Frequently clients come to me with "inspiration images" of wedding invitations they like. When these are purely inspiration images, it is acceptable. Sometimes it can be hard for a client to explain the style, colors or tone, and having some examples to illustrate what they mean by "Modern-Nostalgia", "Victorian Lilac" or "Sophisticated-Casual" is immensely helpful. However, there are times when a client shows up with an invitation design they love, but maybe it is out of their price range and they want me to recreate it for them less expensively. Or perhaps they want it recreated with a few minor alterations to the layout or color. Most of the time, the clients don't mean any harm and don't even realize that what they are asking is illegal. But in reality, this is copyright infringement and it is illegal. No professional artist/designer will agree to copy the work of another artist, since it is not only unethical, but also puts them at risk for lawsuits. Fortunately, after explaining this most clients understand and are happy to move forward with a truly original piece of art.
Unfortunately, for every professional, ethical artist out there, there are another two or three who either don't understand copyright laws or simply don't care about them. Recently this is becoming more and more apparent in the wedding industry, and is absolutely running rampant on marketplaces such as Etsy. While I am very supportive of entrepeneurs, there are far too many people launching creative small business with very little understanding of acceptable practices. I know of dozens of wedding stationery "designers" who began their businesses after making their own wedding invitations. While countless business stories begin similarly, the "designers" I'm referring to now were brides who realized they could copy the invitation and monogram designs they found on an artist's website, and use them for their own weddings. These same brides now copy wedding stationery designs from artist like myself, then claim it as their own and sell it at a discounted cost. Many have no idea that what they are doing is illegal, and their clients have no idea that they are being sold stolen ideas.
So what is the consumer to do? How can you be sure that you are bringing your business to a reputable and professional designer that is only selling his/her own original work? Well, it is difficult to know, but there are a few things you can try to be aware of.
If the designer offers to recreate another invitation you like, find someone else. I sound like a broken record, but it is worth repeating: this is copyright infringement and is illegal!
If the designer promotes their designs as "inspired by (insert designer name here)", shop elsewhere.
- If the designers prices seem unusually low, it is probably not a professional, experienced designer. When someone is simply stealing the ideas of real artists, they often charge alot less since they aren't doing any of the real work. I know times are tough right now, and we are all watching our budgets, but that really isn't an excuse to support creative theft. (Note: please keep an eye out next week for a post about buying wedding stationery on a budget)
- Does the designer use licensed imagery in their work? Do they have permission to use these images? Do a search on Etsy for "Twilight" or "Sesame Street" and you can find hundreds of shops and products using stolen artwork.
- Trust your gut. Does the designer answer your questions promptly and professionally? Is he/she able to provide references and testimonials from previous clients? Does he/she have a professional and attractive website and online shop? The answers to these questions should be YES!
I hope that this helps clear up confusion at least a tiny bit. Please continue to support small businesses and artists, but do so with professional and ethical artists.