Just a Few More Thoughts

Wow. We kind of have a lot to say about what’s right, what’s stealing, what belongs to us and what doesn’t, don’t we? And that’s great, because I really think we need to talk about this. I think it needs to be out there, a part of people’s consciousness. I think we all know of people who maybe need to be made aware that what they’re doing isn’t quite what they should be doing and that, yes, we’ve noticed. Because most of us are really polite, we haven’t said anything about it, at least not to people’s faces. Now, though, people are speaking out, saying: hey, if it’s not yours, it’s not yours.

~~If you took a class, it’s not your class to go out and teach.

~~Just because you found something on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free for you to use. That’s like saying you found some really nice lawn furniture sitting unattended in someone’s unfenced front yard and figure that meant it was OK to load it in the back of your pick-up and take it home. Just because people haven’t made something impossible to get to doesn’t mean they want you to take it.

~~Taking an image from a book or magazine and altering it doesn’t make it OK to use it. It still belongs to the person who owns the rights to it–the photographer or the entity to whom she sold the rights. Saying, “Oh, I altered it so no one could recognize it” is like when I used to work at Animal Control, back in the 1980s, and someone stole a brindle pit pull, a real pussy-cat of a dog, believe it or not, and spray-painted her white. Just because you’ve made something unrecognizable to the owner doesn’t mean it belongs to you; you can’t put it in a pen in your backyard and call it “Snowball.”

~~We’re not picking on students here. Most students are fabulous people, eager to learn new stuff and willing to share the things they already know. Just like everyone else involved in our mixed media community, they’re mostly really cool and wonderful people. The people who aren’t, the ones we’re talking about, are not just students. I think I’ve already relayed my own experience of teaching a workshop at a rubber stamp store and then having the owner sit in and then tell me she didn’t need me to teach it again because she was going to teach it herself–and it didn’t bother her a bit to tell me the reason was so that she didn’t have to pay me and could pocket the difference. At the time, I was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to do. I’d know today. Oh, my, yes.

~~Again, the way to tell, if somehow you don’t already know, is this: if you’re trying to figure out how to make money from something that isn’t yours or trying to figure out how to get something for nothing, stop.

For the rest of us–what can we do?

~~If you’re teaching, make your policies clear to your students and to whoever hired you. You can distribute a handout that spells everything out. Be pleasant, be clear, be brief. You don’t want to start out the workshop with a long rant about being ripped off, but you don’t want people wondering if they can take photos or if they can use your patterns in their own work. Explain in the handout that your classroom policies are designed to protect everyone and allow them to jump right into the workshop and have fun.

~~If you feel you need protection, think about getting a contract before you teach. I know nothing about this, and I don’t know whether or not anyone uses these when they teach workshops, but if it comes down to whether or not you’re going to continue to teach because of bad experiences, it might be something to consider. We all want you to feel protected so you can keep sharing your expertise with us.

~~If you’re a student, be a student. You’re there to learn, not to document. If you really need photographs, ask before you whip out the camera. Be respectful–ask before you take photos of other people’s projects. Don’t even think of surreptitiously recording the workshop–yeah, I’ve seen the iPhone propped on the table, recording everything. Be respectful, ask what’s OK and what isn’t, and go in with the intention of having a great time and learning all you can, not with figuring out what you can take away to share or teach on your own.

~~If you’re an organizer or a shop owner or someone else hiring an instructor, treat them as you would have treated your favorite third-grade teacher: respectfully and as if they have a lot you’d like to learn. When you hire a teacher, you’re hiring them to teach something specific. If you’re lucky and they have time, they may also be willing to share other tips and techniques and experiences that will be the icing on the cake. But hiring them to teach Soldering 101 doesn’t mean you own them and can pump them for their secret sources for materials or their recipe for marbling paper, just as being in Mrs. Leddermeyer’s art class didn’t mean you got to snoop inside her purse when she went to the water fountain and ask her nosy questions about why Mr. Leddermeyer always smelled like mothballs.

