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by Jessika Hepburn, Editor

ripple effecting, copyright and copycats, plagiarism and handmade, urban outfitters, positive change

My mother taught me about ethics and social change when I was a little girl with a simple lesson. Sometimes when I would skip stones on the beach she would talk about the ripple effect. How making decisions is like dropping stones and the consequences are ripples outward. We can’t stop the ripples once we put them into motion but we can choose whether we create a positive momentum.

What do ripples & plagiarism + the latest Twitter storm have in common? Strong emotions are contagious, for good and bad. They ignite something in us that can cause us to take action and often brilliant things happen. But just as easily we can be motivated by outrage which is pretty close to anger. With social media connecting us we can spread ideas in the blink of an eye. Every tweet is a ripple that could potentially be a tsunami. So it’s a good idea to know how you want to respond to crisis or conflict.

I have 7 basic principles I try to always apply to life, crisis, business (including what I buy & where) + parenting that relate to the ripple effect and I want to share them with you. Then we’ll play detective again and take a look at two recent stories that made serious waves in the handmade world this week.

7 Basic Principles for Life & Business:

1. Get informed.

Before you leave a comment, form opinions or act- do some research. Find out what other people think of the topic, seek reliable & credible sources and then make choices based on what feels right for you. Read carefully and extensively, but still allow your heart and personal experiences to guide you.  It used to drive me nuts in university when the students would listen to a lecture then spout it word for word as if it was the truth. I would head home and do some reading! Sure it’s more work but knowledge is definitely power and worth taking the time.

2. Act, don’t react.

This goes hand in hand with number one. Sometimes in life we are forced into situations or moved by our emotions to react strongly. Taking a step back and focusing on what we really want to do or communicate is a must. You’ll still be emotional and have deep feelings but you’ll be better able to respond (and get informed), whatever the situation. A positive action is so much more effective then a negative reaction.

3. Give respect.

I really dislike the phrase “respect is earned”. Respect is given. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to a small child or your elders or someone you are furious with. Be respectful and nine times out of ten respect will be given back to you. I’m not saying to stop being angry, everybody gets angry, but I do think we can always be respectful (even on the internet). Respect also encompasses a pretty huge range of ethics including honesty and integrity. It’s not respectful to steal or lie, right?

4. Listen to and learn from others.

We are so diverse and each of us has different ways of viewing the world. I love disagreements, each one is an opportunity to learn how someone else sees an issue so I can think about how I really feel. A disagreement does not have to be an argument. Plato was all about discussion & debate as a learning tool, how can you be sure you believe something if it is never questioned? Allow yourself to question and be questioned and you will become more confident about your own beliefs while getting insight into a new way of seeing.

5. Take accountability.

Who has ever messed up? Me!!!! Oh yes. Many times. We all have, when you make a mistake owning up to it is powerful medicine. I’m not talking about apologizing, I think saying sorry isn’t worth much. Taking accountability means recognizing you’ve done a wrong and taking steps to resolve it and change a negative situation into a positive one. Defensiveness or deflection is the opposite of accountability, and usually means the person has something to hide or feel guilty about. This is the perfect opportunity to:

6. Find solutions.

Stating problems is easy, finding solutions is way harder but so much more valuable. Don’t just complain or get angry about an issue find some way to contribute or use your creativity & knowledge to find an answer (or a bunch of them!). When you offer a solution to a problem other people will often come on board and then the real ripples get started. You don’t have to have all the answers but if you’re being respectful and listening to others anything can happen.

7. Be Creative

If you are creative & original in your thinking you will be able to turn any difficulty into a chance to find the positive. That positive can be taking your own experiences and channeling them into your art or becoming motivated to find creative solutions to problems you face or that concern you.

Alright! We’re armed with some pretty fine tools and ready to go truth-seeking. Grab your magnifying glass-there have been some interesting goings on in the handmade community and now that the hype has died down we’re going to investigate just like in my earlier post on Copyrights & Copycats.

