Fakery, dodgy copies and stealing designs is a big issue within the wedding industry. You might have stumbled across a cheap and nasty veil on ebay (I did once!) or seen online retail sites with too-good-to-be-true prices for accessories and jewellery. While this can have a devastating effect on small craft business owners, it can also have a real impact on your wedding day – so here’s my guide to fakery and copyright in the wedding industry, with examples from my friends on facebook and tips to help you avoid getting scammed by the fakers.
I’d love to hear your stories on this feature as well, so please use the comments form at the end of the blog post to share. The only thing I ask is that you don’t ‘name and shame’ any suppliers here for legal reasons. Thank you!
How fakery in the wedding industry could affect your big day
From buying something that falls apart, to getting a call from a designer who’s seen your wedding photos online and claims you’ve stolen ideas… what copyright means for you:
Fakes and copyright – what does it mean?
Legal definitions aside, for me fakes and copyright are about the same thing: they’re a moral issue. Any designer or person who sees something online and chooses to make an almost exact copy is stealing. Yes, it’s a personal definition – but I see copyright in black and white.
How fake suppliers can spoil your wedding
Are you happy buying knock-offs? When you’re out shopping do you buy from Debenhams or your local market? If you need a new watch do you buy in a store or watch out for a guy down the market with a suitcase full of Rolexes?
The point is that if you buy an authentic item; whether it’s a watch, a wedding dress or a handmade invitation, you can expect a certain quality. Bits won’t fall off. Your money is going to someone honest. No sweatshops are involved in the production. When something does go wrong, customer service will be there to help you. It’s about integrity and trust.
The experienced stationery designers at Olivia Samuel told me, “We had our Classic Script Black & White image nicked from our site… The actual description of the card showed it was printed, not foiled, different dimensions and customer assembly required so customers were getting nothing like the image.”
Lovely Nikki from Tickled Pink Stationery gave another example of how brides could be affected by cheats: “Someone ordered a sample and then photographed it and added it to their collection. It didn’t even fit with their house style, so I’ve no idea how they’d have dealt with it if they had received an order.“
If you see something online which you’d love to have for your wedding but just can’t afford, would you look for a similar alternative, or the same thing at bargain basement prices? I’ve seen almost-identical copies of applique hair accessories on the internet: the original handmade pieces were expensive, which is understandable for intricate designs which take hours to perfect on the drawing board and just as long to create.
I hear alarm bells when items like this appear on cheap reseller sites for just a few pounds or dollars… if I suspect for even a second that sweatshops and child labour are involved in the production of a wedding accessory then I won’t go near it. Would you?
Award winning UK designer Harriet (of By Harriet) told me “There are many truly talented designer artisans sinking against Chinese import assemblers who the customers believe are offering the same types of products. It makes it nigh on impossible for true “artisan” makers to compete when brides don’t know the difference” This convinces me that price has to be the best indicator of authenticity.
Some of my friends who are wedding photographers have their own stories to tell. Lazy photographers trying to make a quick profit will steal others’ images for their own websites, giving couples the impression they’re miles better than they really are! This is why wedding photography blogs are a real blessing for brides and grooms to see lots of their photographer’s wedding work.
Joanne (Joanne Gower Photography) told me, “I have recently come across instances where professional photographers have had their work downloaded from the internet by individuals who then pass this work off as their own, loading up onto their own websites and taking bookings on the back of it! Their clients are heading for major disappointment.“
My friend and wedding blog sponsor Fiona Campbell has also had images stolen, by someone claiming to be a “police officer” in the US. “He stole several from me and a few other prominent British photographers. Someone noticed and alerted me, thank goodness. We then contacted google and got the website taken down and reported him to the US police. What was so hideous about it was that he was using our images to give credence to his own site, which featured some disturbing images of teenage girls in their underwear. I have now had to start to watermark my images for that reason, but ultimately if someone wants to steal your images, they will. I think that’s why it’s really important to meet your wedding photographer in advance.“
What about making your own? Can a bride copy a design online?
Over the last ten years I’ve seen a huge shift from couples buying from craft businesses (stationery, jewellery, table decorations) to a love of wedding DIY. The more creative you are as a couple, the less of an issue this can be.
My views on ‘copying’ for the DIY bride and groom
- It’s fine to browse wedding fairs, get general ideas and then design your own invites or jewellery based roughly on what you’ve seen
- It’s fine to make Pinterest boards of invitations, jewellery etc. as inspiration for your wedding DIY if you pin images from sites which encourage pinning and if you credit the designers and photographers wherever possible
- It’s wrong to recreate an invitation or piece of jewellery by referring to an image you’ve found online.
- It’s boring to copy a design – creative couples enjoy wedding DIY because it’s a way to personalise things: use your own imaginations and work together to design something brand new which represents you as a couple!
