Hello Dear Readers,
Stealing ideas and art-theft are terrible things for any creative. Unfortunately, they tend to happen to all good artists and more often than we would like to admit. We have seen it happen to people we know, but never in our wildest dreams, we would expect that some vile person would try to do this to us. Well, you must have guessed already: our number just came up.
This Saturday, we have been contacted by quite a few people who asked us if we were taking part in the Malta Street Art Festival. We said we weren’t . Rita was not even on the island as she was spending a weekend in Wales. I planned to sort out materials for upcoming blogs. So, none of us was even aware that Malta Street Art Festival was taking place!
But the fact that we were not in Valletta didn’t mean a thing. Because The Cat Shop apparently was. It also miraculously changed profile from artisan artworks to cupcakes and games.
I was appalled – it was more than obvious that somebody was using our name. But the rest of the news was even more shocking. Not only somebody took our name, they also claimed they were the original Cat Shop and we were the imposters! This apparently happened the previous day (Friday), so I had to put my work away, packed my cameras and headed to the capital to check what was happening.
To cut long story short, I found a stand of Neko Maid Café – young girls dressed in matching cosplay uniforms, playing games and handing out cupcakes. I spoke to some of them and learned that the entire project was organized by an Italian girl nicknamed “Luna”. She was doing similar outings in Italy and she just recently relocated to Malta. There was also a boy dressed in a tux with whom I spoke. From him, I learned that they not only been using the name “The Cat Shop”. They were telling everybody they were the original Cat Shop. I also seen people from Neko Maid to take photos with people wearing cat ears and there was a talk about a guest book where people could draw cats.
My heart sunk because what they were doing was not just taking our name, they took our entire strategy. No small wonder people were confused and were asking me if we were selling cup cakes.
You may find it a small issue, but truly, it is a huge deal. Let me tell you about The Cat Shop. It started five years ago (2010) at Earth Garden Festival in Ta Qali, Malta, where Rita was selling her paintings and I did an art installation. We sold few pieces (all of them showing fantastical cats done by Rita) and got a lot of attention. We have been coming back each year with a new idea. We have a unique set up with rattan boxes and a table, we have a guest book and we encourage people to draw in it, cats or whatever – to keep the creativity going. We wear cat ears and often allow people to take selfies with them for fun (even if they are not buying anything). This year, we wore identical outfits and told people that we planned to change into Victorian era clothing starting next year. We teamed with a great British photographer and acted his Cat Assistants. Each of those elements is unique to our stand. But this is not all. As The Cat Shop got bigger and more recognizable, we had to adjust ourselves. We got a VAT number, we have a VAT book in case somebody wants a receipt, we organize drawing workshops for kids. Each festival we speak to hundreds of people, we scan our guest books and put them on our blog. It is enormous work load for weeks before and after the festival.
I don’t know what Luna from Neko Maid Café is trying to achieve. But to think that somebody came to our stand at Earth Garden just to copy our entire marketing strategy for their own gain is chilling. You know – The Cat Shop was not set to earn a profit. It was set up to offer kids a place they could draw and be creative. We do sell – don’t get us wrong, but it is always just to cover our stand fee and maybe have a return on our materials. Five long years of trials and errors to build our “brand”, to be recognized in Malta and somebody just takes it all from you and calls you an imposter!
The entire affair made me really sad, and I wanted to let people know what was happening. I made a post on my Facebook protesting that Luna was stealing from us and misleading people. This is what I wrote.
I tagged The Neko Maid Café, letting them know their behaviour was unacceptable. This is a reply I got.
What I want to do now, is to take it bit by bit – to show you Dear Readers, to what extent art theft and idea –theft can go.
Luna begins that they are not using our name. But I was there on Saturday and heard them say they were The Cat Shop more often than they were mentioning their own name. That is one thing. Another is that coping our entire business strategy is just a top of a cat tail!
