Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Crafter's Nightmare: My Work Got Stolen.


I'd planned to share some new projects this week.  I had tutorial post plans in the works. I'd even been brainstorming brand new craft designs in my projects journal (which I hadn't done in ages), but something else came up that kind of stopped me in my tracks.  I had my work stolen.

Almost a year ago, I created my handmade BoxTrolls plush for my son's birthday. There weren't any licensed versions I could just buy, so I created this one.  It was made with love, just for my little guy.  I worked hard on designing it and it took a lot of time to create.  



I was proud to share what I made here on my blog, and how I did it, so other fans could be inspired to make their own BoxTroll to love.  The director of the movie even commented on it on Twitter.  I was thrilled.  



I never dreamed of making them to sell (although I've had many people contact me asking me to).  I've turned down requests to sell a pattern for it countless times.  Not only would it be more work than I'd like to do, it wouldn't be right. It would be copyright infringement if I started churning out BoxTrolls items for profit, or used the BoxTrolls name, with no license agreement from the creators.  Which is illegal.



But that didn't stop this Chinese seller on Alibaba.  Who stole six of my photos and is selling illegal BoxTrolls toys using my design:


My heart sank when I discovered it.  They even had the nerve to Photoshop over the By Sew Can Do text on the box, crop out my copyright marks and plaster their own marking over MY photos.  The cheek of them trying to watermark photos they stole and manipulated is something else!  The day after I found out my son had the new wallet he got for his birthday stolen from a locker at swim class too.  Two thefts in 24hrs.  One nearby and one halfway across the globe.  There are some real jerks in the world.


My photo:



Their doctored version: 


I wish I could say it was the first craft theft that ever happened to me.  I wish I could say I caught them, the shaming went viral and everything got fixed.  But I can't.  You need an Alibaba account just to contact them and this "business" conveniently has no presence online anywhere else.  I sent a cease and desist to the one Shenzhen Levin Toys & Gifts (the business stealing my work) email I could find, but it did nothing.  

Alibaba has an "Intellectual Property Complaint" form, but the kicker is you have to create a user account with them and give them all your personal contact info just to lodge a complaint.  Do I want to give a giant foreign reseller site, with a shady reputation, my personal address and phone number with no guarantee that they'll even remove my photos?  Not especially.  

I know the next thought is get a lawyer.
 I've gone that route before... 

A few years ago I worked with a big name craft supply company and they asked if they could post my Stylish Storage Box project on their projects website.  It was already a tutorial here.  I'd worked as a paid freelance designer for them (making original projects for their site and selling them the rights), I'd hosted giveaways for their products and they'd always credited me & linked to my website on everything. So I said ok.  


Then they told me Jo-Ann Stores had chosen my project and instructions to be used on a free tear sheet in stores nationwide near their product displays.  I was flattered and proud.  I wasn't going to be paid, but it was publicity in every Jo-Ann Store nationwide. That's a big deal, right?  I was even given a proof of what the sheet would look like.  I saw my name as the designer on it.  I was eager for it to come out and share the news here.  

When I saw the sheets in my local Jo-Ann store I was so excited I was practically jumping up and down.  It looked so good! There was my work!  Until I flipped it over and saw the back:



My name was NOWHERE on it.  My copyright text on the photo had been cropped out. There was nothing attaching my project to me and in the spot "Created By", where my name had been on the proof, was that company instead. My heart sank.  I almost started crying right there. It wasn't Jo-Ann Stores at fault - they had never been told the project was my creation and my property.  The company that took the credit for my work knew it was mine though.

They claimed they didn't know my name wouldn't be on it. That it was a "simple mistake".  On the phone my contact was "so sorry" & said it would be reprinted, but in writing they wouldn't respond.  Their legal just ignored me.  Every assurance it would be fixed or pulled went nowhere.  I had them remove anything that was still under my copyright from any of their sites & planned print ads and I removed every trace of them from my own site.  I got a copyright lawyer and official cease & desist letter for the tear sheet.  It was expensive and took a lot of time. And nothing changed about the sheets.  Taking it to court would have cost me a fortune even though it was clear from my paper trail that I would win. The damages wouldn't have been worth the lawyer fees I'd incur.  It's literally years later and I still see my project sheets in stores.  I got nothing out of it.  It burns me that they sure did. 
    
Ironically both projects were things I did for free, with no intention of making any money off them, but others stole them so they could.  

