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Design theft and your wedding – why it’s really not on

Charlotte Garratt – owner and designer at Charlotte Bridal – sent me this guest blog post about copyright in wedding design and I knew it had to be on English Wedding Blog. Have you ever asked a wedding supplier, “I’ve seen this on another website: can you do one similar?” It’s not a good idea. Charlotte explains why – and she does it thoughtfully and eloquently.

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Hello lovely readers! Recently I’ve been getting a lot of requests along the lines of “I’ve found my dream dress but it’s way out of my budget…could you make me one similar?”. I understand that weddings are really (sometimes stupidly) expensive and every couple should look at ways they can make savings, but I have to tell you this is not the way to do it. There are a number of reasons why.

It is against the law

I can’t really explain it any better than that statement there. Every designer who designs a gown has copyright protection on that design. I have copyright protection on my designs, if someone copies my design I have every right to sue them and vice versa. Sure copyright law is a very murky area, but would you really want to risk it? I wouldn’t, and I hope that most reputable dress designers out there wouldn’t either.

Cheaper, really??

The second point to consider is that gowns are usually priced what they are for a reason. If you come to me with a design of a dress that is heavily embroidered, beaded or uses unusual fabrics, even if I wanted to, I probably couldn’t make it for less than the original gown’s price. Add on to the fact that my gowns are made to measure, which means I create a whole new pattern for each client (which is all done by me, in my studio), it’s a just not do-able.

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Real designer?

Lastly, which is the point that is most personal to me, is that I’m a designer. I don’t want to copy someone else’s design, I want to create my own. Copying someone else’s design is lazy and uninspired, and really it’s not actually being a designer at all. I would be supremely disappointed if I flicked through a magazine, or surfed a blog and found a bride wearing one of my designs that wasn’t made by me. It’s such a gut-wrenching feeling. Designers work hard to create beautiful, original, breath-taking designs. It’s not just a case of drawing a sketch, you have to work out which fabrics will work with the structure of the dress, (sometimes this involves trial and error) what internal structure the dress will have. How to give maximum support without compromising on the design, what fastenings to use, usability, and hundreds of other things. It’s a lot of work, and usually along the way they get attached to the design. All my dresses are like my babies, they are my creations. If you copy their design you are stealing their thunder.

So back to “I’ve found my dream dress but it’s out of my budget…”. There are a number of other ways you could try to still get that dream dress.

Sample sales

Almost all designers have them (I don’t, but bespoke doesn’t really work that way!), and don’t just look at your local bridal shop. If this is your dream dress (the one, amazing, perfect, the one you can’t live without etc) then consider the fact that you may need to travel a little further afield. If you can find it within your budget elsewhere isn’t it worth travelling a little further?

Second hand

I realise that most people won’t like this option, but really it’s not such a bad idea. Wedding dresses are worn once, just once! With a good dry clean you probably won’t even know. Brides are loving the buy vintage idea and really it’s exactly the same, the dress has been worn before, and you are even being green by recycling!

Negotiate

This last point really depends on who the dress is by and whether it is a custom made design or mass manufactured. If the dress is made especially for you then it might be worth asking the designer direct if there is any way to cut down on the cost. This could be by minimising embellishment details, shortening trains or possibly using a cheaper fabric.

If none of the above work for you, it may be time to re-evaluate your dress needs/wants. Do you need that dress to make your wedding day? Isn’t it all meant to be about the love anyway? Is there something simpler that would do just fine?

If the dress is something you can’t live without, perhaps consider cutting the budget in other areas of your wedding, or consider cutting out something altogether. It is your wedding day and ultimately it is up to how you choose to plan it, but please, don’t stomp on the designer in your rush to the altar.

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My huge thanks to Charlotte from Charlotte Bridal for sharing her thoughts – I completely agree, and it’s great to see this argument explained so well. I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts about copyright in our industry as well: has design theft affected you?

 www.charlottebridal.co.uk
Charlotte Garratt is the owner and designer at Charlotte Bridal. Offering a start-to-finish personalised service for brides, she creates one of a kind gowns for inspired brides.

Claire Gould

Claire spends her days writing - either in beautiful calligraphy or online. She lives on the edge of the English Lake District only minutes away from the beach, where she loves to escape and unwind. Claire's calligraphy can be found at www.byMoonandTide.com. Claire launched the English Wedding Blog in November 2009 - it's been a top 10 UK wedding blog ever since, with a regional focus we hope you LOVE.

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21 COMMENTS
  • Tracey Campbell
    7 years ago

    This is such a great post. This kind of copying happens all the time in floristry, is so frustrating and yet the legal aspect of taking someone else’s design, knowledge, experience and creativity is very often just seen as ‘shopping around’. Every design I conceive of is really carefully thought through in terms of the Bride, her personality, the theme of her wedding, colour, seasonality and budget. I’ve had Brides come to me for a consultation with reams of my designs run out from my website, spend over a hour with me, receive a really in-depth quotation giving all variety names of the flowers; only to take it to another local florist who copied everything I’d given her! As you so rightly say, how is this a ‘real designer’? Anyone can copy anything at any time, real designers are the ones who come up with the ideas in the first place. Sorry to rant, but I feel much better now. Thank you!