By now I am sure you have read all about the Urban Outfitters (UO) copying fiasco, if you haven’t then you probably crossed off a lot more to-do’s this weekend then I did! I followed the story with fascination and have read so many posts & comments my head is still spinning. Lots of excellent pieces have been written on this incident with UO and the rallying of the online community. I have rounded them up in order so you can do your own fact finding & opinion gathering (if I missed one you think should be included please list it in the comments).

Now here’s where things got really interesting-at the same time this conversation is going on about UO and big business copying indie designers there was a whole other discussion happening at The Long Thread and here on papernstitch about the total flip side. The Long Thread was doing a DIY knock off week called handMAYed is better & papernstitch created a DIY version of an Anthropologie necklace for it. The big debate happening here was if it’s not okay for big biz to copy small biz then isn’t the reverse true? Go get lost in the comments & the incredible number of opinions.

I think Earl of Poppytalk said it best in his post when he talks about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). I see that as giving respect, listening to others, taking accountability, finding solutions and being creative. Isn’t that what this whole handmade economy, new marketing/economy, whatever you call it, is all about? Whether you’re a micro business or a giant corporation isn’t important, don’t follow, lead-make things better, be original and ethical. Not because it’s the law or because someone told you to, but because you feel it is the right thing to do and it will create trust and community. I think both Ellen and Brittni did this so gracefully in how they responded to the conflict on their blogs. They listened to readers opinions and then made a decision/found a solution. Some big businesses could learn a thing or two there.

What do you think?

I invite you to share your opinions, solutions and ideas. How can we apply my rules to these two situations? What did you gather in your fact finding mission? Have you ever faced negative feedback, publicity or business crisis? How did you handle it? Let’s talk it out in the comments. I’ll be doing a follow up post to this one with some solutions for turning bad press into good press next month and would love to share your answers. Feel free to write your own riff on this theme and link to it here, what would you do if you were Urban Outfitters or accused of plagiarism, how would you react if your design was taken?

This is a big topic so we’ll be continuing this conversation on Twitter for our #omhg twitter chat this Thursday, June 2nd from 1-2 EST. We will also have a guest post from the Guild of Original Designers (GOOD) in June and hear how they are working to protect originality and designers rights.

I’m looking forward to finding some answers with you!

Jessika Hepburn

about the author

Jessika Hepburn has written 509 posts on Oh My! Handmade Goodness. A cheerful activist and community matchmaker I delight in using my connection superpowers to bring makers and entrepreneurs together in ways that lift us all up. I believe in cooperation over competition, relentless good cheer as an act of rebellion, and the power of using our hands to craft a brilliant future. OMHG is part social enterprise, part grand experiment, and all goodness-so pull up a chair or pitch in a hand to join in creating our supportive community!
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  • http://www.westmamadesigns.com Kimberly

    I’ve been enthralled in this “scandal” all weekend. First I was mad for Truche… then I remembered all the bumper stickers I see in Oregon with this same design on it. The Regretsy article just further expanded on what I had been feeling about the situation.
    I even found, though I since lost the link, an article that brings into question the other designs that UO has been accused of “stealing”. And on the Etsy forums there are a number of Etsy sellers discussing how supportive and wonderful UO is to work with.

    BUT my main outrage is for the other Etsy sellers who do this design. Them getting none of the sympathy sales or support from the bigger community. Truche’s sales have been astronomical… some estimates are around $70,000… while the other designers of the is necklace have seen nothing. That outrages me.

    And the mob mentality that happened because of this. There are websites out there selling anti-UO t-shirts. Come on, really?

    Syria anyone? Joplin tornados? Japan recovery? WAY more important things going on.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kimberly-I would love to see people whose feel their designs have been stolen grouping together to start finding links and commonalities. If there really is a history of infringement from UP then all the offended designers need to get to emailing each other & and creating a strong case. I get you on the boycott t-shirts thing, what is the outcome of a boycott, what will it actually change? Usually not much, a group petition for clearer ethics from the company would be more effective! I don’t understand why people try and profit off bad publicity like that.
      I think it’s great the designer made a pile of sales, I doubt that was the intention when she shared her experience or the facts as she saw them. We never know what will go viral & at least someone benefited from it.
      There are definitely other important things going on but this is an issue that is really big for the handmade community and indie designers so I understand why it’s gotten so much attention.

