Gather as much evidence as you can
Screen grab and collect evidence as soon as possible. I missed a chance recently when someone who was copying my design saw that I was talking about her online and removed her whole profile – fortunately she had left her Etsy page up so I took screen grabs. You can crop images of your work and put them into Google to find out where else they are on the internet. I even search the wording of my products from time to time.
Determine where you stand legally
There are three types of copying. ‘Plagiarism’ looks like a complete dupe; ‘Passing Off’ looks similar but is changed in subtle ways; and ‘Inspiration’ is made in the same
vein and has taken the same ideas – unfortunately nothing can be done about the latter. Take your evidence to a lawyer and find out which bracket your case falls under and whether you have a case. Every lawyer I have ever worked with has consulted for free.
Think twice before going public
Be cautious before calling out a brand. I’ve seen people drive followers and sales to the brands they’re calling out by accident. Instead, send a letter before action or instruct your lawyers to. The letter sets out what the plagiarism is and what your next steps are. It has to be very factual, so this is where evidence is important. Then you have the threat of going public on your side – most companies will want to settle out of court.
Work out your ideal outcome
Do you want complete removal? A written apology? A private or public apology? Compensation? It’s important to consider your future work at this point. If they’re copying you, they must see value in your product. The situation could turn into a platform for you and even a good point of leverage for a contract.
Weigh up the finances
When the copycat is a small maker I found it’s best to directly approach in person rather than email. When confronted, most people are usually willing to remove the products. If not, notify them that they’ll be receiving a letter before action. For bigger companies, it’s best to instruct a lawyer to issue a cease and desist letter. You’ll need to weigh up that cost. Is it causing substantial financial loss or impact to your brand’s image?
...and steps to protect your work
There’s lots to do to protect your work before it even gets to this stage. Impose the copyright symbol on all your work. Make sure there’s a copyright warning on your website. If you’re an illustrator or photographer, disable right click on your webpage so people can’t copy your work. Embed your handle on social media posts. When I upload pictures I make sure
I include the company name in the document name because, along with helping SEO, it can serve as proof if they’ve just lifted your picture.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation is an exhaustive and detailed resource for all things international intellectual property.
Creative Commons is a not-for-profit US organisation that issue free, public licenses to creators who are happy to have their work shared, copied or edited as long as it’s on their own terms.
ACID (Anti Copying in Design) is the UK’s leading design and IP campaigning organisation. Requiring membership, it offers cost-effective tips, advice and guidelines.
This article was first published in Courier Issue 31, October/November 2019. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.