Cue Justin Timberlake. “It’s like you’re my mirror. My mirror’s staring back at me…”
Be original. Be unique. Be authentic.
When you work in a creative industry, you undoubtedly hear those catchphrases.
You probably also see people who rise quickly in your industry by copying others and selling at a lower price. Ouch.
You don’t want to deal with a copycat. You don’t want to deal with a lawsuit to deal with copyright infringement of the copycat.
You also don’t want to be a copycat. You want to be original.
At the same time, you recognize that inspiration comes from many sources. And sometimes, accidentally, we draw a little bit too much inspiration from a source and inadvertently copy someone. The difference here is what we do next.
If you copy someone and you realize you have copied and you feel a little bit squicky about it- take the questionable work down from the internet. If your fans come to you asking where it went, direct them to the original source. “Dear XX, Thanks for your interest in XYZ. I have decided not to offer this XYZ anymore, because I felt that my work was too similar to an existing product from ABC. I admire ABC and her artistry, and I’d rather direct you to purchase from her here at cde.com.”
Remember that there is an individual- a person- behind everything. You might feel like you’re just copying an idea from a website that is faceless and impersonal. But there is an individual behind every idea. And they are worth respecting.
If you drew inspiration from a source– please credit the source! If it is worth inspiring you, it is worth crediting!
Questions to Ask Yourself ~About Your Own Work:
1. Did I gather so much inspiration from one source that my work is no longer really my own?
2. If I saw my work side-by-side another similar work, would I recognize mine? Or has my inspiration drawn so deeply that the lines are blurred?
3. Does it compromise my integrity in any way to release this work as my own?
I have a personal philosophy on integrity in business. I’d rather stay so far away from the line of questionable integrity that I am above reproach. I would rather err on the side of keeping my business too clean than muddy the water and risk my integrity and reputation.
Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Philippians 2:15
Instead of asking how close you can get to the ethical line of right/wrong, choose to stay so far away from the line that no one can question your integrity.
Dealing With A Copycat
If you find your work copied by another designer, you have several options. My personal approach has been to internally kick and scream. I don’t know how healthy that approach has been. Sometimes someone will take my font, rename it, and try to distribute it to font websites. Thankfully, with my long relationship with font websites, the website owners have always supported me and immediately removed the copies. But sometimes a copy is a little less overt– it isn’t 100% the same but it is awfully close.
1. Stop and breathe and re-evaluate. Are they really copying you? Is it based on a common idea/design that is fairly universal or widespread? Is it possible they really didn’t know anything about your work? Is it a case of great minds thinking alike? This does happen. If we’re all drawing inspiration from the same points, it is possible that it is unintentional.
2. Decide what you want your approach to be. You can email them privately– this keeps things on a personal level and is a nice way to show that you respect them enough to not go over their head. You can email the host of the site they are selling at– to me, this is like going to the principal of a school before talking to the teacher directly. Be kind in your approach. It may be an honest oversight. You don’t want to burn bridges or come across as hateful. Everyone you meet is a potential customer. If you are hateful and nasty, they are unlikely to return to you as a customer.
3. Get an outside opinion. Don’t talk nasty about the other person. But ask a trusted friend if they really think your claim has any merit. Sometimes we are so closely tied to our own work that we can’t see things clearly. It helps to have an outside opinion. Your friend might see things differently. They might agree with you. But either way, you will have more information to approach the situation.
4. Be realistic about trends. Some things are just trendy. You couldn’t exactly claim copyright on the chevron and freak out about anything in any store that is chevron right now. Chevron is hot and it is everywhere. There are trends in industries, and following trends doesn’t mean someone is a copycat.
5. Count the cost. What will it cost to deal with this copycat and not ignore it? Not just in money, but in time, in work-hours, in health, in sanity?
6. Make peace with copycats. This is a hard one. We all know that imitation is flattery, right? Even if you disagree with that, you understand the principle behind it. Legally, your options are pretty limited unless they copy you entirely. If you approach someone and they won’t take the work down and their host won’t take the work down, you may have to make peace with it. Know that your work has so much value that someone felt it was worth copying. Know that you have high quality ideas. And make peace with the reality that there are copycats in every industry (Apple/Android lawsuits, anyone?) I would personally rather spend my days enjoying the gifts God has given me instead of fighting strangers who have copied my work. To pursue something legally would take away from the joy I share with my family.
Sleep in peace at night knowing that you are making decisions of integrity. Know that you have the ability to hold your head high because you haven’t compromised your values.
5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Worry About Copycats at WhattheCraft