Copycats with Cameras: How Do I Get Them Out of My Booth?

by Laura Montenegro.

I really enjoy your newsletter. I have a question. I know that “imitation is the biggest form of flattery,” but in Flagstaff, AZ where I was trying to sell my jewelry this summer, I found that many people would come up and scrutinize my work, and then walk off without a word. I know they were looking at it to figure it out so they could go home and copy it.

I have even enclosed a picture that shows one of them taking a picture of it! (Far right is someone holding a camera phone in one hand and coffee in the other. )

Although throughout the summer, people often look at my things to get ideas on how to make something for themselves, I was so shocked by the lack of manners that they left me dumbfounded.

How would you have handled this situation? Please advise me as I doubt I am the first person this has happened to!
Thanks.

Laura Montenegro
Gypsy Cowgirl Jewelry

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  • Hi Laura,
    I understand exactly how you feel. You work so hard on your ideas spending days thinking about them and finishing them just so someone can show up and take your ideas. The thing is, you cant make it stop. Because, if you come out and ask them not to use your ideas they are going to be angry with you and may even go and tell potential customers that you have poor attitude (even if you asked in the nicest possible way).

    For some reason jewelry makers tend to think that its law to share your designs. There is a big difference between being inspired by another artists work and copying their designs.

    But don’t be angry when you notice someone studying your work. Instead you could offer to give them a tutorial if they buy the piece. Or ask them to share one of their designs with you. Not only could you learn new things but you are also making a new friend who could give you ideas and maybe even help you with finding other craft shows.

    Try not to hurt anyone’s feelings because you never know what they may be willing to share with you. And keep in mind if you show your work to other people someone is going to copy it whether they have your permission or not. So you might as well benefit from it.

  • Tamara says:

    I agree, Laura. I know sometimes it’s busy and you can’t talk to everyone, but I would suggest trying to engage that person in conversation. Or even say something like “I’m glad you like that piece. Are you a jewellery artist as well?” It brings the issue out into the open, and you never know what’ll come of that. Or maybe they’ll mumble something and walk away, not wanting to actually engage with you, and won’t come back to take pictures. It’s a way of trying to do something directly anyway.

  • Laura says:

    Yeah, I know it’s inevitable. I guess I have to accept that “imitation is the best form of flattery!?

  • Hi Everyone,
    I just found this and thought it might add to the conversation here. How to Handle Copycats in My Booth?

    Alicia
    JMJ Content Specialist

  • Annette says:

    *Say “sorry” photography is not allowed
    *Tell them you offer lessons a $x per half hour!

  • Lisa says:

    At a bead show I was recently at, one of the artists had a very good solution. I was the one admiring her work and trying to figure out some of her techniques. I started talking with the artist and she explained her techniques for each piece. She said that people were going to copy it anyway, so she figured that she would help them at least do it right. I was so impressed with her, that I spent a lot of money at her booth.

  • Pam says:

    This happens all the time, and though it never ceases to amaze me at how blatant and rude people can be, I have just decided not to stress over the inevitable – since there really is no way to prevent it. Even a “No Photos Please” sign would have no teeth an is not enforceable. So, if someone is nice enough to ask permission, I engage them in conversation so at least I can leave the interaction without steaming. If they don’t ask, I know this is a weenie response, but I find just ignoring them and moving to a task at the other end of the table leaves me less aggravated. My most embarassing moment was once in a b&m shop of handcrafted items, a friend with whom I was spending the day, started clicking her phone camera, talking about how she could make this piece or that – I was totally mortified and just wandered outside of the shop to wait with our hubbies. People just don’t get it.

  • It happens to me, too, and I just try to engage each person I can in conversation, like everyone else suggested. When you are really nice to people, they are more likely not to steal your ideas.

    Don’t be quick to assume they are taking photos to copy you, though. I have had people in my booth taking photos to send to their husband so they know what to get them for Christmas, or for husbands asking their daughters,etc. if mom would like these earrings, etc.

    So, it’s not always a bad thing.

    People take a lot of photos these days. It’s not always sinister. My main retail spot is in a collective with other artists. It’s huge and unique and people take photos because they want to remember the experience. It’s almost never because they want to copy.

    I know it happens – A LOT, but I just wanted to make the point that not everyone who takes a photo of your jewelry is trying to copy it.

