Friday, March 18, 2011

New Happenings

There has been a buzz around here this last week and we have a few things to share.

First, I want to let you know about a great site - Handmade Art Fair.  Hop on over there and check out the great offerings.  They are having some give aways so don't forget to register for them.  There are many creative and talented artists showing there wares and you are sure to find something to fall in love with.

Next, please visit the Prim Chat's Blog and vote in the Bunny Challenge Poll.  There are some sweet bunnies to choose from.

Lastly, Tim has listed some new items on Off The Beaten Path Designs.  Please stop in and see the new stuff.

I think spring may have actually sprung and hopefully with the warmer weather I can start moving more and feeling better. Please pray for Japan and for our world in general.  These are some wicked times we live in and I believe God is our only hope.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Birthdays, Wisdom, and My Musings on Life

Today is my birthday!  Hooray for Me!  Today, a few.., several... well OK, many years ago God chose to allow me to begin the journey we call life.  So far, I have to say it has been a Grand experience.  It has not been without it's struggles, heart ache, ups and downs, and disappointments.  As I sit here reflecting on it, I see that all of the good times and bad times have landed me where I am at today and that without the bad as well as the good I might be the person I am today. 

Someone asked me if I felt different.  Different from what?  Yesterday...not so much.  Different from 20 years ago.  Well, my body would say YES, and although some of my world views may have changed on some things and age truly has brought some wisdom, in my mind I am still 20 years young.  I have few regrets, but sometimes I do wish I knew today, half, of what I THOUGHT I knew 20 years ago.

I can remember when I was young that my Grandmother would try to give me some sage advice about various things.  At the time I would listen and then do exactly what I wanted regardless if it was she had told me.  If I had listened better, maybe I wouldn't have had to experience some of the struggles that I encountered but then I wouldn't have learned the lessons for myself.  Recently I found myself giving some of the same advice to my oldest son who is now 20.  He was looking very bored with my musings and finally said "Mom. don't you know, kids all have to learn the hard way."  Out of the mouth of babes...

It is only when we are older that we can appreciate the wisdom of our elders, but we all have to learn the hard way, which is why history is destined to repeat itself over and over.  They say, youth is wasted on the young and with that I think I agree.  Just think what a bunch of old "farts" could do if they still had some giddy up in their gait.  I find myself now pining for my Grandmother's advice, even if I do need to learn the hard way.  She was so right about so many things.

So what age do I think is the best?  It is whatever age you are right now.  Enjoy, it, learn from it, live it.

When God chooses to turn the last page of my book, I want to look back and say, "WOW, thank you Lord, I had the time of my Life!"

Hugs and Blessings,

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Copyright, Copy Wrong, Copy You, Copy Don’t

I thought I would take some time today to address the issue of copyrights and how it affects me as a crafter. Let me interject here that I am not an attorney and what follows is only my experience and opinion.  This is a long post so I apologize in advance for being so long winded.

A few weeks ago I had the “pleasure” of being called out very publicly online for copying another person’s doll. An accusation that I vehemently deny and feel that I can legally prove. I want to briefly explain the order of events, my reactions, and the actions that in the end, I took and the reason for this post.

Around 11 AM (my time) on a Thursday morning I received a phone call from another doll artist/crafter that I consider to be a very good online friend. She asked me if I knew (name of my accuser). I said that I did not. She asked me if I knew (name of my accusers business). Again I replied that I did not, but that the name sounded familiar and maybe I had heard the name from when we sold on eBay. I couldn’t be sure since we hadn’t sold regularly on eBay or been in any eBay groups for about 4 years. My friend told me to go to this person’s blog and read it, because she was saying some not so nice things about me and had posted the same thing other places including on Facebook and that I was being flamed. While I was typing in the blog address my friend told me I should be careful because this artist (my accuser) had done this before to other people and it was not pretty.

When I finally saw and read the blog, I went through a range of emotions from disbelief, anger, self doubt, and then some I can’t even put into words. I couldn’t believe if the artist felt as if I copied her, that she hadn't contacted me personally. I knew that I hadn’t seen her doll before but I did see a resemblance in some aspects of the doll at first glance. I knew I had decided to make this doll after being inspired by reading a book to my children and listening to Burl Ives sing a folk song about a frog. I had made sketches of what I wanted to make at that time. I found my sketch book and looked at the dates on it. It said March 2009.

