Monday, November 30, 2009

Let's talk about Plagiarism

It's a contentious issue for many people - plagiarism and copyright. I've been thinking about it for a few days now... and probably not in the way you might expect. I haven't had anyone plagiarise me, but I have found myself in the position of being the plagiarist (sort of!)... You see, I designed this 50s-inspired pattern with the idea of screen printing it onto fabric. I didn't copy anything, I just sat down one day and started doodling. I guess it was a million vague ideas of what 50s patterning was like that informed the choices I made when drawing it....

And then.... the other day I found these original 1950s fabric designs. I solemnly swear I had never seen them before that. As you can imagine, my heart went into my throat! I really loved my 50s design; was so proud of it and looking forward to screen printing it, but now it just feels like copied work...

(top) Marion Mahler, furnishing fabric, 1952.
(bottom) Lucienne Day, Perpetua, furnishing fabric, 1953.

... but it isn't.

And then, as if the heavens were prodding me to think more on this issue I came across this amazing quote by Jim Jarmusch (below), Nothing is Original. Now there was a provocative idea! I could see the sense in it. Yeah! It's not where you take it from, it's where you take it to!... then I heard a little voice in my mind "But I didn't take it!"... Hmm, yes well.... and I do think it matters that you take something in the first place, that is if you take it mindfully.

So, there's one issue - you may not consciously take an idea. Is it that some things are just in the collective ether? I guess it's more understandable with something vintage like the 50s fabric. Surely, it's been circulating and re-interpreted for a while now, and things do have a way of resurfacing unconsciously perhaps...? I think this is a very different issue to be inspired by something and reinterpreting it yourself, as along as you acknowledge your inspiration.

However, the heavens weren't finished with me... I then bought the latest issue of Textile magazine, and reading through found an article by Stacey Apeitos entitled Protecting Your Artwork Online. Here was a different take on a parallel issue about fears of one's work being copied. What Apeitos was saying was basically that ideas cannot be copyrighted but your artwork is your own until you sign away the copyright. She then goes on to give a lot of fabulous advice on how to better protect your copyright. You can download the PDF of the first part of the article here and/or visit the Textile magazine website here to arrange a subscription.

Anyway, I found it interesting that Apeitos decided to end her article with some quotes, one of which by Paul Gauguin was "Art is either plagiarism or revolution." So, once again I found myself back to the 'nothing is original' idea... it appears not even Jarmusch's idea is either! ;)

So, where does all of this leave me...? I think the exchange of ideas is what feeds a lot of the creative process and that we all do it whether we realise it or not. I think being inspired by someone else's work and having a go at your own piece is absolutely okay, as long as you acknowledge your inspiration. But as for my spooky channeling of the ghosts of designers past... I have absolutely no idea...! ;)

Anyway, I'd really love to know if this has ever happened to you too. Have you designed something and then later seen it's already been done? Do you think it's true that there is no such thing as an original idea? I'm really interested to hear your stories or thoughts about this. Thanks :)

p.s. If you're curious about those mentioned above, you can find Stacey Apeitos' website here and she has a Felting blog here and a Web Savvy Artists blog here. Jim Jarmusch is a director and this quote came from an interview he did with Moviemaker magazine in 2004, which you can find here. You can find out more about him here.


littlechrissy said...

Great post! I love the quote that it doesn't matter where you take things from, it's where you take them to.
There's a world of difference, I believe, between being inspired by something and taking elements of that thing to fuel your own creativity, and blatantly copying without furthering the idea or concept.

handmaiden said...

Kylie, what a dilemna. I think you can add to yr quotes " what's old is new again" and "what goes around comes around"

Melissa G said...

I agree with Lil Chrissy. As for your artwork pictured above,I still think you should do the screen print. The similarities are there, but the pattern itself is still completely your own.

Christina Lowry said...

I think your art work has the vibe of 50's design, but it is in no means a replica of the fabric pictured. I studied intermedia at uni and the rule was that you could use other peoples designs and images if you changed them in some way. So I think you are free to print away with a big smile at how cool your design is! :)

annamaria potamiti said...