    And, you’re not going to stop the copiers anyway, so don’t stress about it. Just keep making new unique pieces and you’ll always stay ahead of them!

    Good luck!

  • Barbara says:

    On my table, I have one of those business card holders with 8 slots with my cards up top and the rest filled with local retail bead stores’ cards. I hand those out to people who want to know where to get beads or take classes. I also sell many of the more unusual pendants, stones and findings that I use as well as the cord to people, especially kids, who want to make something themselves. People asked and asked where they could buy just one bead and in my area it’s 40+ miles round trip to the nearest retail bead store, so why not have a few things available for do-it-yourselfers?

    I guess when I started out I used to be more concerned about people “copying” me, but I figure most people go into this without having done their research and get out equally fast when they realise how much hard work is involved. If they’re making something for themselves and they’re a beginner, they are never ever going to come up with anything to my level — and I’m still learning.

    People who photograph the items are just plain rude and deserve to be treated the same… except WE are the ones who HAVE to be professional about it — because you never know: it could be a blogger or journalist writing about the show, except courtesy and common sense would dictate they would introduce themselves as such beforehand! As has been said before, there will always be copycats and at every show you can see the copycats in action in any art or craft: the following year tables upon tables are always filled with the innovative designs of the previous year, but that innovator will be on to their next big idea.

    Barbara

  • Karen says:

    I like the comments that Barbara made about offering the business cards of local retailers or better yet offer for sale some of the more unique beads that make your pieces special for the do-it-yourselfers. I too live in an area where to get to a real bead store, you actually have to drive a minimum of about 300 miles round trip so to have some of the unique pieces and findings available for sale, not only do I create more customers of my jewelry by visiting with them but I love to share the joy of jewelry making so I end up getting more customers in my classes that I teach this way also.

    Karen

  • Jules says:

    If you have any type of website where you’re selling your work, your work has been copied, so why worry about someone taking pictures at your show? Is it because you’re actually witnessing the act whereas on the internet you never know how many times people are ‘saving’ or clicking on the ‘copy’ button to save a picture of your work?
    Once you’re out there selling and showing off your goods, there is no way you can stop someone from stealing your designs, or your ideas. You can always post a small sign saying your work is copyright, but that has never really stopped anyone. Its sad but true; it happens, its a fact of the jewelry business.
    Don’t forget there are also the type of people who will actually purchase a piece they like, then tear it apart to see how you made it!

  • Cindi says:

    I agree with the approach of engaging the customer. I actually offered to put on a piece so they could have a picture of what it looked like on and I’m in the pic. It generated humor and they ended up buying the piece.

  • Rain says:

    On several occasions I’ve seen a piece at a craft show booth or bead store that I’ve wanted to copy, but only for myself. I usually just look at it and then get out to my car as quickly as possible so I can sketch it out. I wouldn’t even copy someone’s work and sell it. Unless it’s a really basic technique, I won’t even sell a design I learned in a class. I may take the technique and use it in another way, but I prefer not to copy someone’s design, even if they tell me it’s okay to do so.

    I haven’t had anyone photograph my work, or at least not really blatantly do it. I have had people say – when they think they’re out of earshot – “We can go to the bead shop after this and make one of those at home.” Insulting, but I know that NO, they won’t be able to make one of those at home because I know my quality is better. I’m still shocked at how rude people are, but I try to grin and bear it. You never know when a potential good customer may be listening in and being rude back to one of those people could put off someone who may spend a lot of money.

    I’ve had people ask me for my vendors/sources and I’m intentionally vague. I work hard to find wholesale sources and, although I do share with some friends, I’m not going to make it so easy for potential competitors.

  • Heather says:

    A couple of thoughts – I often cruise new shows to check out the competition. Whenever I find something I like, I let the designer know that I am a designer too and admire their work. Often find new friends that way. During one of those cruises I saw a great sign, “Sure, you MIGHT be able to make it. But do you have the TIME?” I keep that in mind whenever I get folks in my booth who walk out making comments …

  • Sheila Davis says:

    All good info…just another thought is, just because they are taking a picture even wuth the intent to copy, doesn’t mean they *can* copy your design. They are probably a beginner with an overinflated ego about their “designs”
    I wouldn’t worry about it…there will always be copycats!

  • Lisa says:

    Prominent sign stating, “No photos please”. I see these signs in bakeries as well as jewelry shops around here in France. I assume you have the same right to your proprietary works as anyone else. If the media take pictures you must sign a release, why not the same for your work?