  • http://thelongthread.com/ Ellen

    Thanks, Jessika. I think that this is such good advice for anyone.

    Honestly, I didn’t follow my own rule last week. Whenever I encounter a situation that evokes emotions, I try to wait 24 hours before responding. Sometimes just typing an e-mail and saving it makes me feel better. The e-mail almost certainly gets revised and sometimes never sent at all.

    But in this case, I immediately wrote a post responding to chatter on twitter. I think with some time, research and reflection, I could have responded more articulately and with less emotion.

    In a field dominated mostly by women, it is especially important that we work together to communicate effectively, while putting our emotions aside.

    I think last week’s discussion was a useful lesson for me. And thanks for this post today.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      I’m so happy you visited this post Ellen! I love your site and was absolutely floored by the comments and opinions share on your posts. I know not everyone was respectful which I am sure made it harder to take a step back. A blog is totally like an open door between your heart and the world, I couldn’t even imagine how difficult it would be to find the words to reply, it took me 5 days just to write this post! I agree that it is important that “we work together to communicate effectively, while putting our emotions aside.” but also recognize that our emotions are real and totally true for us, we just don’t need to let them get in the way. So hard to do when many of us feel so passionately!

  • http://www.threebysea.com Nicole : Three By Sea

    I spent a good bit of energy thinking & talking about the UO issue last week, until I read the Regretsy article and was suddenly reminded of the “Keep Calm” craze, both the original posters and all the spin offs phrases that ensued, along with all the claims of theft, copyright infringement, blah, blah, blah.
    Which brings me back to Amy of Pikaland & her article on “Creativity, Competition, & Copycats”http://pikaland.com/2009/04/17/creativity-competition-copycats
    What also stuck with me about that article was this:
    “…what do creative people do? They work on that next big thing. They innovate. And being innovative and pushing the envelope is what every small businesses should be doing.”
    This is not to say that I condone copying or stealing, but rather, instead of continuing to spend energy on this topic, I choose to work on creating my next big thing.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      I loved chatting with you about this while it was unfolding Nicole & I thought your views were spot on. Really whether the copying is true or not is beside the point to me, what is important is the response & what happens after. The Keep Calm was fascinating since it was originally British war propaganda-hard to take credit for that.
      I linked to Amy’s wonderful post in my first copying post & totally agree innovation is key but I think that if we focus energy on finding solutions we’ll all have more time to create the next big thing: )

  • http://nisseworks.com Stacey

    UO had a great opportunity to step up and say, ‘Yep, we screwed up. Here’s how we’re going to fix it’ within the first 24 hours, but stayed silent. I think the silence hurt them more than anything they could have said (even if it was ‘Yeah, we stole it – so what?’). The first allegation started the ball rolling; the ball was well out-of-control by the time UO finally got around to putting out their statement on Saturday.

    From my days as a journalist, the worst thing a person/company can do when confronted with negative feedback/criticism is hide. It only gives the critics more time to gather their weapons and set up for their attacks. Even if you – the criticized – think you’re being unfairly maligned, putting your face out there to acknowledge there is a problem is the best thing you can do as a first step. Then step back, look at the situation, and attempt to resolve it in a timely and polite manner. There’s no need for name calling or attempts at ruining other people’s lives/careers.

    I think that with the number of indie creatives continually growing this problem – the one of the megacorps ‘stealing’ ideas – is only going to get worse. What we need to do is figure out how to deal with it. Where do you draw the line between influence and outright copying?

    I’ve got a lot of passion about this whole issue and I’ve read a lot of the other posts and articles around this issue. It’s a shame that when it does happen, so many people react so quickly without doing the backstory legwork (me included). But maybe from now on, we’ll all hold back our condemning tweets until all the facts are out.