I've loved having this blog and sharing what I make with fellow crafties.  Hearing from people inspired by my work or seeing others making things for themselves with my free tutorials has been a real source of happiness for me. It's made the huge amount of time I've spent on this blog over the years seem worthwhile.  

Yet, I feel like I can't really share some of the things I love to make the most, simply because I don't want to risk them being stolen.  And that makes me sad too.  I hate that a couple of greedy people can spoil things for everyone else.   

So I've got to think about this a bit and figure out how I can still share what lifts my heart creatively and not have someone else use it for their own gains.  Short of either not posting them or putting a distracting giant SewCanDo.com across the middle of every photo, I really don't know....
  


32 comments:

  1. Cheryl, I can commiserate and I know that sinking-heart outrage all too well. It makes you take pause, doesn't it? Makes you question all the time, thought, effort, and love you put into every project and every post. I've been in a similar position with what to do about watermarks...I hate the idea of slamming a huge watermark across the middle of my photos just to keep this from happening. It's definitely a common problem with companies in China. I wish I had suggestions or answers for you, but all I can do is let you know I completely, totally, 100% understand your anger and heartache.

    Sarah (Sadie Seasongoods)

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    1. It really does Sarah, but knowing we're not alone helps. I was amazed when I looked at their offerings and saw many "products" that were clearly stolen from blogs, catalogs and even licensed merchandisers and then their gold supplier status. Just appalling. Am consoling myself that everyone gets what the deserve in the end, so their time will come.

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  2. There is no integrity anymore. It's shameful.

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    1. I think since the internet is so "anonymous" the threat of getting caught doesn't seem like a big risk to some because it's easy to hide.

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  3. That is horrible! Hard work that isn't recognized is very hard to deal with. Keep on sharing though!

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    1. I'm going to try Heather! Just need to figure out how to stay a step ahead of the cheaters!

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  4. how sad and frustrating! (I love the box troll- so sweet!)

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    1. It is, but I'm going to try to turn it into a positive of what to do that will prevent it in the future.

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  5. i am so sorry that you have had to endure such evil from others who claim to have your best interest. it would take the wind out of your sails i'm sure. your work is lovely and it is terrible that you can't share it with those you wish without the powers that be take your work for their profit. i am new at this crafty stuff but love, LOVE, your projects and hope some day i get to make them for my little trolls, 4 and 6 year old grandchildren who would love to have one i'm sure. thank you for all you do. take care and all the best, rachelle

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    1. Thank you for the kind words Rachelle - it helps take the sting out!

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  6. Wow. Sorry you had to deal with those things. It is so frustrating, especially when you're giving from your heart. I had been making and selling "booboo bags" on my website and on Etsy for years and one day Etsy took all my booboo bags down. I got a cease and desist email from some person in Australia who had decided to trademark the booboo bag name and use it. It really hurt, because I had been making them for longer and really had no intention on stepping on someone else's toes. But I renamed my products and put them back up. As if the government doesn't make it hard enough for little mom n pops.

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    1. I feel for you - that is just as frustrating and disappointing, especially when we small cottage industries make so little off our hard work. And it's not like that's a very specific, unique name to even trademark - boo boo bags are a concept! I try very hard not to infringe on names for that very reason and it can be even more frustrating when you see so many people trading on licensed names on Etsy and no one's going after them. Hang in there and glad you kept going!

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  7. Oh how terrible! I can not imagine having to deal with people stealing your hard work. I know that it goes on far more often than people realize but when it hits home it must be devastating. And then for a company that you know, worked with and trusted to do it to you...WOW talk about a big shock. Maybe you should watermark your photos right across the middle like they did, though they would still be able to change that if they wanted to. I would link it up to the director of the movie's twitter account so he could take action!! Hope that these things do not hinder your creativity and sharing with your fans. WE LOVE YOU and your tutorials. Also sorry your son had to learn such a cruel lesson about people.

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    1. I agree. I think I was more shocked that they took the time to airbrush out my text - there's no mistaking their intent then. Thanks for the suggestions - I have sent an email to Laika, the production company for the movie and hopefully that might make a difference. I'll share any updates!

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  8. Ow ! that's terrible !
    And it makes me think about my own weekly free tutorials

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    1. Keep a watchful eye and keep those watermarks hard to crop out!

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  9. The alibaba story was already upsetting... But being burned by someone who is supposed to by representing you? Gotta let the karma police loose on those conscience-less snakes. Phooey on them.

