3 Critical Steps to Take When Someone Copies Your Work

3 Critical Steps to Take When Someone Copies Your Work


Please note: This is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Please seek the advice of a licensed attorney if you have a legal issue.

A friend passes you the link. A Google search reveals the bad news to be true. It’s your work, on someone else’s website or social media feed.  AHHH.

Unfortunately, the chances of your work being copied are high if you’re successful or doing something well in your field. Clichés like “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” fail to make you feel better. And why should they?

You just want your copycat to stop! It’s not flattering, and it takes away attention from the original work.  Youroriginal work. Worse yet, you could be losing clients or customers to a sub-par imitator. 

If someone is copying your work or your look, here are the three steps you need to take to protect yourself and your work.

1. Assess the seriousness of the situation.

Is your copycat a new, little guy on the block that may easily go away and stop copying you with a quick email? Or is this a big, recurring 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. They might even think they are helping you in whatever world they live in. In this case, it’s appropriate to send a polite email asking them to stop. This accomplishes two things:

  1. You let them know you’re watching them, and
  2. You give them the benefit of the doubt—maybe they really didn’t know this was wrong and will stop.

If it’s a more serious matter 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.

One of the best ways to protect your work is to  understand intellectual property. As a savvy business owner, it’s important to have basic knowledge of what it is, how it works, and when you can flex your legal muscles, if needed.

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 copied your work (and refuses to stop after you sent that nice email). At this point, it can feel like it’s nearly impossible to stop them, or at least much more difficult to do something about the issue.

But you  cantake action! For example,  if you have a trademark registration for your logo and someone copies it, you can allege infringement and ask social sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Etsy to remove the infringing content. Not so complicated, right?

You may also consider registering any  designs that qualify for a copyright — website layouts, templates, calligraphy, quotes, drawings, stationery, for starters —  as copyrights with the US Copyright office.

Keep in mind that these registrations take at least 9 months to issue if all goes well, and aren’t super cheap. But the peace of mind you gain from taking action and planning ahead is worth it. 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 for when someone is copying your work isn’t lengthy legal battles or infringement claims that can be stressful. The best solution, in our opinion, is to be the most innovative player in your industry so that it’s nearly impossible for the competition to catch up.

Being an innovator 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 (which is not our 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. If they try to copy you, they will just look pathetic and inferior, and the majority of your client or customer base will see right through their ruse.

Looking for more ways to protect yourself from copycats?

Knowledge is power! Know your rights when it comes to trademarks, copyrights, and patents. Understand  what ideas of yours are protected by law and what may not be protected. When you’re informed on your legal rights, it’ll be easier to know what step to take when you come across a copycat.

Another thing that can help you out when you’re navigating a new partnership or starting a new project with a client? A  non-disclosure agreement, or an NDA. An NDA ensures that you and your client or partner keep the details of your work under wraps. So if you decide to part ways in the future, what you worked on together can’t be leaked…and in turn, stolen or copied.

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