The Ethics of Wedding Knock-offs

The issue of design copyright infringement has recently come to my attention. After my client's wedding was published on Snippet and Ink a large invitation company with outlets in over 150 invitations stores around the country got in touch regarding a design knock-off the bride made herself featured in this wedding. They let me know the design was a knock-off and a violation of copyright infringement. As you can see above the save-the-dates are very similar. Graphic designers deal with DIY brides copying their designs all the time. I imagine it must be frustrating to spend time creating original designs only to see them copied elsewhere in a knock-off.

Knock-offs are something the art and design world have dealt with for centuries. Of course we all know the classic statement from the bible, "There's nothing new under the sun". It was Pablo Picasso who wrote "Good artists copy, great artists steal". The Italian artists during the Renaissance basically ripped off everything the Greeks created.

In the wedding world we see design knock-offs everywhere we turn. Sasha Souza spoke about this in a lecture I attended where she gave specific examples where her ideas were copied including a s'mores station and various color schemes and table settings. She didn't seem that worried about it. She says she stays ahead of the trend. Once she's done a design she's over it and onto the next, copy at will.

Most clients come to their wedding vendors toting inspiration photos torn from magazines saying "I want THAT" and those inspirations are reworked countless times. Martha Stewart and other bridal magazines fully encourage this behavior.

Sometimes designers come up with their own signature styles (likely borrowed from something they saw elsewhere) and then we see these looks copied all over creation. Jeff Leatham is a great example of a specific style copied countless times.

Jeff Leatham even has DIY segments where he shows viewers exactly how to make his arrangements. Does that mean he's okay with people copying his design?

In fashion we see knock-offs all the time. Not just sketchy handbags purchased in dark alleys but right out there in the open. Fashion magazines do entire sections on how to "steal" the look for less. I think Forever 21 basically exists to copy the expensive brands. My favorite shoes are a direct copy of some YSL sandals.

So now back to my client's invitation. She used a different font, different artwork (sourced from a free clip art website online) and different lines/dingbats; none of these were taken from the invitation company. Of course her wording was different. Her colors were her own. Her corners are rounded, but countless invitations have rounded corners (you can even buy a corner rounder that looks like a hole punch at any craft store). When you get right down to it the only thing that is quantifiably the same about these invitations is the order and spacing of the wording. But if we were to ban word order then wouldn't every single invitation be in copyright infringement? There is no question that my client's wedding save-the-date is a copy, but where does the line fall between an OK copy and a copyright infringement?

I'm glad companies are following up on knock-offs and taking ownership of their designs. It's about time someone stood up for the right of the designer. On the other hand, what rights does the designer have exactly? Once you put something out to the public you open yourself up to being copied in this DIY world. And what constitutes copying exactly? If I use someone's hand-drawn image of a beautiful bird in my invitation it seems that would be unfair. If I trace their image and add a sprig of berries in the bird's mouth, does that make it my own?

The important thing to know is that if you find a look you love and decide to copy it for less, you should take a step back and weigh the ethical issues. I think in terms of copyright infringement, this is especially pertinent for new wedding vendors starting their businesses and profiting off of a copy rather than brides small scale, not for profit production, but it's good to know you could have a case on your hands either way.

I'm grateful that this invitation company brought this to my attention and as a planner will help my clients make more informed decisions in the future about their decisions to copy wedding looks and materials.

Do you think this invitation knock-off should legally be considered a copyright infringement?