  • Liz says:

    I admit guilt to taking pictures of others’ crafts – but so I can send them to my daughter to see if she’d like me to buy them for her! Seriously, I’ve not only had the problem with photos but – even though imitation is flattery – actual imitators show up at the same festival the next year. Case in point – I’ve been making recycled guitar string bracelets for three years now. Last spring, there were THREE other people selling, guess what, guitar string bracelets. Fortunately, I make a point, at every show I attend, of finding the show organizers, complimenting them on the show and indicating I’ll be back for their next show (many in my area have spring and fall shows). This year, I spoke with them and pointed that one of these booths were only two rows over. They’ve promised they will put any vendor with similar inventory as far away as possible this fall.

    Another upside – because I make a point of thanking them, even sending a note after the festival, two of them give me prime space.

    And, finally, the competition, in a backwards kind of way, actually helped me because they forced me to step back and give my designs a closer look. Inspiration hit and I have three new designs!

  • As a buyer I would be offended by someone being rigid about “no pictures” – I might be trying to copy but more likely am either appreciating the beauty or sending it to someone to see if they want me to buy it.

    Much friendlier to offer to help with the pic or appreciate the interest or even just to ignore it, and friendly = sales (and good karma and no stress migraines).

    As a seller I like the idea of commenting “oh, you like this one?” and trying to help them as much as possible.

  • Ruth says:

    A friendโ€™s recipe she shared online became so imitated that as she followed the links, this recipe evolved into something entirely different. She found the whole situation amusing!

    So like most of you I have been copied many times over the decades. Back in 1968 someone stole and published a short poem of mine and called it a haiku which was inaccurate, eventually becoming mortified afterwards when I called him on it at a reading, holding proof of authorship and instructors notes in the margins of the original.

    A year later a rather large painting of mine was imitated to the point that a few people alerted me after they had taken it upon themselves to embarrass that individual.

    Unfortunately I have many other examples I could share. I am not a well known artist but if I was, that could provide some protection in that many, many people know where the source comes from.

    Copy-catting is rampant and always has been and that is unlikely to change. So when it comes to creative work, those that steal are at best just one hit wonders–easy to spot. The real creative work that graces our world is alive and in constant evolution–likewise easy to spot. I’ve come to see that as our final reward.

  • Lisa W. says:

    I know it feels strange to have someone photograph your work. I have been on both sides of the camera in that debate. I spent a year cruising craft shows looking at jewelry artists booths, and asking if I could photograph their booth, since I liked their booth design, and I was redesigning my won booth, looking for ideas. I was shocked at how many were angry and suspicious, concerned that i might be photographing their designs for my own purposes. I even went so far as to swear I would show them any photos I took and delete any on the spot that made them uncomfortable. I admit to finally just taking photos from a distance without asking. I knew that I wasn’t misusing the photos, but the entire situation was awkward.

    The truth as I see it is that people will rip off your work if they want to, but only if they can. I try not to stress over it, and try to make my work unique and interesting enough that I am always ahead of that game. There truly is nothing to be done about it.

    You can, however, start a light conversation with someone, asking if they are interested in the piece, and who they are sending the photo to. it may give you an excellent way to begin a sales conversation, allowing you to point out the many special details of this particular piece, and why your work is worth owning. You may be surprised to find that most of the photographers are not actually underhanded, just interested.

    And I love the suggestion that you could use this as a selling point for tutorials, classes, or materials! I also love Liz’s attitude, using the competition of copy-cats to push her own designs into new realms. There’s always a positive side, the challenge is to find it and use it!

  • Samantha says:

    People pull cameras out at my booth too. I try very hard to throw my hand in front of their lense and then explain I don’t allow photos. If they would like to photograph it, they can purchase it first. That normally does the trick.

  • Diane says:

    I didn’t see any dates on these comments so I am not sure how old this thread is…but.. I went to a show a few years ago and was impressed with so many designs that I did take a few pictures. I also spent several thousand dollars there. In addition, I paid for 3 days of various workshops. So I was quite perplexed when, after a day in a workshop where we were shown EXACTLY how to make a particular piece, the instructor went on about a previous student who made an exact copy of her work. Hello? Did you not just teach us that? I left thinking that you can’t really have it both ways. If you are so intertwined with your designs that you are not willing to share them, don’t sell them, and certainly don’t offer classes.
    If your designs are good enough, no one will be able to copy them, and they will be back to buy.

