When a Customer Expects You to Copy a Jewelry Design
by Rena Klingenberg.
Have you ever had someone ask you to make an exact copy of a piece of jewelry that was designed by someone else?
Several years ago, a friend who had been on vacation asked me to make a mother’s bracelet just like one she had seen on her trip – in an artist’s booth at a show.
My friend said, “I could have just bought the bracelet from that artist, but I’d rather give you the business, so I wondered if you could make me one just like it.”
She drew a sketch of the bracelet design, and it was something I could have figured out how to make.
But I didn’t feel ethical about not only copying another artist’s design, but also stealing that artist’s sale.
I thought about how I would feel if someone fell in love with a piece of my jewelry – but asked another jewelry artist to copy the piece instead of buying it from me.
So I had to tell my friend that I couldn’t make this mother’s bracelet for her, even though I appreciated her thoughtfulness in wanting me to have her business for it.
I offered to design a different mother’s bracelet for her.
But I was glad to hear from my friend that she decided to get in touch with the original artist and order the bracelet from her after all.
Have you been asked to copy a piece of jewelry?
How did you (or how would you) handle that request?
You handled it exactly right! I have actually had other craftspeople argue with me that there is nothing wrong in copying! I was told that customers are customers, however you get them.
Before I went into making jewelry full time, we had a brick/mortar upscale craft shop. I actually had someone set up a camera and tripod outside our display window to take pictures of an artist’s work! Another time a woman was secretly sketching a picture of someone’s work … our daughter, who worked with us, slipped up behind her and announced that she would be happy to bring the item out of the case so she could copy it better. The result was hilarious … the pencil and paper were quickly stuffed into a pocket and a very red-faced woman practically ran out of the shop.
I have seen artist friends hurt by sales lost by copiers. I don’t get it how people can see this is not stealing. This is one of my pet peeves, and I climb on that soap box rather easily!
Beverly Holman says:
You were very professional in the way you handled it and I hope to be able to handle it the same way. As a jewelry designer, I have seen other’s designs I love. I have taken pictures of some but I use the pictures only for inspiration. Especially when I see designs with beads I never thought would work together. I was at a bead show last year and admired designs at my favorite vendor booth (Kazuri beads), and complemented on how beautiful the designs. The vendor offered to let me photograph any I wanted. I keep the pictures to help inspire me but I will not try to copy them. If a customer wants one exactly like it, I would offer to create one differently or did as you did, refer them back to the artist. I don’t offer to make a copy of my own because I state that my designs are one of a kind.
Shirin Designs says:
I would be disappointed if I found out someone decided to steal some of my original designs to make them for someone else, be it because of a cheaper price or whatever the reason may be. As it is I am not extremely comfortable with having to change my designs to suit someone else’s ideas, especially if those ideas are not my style at all. And imagining being asked to copy someone else’s design…uhm, thank you but NO. You did the right thing, Rena. Good for you and that artist who got their work purchased after that. 🙂
Sandy Kane says:
Good article, Rena! I appears a lot of us designers have encountered clients who don’t understand the uncomfortable spot they put us in with these tacky requests …glad I’m not the only one. I felt necessary to decline a request to copy (from an emailed photo taken from a magazine) a popular designer’s pricey beaded earrings. I have no problem drawing inspiration from other designs I admire, just as I draw inspiration from nature, or color palettes or tilework patterns. Likewise I have no problem if someone is inspired by my work! Share the pretty, I say. Just don’t be a copy-cat.
I frequently am asked to duplicate other artists or even big name retailer’s designs. And I always answer the same way. “I wish I could but I prefer not to infringe on the copyrights of other artists and designers. I would, however, be happy to design something just for you in my own area of expertise.”
In each case, the asker has thanked me for being so honest with them. And some have even said, they never considered that copying might be an infringement.
Pamela Maring says:
When I worked in a retail music store, a teenager asked me to photocopy a song from a $25 book of a dozen songs. He even offered to pay the $3.95 price of sheet music. I replied, “Sure, I’ll be happy to copy it for you. The price will be $30,000. That’s about the fine I’d get for copyright infringement.” That boy reluctantly bought the book, then brought it back the next day for a refund. I pointed to my sign which said, “ALL returned items must be in the same condition as when they were purchased.” There were obvious creases on the book’s spine, showing that they had copied it elsewhere. Refund disallowed…
I have experienced this many times, and handled it in different ways. Usually it is a close friend who would rather I handmake a design they love, than buying it cheaply from China. I don’t mind these requests at all. My friends and family recognize that the $5 bracelet they loved will be much more to have me make it but it will be better made and they will be supporting a local artist and friend. Then there is the customer who wants you to make something another artist creates and that for me is a big NO! I always offer to “re-work” the piece and put my own spin on the idea. I of course remind them if they love the other artists work they should purchase it from said artist. These requests have been minimal lately. Typically custom pieces are based off of my own work, which I love doing. It is important for us to recognize and make our customers recognize that copying a design from another artist is copyright infringement. That being said there are loads of artists who’s work inspires me. I have taken bits and pieces, used good ideas from other jewelers and applied them to my own unique designs.
I am not an artist but a consumer and now, an avid collector of lamp work jewelry. I have my favorite sra artists who have been kind enough to design bracelets and necklaces for me using their own beads. I continue to also be on the lookout for new and different things.
I have asked artists to (sort of) recreate some beads in a similar style that THEY previously created. I realize that each bead is a unique work of art.
I would never ask anyone to make anything in the style of another artist. It is unethical.
I would never buy anything made in China. However, I have purchased jewelry items from here in America as well as in other countries. I have only had wonderful experiences from start to finish.
Drakestail Jewellery says:
I’ve been lucky to have not had this happen. Rena, you handled that appropriately and I’m glad the original artist got the sale. It’s tough out there to make sales these days, but poaching designs is really unethical.
We should treat each other like a big jewellery-making community and support each other, like what Rena did. It’s what you’d want other designers to do for you, right?
I have actually written down notes in my sketchbook when viewing other jewelry items, even photocopied earrings from Macy’s, but not to duplicate but to inspire my designs. I NEVER copy another item exactly, even from a magazine, because then it wouldn’t be my design.
Nidhi kedia says:
You handled it extremely well Rena . I have also refused orders basis this . As I make only OOAK designs people have often asked me replicate my own work , for which i have given them an altered piece but never the same .