I agree with Christina your work is very much your interpretation of the 50's spirit- I don't see it as anything near plagiarism -but you are raising a most important point- Often I will draw something and later find it resembles something I might have seen in my extensive study of art history- but isn't that how it should work anyway? Why do we study art history then? We store mumeroous images in our heads, they are bound to be repainted at some point but , and this is an important but, reworked through our own sensibility- or personality- It s when you have an issue of a direct, coscious copy that you may worry- but I don't even then because copies are usually never as good as the original anyway-
Trust your work-
Annamaria xx

annamaria potamiti said...

Oh please excuse my spelling, its too late and way past my bed time, but I felt compelled to comment on this-
Annamaria :)

inaluxe said...

Such a great post. If we try hard enough we can find connections and similarities to everything we create. I think the difference (for me) when I'm working is the 'intent', and I'm always doing what I find interests me, and always pushing past to see where my work can take me. If people wanted to, they could sit down and reel off a million names of artists who they think I copied, but that's the difference. I didn't sit down and copy: what would be the fun in that? Just the thought leaves me with a sick feeling. However, the world we live in is huge, and inspiration, what sits in our unconcious, etc is vast and mysterious. :) I take it back to 'intent'. And 50's patterns, goodness, they have been circulating all over for decades.... they are beautiful - no wonder we enjoy them, and find them inspiring. :) Your work is beautiful by the way, and to me it looks original. Seriously. You ought to go ahead and print it onto fabric! then other people can enjoy it too! xo :)

ellie said...

My head isn't in the right space to add thoughts about the aspects of stealing, copying or adding to the story of designs. All your points are totally true and valid - a design is what you make it, nothing is new or original, but also nothing else has your voice except your own designs.
Just wanted to say that I love your design. It tells a wonderful story, and has such whimsical movement and colour.
{I'd love to do some collaboration with you one day, soonish}.
- Ellie :: Selvedge House

alessandra said...

Sometimes happens that you do an overload of images and something struck a cord deep inside. You don't even realize but after a while-maybe years- you sit down at a desk and you start to produce something (it almost flows from you) and you really like what you did only to found out later that it already exists. It happenned to me when I was a student, while attending a class of drawing with a real model...they did look very Picasso...that's because two years before I went to Paris but I didn't realize that the visit to the Picasso museum left a huge imprint on me. I think that, yes inspiration work like this, but you know when it is plagiarism because that is deliberate and so obvious.

Caroline said...

Nice post Kylie - I have struggled with this idea for about a year now, since getting really serious with my sewing. I love to sew, I love to make toys, bags, things for my friends' kids, but I work purely on a "philanthropic" basis because I haven't been able to decide about taking the plunge to commercial venture due to this issue. The wider I look at others' work and the more I get inspired by those works, the more I worry that what I create is already out there in some form, subconsciously "copied" by my mind's eye, I don't want to get accused of anything if I put my work out there! (and of course it is out there in a way, nothing is original, as you point out) Great quotes you found for your post, I'm going to go back and read them again.

M* (Melanie) said...

This is a really interesting topic Kylie. I know exactly how you feel about the guilt that is felt when you produce something that not intentionally like someone else's work.

Remember my red quilt square? Well I based the title and girls on a favourite book of mine when I was a kid. When i drew up the design of the two girls I quite literally drew it off the top of my head. Later after starting the embroidery, I randomly browsed through the book. I discovered to my horror that there is a picture at the end of two girls in the exact same pose. Arms around each other standing side by side. I was devastated. I felt like it would appear as though I'd copied it which I hadn't. I deliberately drew them facing away because I couldn't be bothered putting faces on them! I very nearly changed my design but then decided I wasn't going to feel bad about something I actually didn't do.

Inspiration and plagiarism is a hard call. Some people are more sensitive to it than others too. If someone is blatantly copying something then it definitely is wrong but being inspired by a style is part of the creative process. You shouldn't feel bad. Your design is wonderful and you haven't copied anything. It's a coincidence.

If it's any consolation I have a similar pattern doodling style to you. When I saw your design I felt inspired to some myself but didn't do anything because it would look like I was copying you!

Karen Lewis Textiles said...

First off, I love your design and think you should definitely make it into a print - I'll be buying some ;-)

The thing is that there is so much amazing inspiration out there and we may or may not realise how this then comes out in our own work. We definitely pick up things vicariously that then come out in certain ways. But then that's an inspiring piece isn't it?

