You may have seen a campaign doing the rounds on social media this past weekend: ‘I support design not crime.’

I felt compelled to write a quick blog post about this, as it’s a subject that provokes a strong reaction in me. One of the principles I live by is fairness, it’s very important to me, and feels like a strong part of who I am as a person.

If you’re not familiar with the issue in question, it’s to do with the stealing of copyright by unscrupulous (mostly) Chinese firms, taking the hard work and artistic talent of others and using it without permission and apparently without even the tiniest pang of conscience. Big Chinese websites are taking other people’s designs for stamps, stencils, dies and the like, and selling their fakes to western markets for a fraction of the price.

This impacts on the whole industry but it especially impacts small businesses. My heart aches for my fellow creatives who have invested their own money and put in hours and hours of work to craft the perfect design for you, only to have it stolen by callous criminals (and if you think that’s strong, well I’m sorry but that’s what they are, copyright theft is illegal).

Besides the moral argument, these products are a massive waste of your money. They are inferior. The designs are often less well defined. The materials are shoddy. The products are smaller. There’s little or no quality control. There’s no pretty packaging. In a nutshell, you’re wasting your money on cheap crap.

I’ve posted about this on Facebook before, and one of the objections I regularly come across is ‘if UK companies didn’t charge so much, people wouldn’t buy counterfeit Chinese goods.’ Here’s why that argument doesn’t stand up….

The cost of producing say, a set of stamps in the UK would include:

  • Paying a salary, fee or royalties to the stamp designer for their work
  • Design of packaging and adverts for the products
  • Manufacturing costs that are significantly higher, usually because of better quality materials or small product runs
  • A marketing budget to promote and sell the product
  • Import tariffs and shipping costs if product is manufactured overseas
  • And in some cases additional costs like quality control staff, TV coverage, website developers, sales staff for trade-to-trade business, and tons more I won’t have thought of for this post….

If you steal a design you have none of the development costs whatsoever to pay; all the work is already done for you. So no wonder you can sell it much more cheaply! It’s literally cost you NOTHING to get to production stage! That’s not the reality of running of a legit craft business, where development of product is probably the most time-consuming part of the process.

Small businesses are not greedy – most of the manufacturers I know personally are family owned, run by a small team (or just one person in many cases). They work long hours, they pour in their heart and soul, they really love what they do. And they work to small margins.

Yes there are some big corporates with huge turnovers, but I promise you the little business who makes beautiful bespoke things are not making millions. They are in it for love, not money. Some of the people who’ve been directly impacted by Chinese copyright theft are my friends and colleagues. They are genuine people, who love to craft and love what they do. I’ve seen first-hand the anguish and heartbreak and feelings of helplessness. It’s not nice. They don’t deserve it.

And if this practice continues and we keep ignoring the consequences, the risk of your favourite stamps, dies or stencils becoming unavailable is REAL. If enough people buy counterfeit product, then businesses will close, the lives of REAL people, the people you follow on Facebook and Instagram and Hochanda, will be devastated. (And of course you wouldn’t be able to get the rip-off versions either, with no legit designs to be copied!)

So what can you do?

  • I’d urge you to support the businesses you love by only buying from reputable, authorised retailers (if in doubt, if it’s coming from China and it’s stupidly cheap, that’s a big red flag. Watch out also for sellers on Amazon and Ebay with western-sounding names who are actually shipping from China).
  • Call it out! Report it when you see it. Let the copyright owner know so they can take action.
  • Spread the word! Gently encourage others to see the effect that theft has on the industry and understand that you really do get what you pay for… Cheap means exactly that….

As a final note, I do understand that some people are on a tight budget, but I’ve learned over the years that buying cheap can be such false economy. Now I just buy fewer, but better quality things. And I get better results and my products last a good while (good rubber stamps will last a lifetime!). Worth a thought 😊.

(PS – I’ve used the logo that was doing the Facebook rounds but I don’t know who to credit – if you know, let me know so I am fully credit the artwork. Yes I do see the irony……)
(ETA – I think I’ve found the source of the image https://www.instagram.com/biiirka/ – thanks to Elisabeth for the info.)