    • Claire
      7 years ago
      AUTHOR

      Hi Tracey,
      It’s really frustrating that there’s so little you can do in this situation – other than put it down to experience and feel a little superior, I suppose! It really is a shame there are people out there who will copy – I guess some businesses in the wedding industry are design-led, and some are retail-oriented. Those who are in it for the money and – perhaps this is the crucial part – not pouring their hearts & souls into creating something perfect for the bride and groom, can beat the rest of us on price.
      It’s a shame. Maybe all we can do is help educate couples that true quality comes from innovative designers, as does trust and the best customer service you can get.
      Thanks for your comment, Tracey.
      Claire x

  • Kat - RocknRollBride
    7 years ago

    There is no such thing as copyright protection in the fashion industry, otherwise how would the high stress be allowed to sell knock offs of high end designer designs? This video explains it better than I could
    http://www.rocknrollbride.com/2012/06/copying-copyright-and-the-creation-of-trends-within-the-wedding-industry/

  • Kat - RocknRollBride
    7 years ago

    *high street.

    • Claire
      7 years ago
      AUTHOR

      Thanks for commenting, Kat, and for the link.

      It’s an interesting way of looking at the issue, and I take Johanna‘s point. The fashion industry is a fascinating case study.

      However – on a smaller scale, and from the point of view of independent designers in our industry, copyright is worth defending, and vehemently.

      I’ve seen a major high street accessories chain (a cheap one!) blatantly copy jewellery designs. I’ve seen stationers copy others’ designs to launch a business – sometimes through lack of understanding of copyright issues. The high street is a massive profit-generating machine, and works to different rules – starting with the catwalk trends filtering down. It’s accepted, there. But for sole traders and independent businesses?

      It’s a moral argument for us. I love Charlotte’s point about taking pride in her designs, and this is crucial. One reason I featured this blog post is because I believe it’s really worth saying to our customers: please don’t ask us to copy or “create something similar” to a design found online.
      We love our designs.
      We’re proud of our creativity.
      We have higher standards than some high street stores, it would seem!

      The smaller the business, the worse the impact of design theft I think. Any thoughts?

  • Nic
    7 years ago

    A slightly ill thought out arguement, as how do things get from the cat walk to the high street, without ‘stealing’??

    • Kat - RocknRollBride
      7 years ago

      Nic – exactly. watch the video i linked to above. its genius and very insightful. i dont condone blatant copying and im fiercy defensive when anyone i admire is ripped off, but from a legal point of view, you can not copyright an idea.

  • Kat - RocknRollBride
    7 years ago

    yes of course. i agree on the moral issue and i dont think blatant copying is right but then where do you draw the time? im sure many of her designs have been influenced by many other people, designers, ideas (not direct copies – inspiration). Her statement about having copyright protection on her designs is false. You should also read Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. its fascinating and really made me thinking about ‘copying’ and inspiration.

    • Claire
      7 years ago
      AUTHOR

      Reading list noted, thanks Kat!
      I’ve just hopped quickly onto the ACID website to read up on this, and (skimming, admittedly – I’m supposed to be working) their focus is a voluntary code of ethics when it comes to intellectual property. Which is telling.
      (http://www.acid.uk.com/)
      I’m not going to comment for Charlotte, as the fashion industry isn’t my area of expertise.
      But I stand by her plea to brides, and I’d say the same to couples buying wedding stationery, jewellery, and flowers as Tracey mentions.
      If we can’t change the lower end of the wedding industry, then we can get a message across to our customers: dealing with small and independent retailers means supporting local people, creative and innovative companies. And if you – as a bride or groom – want a custom design, pay what it’s worth. Don’t ask for a copy. If you want a bargain, head for the high street.
      C x

  • Tracey Campbell
    7 years ago

    I can completely see Kat’s perspective (and the video is fascinating) but maybe the reason I felt I wanted to rant was because my creative response to working with a Bride is an emotive one. This forms an important part of my business model and has proven popular with my clients. So, by definition, I am completely able to relate to Charlotte’s ‘gut wrenching’ feeling when someone blatantly steals your ideas. Of course we are all influenced or inspired by any number of images whatever form they take – fashion and design follow cyclical trends and, therefore, are never wholly new or original but this doesn’t mean that it’s OK to rip off someone else’s ideas. Be inspired, yes. But copy every last detail? No.

  • Claire
    7 years ago
    AUTHOR

    Thanks again Tracey. There are definitely a few issues here:

    Who is doing the copying and who is being copied…
    For an independent designer who isn’t a household name, having a design copied is massive. And it hurts. (“Gut-wrenching” is it, exactly.) And it’s wrong.
    If (for example) a wedding invitation “designer” copies someone else’s work, that’s also wrong because they should be using their own creative skills and respecting the original designer

    Fashion and the high street are coming out as a separate issue for me (despite the examples and comparisons in the clip). The mass market has its own, accepted, rules.

    Perhaps the internet culture of sharing is having an effect. Perhaps it’s easier to copy these days. But it’s also more likely you’ll get caught out.