Do you remember my Flickr Friday a couple of weeks ago? It's a common and stunning colourways combination that you have chosen and put your own interpretation on it.

Sorry for being a bit incoherent - just come in from a very icy run and feeling a bit stiff - going to warm up in a bath xx

blue moss said...

totally interesting.... i do think that it is fine to be inspired by someone and then use it as a springboard for you own ideas....
putting your own special spin on it...
i love your drawing.

Anonymous said...

thank you for posting this! The timing is impeccable. I have been discussing this very thing over the last couple of days because my latest piece of textile art was blatantly copied by a "known" artist who uses the same medium. At first I was inclined to feel flattered, then miffed, then hurt, now I'm feeling "meh" about the whole thing. As Ms. Apeitos says, "...have your little whine... then get over yourself."

Whining done, thanks to discussions/posts like yours.


Lola Nova said...

I love that you quoted Jim Jarmusch!
I recently had a post on my blog where I had created something then realized that the colors and feel were completely inspired by a photo that Dottie Angel had taken. I celebrated it in my post because the work was in a completely different format and I didn't even know that it was lurking in my subconscious. I often come up with something and much later discover it is similar to someone else work that I have never seen before. I have a little whine and try to move on I guess. It's a tricky issue and I often find myself thinking, well, it's all been done.

Ange said...

Yep - it's an eternal subject but I'm with littlechrissy... copying is just that. It doesn't go anywhere else. Everyone has been inspired by something else. Nothing is truly original and I think it is all out there in the creative ether. I am often surprised: I seclude myself here in the countryside in France. Think something up - and find something similar a few days or weeks later on some website that I HAPPEN UPON! No coincidences. I think your pattern is also sufficiently different from the one you found afterwards. If you go to the blog You will see a rant about this - but it covered blatant copying by two well known designers of another well known but more expensive designer. Interesting outcome. TTFN

our little love nest said...

I have so been with you and I love that quote! I think everything we love and are inspired with ends up in our art and life. I find the people that inspire me most end up having bits and pieces of their work in mine, completely unintentionally. xoxo

Ingrid Mida said...

I've been wrestling with this very issue ever since I saw the folded books made into lamps on your other blog. I had been on a high after creating my bookworks with the pages folded like origami. It was a bit of letdown to see that it has been done before and that I wasn't so original after all!
And yet, I've been on the other side of the picture - sharing my artwork and then seeing the image mirrored elsewhere. While everyone puts their own stamp on their work, sometimes it has been a bit too close for comfort.
I suppose it has all been done before and so I'm trying to embrace the value of doing it anyway.

Trish Goodfield said...

Wow talk about food for thought. Never in a million years would I have said that your design was copied. It looks quite differnt to me. At worst it could be "inspired by". As artists we make our art to be enjoyed and shared. I'd rather take the risk of having something copied than keep it to myself out of fear. Interesting post.

ckillin said...

You have opened my favourite Pandora's Box here, Kylie.

I could write a novel on this subject. I come across this all the time. Whether the plagiarism is intentional or not is not the real issue for me. It's your response as an artist/ designer when you discover that someone else has done/ is doing something very similar or identical to you. My driving force is to attempt something original in what I create. Years ago I made these stuffed toys for my nephews, they were a very simple shape, black and had pointy ears. I wasn't selling them but friends kept suggesting that I should. One day I picked up a book at the Museum of Modern Art by a well-known Canadian designer who made stuffed toys and there was this exact toy that I had made, right down to the colour and pointy ears. I was utterly horrified and embarrassed and wondered if maybe I'd seen these images years earlier, flicking through a mag, and had unknowingly retained the image. The thing is though, I lost complete interest in the thought of reproducing the design because 1) it would be stealing but more importantly I just have no interest in doing something that is already out there.

In regards to the work I'm doing now if I discovered someone has been doing something similar to me BEFORE I started this work OR if I found that someone was copying my work, my reaction would be the same to both scenarios. I would simply move on to another idea. I have so many new ideas and I'm always keen to move on to the next thing and I think most true artists/ designers are like this.

