Friday, August 12, 2016
I will admit that this blog post has languished, half written, in my computer for a wee while as I have wrestled with the question of whether or not to post it. It makes me feel kind of vulnerable to write, but in general I think it is no bad thing to be honest and to share my successes and failures on this blog.
Seeing the Modern Quilt Guild's post on Derivative quilts, and Gnome Angel's post on imitation in the latest Love Patchwork and Quilting, I thought that my personal views and experiences were topical and perhaps relevant.
You see, it's all very well for quilters, artists and crafters to get up on their high horses and scold people that "copying is bad- don't do it!" I think we would all agree with that sentiment, but sometimes the borders between copying and being inspired by things can be very fine. We are part of a community which grows and breathes through taking old ideas and reinventing them. The trick is to do that in an honest and respectful way.
I think that the Modern Quilt Guild tried to approach this subject, but I am not at all convinced that they initially got it right. I am very glad to see that a resulting discussion is flourishing and I definitely look forward to seeing how that discussion progresses.
I am worried that the current Modern Quilt Guild's heavy handed approach will scare people away from sharing their inspirations and put them off the idea of entering quilt show. To me, the term "derivative" pours scorn on an age old tradition of building on the works of others before us.
Depending on the angle that you approach the issue from, your perspectives can be very different. It's also likely that the exact legal interpretation of terms such as copyright will vary depending on the country that you live in. We live in a complicated international marketplace where a myriad of different laws are at play and as such each time that I think that I wrap my head around these issues, another perspective or angle pops up.
The majority of what has been written specifically about copyright and quilting refers to US law, but I live in New Zealand- so does it apply to me? Is US law a good framework for me to work around? I'm in New Zealand, so surely New Zealand law applies to be, but what if I send my quilt to a show in the States, which laws apply then?... AAAARGH! STOP IT!! My head hurts!!!
Every design has to start somewhere, there are very few people who can pluck a completely original idea out of their head every single time that they sit down to create. It is natural for us to be influenced by the colours and images that we see around us in every day life, but the degree that we are influenced and the form that this inspiration takes in our work are crucial.
The animals that I sew are not necessarily native on New Zealand, so I am forced to make do with finding inspiration from images rather than seeing and experiencing the animals and birds in real life. I am not that super talented person who can sit down and draw a perfect representation of a wild animal off the top of my head and as such, my designs are often based on photographs. I need a framework to build my design on. I love the detail that using wildlife photography allows. In the majority of cases, the final design looks nothing like the original photo, especially when the design is interpreted in beautiful multi-coloured fabrics.
I am pretty confident that nobody would ever be able to tell which photograph the original zebra design is based on. I changed the dimensions of the face, altered the number and dimensions of the stripes, I added some details and took other details away. I made the face look a lot more symmetrical than it is in real life. In short, I made the design work in fabric.
Was I inspired by the image? Definitely!
Was I copying- no. The zebra face may have been based upon a wildlife photograph, but the resulting zebra, the background riot of colour and the resulting quilt were far removed from that original photo.
Is this a derivative quilt because I used a wildlife photo to give me the bare bones of the zebra design? - I would say no!
the photograph that it was inspired by, I felt a pang of guilt. The interpretation seemed too literal and I felt that anybody who used the correct search in google images would find the image straight away. I had purchased a copy of the photograph, not just downloaded it from the internet, but still it didn't feel right.
Granted, the barn owl was not the sole subject of the quilt, but it dominated the composition to such a degree that I felt I needed to ask permission of the photographer.
I listened to my gut and contacted Graham Jones, the photographer. I explained that his photo had inspired a quilt and asked if he had any objections. Luckily his mother and sister-in-law are both avid quilters and he was really excited by the idea. He has been nothing but supportive.
Was I inspired by the image- definitely
Was I copying- I don't know, you tell me. I guess that strictly speaking I was.
Is this a derivative quilt- perhaps, I don't know, maybe!?
Did I need to contact the photographer? Some people around me have said that it was overkill and unnecessary. I feel happy with my decision to play it safe (although I must admit that I would almost certainly have felt differently if he had given me a different answer.)