I looked at her doll again and looked at mine….looked at her doll, looked at mine until at some point I said “this is stupid, you know you didn’t copy her doll, you know what inspired you to make the doll and other than the head shape and glasses, they are nothing alike.” ( to those that questioned my inspiration, let me just say that there was no lion in Shakespeare's Hamlet, but Disney made a movie with lions that was inspired by Hamlet) By this time it was up in the afternoon and I was receiving all kinds of emails from my accuser’s supporters as well as people that supported me. There were posts that had to be deleted on our website guestbook. Some of the emails and posts had nothing at all to do with copying and were vulgar, nasty and called into question my parentage and my children’s parentage. I had all of the sudden become quite popular on Facebook and had dozens of friend requests – some from the very people who were sending the nasty emails. I was mad! I posted a statement on Facebook addressing what was happening. Shortly afterward, I received a message via Facebook messaging from my accuser letting me know that I had been ousted and that it was all over the net. I promptly responded via Facebook messaging that she could read my response on my Facebook page. That is the only contact I have had with this person. Late in the afternoon, I contacted an attorney. Since the attorney was not in, I spoke at great length to the paralegal who advised on some things to do until I could speak with the attorney. The first thing I was told was not to respond on any of the blogs or forums where I was being talked about, which is why until now I haven’t responded. Over the following weekend I did my homework that I was told to do and had all the info that the attorney needed for our appointment. I won’t go into all the details of that visit or those that followed but I do want to share some things that stood out to me from our visits.

The attorney asked me after I showed him all the info I had if I thought the accusing artist has copied me. I said no, I didn’t think that. I said I thought we were victims of serendipity. Although the dolls are similar in the head shape and glasses, they are not alike at all.

At one point he asked what upset me the most about the incident. At first I said it was the fact that the person had not contacted me directly, but then it was also the fact that so many people jumped on the bandwagon to accuse me without knowing all the facts. I was accused and found guilty in the emotional court of public opinion regardless of whether I could prove my innocence in a court of law.

Some of the people that posted comments in the various places, I had never heard of, some I know of vaguely because I admire their art work, but their were a few who I know very well. A few of those folks we regularly recommend to others, or we help promote, or have done business with. Some (and you know who you are),we have emails from, dated only a week or so before this incident, thanking us for sending customers to them. If I habitually copy those people as they say in the comments, why would they be thanking us or continue to do business with us?

I wonder why someone would post on their blog a glowing report of how wonderful my artwork and dolls were only a couple of months ago, then turn around and post something online now about how second rate and inferior it is. Is there such a thing as Doll Politics?

At some point my Brother-in-law got involved in this and although he was directly asked not to, he posted on my accusers blog (using his own computer at his own home). I have to apologize for that. I love my BIL as if he were my own brother by blood. He is intelligent, fiercely loyal, has a temper and did have first hand knowledge about the doll in question, however, he can’t type a lick, doesn’t use spell check, and let’s his temper get the best of him. Some trash talk was thrown around, with him trying to defend me and it only inflamed the situation. There was some speculation as to if he and I were married. OH, MY GOSH, NO! I don’t believe it is legal anywhere to marry your brother as was suggested in some comments. My husband is Tim and it is he that actually owns the websites and sells my dolls. When I say we, I am referring to Tim, myself or my oldest son who is involved in our business.

Over the course of gathering information about this incident I learned a lot. First, don’t ever think you know someone because you have regular interaction with them online. I found it ironic when I found blog posts about artist copying artist from as far back as 2006 and the same people are regularly involved in the trash talk. Some of the people that were supporting my accuser today, only couple of years ago, were being accused of copying themselves.

Oh, and be careful of what you write online. You might think it is helping you today but it might come back to bite you in the butt tomorrow.

I do not consider myself a professional artist or doll maker. I make dolls because I love doing it and it is one of the only things I am still capable of doing. It has helped me keep from going completely nuts.  I am disabled and handicapped. That is about the only thing my accuser got right in her blog post. I am not mentally handicapped however, only crazy. I do NOT make a living out of making dolls although some of them are owned by some well known celebrities and have been shown in galleries. I have not been published in any magazine that I know of, but I didn’t know that was a requirement of being a doll maker or that I should be striving for that.

Let me state loud and clear that I in no way, shape, or form, condone or endorse copying another person’s work. There has been one time that I am aware of that one of our custom created web designs has come out extremely similar to another design, although every aspect of that design was mouse drawn by us. We found out only after being questioned about it, that we had been duped into creating this design by our customer and that they had a “beef” with another designer. The customer was very detailed about what they wanted and we created it for them not knowing about the other designer.

Tim just refunded someone this past week when they tried to pull that same trick and he found out before sending them the work. For that reason he has decided to limit the amount of custom created designs that we now do.

So if you are a crafter or artist how do you protect yourself from being copied and getting accused of copying?