    (And just to throw a bit more fun into the debate, if you haven’t had a chance to check this out, please do – http://www.austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/ – it’s a great essay that sheds a slightly different light on the whole stealing/influencing thing.)

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Woohoo! Thanks for your comment I totally agree Stacey. If UO didn’t take the design they should have responded asap with info on their ethics policies, letting everyone know they took the situation really seriously and then followed it up by showing how they support artists directly. Silence looks a lot like guilt, as does misdirection & defensiveness. It was such a perfect opportunity to step up and turn the tide of angry consumers into loyal ones & I feel disappointed they weren’t innovating enough to take advantage of it. Isa of Noisette Marketing wrote a great post on silence & social media: http://blog.noisettemarketing.com/2011/05/why-saying-nothing-is-the-biggest-social-media-mistake-you-can-make/

      Influence vs. copying is a whole other can of worms & why I started off my previous post with the Picasso quote “good artists copy, great artists steal” -love the post you linked too also thanks for reminding me about it!

  • http://www.allisajacobs.etsy.com Allisa

    Brilliant Jessika!
    I was so looking forward to your post and you really captured the essence of the recent maelstorm of debate. I really appreciate your analogy to the ripple effect & think the principles you outlined are dynamite. There is so much murkiness in the whole copying mess…but my work has been copied tons of times and I always try to remind myself that what will really set me apart is HOW I react to it all.

    I think this quote by Maya Angelou really applies:

    “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you Allisa! It really is all about the response regardless of the situation. I adore Ms. Angelou and that is a fantastic quote & totally part of my philosophy, you can be mad about a missed bus or take the chance to have an adventure, make a new friend, change your life-seeing possibility and fun instead of negativity is tough work sometimes but also way more exciting.

  • http://www.heartmadeblog.com Mayi Carles

    Amen!

    {I’ll reflect before spilling wide open my messy thoughts}
    :)

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      I love your messy thoughts Mayi-don’t censor yourself too much!

  • http://www.westmamadesigns.com Kimberly

    @allisa, love that quote!

    @Jessika, I was reading your comments on Poppytalk’s post and you brought something that I sort of forgot about. That UO took some of the Truche’s copy. Do we know what that was? Just curious.

  • http://ahousefullofmoxie.com MOXIELisa

    Apparently, I was living under a rock this weekend and didn’t know anything about this scandal. Although, it isn’t anything new because this debate over copyrights and art/craft have been going on forever it seems like.

    I love your approach to this Jessika and the seven basic rules…I need to print these out and hang them up!

    Here are my thoughts (very quickly)…
    I believe that no one should steal anyone’s designs and copy them. That goes for big companies copying indie artists or indie artists copying big companies (even if they are made in China). Even in a big company, someone along the way “designed” whatever product that was and for a small business to copy is just as bad as the opposite.

    In a perfect world, everyone would come up with their own original designs…I can dream can’t I? ;)

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      I’m glad you stopped by to share your thoughts Lisa. I agree, no one should intentionally copy someone’s work when they can try and make their own, sure be inspired, but don’t duplicate. If you don’t have any design skills there are a billion kits & classes to teach you and if you have skill enough to recreate something you are capable of doing something new. And please do dream, you’re not the only one: )

