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Bittersweet: Where's the Line Between Inspiration and Infringement?

Drawing the line
When last week's post about a new online cake and baking-supply shop was put up on the site, a number of readers expressed disappointment in the fact that the new shop seemed to be inspired--perhaps too much so--by another similar retailer. In fact, apparently it's been the subject of hot discussion on some message boards.

It wasn't the fact that they both sold similar items, said one reader, but the fact that the product shots and overall style seemed derivative; according to Susan, while the older retailer "knows that selling baking decor isn't exclusive only to her...the kits and things she makes and the time she puts into designing her product shots and things are sadly being blatantly copied".

The other shop in question did respond that

We were really excited about launching our website after a successful year with Etsy and were completely caught off guard by the reaction...We absolutely never intended to hurt or copy anyone in any way. We felt that our website was a natural extension of what we had already been doing for over a year in our Etsy shop.

The last thing we want is to be confused with our competitors. We have been working dilegently, and will continue to work dilegently to set ourselves apart in this market. We want nothing more than to enjoy our business and inspire our customers to make awesome sweet edible creations.

With more and more bakeries and baked good-related businesses opening, it seems like it is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, what with disputes and sometimes even lawsuits over shop names, cupcake design and more. Even outside of known disputes, there is frequent gossip about who was inspired by whose decor, recipes and overall style.

So is there a line between taking inspiration from others...and infringing on their territory? And if so, where is the line to be drawn?

What do you think?


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Reader Comments (28)

I will venture to say that a certain level of inspiration stays with you, but if you're in the same line of business you should tried to put your own unique spin on the products otherwise you might not stand out. Personally, I wouldn't want to have anything too similar to another business or else it might be kind of obvious, though you will probably always sell the same type of things.

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

There are so many gray areas the lines are nearly invisible, given the intangibility inherent in creativity. I think a line CAN be drawn through the fuzzy gray, though, with: acknowledgment (ie admitting and appreciating someone else's brilliance rather than being motivated by jealousy to take it) and respect (ie simply being a good person to respect the ideas of others.) And when that line that is so hard to define is crossed, those crossing it know. For me, (just a little pat on the old back), I'm so careful to acknowledge everywhere I derive an idea. Even if I post on one person's idea that I learned of from a 3rd party. It's in my nature not to want to steal. Sheesh, I even felt a little guilty posting about cookies on sticks out of respect for the brilliance of bakerella, and I started making cookies on a stick for a living over a decade before the blog existed! And on the other side, I've had my ideas blatantly taken before, and I know that angst seeing your work, clearly your work, claimed by someone else on a random web page. I've had more dramatic cases that are too long to detail in a comment, but it is infuriating and hurtful. Still, I have to hope that the greater good will even everything out, and I still post my ideas for the world to see and use and hopefully not steal.

There is a definite line that can be crossed when you are "inspired" by another's talents. As cake artists (or any other kind of artist) you put a piece of yourself into your work. So when someone imitates/copies your idea then you have to decide....imitation is the sincerest form of flattery OR how DARE they take my idea and pass it off as their own. I think life would be happier if you go the flattery route...but that's just me. Whenever I make something that is inspired by another (could be another cake, a textile, or some other type of art) I always give credit to the inspiration (when possible). I am kind of in the mind set that there are no more original ideas...if you search long and hard enough you will find someone else has thought of it too! But I may be going off on a tangent, with regard to the 2 online shops in question....they are similar and ultimately what makes one outlast the other? Customer Service, price and having access to the right customer base...so do your best to keep up with those and maybe everyone can coexist.

I've been following this debate, and the problem is that the later shop has obviously gone down the EXACT same path as Bake It Pretty. Instead of finding their own way, and putting their own ideas into their shop, they copied. I looked high and low for cute quirky baking supplies, and it's not a mass market. When you're Target and a Walmart opens up in the same town, what can you do? But this is SO far off the beaten path, and could not be copied without an obvious connection to the original idea. I really hope people know who the original is (BAKE IT PRETTY!), and spend their money accordingly. Amanda deserves the recognition she's worked years to get. What amazes me is people who feel it's ok to copy others IN A CREATIVE FIELD!?!? This is totally insanely bizarre. I'm talking about original, interesting and unique ideas being stolen. I don't understand how these "creative types" can ever feel like this is ok to do. This situation is for certain not a grey area; many lines have been crossed. Look at the presentation, the descriptions, the products. Someone found something they like, and probably wished they'd thought of it first. So do I! Bake It Pretty is such a cool shop, and I wish I had thought of it first. Too bad for me. I wish Amanda all the best. She is The Original :)

Thanks for your other links too, Cakespy!

