My text is addressed to both artists and artisans, to "moms/dads" of beautiful local businesses (or future local businesses), as well as to all those who want to learn more about the experiences of many Quebecois entrepreneurs.
Cosima from Coco Caribou makes head towels. She is the one who invented the terry cloth towel lined with cotton that attaches with an elastic. She recently wrote about plagiarism.
I had this topic in mind all day because she came to ask me what I thought of her text earlier in the day.
As I reflected with Cosima on the subject, I could understand her distress in this sea of copies and the reason why she wanted to talk about it.
Cases of plagiarism are increasing, and I wondered why. Do we want to start a business but lack ideas? Do we see the success of others and want to appropriate it?
The reasons mentioned by people who copy are always the same. Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons that some entrepreneurial friends have already been told:
"I SAW IT ON PINTEREST"
The most common one. Repeated to everyone I know who has ever had their product copied.
Okay, you can get inspiration from Pinterest, the Internet—I did it myself for my baskets—but copying a pattern or taking an idea as a whole, that's a no-go. This idea probably has intellectual property.
The Boaty tissues and kits are probably on Pinterest... So, does that mean they can be copied as is?
"EVERYONE DOES IT, I CAN TOO"
There's a difference between snack bags (or even grow with me clothes where everyone uses the same pattern) and unique products, never seen on the market.
By the way, I still wonder who first thought of snack bags. That person should really receive the recognition they deserve because they revolutionized the reusable product market. Snack bags, everyone probably makes them because everyone is now following the same original copy. There are so many that we don't know the source anymore. And so, people are making and copying each other without realizing it, and that's strangely socially accepted. May the best one win in marketing!?
Evolutionary clothes, the companies that make them have bought the original pattern, and the pattern indicates whether or not you can resell products from it. If someone asks us about the pattern, ethically, we should mention the source. At least in this case, the people who invented the original pattern get the recognition they deserve. They earn money for their idea. After that, each company can design its clothes with the fabric styles they prefer. We try to find our uniqueness in that. Otherwise, companies may have made their own pattern, and taking the same pattern as another company is clearly not acceptable.
I could really give examples for each industry! But as a general rule, "Everyone does it" is such a poor argument. Then you have to ask: Did you make your pattern or create something different? Is the idea from your head, or did you try to replicate exactly what you saw somewhere? What is your original touch? What sets you apart from others?
"PEOPLE WERE ASKING ME TO MAKE IT"
When people ask me for snack bags, I direct them to Demain demain. I won't start making snack bags because people are asking me. When I consider that other companies make an excellent product, I prefer to refer them to those.
YES, people can ask us for products because they like our brand. We want to make our customers happy. But then, we don't have to copy something that already exists to keep that market share for ourselves. I prefer to be supportive and refer, even if I resell the product or brands I like on my site, rather than plagiarize them. Otherwise, I prefer to invent something that doesn't exist and that people can't find elsewhere.
People asked me for a pouch to transport their tissues. It didn't exist, so I created it.
People asked me for toilet paper. I found that there was a lack in the market in terms of fabrics offered for toilet paper and also for a practical usage system to make it easier to use, so I created something completely new.
The reason is too easy for people who copy and who haven't thought much more than that about their market.
"I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW YOU"
"I'VE NEVER SEEN YOUR BUSINESS BEFORE"
We make products thinking it's our idea. Well, that's how many justify it... Not knowing your market and your competition is already a bad start!
And sometimes, it's hard to believe because coincidences are extremely unlikely.
When product texts have the same words, when product photos look alike, when they are presented in the same way to sell them. Well, that's pretty strange.
I've even seen a: "I didn't even know you" and "I checked your prices, out of respect, not to undermine you" in the same text from a company defending itself from not having copied. Sketchy.
It's a defensive phrase, and it comes back a bit to what I was saying just before about people not thinking much more than that about their market before making something. It's the least you can do to dig a bit to see if it's done elsewhere.
On groups like "Recherche Made in Qc", when someone asked for reusable tissues in 2018, I could see that no one else was offering the kind of tissues I wanted to offer. I did search since 2015. I searched on Etsy in Canada, I searched in the United States. I searched as much as I could everywhere in the world for years! I didn't find any, so I launched them myself.
