Inspired By

Many of you have asked for my thoughts on the very common practice of businesses ‘borrowing’ ideas from one another but not crediting the ideas to their original owners. It’s an issue which is endemic to the industry and an issue which starts endless dramas among ‘friends’ …and it very quickly gets very ugly, doesn’t it?

Here’s my two cents:

Remember my post about how I divorced all my facebook groups? I feel much the same way about chasing down copy cats as I do about facebook groups – basically: my time as a business owner is better spent elsewhere.

The reality of it is, you can spend countless hours chasing people who ‘are inspired by’ your ideas but who fail to be inspired enough to credit back to you. You can do lots of reverse Google image searching, chase them down on facebook, ‘name and shame’ them on your own fb page, email them directly, hire lawyers to send them ‘cease and desist’ letters and basically create an entire job out of hunting these people and demanding the credit you deserve. On the flip side, you can also do things like spend a lot of time emailing the people who may (or may not) be the original designer of something and ask their permission to re-create it. Both are a total waste of time. Why? Because who says the watermarked picture you’re looking at is an original of that maker anyway? Maybe that cake maker copied it from another picture which wasn’t watermarked, or maybe it was watermarked, only the cake maker before them copied it from another one that wasn’t… you get the idea.  Last I checked I don’t know a single cake maker who got royalties for something they designed. Nor have I ever seen copyright on cake design actually enforced by any legal organisation. Following the trail of creativity is a very time consuming process and in my opinion, a total waste of time.

Me? I’d much rather be making fabulous products for paying clients. That’s where my time is better spent.

In the digital age of sharing, pinning, posting, tumblr-ing, tweeting, instagramming, hash tagging…is *anything* in the creative, edible realm really able to remain “owned” solely by the person who created the first one? In my opinion – no, or at least not for very long. As speciality bakers,we WANT and NEED to share our work with as wide an audience as possible. Sharing publicly is how we build our reputation, get new clientele, and showcase our ability. We work in a very visual medium, ergo, we need to publish photos of our work. I would even go so far as to say we have no choice but to share freely and widely. Many people do this on their business’s sites but I bet ALL OF YOU also do this on cake forums of one sort or another, thus freely and widely sharing your work with your competition (hello,”Sharing Monday”….). The problem with this of course is that people steal freely and widely too. Or “borrow”, or are “inspired by”, or “put their own twist on,” or whatever words you put around it – the end result is pretty much the same. Suddenly the things we spent hours on are being recreated by others, whose clients now think they are incredibly clever to have thought of this concept in the first place when it’s you who thought of it.

You know what?

It’s not very nice to be stolen from. But…I’d much rather be making fabulous products for paying clients. That’s where my time is better spent.

Let me be very clear about the point I’m making here: when someone uses your ideas and credits you, it’s flattering. When someone uses your ideas, but doesn’t credit you, it’s incredibly irritating but ultimately probably isn’t going to harm your brand in the long run. Don’t waste what little precious time you have available to you on becoming some sort of Internet cake-identifying vigilante.  You can’t stop the digital chain growing no matter how hard you try.  If your photo has been shared 6000 times that you know of, it’s probably been shared 6000 times that you DON’T know of and for cripes’ sake that’s a lot of gnashing of teeth you’re doing AND a hell of a lot of emailing you are going to need to do. I ask you: who really has time for that?

Let me be real here and give you some guidelines:

To the bakers here who are just starting out: if you choose to recreate then share a cake you copied from someone else, and you can credit it, do so. It’s the right thing to do. Can’t find any identifying info? Either don’t post the cake anywhere, or post it with something like, “the client gave me this unmarked photo to work from, so I’m not sure of it’s design origins. Please let me know if you do know where it’s from,”  and then go back and credit it if it ever gets identified. Then go back to making fabulous products for paying clients. That’s where your time is better spent.

To those of you who have been at this for a while: if you see unauthorised “borrowing” of your photos or designs (and they’re claiming that it’s their original concept or picture), send a polite email to that person asking them to credit you. Educate them if you can but be prepared that not everyone is educable and some people are just jerks. For those you cannot chase (and there will be thousands), do yourself a favour and get over it. Accept that by posting anywhere online, you’re also inevitably going to be copied. Consider it a compliment. Then go back to making fabulous products for paying clients. That’s where your time is better spent.