This concept of stealing ideas is nothing new. C'mon folks, think for a minute...!

And to that end.....how MANY cupcake shops are out there, as we speak...

Coincidence?! NOT, hottest new craze?! YES... and thats why it's being COPIED left and right.

taking close up pictures of small items on a colorful sweep is hardly original, nor is "vintage" inspired themes, nor is pink, nor is reselling chinese products.

July 9 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I left the previous comment, and want to clarify that I am not affiliated with either shop. I have just been watching it unfold and think it is just sad, all the mud slinging, portrait painting, and general childness of it all. I wish they would just get over it and make their shops better. People will continue to imitate, copy, be inspired by, or whatever, forever, get used to it. I don't think inspiring hate like i see on the other thread is any way to do business, and if they were smart, they wouldn't be trying to start a war, they would keep it between themselves. that is my .02 cents.

July 9 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'm Amanda (Bake It Pretty) and I wanted to comment here and say thank you to everyone for the honest and thoughtful discussion.

Anonymous: I totally understand how you feel. It's pretty much just how I felt, and acted, eight months ago. I've always avoided drama in the past, so I chose to let it go and focus on making my shop bigger and better. Unfortunately, the problem did not go away, it got worse. (I tried to open a discussion with the other shop privately, but was ignored.) I posted on the forum looking for personal help/advice, and it seems to me that the author of CakeSpy posted here to inspire discussion. I do not believe anyone is trying to inspire hate.

The lesson I've learned is that "letting things slide" is, in effect, saying that you're "OK" with it, and that you don't think your ideas or creations were all that special to begin with. It also opens the door for others to tag along as well, because you can't pick and choose who you allow to use your ideas...it's all or nothing.

Every situation is different, but I do think there is a lot to be gained by discussion and awareness. Ignoring this or pretending it never happened wouldn't be healthy for me, or anyone else who may run across this type of problem in the future. I know I'm a stranger to pretty much all of you here and, wherever your thoughts may lie, I appreciate that you took the time to mull over these issues.

i agree with Cake Believe that there are many grey areas...if something is copyrighted, then obviously there is an infringement. but outside of copyrighted material, things get a little tricky. i believe that there should be the sharing of ideas & recipes, especially through the ease of the internet, and that's a good thing for the most part. fortunately and unfortunately, we have to trust in the good nature in people not to straight copy someone and sell it as their own idea. hopefully there should be some twist to it, something that goes above & beyond. getting inspired by others' ideas can be an important part of one's own process. for example, if i didn't read cookbooks, food blogs & cook with others i would never experiment with new ingredients or try as many recipes as i do. when you try to sell another's ideas as your own, that is a major problem. but it can often be hard to prove, because how much can you say someone else's idea is EXACTLY like yours. it's your word against theirs most of the time. anyway thanks for bringing this up, hopefully more people will be respectful of other's ideas and businesses in the future.

July 9 | Unregistered Commenterveggievixen

Amanda- I might be playing Devils Advocate here, but I am a straight talker, no BS type of person. If you (or someone close to you, or on your behalf, as evidenced in the supernaturale post) was threatening legal action, or seeking advice on legal action, and also posting my emails to you on the blog... you get the point.. I would not be contacting you either. emails, blog posts, they are forever in this world. I don't blame her for staying quiet one bit, regardless of the situation.

July 9 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

It's hard in the creative businesses to understand the line between what is creatively copyrighted and what is not protected. As a public librarian, I have researched some information on creative copyrighting for patrons. It's a question of ethics and respect in many cases, because items that originated from patterns and displays are not copyrighted. I've seen tiny independent stores copy the XMas displays from bigger stores, and that marketing will draw customers in. Is this wrong? Probably. Is it protected? Nah. Really, it does come down to marketing, I think. Unless the products are copied--and were original in the first place.

July 9 | Unregistered Commenterfeathermar

I like straight talkers :)

I do want to make clear that I emailed LC prior to the forum post. The post did get legal in nature, but I was really just looking for general/thoughts and advice.

I'm not trying to justify anything that I, or anyone else, has done. I told the truth as I saw it, and that's all I can do. As with any story, there is always more than there appears on the surface, and it is smart to have a critical eye. I completely respect that.

