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Copycat or Copyright?

Office Appropriate Outfits - Summer

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Tank – Marshall’s (similar) | Skirt – The Limited (same) | Cardigan – The Limited (similar) | Necklace – J. Crew via Poshmark (similar) | Star Earrings – Gorjana (similar) | Shoes – Bandolino (similar)

Even though yesterday I managed to forget half my jewelry when leaving the house, thus feeling a bit naked, I was able to get a lot done. I even got in a great workout when I got home from work.

All of that changed, however, when I checked my mail on the way back from the gym. In the mail I received a letter from an attorney’s office threatening to take me to court for using a photo of Jennifer Lawrence on one of my Inspiration Monday posts.

The photo has been removed. I’ve let the attorney’s office know. But in the letter they wrote multiple times that removing the photo doesn’t absolve me of anything. In fact, it appears the company that claims to hold the copyright wants me to pay them for the monetary damages they incurred by having their photo used without paying for the rights.

Me. My little blog that gets MAYBE 100 unique visits a day.

It got me thinking. Today’s outfit is my own spin on an outfit I originally saw on Pinterest that came from A Fashion Deliberation.  It’s nothing groundbreaking. A navy skirt with a navy and white striped tank and a green cardigan. Did I really need an inspiration photo to put that together? People have probably been wearing outfits like this for years.

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From A Fashion Deliberation – Used with permission

 

Yet, it wasn’t until I saw the photo that the lightbulb went off in my head. “Oh,” I thought, “I have those pieces! I can wear them together! And I’ll wear them on Tuesday since it’s ‘Stars & Stripes’ Trend Spin at The Fashion Canvas and Walking in Memphis.”

Using inspiration photos is a part of many personal style bloggers repertoires. I use them and when I know I got my inspiration from another photo I do my best to credit the original source. It’s fun to see how I can make the items I already own work in ways I hadn’t thought of before. But maybe I don’t need to use them? Maybe it would be better if I was able to use my own creativity when putting together an outfit. Be original instead of a copycat and all that.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that I will be paying more attention in the future to the challenges I participate in and what photos I use as inspiration, if any.

In the mean time, anyone know a good attorney?

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30 replies on “Copycat or Copyright?

  1. kelsey

    omg my jaw is on the floor, I cannot believe you got the letter! that is seriously crazy.

    In any case, I like your outfit…

  2. Kandi

    That’s crazy! I really enjoy your copycat posts and see how you interpret other outfits. But I’d totally understand if you had to stop posting them. Boo!
    I decided this week that I need some kelly green clothing in my life. I want a green shirt and now a green cardi too.

  3. Valerie @ The Style Files

    Wow- that is crazy ridiculous. What lawyers have time do scour the countless blogs out there? Do you know if any other bloggers from that link up got communication from them? Kinda makes me dislike Jennifer Lawrence..not gonna lie!

    1. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      I don’t know if other bloggers also got a letter, but I did let the women who run the link-up know and suggested they contact the other participants!

      And don’t blame Jennifer Lawrence. It was a paparazzi photo that she probably didn’t see any money from, either.

  4. Anne

    That really stinks! So many people use images all the time, often uncredited, it’s so random that one image on your site was singled out.

  5. Holly

    What the HECK??? Wow….. blogs use inspiration photos ALL THE TIME! They get pinned and re-pinned again and again! I’m just…flabbergasted!

  6. Jen @ Librarian for Life and Style

    Oh no!!! After just now updating all of my style challenge posts, I feel ok to comment now on your very brave post… but it got me thinking about Pinterest… another example of how sometimes the execution of copyright cannot keep up with technology. Or the intent of copyright. Linking back to WHERE you got the inspiration is in the spirit of copyright, like in the vein of a “quoted in” citation. SIGH. I am sending you mental hugs right now!

