Original Thoughts

Original Thoughts

It happened again today. A photo posted to Facebook, shared by a friend, with one of my designs prominently featured. There’s always a rush of excitement, a little burst of pride when I happen upon my work out there for all the world to see.

There’s just one problem. I didn’t make the canvas in the photo. Someone copied one of my designs, down to the font, layout and colors, and made it themselves. Then they gave it away as a gift.

It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, but it never fails to upset me.

The person who did this probably never gave it a thought. They saw something they liked, figured out how to produce it themselves, and went to work. Who knows, with what I’ve seen on my business Facebook page, someone may have tagged them on one of my photos and blatantly asked them to make it for them right there on my wall. They may have stood in my booth at a show and said to a friend, “I can make that for you.”

It happens all the time. No one thinks about how that might sound to the person who took the time to create the original design. I wonder how they would feel if it happened to them.

As a (very) small business owner, I am the go-to gal. I create my designs, manufacture the product, package and ship orders, build and manage my web site, market, handle customer service, maintain all of the social media postings and interactions, keep spreadsheets, purchase supplies and manage every single aspect of my brands.

I work out of about 120 square feet that used to be my daughter’s bedroom. Her bright, flowery wallpaper border and vivid paint colors still adorn what little can be seen of the walls. The space is crammed with shelves, a flat file, computer and all of the tools needed for the process. My hours are long, but flexible. If my daughter and grand kids have a day out and invite me to go, I don’t hesitate. We go, we have a good time, and then I do my work when I get home, sometimes late into the night.

After nearly five years in business, there are days that are pure joy, and days of utter futility. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of assisting two daughters who needed gifts for their moms. Both situations were different, and I found great joy in going out of my way to bring smiles, and a few tears, to four wonderful ladies.

Today, I have tears of my own, because the knowledge that someone stole my intellectual property, yet again, hurts. It hurts a lot. The thing is, in the very beginning, I did it a few times myself, so karma, right? The difference is, it didn’t take me long to figure out that it was wrong, and people didn’t deserve to be treated that way, even people I didn’t know. So I stopped. Now, when I’m asked to copy someone’s work, I decline. If I can satisfy the customer with an original design, I do it. If it is clear where the original work came from, I will direct them back to that artist and encourage them to buy from that person. Sure, I lose money that way, but I save something much more valuable:  My conscience.

Sometimes I wonder if people even know what that is anymore. With the proliferation of Pinterest (which I use to promote my work) and other sites that make it easy to find and steal the ideas of others in such an anonymous way, it’s no wonder that thievery happens on a daily basis. Despite watermarking, copyrighting and otherwise altering images to prevent theft, no one really cares.

Sometimes, when this discussion gets rolling on social media, someone will brush off these concerns by saying, “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”

Not really. Imitation shows a lack of imagination.

You may wonder why I bothered to author this post. It’s simple. I would like to encourage you to support small business owners. I ask that if you see something of mine that you like, please don’t steal my design and make it yourself or ask someone else to do it. Purchase it from me. I work hard on my designs, putting in a lot of thought and effort to get them just right. I also love working with my customers to alter my designs to their taste, or to come up with something completely original.

By the same token, please don't wander through Etsy or Pinterest, and then send a photo to someone asking them if they can make it for you, especially if that photo tracks back to the original artist. I guarantee that if you order it from the person who created it, you will not only make their day, but you will feel better about the purchase.

Every dime I make matters more than you know. It’s gas in my car, groceries in my pantry and shoes on my feet. It’s also a little something for my kids and grand kids now and then. When you steal my ideas, you take money right out of my wallet. It's the same for all of the "little guys and gals" out in the small business world. We want your business. We need your business. We also want that business to be done ethically.

Thank you for your support. It means the world to me.

I would love it if you share this post. I would also enjoy your own, original thoughts.

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