It could happen, one day, that boom! Someone comes and tells us that we copied their product. And then, it's about seeing who put it on the market first and recognizing the other's idea, even considering a possible collaboration instead of denying everything and bringing out a bunch of justificatory phrases that don't hold water.
"I MAKE WHAT I FIND BEAUTIFUL"
Are we supposed to say thank you?
It also makes me think of those people who make things "for fun." Not to sell (but they sell them anyway). Who say they don't need to declare anything because they don't make enough money with it per year. Who are obviously not registered either and have no awareness of entrepreneurial tax realities!
Obviously, as these people have no awareness of all this, they also don't know that the product they are making has intellectual property!
And as these people do it "for fun" and not for money, they sell products that are worth $100 for $4 on Etsy.
In addition to blatantly plagiarizing without realizing it, these people don't realize how much it has a big impact on the market and that it can hurt other artisans and entrepreneurs who are trying to make a living.
"IT'S NOT THE SAME"
It's not the same; I didn't put the elastic in the same place as you...
It's not the same; I made them in red...
Where is the limit between the same/not the same? Not easy, huh? I would say that if it's identical (exactly the same thing), it's pretty clear that it's plagiarism!
If there is confusion (you think of a specific brand when you see the product because it's too obvious), you end up in the plagiarism zone.
Denying resemblances, I've seen it especially in the visual arts. For example, an illustration that has a really striking resemblance to another artist's illustration. It's the same subject, the same positioning, but the colors are a bit different... Damn, that must be frustrating for an artist?
I know someone who has experienced it often but who one day experienced the opposite!
I'll share her testimony in my words:
She had shared an illustration of a purple elephant. A few days later, another artist had painted a purple elephant. The resemblance was striking. The color, the identical composition (profile, trunk in the air, the position of the legs, even the position of the splash drops). This other artist came to talk about it herself, apologizing for the resemblance, saying that she had just seen her elephant, that she must have seen it before and been tricked by her subconscious, which must have been influenced without it being deliberate.
Both artists laughed about it and turned the situation around, together. The next day, the other artist sent her a photo of a drawing her daughter had made. A purple elephant!
Anyway. Sometimes, people are open and expose themselves, with an attitude that is all to their credit. Other times, they are stupid, defensive, and deny everything while making up justifications that don't hold up.
In business, we shouldn't have emotions.
A company has its own personality, branding, and is much bigger than an individual, than our little selves.
But when the company is still held up by its creator, it's more delicate. It's harder to dissociate the emotion. Because in this case, our company is still our baby... our products and creations are our children. And when we see photos of our children on the Internet, downright cloned (because clearly, they are not ours, unless they have been kidnapped, but that's not possible, nor really better...), in another environment than ours, we can't feel good about it.
It's a shock. We are caught in negative emotions; we don't know how to react. We try to talk about it, but we do it secretly, with friends. Yet, we would like to shout loudly about the injustice, but we must not. Because it would be defamation. Because it's not "well seen" to do it via the company page, or because we don't want to soak up that negativity. We are "stronger than that."
We read quotes from Coco Chanel to reassure ourselves...
Copy my ideas, I'll have more!
But that doesn't reassure us so much because we precisely don't want our ideas to be taken!
So I understand you. Those of you who tried to speak softly and diplomatically to people who copied you and who received one of the phrases mentioned above (or another, equally absurd). Those of you who can't do anything else because you have no legal recourse to protect yourself from all this. I am with you wholeheartedly.
I hope that everyone will be aware of the problem one day. I dare to hope that the collective consciousness will one day be high enough for us to respect and help each other more than we copy each other. Let's be honest and transparent.
We are a creative, innovative people. Let's prove it!
Have you ever been a victim of plagiarism?
Have you always wanted to denounce it because the situation turned you upside down, but have never done it for all the reasons mentioned above?
If you see plagiarism on social media, comment subtly and with an innocent: #blehberg
It allows you to cry injustice in silence without jeopardizing a company.
And maybe the people concerned will come across this article!