Earlier today I was catching up on the recent "scandal" between Etsy and Urban Outfitters on Regretsy about how a shop owner claims that Urban Outfitters ripped off her designs. A little research shows that many people were selling similar jewelry long before this Etsy shop even opened up and that her designs are not as original as she thought. I think that the shop in question has excellent designs that I have personally considered buying in the past and she just happens to have had the same idea as someone else. There's also plenty of evidence to show that Urban Outfitters is a questionable company lead by corrupt people regardless of whether or not they're ripping off independent designers ideas.
It all reminds me of when I was first thinking about opening an Etsy shop and had what I thought was the brilliant idea of making my mustache necklaces. After several months of talking and planning with my friend Nicole and making different versions of products, I finally opened up my shop with a few items including my mustaches.
Then one day I walked into Hot Topic to see a little cheap metal mustache necklace hanging in their accessories section. My gut reaction was OH NO! I THOUGHT I WAS SO ORIGINAL AND AWESOME AND I'M JUST A FRAUD!
When I got home I looked around online and Etsy to discover that not only was my mustache idea unoriginal, mustaches were actually TRENDY??? No Way..facial hair? Really? I honestly had no idea.
But here's what I realized...
I was the only person I could find making mustaches out of ceramic.
So I decided that my idea was valid. Yes other people are making the same thing, but they were made out of polymer clay, metal, plastic, wood, used skateboards pieces, etc. I came to my idea on my own, executed it in a way that I felt was my own, and have marketed it in my own way. I am the only person I can find with a Mustache of the Month Club.
There are volumes that are written about this subject and volumes more to go and this is just my personal opinion. The reality of it is that very few ideas are original, but you should never intentionality rip somebody off. If you have a profitable idea executed in a way that is all your own and is done with effort and care, it's still possible you may run into someone along the way doing the same thing. When you reach that point, the course of action is all your own, but, PLEASE, don't be a dick about it.