    Thank you from blogland for all your inspiring postsposts.

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    1. Thanks Jane and it's true that one made me feel worse because I'd trusted them, but it was definitely a lesson learned. I am very choosy about who I work with now and I never let anyone repost my complete tutorials or patterns anywhere else.

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  10. This is terrible. I'm so sorry. Would totally support and still follow if you wanted to watermark everything you do. But it's totally not fair that artists are pushed to do that.

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    1. Thanks for the support Tracey. It is a shame...I'm going to think about what might be the best ways to keep things safe, but not take away from showing things. Will need to get creative on this one!!

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  11. I feel for you Cheryl. I can't even imagine how frustrating and heartbreaking this must be. I was just starting to consider posting on my blog again but you reminded me of one of the reasons I wanted to pull back in the first place. It seems like the only blogs that are safe these days are the ones that post nothing but round ups of other people's work, which drives me crazy. I'll be interested to see what you come up with to avoid these rip off artists in the future. Good luck!

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    1. I 100% agree and feel there are way too many round-ups out there already (and may be part of the people since the original sources aren't what get traffic, so people associate things with those sites not the actual creators). I'm still thinking about options, but I'll definitely share what I figure out. We shouldn't have to stop sharing or creating what we love!

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  12. Work theft is always incredibly frustrating. If you want, we at Pixsy can help you keep an eye on your other work (and potential easy-riders) as well as try to get some well-deserved compensation for the work that's been already stolen (your adorable Troll definitely deserves that). At the very least, if that happens again, you wouldn't have to go through all of that frustrating back-and-forth communication on your own.

    Just shoot an email to our founder, Daniel Foster, at daniel@pixsy.com and he'll give you a free invitation code.

    Blogs should be a safe environment, where you can share your work, without fear of it being stolen, and it pains me to see when people just take advantage of that. So, really hope we'll be able to help you out.

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    1. Thanks Nadia. I will look into this and appreciate you sharing this info. Help is very appreciated!

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  13. Holy crap! That is awful! I can't even imagine how sick you must be feeling. Blogs are supposed to be fun and inspiring and I love seeing my readers making things that I created. It has honestly never occurred to me that this kind of thing could even happen. I just opened my etsy shop last week after months of creating, and planning and now I'm wondering if this was a good idea or not. I'm so sorry this happened. It's a shame if we have to watermark across the middle of pictures to keep things from being stolen. So very sorry :(

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    1. Don't let the fear of it stop you from your shop, but definitely be careful with your images. I'm still trying to figure out an ideal solution other than a giant watermark, but I don't want all of us to feel like we're not able to make the most of our creations or hide them away. If only everyone just used their own ideas instead of taking the easy cheater's route!

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  15. I post all of my craft projects as tutorials and a woman in Russia is there waiting to repost as her own in Russian, what I have shared. And it's not just me but a lot of other crafters I follow. This has been going on for a few years and you can see all of our watermarks but she doesn't care and will add her own in another spot on our photos. But what can I do? It's a foreign website. I'm not crafting for monetary reasons - just for enjoyment since I am retired, so spending any money to try and stop this is out of the question. It's just a shame that these types of thefts happen and will continue to happen.

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    1. Wow Gail, that is terrible. It's amazing how shameless some people are. I hope one day it gets easier to protect our work.

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  16. Oh my gosh people - how can some sleep at night?? I'm thoroughly disgusted that a company you had a relationship with would so take advantage of the situation. They really lost out in the end without being able to share anymore of your fantastic work. I'm sorry this happened to you.

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    1. I ask myself that too Toni and truthfully it was a lot more upsetting and harder to get over when it was the company I'd worked with - it really made me wary of informal arrangements and stopped me from letting my full tutorials be used anywhere without a paying contract. I definitely learned that anyone wanting to use your work and offering "publicity" instead of payment means they're taking advantage with flattery.

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  17. I'm so sorry this happened to you. The internet brings about a lot of joy of being able to see and learn. I know I love looking and dreaming that I am going to make all the things that are shared by you talented and generous bloggers. Unfortunately the Internet makes it easy for people to steal your identity, your credit, your ideas etc and we are powerless to stop it. The Chinese have stolen and copied our products for years. We seem to have lost our integrity in this country as well. No matter what you decide I appreciate all that you have shared and taught in the past. So a big Thanks from me. Make yourself Happy. Hugs Sandy

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Getting your comments brightens my day. I'd love if you left one:)

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