Copyright Protection or Nothing New in the World

When it comes down to teaching your art, you find yourself in one of two worlds: the kind where you protect your copyright avidly, not handing out how-to sheets for fear of having them stolen or shrugging it off and saying, “everything is derivative anyway. I got my ideas from someplace else, too.”

Those ideas lie at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I’d like to introduce a third idea, maybe a fourth.

First, let me admit I’ve lived at both ends of the spectrum. I was not happy when a fellow artist came into my booth, years ago, took photos of my work, claiming it was because she “loved my display,” then rolled out a line of stunningly similar artwork the next season, priced just below mine.

Nor was I happy when I was in a class on a topic I’d taught often, and was hoping to get out of a rut, and was handed a how-to sheet that looked stunningly familiar. It was familiar, in fact, it was my handout, complete with copyright on the bottom line, photocopied for the entire class.

At some point I decided that everything I taught, every article I published should be something I had already taught to exhaustion, or I was ready to give up. But part of the fun of teaching is getting inspired by students. Would I have to give it up?

Now, I am careful to copyright my work. I send it to the copyright office once a quarter, with payment. That allows me to sue for damages for violators. But I also don’t want to be the copyright police. And I want to promote innovation and creativity. If I do not want anyone to know what I’m working on, I don’t post it anyplace. Or talk about it.

People will always explore, and people will always use what they find. Gracious people ask, kind people give credit. But if you teach, no one can teach the way you do. Your personality combined with your skill and talent make your class. And people will come to your class because you are welcoming and a good teacher. No one can take that from you.

-Quinn McDonald teaches what she knows.


14 thoughts on “Copyright Protection or Nothing New in the World

  1. I think I should have a disclaimer on my blog that reads something along the lines of . . . I’m not sure that anything I do is truly orginial, people have been creating things for millenia, but if I know who or what inspried me I’ll say so, and if I inspire you I trust you’ll reciprocate.

    Yes Quinn teaches what she knows and teaches through her blog. If it provokes thought it is an opportunity to learn.

  2. This is so very true Quinn. I find it disturbing when people who have posted their photos all over the internet bemoan the fact that someone ‘copied’ them. I own none of my ideas, they have come to me through my life experiences and learnings. I don’t know how many times I have created something that I believed was unique (and inspired by ideas in my mind,nothing outside of me) only to log onto facebook and see something almost identical. There really is nothing singular it seems, ideas are floating in the collective consciousness. As for the moaners, well, if you don’t want it copied then don’t put it on the internet, anywhere. It really is that simple. Chances are there is something very similar being created somewhere else, but at least you will know it wasn’t derived from your piece.

    • When I thought of starting my business, I wanted to create a powerful tag line. I thought of a great one. I kept it secret for years, waiting till the day I launched my business. Then one day, I saw a GE commercial. And there was MY tagline, “Imagination at Work.” We all have imagination and sometimes the collective unconscious connects us in mysterious ways.

  3. Great piece of writing on that always visited topic of the copyright. Your decision to to share, or write, or talk about a work in process is one of my patterns….more so for me to keep the energy and muse activity focused and not diluted by input from others although your thoughts on the relationship of this silence to the issue of copyright will, no doubt, keep me walking that pathway. Kristin

  4. From where I sit both the copyright and patent systems are problems. They may have originally been well intentioned but now they’re widely used to stifle originality and innovation. The situation may be different in art, of course — are there artists or corporations whose massively greater resources enable them to “game the system” to their advantage, completely separately from the question of whether they actually engendered something unique?

    On another subject, it makes me stop and think whenever I hear or read the phrase “nobody can take that away from you”. The idea that people are constantly going to try is not just deeply embedded, but apparently there’s a need to keep reminding ourselves, too.

    • I agree that both copyright and patent systems are flawed. And I can’t fix them. (No one calls to ask me my opinion). And it’s the reptilian brain that focuses on lack and attack. All those “Plan Bs” aren’t about wild success, they are about failure. It is, in fact, part of our brain.

  5. This is so recognizable Quinn and so true! I am also an artist and I think a bit like you, very good of trust and even when that is violated….I think the same as you wrote; they can’t be me, they are different persons and in the mean time I have created another ‘ 100’ new ideas because my creativity and inspiration is endless because that was our gift from the creator! Amen!
    Thanks for your always inspiring posts!

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