Please note: This is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Please seek the advice of licensed attorney if you have a legal issue.
A friend passes you the link. A Google search reveals it.... your work, on someone else’s feed.
It’s going to happen: you are going to be copied if you are doing something well. Unfortunately, clichés like “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” fail to make you feel better.
You just want them to stop—it’s not cool, it doesn’t feel good and, worst yet, you could be losing clients or customers to a sub-par imitator.
What to do when someone steals your work
If someone is copying your work or your look, here are the three steps you need to consider:
1. Assess the seriousness of the situation.
Is this a new, little guy on the block that could easily go away with a quick email? Or is this a recurring, big, problem that you’ve already discussed with the imitator?
Sometimes, people genuinely don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong or even illegal, and think they are helping you in whatever world they live in. In this case, it’s appropriate to send a nice email to them that accomplishes two things:
- You let them know you’re watching them, and
- You give them the benefit of the doubt—maybe they really didn’t know this was wrong and will stop.
If it’s someone more serious or this has happened before, it is appropriate to contact an attorney who practices intellectual property law and can help guide you through the situation at hand, or even take it off your plate to deal with the copycat.
2. Take action.
Don’t be afraid to learn about intellectual property. As a savvy business owner, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what it is, how it works and when you can flex your muscles.
It’s also essential to know how to protect yourself BEFORE the problems arise.
The biggest mistake most businesses make is panicking after the copycat has already arisen, when it’s nearly impossible to stop them or at least much more difficult to do something about them.
For example, if you have a trademark registration for your logo and someone copies it, it’s not very complicated to allege infringement and mandate social sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Etsy remove the content you feel is infringing.
You may also consider registering any designs that qualify for a copyright (website layouts, templates, calligraphy, quotes, drawings, stationery, etc.) as copyrights with the US Copyright office.
However, these registrations take at least 9 months to issue if all goes well, and aren’t super cheap. By taking action and planning ahead, you’ll be well set up to deal with copycats in whatever form they take.
3. Be the innovator.
The best solution you could ever imagine isn’t in the form of stressful infringement claims via email or lengthy legal battles. In fact, the best solution is to be the most innovative player in your industry so that it’s nearly impossible for the competition to catch up.
This innovation can come in many forms—you could put out more engaging content, drive more traffic, have more sales, put out loss leaders, become the cheapest in your industry (<<not my favorite) or simply be the most creative so that nothing you do has been done before.
By singling yourself out as an innovator in a particular niche, you will be the go-to provider for whatever product or service you deliver, leaving the competition and copycats in the dust. Anything they hold up in comparison to you will just look pathetic and inferior, and the majority of your client or customer base will see right through their ruse.
Creating an effective brand and messaging system around your innovations is HUGE, and can be the night and day difference between a successful innovation strategy and clawing your way out of the pack.
Have you ever run into a copycat? Let us know in the comments below!
If you liked this article, you'll want to read this one, too: How to Keep Your Ideas From Being Stolen