Once we’ve begun talking about this, about how to protect ourselves and our work and about what we’re willing to share, I think everyone will feel better. We can relax into knowing what others expect, and we can all dive in and enjoy each other’s company.


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12 Responses to Just a Few More Thoughts

  1. CarolineA says:

    I’ve had web pages pirated. I’m always happy to give permission if asked and the person asking is not making a profit from it; there is nothing in them that cannot be worked out by the reader anyway, but I do like to be asked and object if text and photos are lifted wholesale!
    I stumbled across a rather handy service a while back that takes all the hard work out of finding pirates:
    can check how many copies of a page are on the internet and where they are.

  2. CarolineA says:

    Oops, managed to post the wrong link – verrrrrrry red faced!
    is the site that will find unauthorised copies of your pages on the net.
    The first reference is also handy if you want to get rid of spammers, or chase down the host ISP of someone who has plagiarised your work. Add alexa.com to them; that will give you the actual registered address of a business, their phone, fax, and email addresses, and they become valuable tools for protecting ourselves from web nasties.

  3. Timaree says:

    Years ago I was in a craft fair. I had a woman come up with her sketchpad and draw my original piece so she could go home and make it rather than buy it. I thought it was really crass but didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t mind that she was going to make her own but it wasn’t a difficult idea to remember so she could make her own version so she must have been wanting to make an exact copy and that I didn’t like.

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      Whoa. That’s really crass, indeed. Did she actually tell you that was what she was going to do? I mean, most people at least try to be sneaky about it.

  4. I’ve had a few designs ripped off myself, once, one of my favorite clients was copying a needlepoint canvas I had designed stitch by stitch onto another canvas. I found out because she brought it in to ask me a question about a mesh that had two colors on it. She didn’t realize what she was doing was doing was illegal… but I never looked at her quit the same after that. Copyright, and respecting it is important, to all who create.

    Since we are being so open and honest in this discussion, and in the interest of understanding, I am curious about something… Many of the very well known collage artists and teachers (whose work we all know, love and drool over) use images they find and cut out of magazines and other print format in their work. As you say above, just because we alter something we find in a magazine or a book does not make it our own. How does that fit into this discussion, or does it?

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      I think that fits into the discussion, indeed. I know what you mean. I don’t know how each artist justifies what they do–maybe each one gets permission from the copyright owner, for all I know. But I don’t think we can say “so-and-so does it, so it must be OK,” you know? It’s a good question.

      • I completely agree… and I most certainly did not mean to remotely imply that it “makes it ok”. Unless, of course, it can be verified as being “public domain”, or if you have purchased a license to use it, or have permission from the original artist. But that does seem to open up a whole ‘nother can of worms.

        Personally, I think it is an important part of the conversation. I sometimes images I find in magazines for my own PERSONAL journaling… something that I will never ever use or show outside the pages of my own journal, but I really prefer to use images I have created, it makes what I do far more personal to me. I have always wondered about those who use them and, indeed, publish them as a part of their own “original” art though.

        Just another something to consider as the issue is pondered.

        • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

          My friend Roz Stendahl (http://rozwoundup.typepad.com/) has the best advice (I can’t find a post where she’s talked about it, but I think we might have discussed it in our podcast) about this. If you draw or photograph things yourself, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have your own images. I don’t know that Roz draws from photographs–I think she draws almost always from life, but I hate to say for sure; when we’ve been together, she has drawn rather than photographed). I like to take photos, alter them, make them into something I can stitch. It feels both safe AND adventurous.

  5. I’m so glad to have discovered this site today. VERY enlightening, and I’m looking forward to digging back through past articles.

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      I’m glad you discovered it, too, Lori–thanks for taking time to comment~~

  6. Seth says:

    Another great post on an important topic. Thanks for the insights here Rice.