If you are an artist of any kind, have your work copyrighted legally. Your copyright to your work is yours as soon as it is put into any tangible form, but if you need to pursue legal action you must have it filed legally with the proper copyright authority in your country. If filed online, the cost for the US copyright is $35.00. You can file a collection of items at one time instead of each item individually. If you do not file at the time of creation then you have to submit proof of when the item was created. If you file in the US online, the waiting time to receive the official legal copyright can be anywhere from 4 months to 2 years depending on the copyright offices work load.  If you file by snail mail, the time can be much longer and the fees are higher.

If you think someone has copied your work then contact the person directly. If you do not get the response that you want then file a DMCA take down notice. If that does not work and you are positive, I mean positive, with absolute proof that your item was created first and you hold a legal copyright then get an attorney and let them handle it. If you are proven right you may end up very wealthy. If you are proven wrong however, then you could be out of some money and face a counter suit. If you feel the need to tell the whole world about it and want to put it on your blog, go right ahead. You have that right under the first amendment. I do not suggest taking a picture of the offending item and putting it on your page unless you took the photograph yourself. If you do copy and post the picture, then you are violating the copyright of the person who took the photograph and the website you took it from. You should not copy anything that person has written and post it anywhere without their permission because again anything in written format is copyrighted to the author. You can summarize what they said but not copy the complete text or you again would be in violation of copyright laws.

If you are new to the art or crafting world do not let the fear of being called a copycat stop you from creating. We all learn from something. We are all inspired by something. Often times the same thing inspires many. I believe that we all are connected together by God and being so connected that we share a collective consciousness. There are many times when different people come up with the same idea and think that it is their original. If you use a pattern from someone then give that person credit. Do not set out to intentionally copy someone, but you can be inspired to create something new.

When we first started doing graphics we used graphics purchased from other designers. We gave them credit for the graphics. We mostly used graphics from Trina Clark. There came a point when we needed some different graphics that Trina didn’t offer and we couldn’t find. I emailed Trina and asked about learning to make the graphics myself. She was extremely kind and helpful and told me the program she preferred to use, as well as some others that would work and where I could find some tuts on learning to make my own. If anyone inspires me it is Trina. Although I do not copy her graphics I aspire to be as good as she is with mouse drawn graphics. We still use some of Trina’s graphics and when we do she has a credit on them.
There are many things that inspire my dolls. I have been reading since I was four and love books. Much of the inspiration comes from stories and fairy tales. Music inspires me and some of my dolls have been inspired by songs. Don’t be afraid of being inspired.

So what do you do if you have been wrongfully accused of copying? Well the best advice I can give is not to act in retaliation or anger. It is very hard not too, but try. Gather all the evidence you can of your works creation date and seek the advice of an attorney. Most attorneys will give you an initial consultation for free. File for a legal copyright.  If you have received a DMCA take down notice or have had your blog or site shut down because of it, submit the counter notice with proof that your work is your own. Again, if you are sure you have done no wrong, then seek legal counsel and get prepared for a fight. I truly believe that TRUTH will always prevail.

The attorney asked if we wanted to pursue legal action for libel defamation (free speech only extends so far) and if we have had any loss of business because of this.

My answer was no, to both questions.

Tim may disagree with my answer but I am just not that type of person to sue someone for talking smack. First of all, I can feel my accuser’s pain. It must be terrible to feel as if people are copying you all the time. After looking at her work over a couple of days, I think she is very talented and has a quite a unique style. I think my style is completely different and that is a good thing.
Secondly, I have never been one for mud slinging and soap opera drama. I am crazy enough without having to get mixed up in that. It is the reason I got out of the eBay groups long ago. (Oh, to the person who said they removed me from their eBay group, I haven’t been in any for about 4 years now, but thank you, if I somehow missed removing myself from one)

Lastly, I do not think it has hurt the business. The doll in question was first shown at a show in September 2009 (I said shown –not sold...and yes we have proof), brought home where she sat for about 5 or 6 months still packed up from the show. Tim says as best he can remember he added her to the website in March or April of 2010. She sold the Sunday after the copying story was posted. So no, I do not think it has hurt the business.

Although we received some very nasty emails, we also received many, many, very nice ones. We have gained many new customers and met some very nice and very talented artists that we didn’t know before. It has also shown us who the wolves in sheep’s clothing are.

As our local customers know, last year we did almost nothing new as my Dad got sick early in the year and then I got really sick myself. I am still fighting to stay healthy and do SOMETHING.
I have been in a slump not wanting to do anything, but this incident has energized me to start sketching, and planning and sewing. It gives me an incentive to work through the pain and weakness.

I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has emailed or called. This old gal has learned a lesson, but it probably isn’t the one my accuser had hoped for.