In the world of fanart, it is unlikely that you will ever be the sole individual to think, "I could make a tissue box cover that looks like a companion cube!" or "Wouldn't a nyan cat scarf be cute?" There are tons of others who have thought the same thing and created something from that thought. Today I'll stick with the smallest range possible: piranha plant earrings. Yup, we're going to be that simple.
So to start, I won't say that I think only one person can make and sell them and everyone else is just copying. That would be stupid. Everyone can come up with their own designs or else just do a straight copy of the character or whatever. The latter cannot be disputed because the character already exists. The creative selling point is the design and this is where it gets touchy.
If you search "piranha plant earrings" on Etsy, you'll see a few dozen listings pop up. 2 years ago, there were maybe 5. Now it looks something like this:
Wow those all look really similar don't you think? I'm not saying they all look like piranha plants. I'm saying that a majority of them are made to look like they are biting your ear lobes. It's pretty hard to believe that in 2 years, a load of people all came to the same idea independently. Now the very first time I saw these, they were made by lizglizz.
She now titles hers as "The Original YOUCH Piranha Plant Earrings". And I believe her in the claim of originality. Hers were around for a long time before the others appeared.
Things that sell well always get copied, in the professional world and the tiny handmade market. It's a fact that others will see your creations, like them and think, "I can do that too." It's the "I can make something similar" vs "I can make that exact same thing" that gets people into conflict. Most other artists have simply copied the chomping design but a few have even decided to name theirs "YOUCH Piranha Plant Earrings" after lizglizz's.
I'm not a fan of copycats unless you're making one or two things for yourself or as a gift. Then have at it. But if you're going to market and sell it, at least try to be a little original.
The other side of the argument is that the competitive market must always adapt. If someone copies your design or product, you must make it better, do something new, etc. This is a truth except that most artists operate more by personal ethics than business innovation.
That and if they have to make each item by hand, then quality will be different. Are they worse or better than your skill level? Anyone who doesn't have the eye for quality or detail cannot match up to you, even if they market theirs cheaper. Anyone who's making something that blows yours out of the water should give you a perspective as to how you can improve.
Here are the two end points:If you're thinking about copying a product or idea to make a few bucks, just knock it off. You're creative enough to do something of your own creation and imagination.
If someone's copied something very specific of yours, you can't throw a fit or expect them to take it down. Sucks but have confidence that you came up with a good enough idea that someone else copied it. And if you can do that once, you can do it again. They probably can't.
Important fine print:
Don't be a bastard and attack anyone that has a listing up from my image. There are no legal constraints against this sort of copying. You do not own a vague idea unless you've actually applied and paid for a copyright, trademark, patent or whatever.
Also if your listing is in the image above and you'd like it to be removed, email me. I will be happy to blot out names. If you're going to threaten me with legal action, then don't bother emailing me. Those images are on the internet and available for public access, and it's not a copyright violation for me to use your photos in a review of items.