in the studio…more samples to make for articles and classes!  Hopefully I won’t be AWOL for a month (absent without leave) before I get back and blog again!

 

 

Published in Inspirational Quotes Illustrated; More watercolor lettering with Val Webb

January 1st, 2015

Two years ago I was taking a lettering class online with the wonderful Val Webb.  One of the exercises was to choose and illustrate a quote.   Back then I wrote about it.  Then in late 2013 Lesley Riley put out a call for entries, North Light wanted to publish an expanded version of her self-published Quotes Illustrated.   The new book is called Inspirational Quotes Illustrated and is available at Amazon and directly from Lesley here (don’t forget to check out other good stuff from Lesley here).

Lesley's new book really is inspirational!

Lesley’s new book really is inspirational!

I have loved lettering since I was required to write with an Osmiroid Italic nib pen in junior high and high school (gotta love Catholic schools!), and I love reading and good quotes, and I love art.   All of these come together in this book.   There are some new-to-me quotes that may become favorites, there are some wonderful artists whose work I have admired included, some friends (waving at Deborah Boschert, Norina Morris and Jamie Fingal!) as well who are wonderful artists.

One of the things I really love is that the pages are perforated so you can easily remove a page to mat / frame and enjoy on the wall.  The page numbers are tucked into the center of the book and remain there–they aren’t on the part of the page that comes out to otherwise detract from the artwork should you wish to frame it.  Cool beans!

A two page spread featuring artwork by Jill K. Berry (left) and Holly Dean.  If you look closely in the center, you'll see a small bit of orange...

A two page spread featuring artwork by Jill K. Berry (left) and Holly Dean. If you look closely in the center, you’ll see a small bit of orange…

Gina Rossi's crow/raven takes my breath away!

Gina Rossi’s crow/raven takes my breath away!

And here's my page, on the right, with

And here’s my page, on the right, with a collage by Lesley Jacobs on the left.  If you right click this image, you can see the perforations and the page numbers in the center.

Original blogpost from February 8, 2013:

Quote by Thomas Alva Edison.  Class by Val Webb, more info here.

Quote by Thomas Alva Edison. Class by Val Webb, more info here.

Oh my but I am having fun.  Of course, it is also a ton of work to make a page like this one (it took all day), but if you had asked me when class began back in late November if I would be able to do this in just  a couple of months, I would have laughed!   But lookit!  I did it!   I can’t hardly believe it!  This lesson is what Val Webb (click here for her blog) calls “crazy quilt” lettering, with rolling lines and many colors and little bits of art insterspersed with the writing.   Fortunately, I’ve been a bit behind and have benefitted from Val’s constructive comments for others pieces before I got around to working on this.  I had the wit to send Val my “first draft” before I spent a ton of time painting only to discovered I should have done something different.

First draft of the Thomas Alva Edison quote.

First draft of the Thomas Alva Edison quote with the lettering going all the way across the page.

Val commented that when you have a wide motif in the center as with the overalls, it is hard for the eye to jump across to continue reading.  She suggested re-working the design to read as if it were two pages in a book.  Brilliant!  Took time, but I got it done.  Here’s the series of photos shoing my progress:

Testing out colors, letter shapes, and so on.  Since I live in Maine and the guys wear Carhartt overalls, I opted for the Carhartt color instead of old fashioned demin.  As you can see, I originally intended to do the letters in yellow, green and blue.

Testing out colors, letter shapes, and so on. Since I live in Maine and the guys wear Carhartt overalls, I opted for the Carhartt color instead of old fashioned demin. As you can see, I originally intended to do the letters in yellow, green and blue.  I also tested out a color for the silvery metal at the bottom of the light bulb, and getting a yellow fade for the light bulb.

Decorated Watercolor Lettering with Val Webb.  Working away at the dining room table.  I even managed to NOT blotch and drip or smudge! And I'm happy I was able to lift the color on the knees to make the fabric look faded and worn by work.

Working away at the dining room table. I even managed to NOT blotch and drip or smudge! And I’m happy I was able to lift the color on the knees to make the fabric look faded and worn by work.

The yellow and green letters are done, so I decided to break for a late lunch.  When I took the photo, I realized I had picked up the colors in the placemats I made, and decided I liked the idea of the warm plummy-red better than blue, so changed my color scheme.  So glad I did!

The yellow and green letters are done, so I decided to break for a late lunch. When I took the photo, I realized I had picked up the colors in the placemats I made, and decided I liked the idea of the warm plummy-red better than blue, so changed my color scheme. So glad I did!

And one more time, the photo from the top, repeated for comparison here:

Quote by Thomas Alva Edison.  Class by Val Webb, more info here.

Quote by Thomas Alva Edison. Class by Val Webb, more info here.

I like the way this turned out so much I am tempted to get a custom mat to fit into a standard sized frame and hang it in my studio!