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Not this one, please.

by Kate (August, 2003)

(Note: Kate is a mid-level manager at a major craft company.)

Its waiting list includes the rich and famous such as Sammy Sosa. Its exclusive membership makes other clubs envious. Yet the members themselves are not necessarily pleased they belong. What club is it? The Red-Handed Club. Membership is restricted to those found guilty of deliberate, unethical behavior. The waiting list is comprised of those who have been accused, but have not yet been found guilty, such as Martha Stewart and Kobe Bryant.

Are you a member? Are you rubbing shoulders with Martha and Kobe as you wait?

Club membership is denied if the unethical behavior is found to be truly accidental. That saves many of us in the craft industry. Though we produce a large variety of crafts, we generally travel to the same trade shows, read the same magazines, and learn about the same trends. Given all the similarities in the information we receive, we can't help but produce similar products.

Where membership opportunities abound, however, is when one person, or a panel of people, move forward with a design or product they took directly from another party. You'd think people would know better, but in my travels I've overheard many justifications for stealing:

1. "This artist will never know since she lives in a foreign country." That may be, and her correspondence may be coming to you via a typewritten letter, so you assume she doesn't access the Internet. Whether or not she learns you have produced her design or product is not as important as the fact that you know you deliberately stole them. I believe I see Martha coming towards you.

2. "We only have to change it 15% to make it ours." Baloney. Whether you change it 15% or not, it is NOT yours. Change the design 20%, put it out in the market, and see what happens. Even if the artist or her lawyer doesn't complain, the trust developed between you and her is gone. Thanks to message boards, chat rooms, emails, and newsgroups, it's almost a guarantee that your reputation will be brought into question. I hear Sammy calling your name.

"I don't care," you say. But you will care if the designer does complain. How will you respond, or will you pass her on to someone else? Aren't you lucky, Martha's handing you your invitation personally!

3. "We can use the same packaging." You replace Company B's name with yours and you play around with the wording a bit. As a consumer, I think less of a company that believes the only way to sell an item is to package it as similarly as possible to the first company who offered the product. Uh-oh, Sammy is introducing himself to you.

Shoe on the other foot.

Let's switch perspectives for a minute. Suppose Company B produces knock-offs of your products? Do you scream to your attorney? Interesting how protective you become when you're the injured party. Remember that feeling the next time you feel the urge to join the Red-Handed Club.

Now look inside the four walls of your own company: Do you wonder why office supplies are being used faster than they can be replaced? Why staff breaks have stretched from 10 minutes to 15? Why less time is spent on work and more on Internet surfing and personal phone calls? Why you find shrinkage every time you conduct a physical inventory?

Your staff is very aware of your attitude towards right vs. wrong. If the example you're setting is less than ethical, what incentive do they have to follow the rules?

At times the craft industry is very small. All of our ideas come from images, words, colors, and other information that bombard our senses. Using these as triggers for designs cannot be avoided, but if you deliberately call someone else's design or product your own, don't be surprised when you find yourself spending time with Martha and Sammy.

(Note: Kate's previous columns are archived. To access any of them, click on the titles at the top of the right-hand column. Have any comments about stolen designs or products? Email Kate at katescollagecln@aol.com.)



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