We want to quote something the creator of Neko Maid Cafe said in her statement. IN case you missed this bit:
“Our logo (…) I did it taking from internet, as everybody else in this world I think, a real photo of an headband with cat ears. If anyone will come to me and say that to take a picture from Google and using it to do something as logo or anything is a crime I will respond with that person”.
Now, See the logo of the Neko Maid Cafe. The chibi cat girl image is from anime series, which title I could not track as we speak. But I will. The cat bell comes from DiGi Charat series. The image of the hair band is somebody`s actual photo. Copy righted materials – all of it, found on Google. Luna obviously is not aware of copy rights and that she has to have a written permission from the creator of said artwork if she plans to use it. Unauthorized usage of somebody`s work is opening yourself to a criminal liability. Also argument that something was found on Google is irrelevant. Luna – please get it. If something is on the Internet, it doesn’t mean you can use it. Especially for your own financial gain. Most people do their own illustrations, works and if they have to use somebody`s materials, they at least give a link.
Next thing. Neko Maid Café is using original artworks and fan arts (also found on Google we suppose) to promote Luna`s Facebook page. This is again, unauthorized and can cause you legal issues. I don’t think that Kyoto Animation is aware that you use pictures from K-On series. On the side, this anime is about a band, not maids. The irony.
But hey, original or not original stuff – doesn’t really matter. You also did flyers using somebody`s fan arts. Did you get their permission to do so? Where are the links to artist`s page?
Luna is also hardly ashamed to use photos from existing businesses. Like this one from Butler`s Café which is a real life café in Japan. Why leave a link to the original page: http://www.butlers-cafe.jp when you can just steal a photo from them? So much easier.
And what about the cupcakes photo that you have been using? The ones here belong to Kate from NYC, who used to run a Tumblr Holy Cupcakes. Take a photo, crop it badly and nobody will notice?
I have a bad feeling about the design of the cupcakes you were selling. I`m gonna risk a saying that you probably found the designs on the Internet as well and pass them as your own. After all, you took so many things from so many people and don’t even realize this is utterly wrong. Where do the design come from? Aubergine Chef? Bake Happy? Cake Central? It would be nice to know!
Now the outfits. This is how Neko Maid Café describes what Maid Cafes are, on their own Facebook page:
The Victorian outfits! And this is where they got their own costumes – they are ready made French Maids (Sexy) costumes made in China. On EBay they sell for 9.90 USD.
I know what you will say – you don’t have money, you start up, your helpers are just teenagers who want to do something. That is fine, but – most of the artists put a lot of time and effort into what they do. The materials cost us. If we have to go low budget, we do it ourselves. Going for ready-made cosplay costumes may save you time but – it is a cheap practice. And somebody has to call you on it. Scrooge would be proud of you, but we are not impressed.
The guest book – you say it is a scrap book now. Sure now, but it will be a full blown guest book like ours next event. Sure it is ok to ask customers for a review or a note. But asking customers to draw cats in your guestbook is our idea. Come up with something different. Perhaps ask customers to draw maids. Or cupcakes. Or hamsters. They are also cute.
I want to make another point for the end of the post. In Japan, each café has their own games and strategy, they develop it themselves. If they use a game developed in another café, they give credits, exchange banners, give feedback. This is how Japanese society work – they are polite, professional and work in teams. I am not sure if you know how it works. Things you have been doing would completely alienate you from the entire network, had you been operating in Japan. No-one would be willing to work with you. What you are doing is in itself anti thesis of what Maid Cafes aspire to.
And this is not a flame. I am just mad that you had to do this to me. Or to my sister.
**** Update 27.07.2015****
Rita and I would like to thank everybody who visited the blog, commented and shared our story. Over 200 visits in less than 24 hours. Way over the average on the blog. We would like to give a mention to Oliko (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Oliko/412150938842783) our long time friend and fellow artist, for her help in our investigation. Without you people and your kindness, we`s surely lose a lot of faith in the humankind.
We have asked Luna to reply but so far she has been silent. We would like to hear from her – plain and simple – why she steals from other people, and so many at it.
In the mean time, please keep on sharing the story, art theft is so common, that every artist should check their back. Sad but true.