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Work / Opinion

Anthony Burrill tells us about his numerous Etsy WORK HARD rip-offs

I admit it, I like to search for my own work on the internet. I like to see where my work goes, who uses it and what people think of it. It also helps my ego, which as a creative person is a fragile and delicate thing. It’s always flattering to see my work being highlighted, praised or referenced in some way. However, there is a flip side. As part of my online monitoring regime I check Etsy every now and then to look for my work.

The weird thing is I’ve never joined Etsy, I’ve never sold any of my prints there. Yet there’s lots of my work to be seen there. In fact there are currently almost 100 versions of my print WORK HARD & BE NICE TO PEOPLE on the site, unfortunately none of them are by me. The quality varies amongst the versions I’ve “inspired”, some stick to the same type layout I used, substituting the beautiful letterpress type of the original for a default font straight out of a Word document template. Others take a more calligraphic approach and a freestyle treatment of the layout.

I first made WORK HARD in 2004, it was originally intended as a gift for friends and a self promotional poster to send out to prospective clients. It was printed using traditional letterpress techniques by Adams of Rye and was inspired by a conversation I’d overheard in a local supermarket. An old lady was sharing the secret of a happy life to the checkout girl. The simple bit of wisdom struck a chord with me and I thought it would make a memorable poster.

After circulating the poster for a couple of years I began to receive requests for copies and subsequent print runs were sold through small shops, galleries and my own website. It’s my most recognisable piece of work, my greatest hit. So I have mixed feelings about the numerous re-makes on Etsy, I’m flattered that it’s popular and people want to make their own versions of it, but less happy that it’s widely available in a devalued form. The point of the poster is to promote a set of life values, to make your own things happen through persistence and optimism. The re-made versions are at odds with this original intention.

So what do you think? Should I be OK with it and accept it as part of how a piece of work gains popularity and eventually gets replicated over and over? Or should I email every one of the people who’ve made their own version, pointing out the error of their ways? Some might say that I haven’t got a leg to stand on, I didn’t think of the phrase and I didn’t set the type myself. The point is I did make it and I did it first! I made a follow up poster to WORK HARD that says ‘THINK OF YOUR OWN IDEAS’, it’s meant as a friendly provocation. It’s funny, but there aren’t as many re-made versions of that on Etsy. Maybe people are taking notice!

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Anthony Burrill: WORK HARD & BE NICE TO PEOPLE (the original)