    As to inspiration vs. copycats, I feel no shame whatsoever in soaking up inspiration wherever. A style blog documents where YOU got the inspiration from. And documenting those light-bulb moments can be inspiring — not only for you, but also your readers. It’s those kinds of moments that often go unchecked or unnoticed in our big fleeting mess of pop culture and society, but they reveal just a little glimpse into how personal style evolves. It’s a snapshot of creativity and personal reflection. I treasure those kinds of moments — for myself and for others. 🙂

    And by the way… is it ok to showcase images (and linkback URLs) to outfits of yours that have inspired me? Just checking… 🙂

    1. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      Did you go back and remove all the photos? I noticed when I was looking at your post from this Inspiration Monday you just linked to the image! Crazy that we have to do that.

      And, yes, you are more than welcome to use my blog photos with linkback URLs 🙂

      1. Jen @ Librarian for Life and Style

        Yep, that’s what I did — here’s hoping that linking back is sufficient! I wonder how many other style bloggers who do this as a fun side hobby have had to go through this. Is it wrong to want to quote ‘The Hunger Games’… “may the odds be ever in your favor”? {rueful grin}

  7. Bethany @ Accidental Intentions

    Yeah, I gotta go with Jen on the whole copyright intent thing here. Because it is very clearly one thing to take someone’s original creative work, whether that’s a story or a poem or an article or a photo or a painting or a song or an outfit or whatever, and pass it off as your own, or even more so, pass it off as your own as a way of making money. If I were to copy the entire manuscript of The Da Vinci Code, put my name on the cover, and try to sell it — yeah. That’s a huge violation of copyright, and that’s the whole POINT of copyright: so I don’t take the work someone else did and pass it off as my own, because that’s not cool at all. That’s stealing someone else’s creative work. But if I were to read The Da Vinci Code, think to myself, “Wow, that was a really interesting concept for a novel. I think I’m going to write my own novel using history, the church, adventure, or some combination of the above [full disclosure: I haven’t actually read The Da Vinci Code, so I don’t really know what it’s about], because I think this something people would be interested in,” that, to me, is wildly different situation. Anyone who thinks they can put out any sort of creative work whatsoever and not expect people to ever be inspired by it is kidding themselves. That’s just kind of the cycle of artistic creation. I mean, to be honest, I think it’d be worse if you were all, “Hey, look at this outfit I came up with completely on my own!” rather than being all, “Hey, look at this outfit I thought was cute and am going to recreate/reinterpret with what I own as a way of hopefully inspiring you to do the same.”

    It also seems like a lot of these copyright violation things could be avoided if the cost to use a photo wasn’t beyond absurd. I’ve looked into these things. It can cost like $6000 to use ONE photo with someone marginally famous in it. One! Seems to me if these costs were slightly more reasonable, people would be a bit more willing to pay for them, and then we could avoid all of this drama to begin with.

    1. Jen @ Librarian for Life and Style

      TOTALLY agree with you!

      “Anyone who thinks they can put out any sort of creative work whatsoever and not expect people to ever be inspired by it is kidding themselves. That’s just kind of the cycle of artistic creation. I mean, to be honest, I think it’d be worse if you were all, “Hey, look at this outfit I came up with completely on my own!” rather than being all, “Hey, look at this outfit I thought was cute and am going to recreate/reinterpret with what I own as a way of hopefully inspiring you to do the same.”

      Amen!

  8. Bri Marie

    Fran and I were talking about this last night. So ridiculous and so frustrating for you – I’m so sorry!! I can’t wait to hear how it all goes, which I’m sure will be in your favor! And in the meantime, keep being inspired. Sometimes a throw pillow I see in a west elm ad will inspire my outfit – point being, even if you aren’t searching it out on Pinterest or in celebrity magazines, inspiration is all around, and we should embrace our own take on what we see in the world!

  9. Guisela

    I can’t say any different from the other comments… I think that is ridiculous that the lawyer takes his time to ask to you compensation for damages??? Which damages? I really hope that this unfortunate episode don’t stop you for being a lovely blogger.
    Hope that everything can be solved soon!

  10. T.

    Assuming you’re not joking about the attorney thing… run a search on Martindale.com (sort-of a yellow pages for lawyers) that’s limited to Chicago lawyers with intellectual property listed as their specialty.

    If you don’t know attorneys, that’s a more refined search engine than just sticking to Google.