I see a lot of copying at markets. The one I just did in Magnolia Square, for example. I have so many stories from stall holders that range from blatant copying to unintentional copying. Because you can't copyright an idea the best defense for an artist is to keep having new ideas. I recently came across an astonishing plagiarism case that's been doing the rounds of various blogs and I'll try and find it and pass it on to you.

As for your own work .. yes, there are similariites but there are many more differences and I think you have a unique piece of work in a particular style (ie 50s patterns). If you feel uncomfortable about it then I wouldn't do it. You must have a million ideas in your head .. you will produce many many more designs, I'm sure. Ask yourself, would you be happy to print off your fabric design knowing that some people might say, well I've seen that before, and others will say, how beautiful, how different? If this doesn't bother you then I'd go ahead with production.

The final call has to come from you, how you really feel about it.

ckillin said...

Here's the link to that plagairism case. It's unbelievable!

Selina said...

Fabulous post Kylie. I too have pondered the same thing. Is anything truly original? I think not. Everyone takes inspiration from somewhere, whether consciously or sub-consciously. How many images are we exposed to on a daily basis? Too many to remember every detail.

Fine Little Day said...

I agree with Selina, everyone are getting influenced in one why or another. It´s like with music, you sample and make it you own consciously or sub-consciusly. Love your pattern :)!

Alisa : Ink Caravan said...

Wow Kylie, you can get comments going like no one else I know. Such a brilliant spicy subject. : )
I don't think you should feel worried, the differences outweigh the similarities but it comes down to how you feel about it in the end. I think it looks great!

Maribeth said...

This is a great post. My husband and I have been saying this for years now. Everything is a remaking of something that has existed before. Sort of like the physics concept that energy is never destroyed, just transformed.

I love your design, by the way. Just lovely.

naa said...

I know your dilemma! It's so weird sometimes when I find someone on the web who has similar style as I do. And so the same feelings as you said follow me... I often think about all the people in the world and it somehow seems logical that there is probably someone, who you never saw in your life, that thinks about similar visual problems and everything so... comes to similar conclusions as you do. you know what I mean?
however... I know how you feel... it's hard not to be inspired by things around us and it's probably impossible. But you know, our professor once said, that we are not inventors of a visual language as same as the writers don't invent the words and language but they just use it in their own way and we do the same.
I hope I make sense. :) I think this is a great topic for a long passionate debate.

Anna Lloyd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tiel said...

this is such a contentious issue here Kylie and so timely.

i feel like I could write a thesis on this topic..but to keep it brief...

there is this book I have by Steven Heller in my cupboard called Borrowed Design...I really need to pull this out and read it again. But basically it talks about all that we have known in our art and design and all that we take from it..even the greats.

I think everyone who is creative has made or designed something that is similar to something else without knowing. And that in itself is fine. It is the choices they make to continue producing these ideas that make it wrong or right. If you start to produce multiples of something that is just like something else then this is problematic.

what makes your own work/art unique and what makes artists and designers successful is their ability to take something or take many things that have, 'been before' and mold it, add to it, delete from it, manipulate it enough times so that it becomes their own.

the downside to the internet is that you expose your work and ideas to people that will blatantly copy in a way that is meaningful and wrong.

the upside the internet is that you can catalogue your work in blogs and websites that can aid you when you want to sue the idiots who copy you.

the upside to the internet is that you can have the very public opportunity to be honest and discuss all this.

At the end of the day, what you did is (I believe) not plagiarism. yes it is similar, but are you making money from it and have you produced other lucienne day like images to make money from? No, I don't believe you have.

if you were to take this one element of your work and make it into the main element of your creative/design life then you would build on it, and change it so that it eventually becomes very Kylie. images get shoved into our subconscious all the time.

Perhaps you were a former 50's design prodigy in a former life?

on the flip side to all this, I'm taking legal action for being copied! but details will be left at that for the time being.

agghh the internet has changed the way we are influenced forever.

and now looking up, I want to know what Anna said! :)

Karen said...

Hi Kylie,

Your print is definitely not a copy of those others patterns. Period. When I first saw it I never thought of it as plagiarism whatsoever. It shares a similar palette and strokes but it's YOUR rendition. What's important here is not worrying about the similarities of your print to other works but to search for your own style, those unique details that make your work a 'Kylie' and that will make it recognizable among others. Maybe you share the values/ideas/concepts that inspired artists in the fifties so it's logical that you come up with a style alike. Kylie, you are on the right track.