I have to agree, in part, with feathermar "Really, it does come down to marketing, I think. Unless the products are copied--and were original in the first place." In the sense that there doesn't appear to be any original product. I would like to side with Bake It Pretty, but I've walked into too many kitschy pink polka-dotty bakeries (and cupcake shops, for that matter) to think that any of this is all that original (check out the cakespy graphics...). The true originality, as far as I can tell, is bringing it to an online market place; unfortunately, being the first to a new market generally means competition will be fast on your heals. At any rate, the negativity that is nearly palpable in the supernaturale forum might end up being a skeleton in the closet for both places; which is a real pity.

Cakespy: this is totally off-topic but I wanted to give you a heads-up that I made your S'moreos last weekend while camping and they were totally awesome! Thanks for the idea! I just put a post up about them!

If there is anything I have learned from writing a thesis it is that you have to give credit where credit is due. You cannot even write a thought and not site it if you were inspired from something you read or saw. I think it's understandable that we all get inspired from other peoples sites and blogs, but you have to make it your own. It's one thing to carry a few products that are similar but it's another to only carry the exact same products of another site.

July 10 | Unregistered CommenterNutmeg Nanny

I have to say I don't quite understand why people are upset with this. I looked at both sites (I had never been to either one before), and they just didn't seem all that similar to me. I was expecting copied graphics or something, but other than that they sell sort of similar products (certainly not a crime!), what else is the same? The polka dots? Sort of pastel-y colors? Photos of the items? Those things are original to neither shop. I don't mean to sound rude, but it kind of sounds like the owner of Bake it Pretty is upset about getting some competition, which is NOT the same as "copying".

July 10 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Good question and it applies to so many things... sometimes we cannot avoid being inspired and how others affect our creative outcome. We are constantly surrounded with visuals and ideas. Hard to tell what the motif behind it is... plain inspiration or out-right copycat.

July 10 | Unregistered CommenterAran

I think this is such an interesting discussion and a difficult question to answer, especially in the food world. I'm just not sure I know the answer. (and every time I try to type out my thoughts on this matter I just think, "that isn't coming out right" so I'll let others duke this one out).

July 10 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

That seems so sad to me. I hope to open a business one day and I dont really understand what the point of copying someone elses idea is. If you dont have something new then whats the point?

I worry about copying peoples cakes, but I try to give credit where it is due. I feel like that is a bit different to actually replicating someones online store though.

July 10 | Unregistered CommenterJennywenny

I found your food blog going through a few links. Glad I ran into it. Didn’t know that the food blog/recipe community was so big online. I love your posts!

I was wondering if you would like to exchange links. I’ll drop yours on my site and you drop mine on yours. Email at ramendays@yahoo.com or stop by my site and drop a comment. Let me know if you would like to do a link exchange.


July 10 | Unregistered CommenterCaleb

I have learned to embrace competition, a while ago when someone would copy me, I would get upset, now I understand that competition is there to make me push myself harder and think of bigger and better things. That's life.

July 11 | Unregistered Commenterfranticfoodie

I know that this is random...but how do you get the cute swirls at the tops of your cupcakes?

July 11 | Unregistered CommenterEm and Brad

people copy because the idea works.

Inspiration is great. When things become so similar (especially with the intent to make money) that people could be confused it is infringement. Yes, there will be similarities- there are only so many ways to photograph products. But when many, many elements of businesses are so similar (past the fact that they sell similar type products) that goes beyond inspiration or marketing.

I just think that it is such a shame thta people have to spoil everything. What happened to the days when everyone shared what they did and did things out of the goodness of their hearts as opposed to trying to exploit anything and everything they possibly can...?

July 12 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Shivi

Aren't all cupcake-related stores basically working with the same ideas?

Bright colors, cute patterns, adorable product names, and so on and so forth.

There are only so many shades of pink, so many types of patterns, and so many cutesy names for those items.

I've shopped at both stores, and quite honestly it has never even crossed my mind that one was a copy of the other. Just because both pages put up cookie cutters that look similar doesn't mean it was "copying." They are cookie cutters for heaven's sake. How different can they really be?

I guess I just don't really see it. They sell similar products so obviously there are going to be similarities, but I don't see one as a complete rip off of the other.

To put it quite bluntly: there is nothing original about either store. I can walk into any cupcake shop or Target in Atlanta and get the same items. Not being rude...just honest.

July 12 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Newlywed
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