3 Practical Steps to Take When Your Work is Copied
I remember the first time I saw my store on someone else’s website... that’s right, as an attorney and founder of The Contract Shop™, my stuff was blatantly stolen and ripped off (it’s since happened twice more).
It’s a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if’ your stuff will get stolen.
When it happens, it feels violating. It feels crappy. And worst of all are the ‘fringe’ situations where the end product looks pretty dang close to what you put out into this world.
What to do when your work is stolen
From personal experience, you have two options:
Option 1: Send off a nasty message/email and fight fire with fire; watch as things quickly escalate into the feud of the century with enemies, litigation threats and mean words scattered haphazardly about your inbox.
Option 2: Keep reading this blog post.
Oh good, you’re still here!
It can be tempting to tell someone off and give them a piece of the frustration you’re feeling. It doesn’t feel fair that they get to just take your stuff and run, while you have to be the one to initiate a confrontation—which most of us hate!
So how do you deal with these copycats without losing your cool?
Step #1: Take some deep breaths and go for a walk.
Whaaaattt? I promise this is the fluffiest one—the other two are actually actionable.
But for real, nothing good happens when you deal with these people from an angry place. It may feel impossible to cool off now, so go do something to burn off that negative energy. Punch a couch. Scream into a pillow. Go shop at Anthro. Do things you’re not proud of (but that no one will know about).
Step #2: Remind yourself what’s actually at stake here.
So often, when someone copies me, my first reaction is one of panic. I fear they’re taking away people that would have been my customers or clients.
This quickly spirals into thoughts that my friends will all like this new person better than myself, and I will quickly fade into oblivion. Like a bad cartoon, I really need someone to smack me out of this unproductive freefall.
It took a conversation with Beth Kirby last week to remind me that no matter who you think the ‘industry leaders’ or these copycats are, there are still people who have no clue they exist.
You and I both know how hard it is to get our ideas, blog posts and products/services out in front of anyone—it’s not likely that this copycat’s stuff was out long enough to be seen by exactly the demographic you’re attempting to target, since you (or your kind friend who pointed it out) is hypersensitive to your market. You are probably keeping a closer eye on your competition than your fans are.
But there are instances where copycats can cause a large loss in income (or customer following), and they typically fall under one of these two scenarios:
1. A Chinese manufacturer or an online reseller does something like take a screenshot of your design and put it on a competing (often inferior) product, like a cell phone case or t-shirt.
This is harmful because these groups are often very savvy about running ads in Amazon or on Google, so people are finding their copycat product instead of yours.
2. A big company (read: online search site) retailer (read: the kind of stores you’d find in a mall) rips off us little guys, hoping we just give up because it’s a modern day David + Goliath tale.
Fortunately, myself and others have seen good outcomes result from challenging these retailers who are often quick to respond or at least compensate the injured creative once they realize it’s our original design or work that they’ve featured without credit.
>> Check Yourself Before you Wreck Yourself... download this free guide to stopping those copycats in their tracks. <<
Step #3: Take kind action.
Once you’ve calmed down and taken a step back to assess the situation, it’s time to do something about it.
If someone has directly copied you—like, photocopied or screenshotted your work onto their site or product, it’s much easier to allege copyright infringement and get the work removed, credited or its use paid for.
However, and probably what’s more common for us to experience, is when someone is clearly “inspired” by our work but it’s slightly different. In these instances, it can be negligent or even downright dangerous (from a financial point of view) to point a finger and demand money and/or credit.
These kinds of copycats are the really frustrating ones, but there’s still something that can be done about them.
In instances like these, I personally like to reach out and (in the nicest way possible) let them know I see what they’re doing. It may not be the iron hammer the TV lawyers advertise, but it’s enough to deter most people from stealing your stuff on the reg.
Using these steps you can cure a lot of heartache! But if you want more, click here to get my guide to dealing with copycats
Did you skip to the bottom?
No worries, in review, here's what you need to do when you come across someone blatantly stealing your work:
- Deep breathing is underrated.
- Ask: what’s actually at stake here right now in this moment?
- Take kind action.
- Download the Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself guide to dealing with copycats.