    The point I keep coming back to from Charlotte’s original post is that designers of all kinds in the wedding industry are approached with that question: “can you make me something similar?”. And we should all be saying no.

    I was recently asked by a calligraphy client if I could write in the same style as another calligrapher, who happened to be cheaper than me as well. I said no, and referred her back to the original calligrapher whose work she’d shown me. It’s that simple. For me, that was the right thing to do – and I’d apply it to any situation in our industry.

    Claire x

  • Claire
    7 years ago
    AUTHOR

    I’ve just received a comment behind the scenes here which is from a fake email address, and which I find offensive. I’d like to point out to the sender – who I’m sure is reading and whose comments WON’T be approved or published, that English Wedding Blog is not the place for a bunfight.
    If you have a point to make, keep it pleasant and useful please. And tell me who you are – a genuine email address would be nice.

  • Hey,

    I know I just tweeted this to you, but i’ll put it here tooo! My tutor in Uni used to work for a company in the US and UK that basically ripped off other designs for high street companies. The way she explained the law about copyright to us was, that if you change 20% of the garment, then it does not infringe copyright. I don’t know how you measure 20% of a design, but the examples she gave was changing the thickness of stripes, raising hems, collarlines etc sufficiently. Then it becomes an ‘inspired’ dress, but looks damn near the same.

    • Claire
      7 years ago
      AUTHOR

      Hi Georgina,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts here and on twitter. It’s interesting to see how these things might be legally ‘measured’ and the 20% thing goes to show it can’t be set out in black and white. The ideal would be a sensible assessment on a case-by-case basis, which obviously isn’t practical or practicable. So the 20% solution seems a sensible rule but it’s clearly very easy to get around.

      So: the law isn’t going to solve our problems with copyright in the wedding industry. Takes us back to educating brides and grooms: if you want a designer or bespoke piece, be prepared to pay what it’s worth. If you don’t have the budget, choose a pre-existing high street alternative.

      And where designs are copied by unscrupulous small businesses who don’t know better, or who think they can get away with it, a nice ‘cease and desist’ email can often do the trick.

      Claire

  • Gary - Special Day
    7 years ago

    You’ve opened a (good) can of worms with this one. We quite regularly get asked if we can produce something people have seen elsewhere. On occasion potential customers even claim they designed it, although a quick Internet search normally reveals the real source pretty damn quick. We always refuse, of course, but it always makes me wonder whether others do the same, or whether our designs are being reproduced elsewhere for less than we have to charge for our work.

    • Claire
      7 years ago
      AUTHOR

      Thank you Gary for your input. It’s interesting to hear customers often ask the question about reproducing designs found elsewhere. I think (and hope) most couples aren’t aware of the issues or the impact on designers of copying designs, and they see an expensive bespoke design but try to find a way of having it made more cheaply.

      And I don’t doubt there are others who will copy, either because they are starting out in this very competitive industry, or because they have lower standards. The more we discuss copyright in the wedding industry though, the more we’ll raise awareness with brides and grooms. And that can only be a good thing.

      It’s a little like the music industry and the impact of illegal filesharing: some claim wider exposure for the artist can do no harm, and will ultimately benefit the artist as potential customers will buy the music if they like it. This might be fine for successful artist, but anyone starting out in the music (or wedding design) business simply can’t afford to have their work copied as they’ll lose money.

      • Gary
        7 years ago

        Claire – Copying is everywhere. I found this interesting post on the MoneySavingExpert forum where one of our customers explains how she used our design work to create her own magnets and reply cards. She even went on to say what good value our stationery (that she did buy) was…
        http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?p=46439789

        Seemingly not good enough value to consider buying all of her stationery from us rather than ripping off our design work! 🙁 You just have to let it all wash over you……….just accept that you can’t win them all.

        • Claire
          7 years ago
          AUTHOR

          Hi Gary,
          Ouch. But it goes to show people don’t really understand or appreciate the impact of copying designs. I don’t know how big Special Day Invitations is as a business, but I’d imagine you’re perceived as being as big as Confetti, for example – and I wonder if couples would think twice about copying from a sole trader but don’t feel as guilty about copying from a larger business.
          True, you can’t win them all. And maybe all publicity is good publicity…?

          • Gary
            7 years ago

            I’m sure your’e right – somehow people convince themselves that theft (in ways like this) is more acceptable the bigger (even if only perceived to be big) the company.

            That said, as you say, more than happy to be discussed on forums like this, so in a sense, yes good publicity. Have a good week!

  • Amy
    7 years ago

    I love this blog post, it’s so great to read someone telling it how it is in plain English! Airy fairy light hearted blog posts have their place too, but when your getting down to the nitty gritty of planning your wedding, it’s good to hear simple, useful advice.

    • Claire
      7 years ago

      Thanks Amy! Stick with the wedding blogs – we’re all keen to share advice like this: my favourites are Under the Vintage Veil and Far from the Wedding Crowd – as well as Rock n Roll Bride, Love My Dress, Whimsical Wonderland and Rock My Wedding of course.

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