RedorGrayArt said...

i have relished all the differing opinions here my friend and have seen the 'nothing is original" quote before. It is a hard one to sort out...I do not hold the rights to using the red netting I use in my collages for instance, but if someone starts using it as well because they saw mine am I upset?
not really because it was not a direct copy, usually collage is so different each piece.
Ideas come and go...that is art in itself, just my 2 cents worth

Love your print by the way.

Kate Moore said...

Kylie, I posted a smiliar thought here:
I agree, it's hard to know how influenced you are by what you see around you, and thus how original your own idea is. I think your design stands alone though. Yes, I can see that it has similarities, but goodness, it's not a carbon copy - and I guess that's what the laws come down to. Is it a copy, or was there intent to copy for commercial purposes.

Mitsy / ArtMind said...

Interesting topic & nice to read all the comments about this too!
I remember that I made a work in my first year of artschool which came right from my soul & I believed it to be original & unique. Then another student came along and told me that probably someone on the other side of the globe was making exactly the same thing!
It really upset me & we had a long and painful discussion about it. Since the work contained 'my soul' I believed it to be unique & different even though that someone else on the other side of the globe would be making the same thing (which I still don't believe)... (this is part of the work I meant:
Just saying that when you make something that looks like someone else' work and it's been made unintentional, I think you should not feel bad as an artist!
I love your print & I think it's you! ;)
Goodluck on whatever you decide!

belinda marshall said...

i put a yellow star on this post days ago ~ anything that i have to/desperately want to think about mostly has to wait!!!
not sure i have anything original to say either, but recognise the feeling you've described so well. {and researched so well}.
i think if we analyse this too much we might not create any more and that's would be really too sad.
my 'way' with this feeling {when it happens to me, which is often b/c a lot of my creativity operates from the subconscious ~ which is where this 'plagarism' kind of lurks} is to look at the piece in question and realise some of it is just like 'x' then take what i think is genuinely me and go further with it and consciously leave the rest out {or at least interpret my attraction to it!}.
i like to feel that my work is my own, but, that said, i do believe that there is a collective ether! clear as mud!!

belinda marshall said...

oh, and i love your work {always!}

Tania said...


Ugh. Know exactly how you feel and it has happened to me before - me being plagiarised. Because I know how it feels, I have an uber conscience about it which tends to rule my decisions. Course then I tend to come over a bit extreme about things. Your design is beautiful and MUST(!) b printed in one form or another. But it needs to sit comfortably with you or you'll never be able to look at it and shout out 'I did that!' even when you know you did.

edward and lilly said...


It's clearly your own design, but if you're going to call it anything call it appropriation rather than plagiarism.

To me you are more postmodern artist than crafter, that's what I love about your work and why I feel like I need to own every single piece without seeming like some crazy stalker, there's more to it than surface value. When I look at it it's like looking at an appropriation of modern (ie '50s) art and design. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that!

cara. said...

hi. i just found your blog yesterday. and by posting on this particular post, i am admitting to how far i'm reading back. .. sorry for the cyber stalking (: great blog though!

i love that you brought this up. the idea that there is nothing new under the sun. i like to pull a lot of photographs for inspiration via the internet and use the images to paint sometimes (by drawing and painting and color choosing myself)....i get nervous about posting any of my work online, thinking i have somehow plagiarized someone's photographs...and perhaps a little shame that my idea wasn't "original". or that because i typically do not do any images with faces (simply because i'm not good at them), my work looks too similar to the faceless portraits of lisa golightly and alyson fox (whom i adore) thoughts on any of that?

isn't it like 10 points of similarity equals plagiarism?

Sue Pinner said...

No longer making a living from design, but l still can be a little annoyed when something pops up that looks similar to one of my own ideas

Almost left the WWW because of it but decided if l wanted to keep something a secret then don't publish the idea and i find the benefits far out weigh the annoyances for
BUT....if you are trying to make a living not so easy..very very annoying
Your design is sufficiently different and is only the essence of the 1950's but with a more appealing twist l think
Great post too