  • Carla says:

    Many people take tons of photos these days. I love to fill my camera with photos of other artist’s work when I can. I peruse it on the web…I don’t copy it, but I derive inspiration from the wonderful designs. Then I go ahead and do my own designing. If I were to “copy” all the pieces I photograph or view photos of I would need to live to be 1000 years old!

  • Judith says:

    I am not good enough with wire work yet to enjoy creating for others. However, I am a painting artist and I’ve experienced exactly that ‘thing’ along with snide comments about how they could go home and make it themselves. Best of luck to them, I always think. We are living the times when everyone thinks it is easy and they will do it themselves. More power to them if they can and do, Most of them aren’t and won’t be able to copy the original and if they do then that is what they are–a copyist, not an artist. I also work with cloth and have found takeoffs of my originals–quality is really lacking on them. I always point out the finer issues of my works. If they don’t buy mine, they can always go to the big W and get it cheaper.

  • I don’t worry about it, a lot of the things I make aren’t that difficult and have been made so many times by artists all over the world. And the few pieces that are more enhanced are harder to copy anyway. I have had a few who tried copying my work and one could always tell the difference in fact I have had other beaders pointing out the copycats to me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have all my work in a gallery on my website where they can look at them as long as they want.
    I fact I would give them my business card to make it easier for them to find me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • sandra archbold says:

    To copy some ones design is theft plain and simple. There is really no way to stop them. You can chase them with the copyright police, but that is not being realistic. If you sell, give or teach a tutorial or instructions your design can and will be copied. By selling or giving the process to some one allows that person to do what ever they want to do.

  • Rae says:

    I find that people use their phones as an aid to memory these days, so my first thought is no longer that they are trying to steal my ideas…especially in large shows. I assume they are taking a quick picture of the items of interest as they browse the booths so they can then review all that caught their eye and finalize their purchase choices. Or, maybe they are posting my great jewelry on their Facebook page or Twitter and telling all their friends where they are. Or, sending gift ideas to someone.

    I had a young woman come to my booth and ask to take pictures for her design class saying the teacher required pictures to prove they had toured an art show. Now, I know many will say that for sure the designs are likely to be copied. However, I am an established, local artist and recall a saying…noblesse oblige…defined as “the inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged”. Don’t we as artists have that obligation to help those who are learning or maybe are just less talented and will never achieve our level of skill? If they feel a picture of our design will allow them to make that item, or advance their skills, then OK. My work is from the heart and the energy of the items will never be the same for them, even if they make an absolutely identical piece.

    There are many, many positive aspects to pictures today so I choose to make my emotional response positive. That way, the energy I’m sending out into the world, or at least my booth space, is also positive and can make others comfortable around me. What goes around, comes around….

  • Carol says:

    I have been reading through the comments and I too realized that you can’t really stop people from copying. What I haven’t noticed really being pointed out is that basically all our ideas came from somewhere. I looked at some of the poster’s websites and saw something like I make. I thought ‘Oh, did they copy mine….or, did I see theirs first!! lol I know some of the really complicated and intricate items are OOAK, but our ideas are all mumble jumbled together now (because we see so many different designs on line) that we have to wonder. “Is this really all my design or did I see something like it already”.

  • Diana says:

    I have to agree with the artists here who counsel creating contact, communication and kind karma. Of course your beautiful jewelry will inspire others. People love to take photos of beautiful things, if for no other reason than to be able to show their friends what a wonderful day they are having. Relax. Otherwise you could end up a snarly face in someone’s photo who was trying to buy someone else a present. One of the funniest photos I have from a recent trip to Thailand was taken in a Chiangmai night market, a display of those exquisite multicolored carved round soaps with a young woman behind them, face contorted with rage, reaching across the table to point to a sign that reads “NO PHOTOS” and screaming at me “You no read English?” I was completely stunned as I in fact hadn’t seen the sign…being overwhelmed by the beauty. My intention had been to buy presents, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Now it all seems funny to me. Clearly I was ‘at fault’ but my intentions were honorable. And she lost the sales she presumably was there to make. Her competition even at that same market was plentiful and the Internet abounds with photos other tourists have taken of similar displays. Is it really possible, my jewelry designer friends, that just from a photo someone could copy exactly what you do and then effectively compete with you?

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