  • http://www.missmodish.com jena

    This is an excellent response to all this, I love the way you think Jessika. I’m kind of catching up on all the hub-bub so thanks for posting all of those links to the various opinions and responses so far. My head’s still spinning from the quickness and HUGEness of how this spread and the many many ripples it caused, sheesh! I’m really liking the reflective posts like this one best. I’m glad people are now trying to figure out how we, both as a community and as individual creatives, can learn from all this and maybe react or act differently next time… hard to when coming from a place of such emotion, I know (which is why I chose to go garden instead of paying attention to all this going on last week- my blood was starting to boil!) So I like that you remind us to just step back and chill sometimes before voicing our opinions, to try to step out of ourselves to see all sides of the story, to treat everyone, even people who you think may have disrespected you, with respect anyway.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you Jena! I love the way YOU think and your marketing style-if big business had your level of integrity we would be having a different conversation! I am so with you on the gardening, I read until I couldn’t see straight then planted lavender & hacked at our overgrown forsythia, made everything so much clearer. Maybe I should have added Work it Out to my list! Whenever I am getting caught up I walk away and get my hands dirty either by making things, cooking or gardening-amazing how useful of a tool that is.
      I make it a personal mission to be kind to everyone, especially if someone is angry with me, I can’t change how they are feeling but I can totally choose how I respond. I don’t see it as being overly nice or not setting boundaries, but fueling anger with anger leads to ickyness in general.

  • Stephnie Douglas

    Thank you for a great and illuminating post. I really appreciated that you compiled all the information from the different sources into a chronological flow and gave everything context. I feel a lot better informed now and find the instant flow of back and forth articles fascinating. The print world of journalism is not nearly as responsive to issues in such an immediate way that also creates a dialogue and ways to find better solutions. I’ve learned a lot from this and have a lot to think about.

  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/saltcityspice Katrina

    This is such an incredibly messy subject, but you’ve organized it all so nicely here, Jessika! Your principles really ring true for me.

    As bloggers, shop owners, or general users of the internet, any one of us could probably imagine ourselves inside the eye of this storm – it moved fast, it was unpredictable, and it was an emotionally-charged subject. A single tweet, an honest mistake, an opinion piece that unknowingly omits a simple fact – anything we put out there has the ability to go viral. As Stacey mentioned, it’s important to respond quickly, and also to respond in a way that best encompasses the above principles.

    I think I’ll bookmark this article and re-read it any time I’m tempted to forget the basic things I know to be true. Thank you for an awesome summary!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thanks Katrina! Great comment-it’s so easy to get swept away in the tide but I think it’s when things are most chaotic that we need to hold firm to what we believe in.

  • alli

    HEy this is REAL talk, I am a fabric artist and I didn’t know about Urban Outfitters, and I love anthopologie didn’t know they owned them, I remember going to georgetown and seeing work that was VERY remincent of African fabric designs, that is why I liked them. But wait, is this ethical, they were OVERPRICED and are the women and men who make this orginal designs being compensated for their efforts. IT is stank for ppl to go to Africa and steal their work make bank overhere and then no one profits from there creativity. It is an artist looking for inspiration too far. GET your own stuff, but i’ve done it so im just as guilty. I am hoping to come up with original ideas that nobody can take. thnks

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thanks for your comments Alli-I know this really is a difficult topic. I don’t mind paying a lot of money for something I know is ethically produced and makes things better. I like to put my money where it will make a difference either to the artists or the community I am buying from. I hope that this situation causes UO and Anthropologie to revise their policies & take a stand for originality and I think it is up to us as a community to make them (& other companies) listen if they don’t.

  • http://deleted alli

    And are those who are supplying the original ideas getting compensated for their efforts, how can you in good conscience have all this, when ppl are without shoes, anthopologies clothes are OUTRAGEOUSLY priced, i mean are they so because they are providing a village in kenya food and water, are they so b/c they are shipped from west Africa or are they so b/c they are greedy. So you take from someone and them someone takes from you you reap what you sow. #justmytake.

  • http://deleted alli

    hey i read the press release from urban outfitters and basically they said, it wasnt yours and we dont care. Why didn’t they kindly acknowledge they stole it from someone else instead of saying we dont care.

  • http://deleted alli

    thanks. I am not saying they stole the patterns they could have been original i am saying the style seemed similar, whether it is or not only God knows that. I dont know.

  • http://www.westmamadesigns.com Kimberly

    Did some posts get deleted… I feel like I’m missing something?

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      I’m not sure Kimberly they all worked when I wrote the post-I’ll check out the links: )