The 6 steps to managing your own copyright breaches
“I’ve been copied!” It’s the moment in time your stomach does a flip upside down and you’re not sure if you’re going to throw up, cry or burst into flames.
You’re innocently scrolling through your feed and there it is.
One of your designs. Only it’s not yours.
It’s a blatant copy of your work, created by someone else.
Then you yell. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?!”
Calm the F*#K down
We know how it feels, it’s happened to us.
Once Upon was our very first art exhibition (meticulously organised and curated by Renee and I). The poster design, an original artwork by then-fledgling artist Tabitha Emma, was directly replicated by an Australian fashion design chain store for their Christmas in-store window marketing campaign. And I was the lucky (?) one who found it while I was strolling around innocently in a shopping centre! Stopped me right in my tracks and my head almost exploded.
And then it happened again! One of the gorgeous hand-cut paper bird brooch designs created by a Leeloo artist, Sarah McNeil, was blatantly turned into a fabric design that ended up being produced into pants, by an Australian icon of pajama design. Again, I found it while casually browsing through my mail order catalogue, eyes popping out of my head with fury.
So yeah, we know how it feels. Those “I’ve been copied” feels. It’s a mixture of anger, sadness and downright deflation.
The most important thing to do first? Absolutely nothing.
Well, sort of nothing.
Take the time to be angry, upset and sad and share those feelings with some trusted friends. Have a rant in a safe place, like the MGTH Members Only Group for example. There are many of us that have been there to share your experience with and gather advice from.
But DO NOT go public.
It’s not worth the online shit storm that you will generate. Some followers might take it a little too seriously and expel their vitriol on the offending business. Additionally, it may put your position into jeopardy later on if it gets serious from a legal perspective.
There’s also something undignified about doing a comparison post on your social media screaming “I’ve been copied” and shaming the person or business who has copied you. I know because I did it the first time (and back then it was picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald – but PR like that doesn’t happen anymore!)
This is one of the most opportune moments in your life to take the high road. Handle this without involving your followers, trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
The Australian Copyright Act
Before we go any further, a little note about Australian Copyright.
The one glorious thing about Copyright in Australia is that it is immediately granted to you if your design is original. You do not, unlike other countries, have to register every artwork, design and creation that you come up with for copyright protection.
It isn’t actively “policed” however. It’s kind of a “passive law” in that it’s only managed reactively, when someone presents an issue, as opposed to there being a governing body of people on the lookout for infringements and breaches.
This is different from Intellectual Property registration and Patents on inventions – which are not covered in this article.
More later about how to protect yourself in the future.
Gather all of the information
It might turn your tummy into knots, but the next most important thing to do is to gather and save the important information about the situation. Keep it all together somewhere safe. Print what you need to.
Your designs – are they somehow dated – perhaps in the file timestamp of a photograph you’ve taken? Do you have any evidence, like a video or series of images, that shows your design or artwork process that might also be time stamped? Props if you’ve shared it publicly which will be indelibly dated.
Grab screenshots, note down account names, investigate business information and do anything you can to create a ‘case’ should it be needed.
This is also why it’s important not to react and publicly shame anyone first. You never know who’s going to block you or delete their post or remove their products before you’ve had a chance to get the information that you hopefully do not need, but may require in the future. As tempting as it may be.
This can be done in a variety of ways.
Firstly our suggestion, if you’re feeling like the infringement is something that is super important to you and your business, have a big think about what’s next. What are you hoping to achieve in this step? Is it compensation, acknowledgement, a licensing agreement or an apology?
If you do want to do something about it, then it’s time to seek legal counsel. Allow a professional to guide you and instruct you on what to do from here.
If that isn’t an option available to you financially, instead you can try Arts Law Australia and purchase yourself a “Letter of Demand”, follow their instructions closely and begin the process yourself.
Hopefully, this is where it ends. With an apology from the ‘offending’ party, a retraction of any products, removal of posts on social media or inclusion within any commercial activity that the business has undertaken when it comes to your designs or your products.
If not, then it’s definitely time to engage a lawyer, or at the very least, to assess the worthiness of your case and the likelihood of success. That’s your only choice from this point forward if you’re still keen to do something about it.
This is where you assess cost versus impact as a business owner.
No-one likes to be copied, we aren’t telling you to suck it up, not at all.
What we are saying is that there may come a time when you consider the costs of going down the official route of legal proceedings versus the ongoing impact on your business.
The thing is, one thing Renee and I have noticed over the many years in this industry is that anyone with an ounce of creativity, originality and online presence ends up being copied in some way. Some more blatantly than others, some by bigger businesses than others. We joke about it being a sign that you’ve “made it” within the community.
A lawyer may help you, for example, to negotiate a license for use, if you see your artwork being used by a big business without your permission or engagement.
Alternatively, it might just be that you pick yourself up and move on.
Why? Because you ARE creative and original. People that copy you are often just wanting to be as clever and liked as you are on social media, or think “this looks easy I’ll just do the same thing”.
True makers know the truth. That invention and creative output come as the result of an internal spark from your own DNA, in combination with blood, sweat and tears.
The people out there that launch their business by creating a copy of what you do generally do not last. Why? Because they simply don’t have what you have! In fact, no-one does.
This leads me to the next step.
Project your presence
Reclaim ownership and agency with your customer base and your online following by focusing on what it is that you do.
What you’ve created, how you’ve created it. No one can truly replicate what you do, because, in reality, many people who shop handmade do so because they know they want to buy a “piece of you” and support YOU.
Sure, the stuff you make has to be appealing and something that meets a need, and all of those things, but ultimately no one is you. No-one else can be you. You are the only you.
Focus on your unique output, and use the feelings you’re experiencing to come up with something even better, even more amazing, even more YOU than anything you’ve ever done before.
Success is the best form of revenge after all. And since the copiers are usually seeking that same success, you show them how it’s done by being original.
As I mentioned earlier in regard to time-stamping your work, there are a few ways you can ensure that you can easily maintain copyright
Get to know more about what your rights are as an artist and designer. Copyright doesn’t for example protect you if you’re designing a “chair” but it may protect you if you’ve invented a chair with a new and unique design.
We all know there’s an enormous problem with the internet and uploading images, as well as who-owns-what when it comes to social media platforms and their intricate and ever-changing terms and conditions.
So be smart about it.
Know your rights. Manage your sharing in a way that protects your designs and your business.
Have systems in place to record the way you do things. Timestamp necessary assets either electronically or using analog means. Watermark your images if you can accept that as a brand choice.
Assert your ownership of copyright on your website and anywhere else you have images of your products, artworks or creations.
Now while this is advice I’m providing to you as someone who has worked within this community for over *cough* years, please always remember that I am not a lawyer, and I am not in a position to provide proper legal advice.
If you do want to engage a lawyer, start here. Vanessa and her team at Legal123 have provided us with a great deal of support in a variety of ways, in a super simple format all online.
Always feel free to contact us to start a mentorship if you’d like some personalised attention in regards to your issues, and remember every mentoring session is 100% confidential.
Have you ever encountered a breach of copyright and found someone copying your work? What did you do? How did you go? What advice would you offer others in the community?
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