  11. BeautyStyleGrowth

    Really love this look and the first thing I thought was I also had the pieces to recreate the look. Your curves carry the look really well.
    Now to the letter, are you sure it’s real? Jennifer lawrence may be too busy and too rich for that. especially when they are saying even after you removed it you were still liable.
    I got a call the other day saying I would be arrested on Monday morning (last week) that there was a warrant for my arrest if I did not pay for a loan I cosigned. I’m still here…

    k at http://www.beautystyleandgrowth.blogspot.com

  12. Lisa Hamel

    I am so sorry you have to deal with something like this.

    I understand a photographer’s desire to protect his or her work, but requesting anything beyond removal and/or accreditation of the photograph just seems greedy. As soon as you place content on the web, you have to be prepared to give up a certain amount of control, which is why I keep wondering if I’ll end up seeing one of my blog images in a student’s book report someday.

    Also, I love your outfit. It is my favorite I’ve seen on your blog. ; )

  13. Texas Tamie

    I’ve seen “used with permission” on blogs numerous times recently. How do you go about getting permission from a Pinterest inspiration?

    1. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      In a perfect world you would be able to track the pin back to the original source and contact the blogger or website maintainer for permission. That’s what I did with the inspiration photo I used in this post.

  14. kilax

    Like everyone else, I wonder why the heck they contacted you, when other people used the same image. Why not contact the whole group? Is it because your address was the easiest to find? Are they just looking for money? It’s so odd.

    Like Lisa Hamel mentioned, I do get upset when people take my photographs and post them… but without crediting them (or by hotlinking). Give me credit and I am all good. And it seems odd – photos of celebrities are posted all the time.

    I hope this all gets sorted out 🙁

    And to what you said in your post about not being a “copycat,” well, would that go against the purpose of your blog? Isn’t it to inspire and help people who want to dress like you and maybe “copy” or interpret your looks? Keep using inspiration. You don’t have to be 100% creatively original all the time! 🙂

  15. Emily

    HOLY COW. You got a LETTER in the MAIL about your photo threatening legal action!?!?? How did they get your mailing address!?!?!? (And now I am going to get nervous every time I open up my mailbox because I get, uh, lazy about crediting my photo sources.) YIKES!!!

    On a bright note, though, I love the outfit! Navy, green, and white is one of my favorite color combinations! It’s so springlike and so nautical. =)

    1. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      I *thought* I paid extra to have my address taken out of the website registration database but I suppose if they subpoenaed my website host they could get it. I’m going to have to look into that.

  16. Pingback: Green and navy pattern-mixing | Librarian for Life and Style

  17. Sarah

    This kind of makes me laugh (not AT you) because part of my job (legal intern at an IP firm) is to send cease and desist letters probably very similar to the one you got! I totally understand your annoyance, though. I think because so many people use copyrighted photos on their blogs (some illegally, some not), we all get used to seeing them and just think it’s fine. I know you feel singled out because you’re “a little guy,” but there are tons of little guys getting letters like yours all the time; they just might not be talking about it.
    Also, in response to some of the other comments, it not necessarily “greedy” to ask you for money damages. It just might be unrealistic…haha! Statutory damages are a part of the Copyright Act so they weren’t just demanding money for no reason. If you ask me, the statutory damages are totally outrageous, but I didn’t write the law! (Just to be clear, I’m not trying to give you advice on whether or not to pay what they’re demanding!)
    The good news is that you can’t copyright an outfit, so you can keep doing all the inspiration posts you want! Just be careful about using photos without permission. It’s always safer to ask – that’s what I did for all my Pin to Real Life posts.

    ~Sarah of Sarah’s Real Life

    1. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      You know, if it had been what I would think a cease and desist letter would typically look like I wouldn’t have minded. Take the photo down and move on. But the fact that they actually included the draft court filing of what they would file in court if I didn’t comply seemed a bit overkill. But maybe I just don’t know how cease and desist letters typically work. Thankfully, I can read a legal filing, though, after six years of working in the court system myself 🙂

      Also, interestingly enough, the photo was originally downloaded from Eonline which has a provision for non-commercial use. Since I haven’t actually made money off my blog I could probably argue that it WAS non-commercial use. But, I’ve got a few attorney friends looking into it at the moment.

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