Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Pause" t-shirts, revisited ... by someone else!

A few months ago, I got an unexpected email from a lady named April Buse:


We are from a church in South Dakota that puts on an annual winter retreat, much like the one you mentioned in your blog. It just so happens that the theme we chose this year is "pause." As we were googling images for our t-shirt designs, we saw your t-shirt design and LOVE the design, especially the glow in the dark GOD. We were wondering if you would mind if we used your creative design for our retreat t-shirts this year. So that we don't steal your original design, we would be willing to tweak it a little bit. Please let us know your thoughts as soon as possible as our winter retreat is in mid February. Thank you and God bless!

To say that I was surprised would be quite an understatement. I am both honored and bewildered that some random person would stumble across a graphic design via my blog (you can see the post yourself at and want to use the artwork. I mean, when I wrote that post, some part of me was thinking, "Hey, this idea seemed to work out well for us, and maybe somebody else will be inspired by it, too." But did I think that would really happen? Not hardly. I'm fairly certain that my blog readership peaks out at, like, three people. And I'm one of them.

After the wave of amazement and gratitude passed over, I confess I had less pleasant thoughts:

  • April was asking permission to reuse the design. That's great, and polite, I suppose. But why was it necessary? Because we live in a culture where reuse, remixing, and recycling of ideas has become a bad thing that must be policed.
  • She actually used the word "steal", as if her printing t-shirts would suddenly cause my own to disappear, the artwork files to be deleted from my computers, and the screens at the shirt printers' warehouse to turn to dust. I don't fault her for this — rather, I fault the loud voices in our culture that would have us to believe that copying is theft. (Psssst... it's not.)
  • She used the term "original design". Now, nearly anybody would have used the same term. But what is originality? Is not every single thing of man's making just a remix of what can be found in nature already? Just a new spin on what God has already designed?

Fortunately, my grumpiness passed quickly and I was able to return back to amazement and gratitude. "Sure you can use the design," I replied, and even sent April my original artwork files. This was beneficial, as it turns out that some changes to the artwork were necessary to accommodate the specific design elements that her group needed for their shirts. I provided all the help I could, wished her luck, and that was that. Time passed and I eventually forgot about the exchange altogether.

Well, I heard back from April the other day. She mailed to say that the shirts were a hit, and even sent me a photo of her group wearing them:

The kids in the group even chose a day to wear the shirts to school as a way to generate buzz and maybe kickstart conversations with friends about the shirt's meaning and the Gospel message. How cool is that?!

If you are a generator of creative works — especially someone who might be inclined to credit God for your talent or claim to produce those works for His service — I beg you to consider the negative impact of restrictive licensing of those works. I beg you to understand that a copied idea only makes it bigger, makes it more impactful, makes it more influential; it doesn't take anything away from the "original". And finally, I beg you shoot straight with your consumers: if you do what you do merely to cash a royalty check, please don't call that an act of worship.