Would I be upset if I paid to enter this quilt in an international quilt exhibition only to be told that it is a derivative and that it is not eligible for either judging or prizes?
A lot of time, thought and energy went into creating this quilt and just because the major element is based on a photograph does not take away from the skills involved in turning it into a quilt pattern.
Or the construction.
Or the fabric choices.
Or the quilting.
Or any of the other skills involved in creating it.
When I was designing my recent series of three dog mini quilts for Love Patchwork and Quilting, I REALLY wanted one of the dogs to be a Scottie dog. I wanted to offer an alternative to the traditional scottie dog quilts that you find.
I searched the internet for hours but couldn't find a suitable photo to base the design on. Nothing showed the amount of detail that I needed or a clear enough silhouette. Finally, I saw a random bad quality clipart. It was uncredited and I don't know why, but the usual filters in my brain which stop me from using other people's artwork were bypassed. I am generally very careful to avoid paintings, drawings and original artwork of any kind.
I didn't think to do a simple search to find the artist who created the clipart, I just went ahead and used the image telling myself that nobody would know.
I created the quilt design, sewed it, sent it to the magazine and didn't think about it.
The day after the magazine was released, I received a totally unrelated email from somebody wanting to use a very close replica of one of my other designs in their new business logo. I'm not going to lie, I didn't really like the idea of my design being used to sell her business. That said, since that quilt design was loosely based on a photo, I wasn't sure that I had a right to complain. It felt like I was a link in a creative chain and it didn't feel as if I had the right to object. I discussed the matter with various people around me and most were very indignant on my behalf. I felt conflicted and didn't know what to do.
It got me thinking about copying and permissions and that whole rabbit warren of issues.
While doing that, I suddenly realised that without thinking, I had stolen someone else's artwork (the Scottie dog) and passed it off as my own.
A brick grew at the bottom of my stomach and I felt bad.
I felt really bad.
After stressing all day, I decided to take responsibility for my actions. I did an internet search and discovered that the bad quality image that I had used was a copy of the work of Ann Kallal of Maggie Ross Dogs.
I will admit that I was more than a little bit intimidated to email her, as her website had a very prominent copyright message which preached respect. I sent her an apologetic email and offered to make amends. I was quaking in my boots that I might have inadvertently dragged a magazine (to which I was a first time contributer) into a legal battle- yikes!
I was blown away by the long and generous reply that I received from Ann. She explained about the issues that she has with big Chinese companies stealing her images and selling goods. She was flattered that I had used her image and more than happy for me to keep using it as long as I credit her for the original design in future mentions. Her only request was that instead of sending the Scottie dog mini quilt to her as I had offered, that I donate it to an animal welfare auction. I am more than happy to carry out this request (if anyone knows of a suitable auction please let me know!).
I wish that I had remembered to ask permission earlier or that I had used a different image, but it was a good learning experience for me.
I still don't know exactly where the line lies and suspect that everyone that I ask will give me a different answer. I am kind of proud to say that once I realised my error, I tried to act with integrity, I just wish that I hadn't got myself in that situation in the first place. For me at this time it is a moral issue. Treat others as I wished to be treated.
Was I copying- yes
Is this a derivative quilt- yes
Will I do this again- no.
Going forward I will always do my best to use copyright free images or possibly to combine a few images to make a completely unique view. Where these things are not possible, I will continue to credit the photographers when I feel that it is relevant.
I guess that some of you will wonder how I dealt with the logo question. Well with the whole Scottie Dog mess fresh in my mind, I felt that I was in no place to take the moral high ground and object to the logo. I contacted the lady and gave her my blessing to use it.
I feel as if there is a lot more that can be written on this issue, but I am not a lawyer and I do not have all the answers.
For me personally, the key is to act with discretion and grace. I want to treat artists, quilters and fellow creatives in a way that I would want them to treat me. As a general rule of thumb, I will listen to my gut and do what it tells me, follow my own moral code.
We do not create in a vacuum so lets give credit where it's due and get on with creating beauty!
I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the subject.