The Lack of Integrity in Design: Copycats, Plagiarism, and Instagram

There is something that has been bothering me for a loooonnngggg time now. This issue has been weighing on my mind so heavily, in fact, that I have been thinking about diminishing my online presence, so I thought I should talk a bit about it in the hopes that it educates others. The issue I've been struggling with lately is copycats and the lack of integrity in design.

Many of you may know that I began my beadweaving career close to 15 years ago when I quit my social work job and started working for Auntie's Beads. Over the course of this time, I have had about two dozen original beadwork projects published; about half of those designs were published between 2016 and the beginning of 2019. During the span of the past few years, I have even had two pieces grace the cover of Beadwork magazine and I was named Designer of the Year by that publication in 2018.

All of the attention to my work meant I was spending quite a bit of time writing instructions, selling kits, teaching classes, etc. - all while juggling the demands of participating in pop-up shops, placing my work in stores, applying for art shows, cranking out inventory, and still trying to maintain a semblance of a personal life. This year, I felt like I needed to let some stuff go so I scaled way back on classes and I stopped submitting my designs for publication. I tell people I'm focusing on the showing and selling aspect of my business, which is true, but there's more to the story than that...

See, I've always wondered why some of the jewelry designers I consider to be "famous" (those who teach internationally and publish books, for example) don't also do fine arts festivals to showcase their wearable works of art. I wanted to do both. I enjoy teaching and sparking creativity in others, but I also really love selling my work and educating the general public about woven jewelry. After all of these years, I've only recently discovered the answer to my question: the reason many jewelry artists don't teach AND sell their work is because there is a complete lack of integrity in the design world. Once you have put your work out there, it is apparently no longer yours to claim as everyone thinks that once they learn a pattern or technique and complete a project, the design is now theirs. Or at least that seems to be how YouTube viewers, Instagram lurkers, and magazine subscribers approach design. I learned it, therefore it's mine, right? Wrong!


This year alone, I have discovered at least half a dozen copycats on Instagram because of hashtags I follow. These people post pictures of work they have completed using MY instructions from magazines and say things like "my newest bracelet designs" or "DM me for details about how to purchase my newest design". I'm only going to say this once, but I'm going to say it loud and clear: IF YOU DID NOT ORIGINATE THE DESIGN AND THE MAGAZINE PROJECT DOES NOT HAVE YOUR NAME ON IT, YOU CAN NOT CLAIM THE DESIGN AS YOURS. This means you should tag the original designer when you post pictures and you should also credit the magazine as the source. Actually, according to the editor's page in Beadwork, "designs are not to be taught or sold without the expressed permission of the author". So before you even think about posting someone else's work on Instagram or selling it at a craft show, you need to ask the person who actually did all of the design work if she's okay with you stealing her intellectual property.
Why am I so pissed about this? Because unless you've originated a design and published it, you can't possibly know how time consuming it is. In the case of the pieces posted here, I spent days playing around with the colors and shapes and patterns all while writing down everything I did and taking pictures and/or drawing illustrations so the editors at the magazine could turn my work into an easy project for you to finish in a matter of a few hours. Yes, I get compensated by the magazine when my work is published. And of course, I am happy to teach you new techniques. I am not happy to see my work splashed all over the internet without any credit given to the person who did the work in the first place.
It's gotten bad this year, y'all. The pictures associated with this post tell a small part of the story. At one event I do semi-annually, I had a woman showing and selling my cover necklace in a different color way (news flash: changing the colors does not change the design enough to make it your own) AND a woman showing and selling bracelets she learned from me when she took one of my classes. Both of these people were selling MY work at a show I attend regularly and BOTH were undercutting me on price. Ridiculous.
So what does this mean for me going forward? I'm not sure. I know it means I won't be publishing or teaching anything else for a long while, unless it's something I am sure I will never show and sell. It also means I will be greatly reducing my presence on social media and probably even on my website. I may even start sharing and shaming when I see that people without integrity are copying the designs of myself and my colleagues. I don't know, but this has got to stop.
Post note: As I was writing this article and pulling pictures for it, I came across a blog I hadn't seen before. The author of this blog, Vicky, was writing for Spellbound Bead Company in the UK and she was recreating one of my Designer of the Year projects (Desert Mirage from the August/September 2018 issue of Beadwork). My initial reaction was irritation because I don't want to see pictures of my work replicated without my permission, BUT... Vicky did it right, y'all. She credited me AND the magazine AND talked about her experience reading the instructions and her thoughts about the project. You can read Vicky's article here and see how sharing designs SHOULD be.