All of you: it’s really pretty simple. Be kind to one another and treat other cake makers and their work with the same level of politeness and respect you expect of them in return. Accept that while not everyone will behave respectfully, YOU certainly can. Give credit where credit is due if you are able to. Yes. It’s really that simple.

And… I don’t bother to watermark my photos. I honestly don’t care if people create those cakes again. I’m never going to get royalties and I don’t have time to chase people down just to feed my ego. Clients bring me watermarked photos ALL THE TIME to work from. Watermarking is by no means a guarantee of any kind. By all means watermark your photos to provide yourself with some protection if you like – just don’t think that watermarking necessarily means you’re protected very much at all. I have yet to meet a client who saw a watermark and then bothered to find the cake maker whose watermark it is (some might. Most won’t.)  Watermarking just means you (probably) made that version, not necessarily that it’s your original design…and thank you, Mr. Photoshop, watermarks can be put on photos of cakes you never made in the first place, too. A long time ago I decided that ultimately, I cared a lot more about pleasing my clients than I did having my ego stroked by people crediting me because of a watermark. In other words, I focus on the GIVING more than the GETTING.

So…and you knew this already, didn’t you?… I don’t spend time watermarking because I’d much rather be making fabulous products for paying clients. That’s where my time is better spent.

Ultimately, I’m in business to fulfil my higher purpose and please my clients.

I can’t really see where chasing copycats is meeting either of those goals. 

Here’s the gist of it:
Spend your time JUST BEING AWESOME. (For YOU, and for your CLIENTS.)
(Stop caring so much what everyone else is doing.)

13 comments on “Inspired By

  1. I’ve always been that person who would credit the original owner of the design because I feel inspired by them. However, I’m not that known on my IG page and I follow someone who is my biggest inspoand is very well known. Was looking through her page and noticed a copied cake of mine but I didn’t get any credit for it. Very upsetting and don’t know how to address her. But luckily I came across this and you’re right about don’t waste your time chasing. Thank you!!

  2. I watermark my photos but it is to make it harder for someone to steal the actual photo and pass it off as their own. I couldn’t care less if someone copies one of my designs. I personally don’t outright copy anything, I like to put my own take on things but I am certainly inspired by other cakes and might take a bit of this one and a bit of that one and bring them together. Let’s face it there is very little that is new and revolutionary in cake design it’s all been done before so getting worked up over someone copying you is really a pointless exercise. For those very few new techniques that do come around once in a blue moon, like Jasmine Rae’s rough stone effect, then I think a nod to her maybe warranted with a note “inspired by…”. The thing is once you put a new technique out there by teaching it then those people teach it, at what point is it no longer yours?

  3. I credit whenever I can and I have no problem with someone using one of my designs. The only time it was ever an issue was last year. A friend of a friend made a huge fuss over a Lego cake I had made two years previous saying how much she loved it. She sent me about 20 separate p.m.’s telling me how talented she thought I was.
    Two weeks later she posts pics of a Lego cake she made that looked nearly identical. I had no problem with this since I thought it was flattering until she sent me a bizarre email demanding that I take down my pictures of my cake as they were obviously from stealing her ideas. I politely told her that I had saved all of her p.m.’s telling me how wonderful she thought my cake was that had the date on them. Strangely enough she unfriended me and I haven’t heard from her again. Goofy people!

  4. Really interesting read Michelle. I do watermark my photos only to drive more marketing for myself, so if someone see’s my cakes somewhere they will try and find me based on the name on the image – and I can say it’s working as I’ve already had 3 people say they saw one of my cakes on someone’s page, phone etc and looked me up.

    Stealing cake ideas, I guess everyone does it to some extent, or concepts and makes it their own and I have 2 personal opinions on this, imitation is flattery, I take it as a compliment it was good enough to replicate and secondly, once I’ve created my own design on something, i’m don with it and have moved onto the next big thing so to me it’s behind me if that makes sense.

    I’ve been guilty of it in the past with clients asking for exactly the same cake because the original cake maker might be somewhere else, or they just brought an image of a cake that has no watermark or business name on it to chat with.