There could potentially be consequences for you if you are found to have copied a design you find online. I once blogged a lovely wedding on the English Wedding Blog, where the bride told me she’d made her own stationery. A friend of mine in the industry emailed me on the day the post was published, to let me know the bride in question had ordered a sample from her and then copied the design. I removed the feature.
Another friend of mine, Zoe from Bunny Delicious had her wedding stationery copied by a ‘DIY’ bride. Zoe’s style is distinctive and instantly recognisable. When the wedding appeared on a top UK wedding blog Zoe spotted that her designs had been copied and had to ask for the feature to be removed.
Even if you have no plans for your big day to appear on a wedding blog, your photographer may choose to blog the day on their own website (and as they own the copyright for their images, they are entitled to do this). There’s then a good chance that other suppliers will notice very quickly if you’ve recreated a design for which they own the copyright. You may even be threatened with legal action.
But isn’t fakery and copyright infringement impossible to avoid these days?
We all use the internet for wedding inspiration from blogs, Pinterest, magazines’ websites and finding suppliers online. There are so many images online and so many designs and options available that surely similarity is unavoidable…
Similarity is one thing. When similarity becomes spooky it’s cheating, copying and fakery. Details like layouts, fonts, matching colours and identical materials are key to being able to spot a copy.
An example of how bad this can be comes from my friend Julie at Ice Maiden Cakes: “Another cake maker copied my design so precisely she even replicated an error I had made which was rectified after I took the photo…. what really annoyed me about this particular case is the fact that she entered the design in to a competition and won two prizes with it.”
More signs to warn you you’re dealing with a faker!
- Cheap-looking, poorly designed websites (real designers care about their brand image). Lisa from top marquee supplier County Marquees told me their website text is often copied by lazy designers – but she added, “One thing that happens sometimes which makes up for it is that people forget to remove the links. So they end up linking to us from within their text. I really love that.”
- Mistakes in website copy or very generic-sounding text (good designers write with passion)
- ebay – a contentious point, but while I’m sure there are genuine suppliers on ebay I’ve heard stories of occasional fakers on there. Wedding dress from China, anyone? (Read the comments to that post!)
- Lack of response when you email or call with a query. Buy from someone you can trust: they’ll be prepared to offer honest help and advice when you ask for it!
How to protect yourself from fakers and copyright cheats
- Trust your instincts!
- Ask to see more: several wedding albums from one photographer, or photos of a matching bouquet, buttonholes and centrepieces from a florist.
- Understand the design process – has the item you love been blogged by the designer?
- Ask for samples. What looks fab online should look even better in real life!
- Communicate. Call, email or meet your suppliers and avoid faceless transactions for things that matter to you
- Reputation: look for online reviews and also see who your chosen supplier interacts with on facebook and twitter. Are they professional? Pleasant? An expert in their field?
- Expertise is important. Blog posts explaining techniques and offering tips to new creatives are a great indicator of someone with experience and expertise – what’s on your supplier’s blog?
Amanda from the award winning Distinctly Floral gave me this advice: “I have had several instances where wedding couples have shown me my own images as taken from other websites; they asked if we could do similar and in one instance refused to believe that the work was ours as it was on another website (we had to show them the whole wedding on our iPad before they believed us!). Whilst I know there are very few truly unique ideas, we take great pride and a lot of time designing and refining our work for our clients. We, and they, want a unique and special day and hence copying someone else’s idea just isn’t on our agenda.”
Copyright in the wedding industry – a case study
In all my research on this subject, the most shocking tale I came across was from Natalie O’Donovan Ryan, wedding stationery designer at 2 by 2 Creative. Natalie’s story gives a real insight into how a faker works.
Do read the article and ask yourself afterwards, would you rather buy from Natalie, or from Mr X? Because personally I wouldn’t give him the time of day.
Some final words for those businesses who steal designs and harm the lovely businesses I love to support:
Andrew (Wedding Photographer Cambridge) commented that the situation is “Shocking, but in a way these people aren’t a threat to anyone’s business – they have no imagination, creativity or originality of their own and will flounder in the long run. Meanwhile the real creatives will be spurred on to greater “out of the box” thinking as was mentioned above, and will thrive. BTW I think there’s a lot more fakery in the wedding industry than this, which is bad enough, but the tip of an iceberg that is the epitome of design over substance.“
And my favourite quote comes from Cakes by Beth – whose designs are divine, creative and as fascinating as they are beautiful: “When my website was copied, it was the push we needed to come up with something better. I emailed the lady concerned, who agreed to change some things but denied copying and wouldn’t change others, so I coined the phrase “If Mohammed won’t change, then let’s redesign the mountain“. It took us a while but it was so worth it!“
I had so many replies to my original post on facebook about fakery in the wedding industry that I can’t quote every single one, but I’d like to thank everyone who shared their thoughts with me. Do read this Facebook discussion thread for more examples, and as I mentioned at the beginning of the article I’d love to hear what you think if you have a minute to comment here!