This week my post focuses on an issue that many designer-makers worry about – having designs copied. Unfortunately, it happens often and sometimes even by large retailers, making independent designers feel powerless. This is what happened to Eloise of HidenSeek and in the first of a two-post series, I talked to Eloise to learn about her experience.
In November 2009, Eloise became aware that stationery retailer Paperchase was selling a range of items, tote bags, notebooks and other paper goods, with a design that contained a girl that appeared to be traced from one of her artworks. The items were sold both in the UK and in the US and Eloise was alerted to the issue by concerned friends and fans.
“After a bit of panic, bewilderment and tea I contacted Paperchase, being sure that they wouldn’t want to have any part in copyright infringement,” Eloise explained. The company’s representatives replied that they thought the designs were substantially different and they were unwilling to take any action. “They seemed to imply that since the designs would not be reprinted after that run, it wasn’t a big deal anyway. After I explored my options and looked into hiring a lawyer, finding it impossibly expensive, I decided to just go public with my problem and seek for support from my fans and the community.”
Here’s where social media can come in extremely handy, as it enables the very fast distribution of messages to a global community. “It took innumerable complaint letters from people who read about my story, globally trending on Twitter, many newspaper articles and dozens of blog posts around the internet for things to start moving on the side of Paperchase.
“Finally, the designer that created the infringing design admitted that she had traced over the girl from my work. It should be noted that I never received any communication after the first reply for Paperchase regarding the matter and they only indirectly mentioned me in a kind of public semi-apology where they tried to set themselves up as a victim. Paperchase did remove the infringing designs from UK circulation but never offered compensation or settlement with me and they are still sitting on all the money they made from a known infringing design.”
When it came to the handmade community, Eloise explained that the vast majority of artists, designers and makers that she saw and met were very vocal about the issues. “Everyone tweeted, re-tweeted, blogged and wrote letters to Paperchase. I felt how other makers were empathising and putting themselves in my shoes, and that of course led to them speaking out in my support. It’s worth noting though that people from Etsy did write about my case and others in a personal capacity on the Etsy main blog and well done to them for taking a stand where other big names didn’t.”
“Certainly there was a lot of traffic back then and I’m still mentioned here and there when it comes to similar cases of infringement, but I wouldn’t wish anyone exposure like that because it did come with a price. The levels of stress were unbelievable. If this experience helped me at all, was because it was a crash course in real life media crises and I came out much more strong and confident.”
Check back next week when my post will feature top tips for protecting your work from infringement – and how to handle it if the worst happens.