On the issue of copyright I could go on forever. Put simply, if you copy another artists work and it is an obvious direct copy then you have stolen their intellectual propety. It's complex, confusing and often a topic people either have a strong opinion about or avoid exploring altogether. I am not going to delve into the legalities as there are plenty of books and articles you can read which will answer your queries.
What I am going to do is simplify it, strip it back to its bare bones and start by simply saying this..."IF IT FEELS WRONG, DON'T DO IT"
Now that only works if
a) You have a conscience about this sort of thing and
b) If it's ever been pointed out to you that you shouldn't.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
The message I would like to get out there is BEFORE embarking on a project where you are going to copy another artists work. STOP and ask yourself "Am I going to be copying someone elses idea/design?" If the answer is yes, DON'T do anything before contacting them. Approach the artist to say you love their work and that you would like to make a version of the piece in question. If the artist is ok with that then go ahead BUT remember to credit them in each and every post. Let the world know that you have spoken to the artist and have received permission to recreate it. If they say no, respect that too. They may say they are ok with it as long as you don't copy it exactly. In the event the artist doesn't reply or you can't get in touch with them, you should take that as a no.
HAS THE CAT GOT THE CREAM?
OK then, what constitutes a copy? Lets say I mosaic a cat. I can't tell everyone else that they can't make a cat. You can't copyright a cat. Hell I can't even get her to get off my lap...I digress...My point is it's rarely the subject itself but the WAY in which the cat was created which is the infringement. Lets take it further, say I made my cat out of dishes (commonly known in the mosaic world as pique assiette) I'm not saying that no one else can make a cat out of dishes either. You can't copyright a style or method used to mosaic. The issue is when an artist uses another artists work as a template to attempt recreation or an exact copy, piece by piece of their original work. It's the shapes and placements. The andamento (flow) of a piece is personal to that artist like a fingerprint, and if you try to replicate it it just comes off as a bad copy because it won't flow like the first piece created by the originating artist did. So, no the cat hasn't got the cream. He has an empty bowl. Sure, he has the bowl but there's no substance to it. Poor kitty. Get it now?
OK SO WHAT CAN I DO TO AVOID THIS?
Let's use my cat again, poor thing. If I take a photo of my cat (therefore owning the rights to the original image) and make a sketch from it or use the photo as a template to mosaic it in my own style, no one can ever claim it to be theirs. Don't have a cat? Search for copyright free images or draw from observation or imagination.
I'm going to show you some examples of work I have had copied. I will mention no names as conversations have been had between both parties in each of these three examples. Each example is a copy of my work by a different artist.
Example No 1
Aptly titled 'Daylight Robbery' You couldn't make it up! My original is the image to the left. Look carefully at my cuts and the shapes I've made to create the feathers on the wings. Each piece carefully considered to create 'flow' so the seagull has an element of realism, character and movement.
Now look really closely to the artists version that she copied to the right. Note she has printed off an image of my original and placed it underneath the mesh. She is trying to cut each and every piece exactly as it was in mine. Once again I tried explaining why this was wrong to be met with 'You don't own the copyright to make a seagull' which as I've previously explained is not the issue. This particular artist claimed she had never seen my work so it couldn't be a copy...until I pointed out my work underneath the mesh. Another point here is please don't lie about it if caught, then backtrack and say oh yes I did see it once *Facepalm
The garden goddess sculpture I made out of Pal Tiya (pic to the left is before I had applied the mosaic) was copied inch by inch. I had posted instructions as I progressed which someone took to mean they could copy it exactly and then not credit me in their posts online about it. I have always been generous in sharing how I make things but am more cautious now especially as I never get any credit for it. I would post work in progress and give very detailed explainations in the hope it would inspire others to use my tips to create something unique of their own NOT to make exact replicas.
Example No 3
Sebastian the Hare was a private commission which took 6 months to create. He was an exceptionally personalised piece that myself and my client spent time discussing and perfecting. He is a complete one off original as I used my clients costume jewellery collection on his magnificent coat. Every piece meant something and my client and her daughter even handpainted some of the pottery/seaglass that I incorporated.
I was so proud of the achievement. Standing at 6ft 4" tall, he was a piece that taught me so much and showed me what I could achieve with dedication and patience. With that in mind, you can see why I was shocked to wake to messages from my followers to inform me that he had been copied and not only that but no credit had been given and I couldn't view the posts.
Once again, It's not the subject that's an issue. Anyone can mosaic a hare. It's the WAY the cuts have been made to replicate mine. It isn't exact because they clearly don't have the same pieces available to them that I have in my studio, and they haven't taken the trouble to smooth each and every piece. But you can see they are copying the colours, placement and shapes as near as they possibly can and that's not cool. I have spoken to the artist today who has apologised and now credited me but it really shouldn't be happening in the first place. A simple conversation beforehand would have sufficed. Reach out, talk, ask permission and be kind to your fellow artists. There's room for everyone without needing to step on toes.
SUM IT UP AL, YOU'VE MADE YOUR POINT...(Nearly)
Art is such a personal journey. You publicly share your heart and soul through your work to whoever chooses to follow you. A lot of time goes into the planning of a piece, research into a subject, even as far as researching the skeletal system and muscles so that you can translate that into your cuts to replicate movement in the body of your piece. I will spend hours perfecting a design into a sketch until I'm confident it will translate well into mosaic.
I choose my tesserae carefully, observing the pattern on a given plate or the curved edge of a bowl, even how a cup handle creates the perfect eyebrow. I've studied, read countless books and spent years making mistakes to get to where I am now. I am confident in my ability as a mosaic artist, the knowledge gained from years of graft and trial and error.
As artists there needs to be a code between us. A basic rule everyone adheres to, recognises the importance of and understands, but more importantly, you will never grow as an artist if you base your business on copying others. How do you expect to get better if you haven't taken the long road?
Think of it like this...You want to run a marathon but don't fancy the dedication it takes to complete one, so you buy all the kit and grab a lift to the finish line. That, to me, sums up copying.