    But never should one consider taking another person’s cake images and showing them off as their own…. naughty lol!!

    Now, am onto the next article that shocked me…. stealing someone’s classes/teachings and doing it themselves!!!….. that article heading blew my mind!

    1. That’s a really good point Monica – that possibly watermarking is a marketing exercise. I supposed I’ve seen so many people crop them out or photoshop over them that I’ve become cynical about that aspect, but you’re absolutely right that it still has marketing value. I think there’s nothing wrong with doing it, I just never bothered. If I were to start making cakes now, I’d probably do it just because it’s become the norm. 🙂

  5. Hi Trina – I'm totally loving this idea of stealing from an awesomely talented dead guy – that's hilarious! Sadly the baking industry doesn't have enough of those to go around so we are all busy "stealing" from awesomely talented alive females. 😉


  6. I love this post. It seems to be such a contentious issue and one that comes up so often on pages and posts. I agree with you.. time could be spent best elsewhere. It's like a big ego fuelled piranha attack sometimes.. everyone throwing in the time when someone ripped off their design.
    We all are constantly inspired by others, sometimes jealous, sometimes frustrated we didn't think of it, but ultimately we are one big family feeding from the world around us.
    And if you are worried about stealing someone else's idea, take some advice I heard the other day…" If you are going to steal an idea, steal it from some awesomely talented dead guy."

  7. Hi Kerensa – all you're doing is the same thing as everyone else is, as a professional I also get loads of photos given to me to copy or work from. It's just what happens in this industry so don't feel bad about it,okay? If someone stumbles across a pic and is offended, that's really just their ego talking. Here's how you deal with it: tell them the truth. That you didn't know whose original it was, that you thought it was fabulous enough to try and do yourself, and that you'll either take down or credit your photo (if it's posted in a public space.) That's it. 🙂 Life is WAY too short to be offended by something like that. GO and MAKE AWESOME CAKE. Your design or theirs, makes no difference. 🙂

  8. I am a hobby decorator, admired an awed by my family and friends, most likely would be bashed by the "professionals" on social medias. This is a subject that causes me great stress. Most of the cakes that I make are a replica of a cake that a friend or family member has seen an they want, sometimes they want it exact an sometimes they bring me 3 or 4 pics and want a element from both of them. As a result I sometimes feel I should refer to myself as the copycat hobby decorator lol but I am always learning and every great once in a while someone calls me an says oh I dont care I want minnie mouse, hot pink, just do it however you want, an I do a lil woohooo cause then I get to use my creative brain. Sorry I got side tracked my point is that I do a lotta copycat cakes and if I know who created the cake I give them credit, but ive spent hours before and never even found the pic of the cake that they gave me much less who created it. I never want to upset someone by taking credit for their design. I doubt that these decorators are going to travel to small town Oklahoma to make the cake for people, so people do the next best thing and have someone attempt to re create it.i I have a facebook page with very small amount of likes that I started just so people around here could see the cakes I made an wasnt prowling through my private page, or sending me requests when I didnt know them. I am always afraid that someone will stumble across a pic of one of their cakesvan be offended that I attempted to re create it, when it all actuality it is a compliment, someone liked it sooo much they wanted one just like it.

  9. Loved this post M! I know of quite a few cake decorators who could do with reading this one – let's hope they're reading and learning.
    Fabulous as always x

  10. Oh lord – THAT is something you fight for – stealing of trademarked material like logos and taglines is *definitely* worth pulling the big guns out for. It's honestly pathetic that she needs to stoop to such levels in the first place. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this, when I'm sure you really would be rather making cake! 🙂 – M

  11. I agree that our time is better spent doing other things. I myself spent several hours today dealing with someone who stole my logo/tagline and the basic idea of one of my service offerings.

    Now had it just been a twist on my service offering, I probably wouldn't be so concerned.

    However she stole the logo I designed as well as my trademarked name and passed it off as her own. (After she removed the "TM" and the .com from the logo…)

    Even using some of the same copy from my page. That was what got me peeved.

    So naturally I sent her a cease/desist letter. Hoping it doesn't need to be dealt with much more after that.

    The fact that it was done by another "web professional" that should know better is really icing on the cake. (pun intended!)

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