as you might suspect, we get a LOT of mail from customers. Sometimes a letter can make me laugh… sometimes it can make me think…at times it can humble me, annoy me or MAKE MY DAY! But every once in a while (thank goodness its not too often) a customer send me an email that just… plain… HURTS! 🙁
Now you might be thinking, “what could a customer possibly say that would actually hurt your feelings?” Look for yourself below (in italics). Her name is not included to protect the guilty. 🙂
“I have debated for 2 weeks if I should send this as this raises ethical concerns for me. I saw this at a farmers market 2 weeks ago. I had believed that your designs were original, obviously that belief is not totally accurate. While there are some very minor differences in your “new” sling pattern, they are essentially the same.”
This was the entirety of her email. It’s ALL she wrote. There was no hello… no goodbye… only this pronouncement of guilt… oh, and a link to this picture at right which you can find out more about by clicking here. (And the bag pattern she was referring to was of course our Sling Along pattern which was fairly new at the time.)
Now I gotta tell ya… if you’re in the creative business there’s not too many things that are worse than being accused of being a copycat! And that’s because accusing someone of stealing the work of a fellow creative is a SERIOUS thing to do, and it SHOULD be!
So how did I FEEL after reading this email? Well, first of all I was shocked as up until that moment, I had never before laid eyes on this bag, then I started to feel a bit ANGRY! But after I re-read it a couple of times I felt sad & very hurt! So this is what I did next… I went upstairs & ate my breakfast, then I went about my normal routine until after lunch, (to give myself time to get control of my feelings), then I sat down and typed out this response (in italics below).
Thanks for writing.
I have deliberately waited a few hours b4 answering your email in deference to the fact that you have been a customer in the past. I felt hurt by your letter and I wanted to take some time to let that pass so I could measure my words accordingly. But here goes….
I have to say that I am very disappointed in your email. It sounds very close to an accusation. I hope that is not the case. At any rate, I would suggest to you that b4 you are tempted to write to another designer about this topic in the future, (copyrighted materials in specific), that you do a little research on the subject. Here are some things about the issue of copyright that it seems you did not keep in mind (or… never bothered to educate yourself about.)
1- You cannot copyright a finished item. There has to be text involved (like pattern instructions for example) in order to have something to copyright. The pictured item you sent to me (for sale on on AMAZON) is not copyrightable. It may be patented, which it isn’t because there are MANY similar bags on the market such as this, but it most certainly is not copyrighted.
2- NOBODY owns the idea of a sling bag, just like nobody owns the idea of a lunch box, or a shoulder bag. If you go out and google the words, “sling bag” or chest bag” you’ll see at least 20 different finished items come up, and this is OK. A sling bag is a term for any one shouldered bag that can be worn on your back. There’s a million different variations out there but only very few patterns, and this is what I am always very careful about. I don’t look at other peoples finished items on Amazon or anywhere else. But I always do a cursory overview of bag patterns before I get too far along in the process to make sure there’s nothing too similar out there already. In the case of the Sling Along pattern there is nothing remotely close to my pattern. And I’ve got news for you…. even if there were, in order for it to be a copyright violation, there would need to be textual similarities in the instructions to warrant a violation.
3- It’s perfectly legal to copy an item you see for sale and make a similar finished item unless it’s patented. That’s why you see a flood of copycat dresses on the market the day after the Academy Awards because…. It’s legal.
But that’s not what happened here!
And here are some reasons that I know and can PROVE that this is my own idea and my own original design:
1- I’ve never laid eyes on this particular bag until you sent me a picture. I have plenty of ideas of my own and I don’t need to copy anyone else’s ideas for a bag or a bag pattern. Folks have been asking for sometime now for a bag pattern that they could wear across their back OR chest. You don’t have to believe me on this and there’s nothing I can do about it you don’t but this is why I document every step of my work. From the original inspiration, including all the drawings, drafts and prototypes, everything is saved just in case I get accused of something similar to this. I also have been completely transparent about my process for over 10 years, documenting all of these steps and variations thru our popular “Purse Pattern Chronicles” series on my website. I don’t know of another pattern designer today that is more transparent about their process than I am.
2- and this is the most important reason. The whole way in which this particular bag is constructed and put together is totally unique to my designs. In fact, you evidently didn’t know this, but the Sling Along is actually a derivative of a former pattern of ours, the HipBag Hybrid (that’s a hotlink in case you want to check it). There are structural parts of the Sling Along pattern (most notably the Secret Niche area) that were derived and improved upon from the HipBag Hybrid pattern. Not only that…. the Sling Along pattern is ALSO a direct descendant of the Odyssey BackPack pattern that we published WAY back in 2007 (again, that’s a hotlink and I invite you to go take a look). There are many similarities between the new Sling Along pattern and the older Odyssey pattern. There’s new features to be sure but I think of it as a modernized, streamlined, improved and quite honestly a better written version of this old pattern. I guess by your definition, I might have reason to question whether the maker of the bag you referenced on Amazon was a copyright violation of MY pattern, right? WRONG! Because even though there are similarities between that bag and mine, its not a textual product. By definition, its just not a copyright issue.
So in summary, I feel very sad because today you questioned my integrity over our new product that actually is a derivative of an idea that was original with me, well over 10 years ago. I don’t say these things to be mean, but I do think that folks should always do their due diligence and get the facts before throwing around accusations that have the potential to hurt someone’s reputation or business, not to mention feelings. Words have power. I know our current state of politics in this country may make it seem like this is OK behavior but it is NOT! Please remember that another time?
In closing… I eventually did hear back from this customer. She seemed surprised that I was hurt by her words since she meant them “only in a constructive way”, but she added that after having gone back and re-read her original email, she could see that it “really didn’t represent what she intended to say to me”. Hmmmmm… I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I didn’t wish to have any more discussion about it, so our interaction ended there.
Moral of the Story-
Email is a word-driven medium and words have the power to both heal and hurt. Always re-read your email before hitting that “send” button, and if in doubt… think about it overnight and re-read it again in the morning, or maybe even ask yourself… How would YOU like to be on the receiving end of your email?
And now…. it’s YOUR turn!
Has something like this ever happened to you? Have you ever received one of these “email bombs” and been hurt by the words of someone else? If so, I’d love to know how YOU handled it? And remember, we love reading your comments and answering your questions too, so please feel free to leave either or both in the space provided below.
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