RUNNING A BUSINESS: copyright and copycats

March 11, 2015

There are lots of wonderful things about running a business (freedom of expression, creativity and being master of your own destiny are just a few examples), but there are lots of not-so-great parts too. Dealing with copyright issues or copycats is something most designers and artists will experience at some point. 


Let me begin by saying that I am not infallible, and certainly find myself "inspired by" others. I really try my best to put myself into my designs, but there are definitely times when I step back and go "that's not me - that's not my style". It took a really long time before I was able to feel comfortable with my own style of design, to acknowledge I even had a style, but now I know myself enough to know what I'm comfortable with. I have my favourite colours, fonts, and composition styles and most of my work seems to fit neatly into this arrangement. Yes, I still keep an eye on the competition (anyone with any business sense keeps their ear to the ground for upcoming trends) but for the most part, I am so consumed with new ideas buzzing around insided my head, I'm not really paying much attention to what others are producing in real-time. My main reason for following some competition is more for motivation - I aspire to be as successful as them. 


So what is copyright, and what is a copycat?


Copyright is basically when your exact work is replicated and resold. I have had instances where I have come across my own photos selling my product on marketplaces which I have nothing to do with. Thankfully, these are easy enough to find with Google Image search and a simple cease and desist letter tends to work. I have not yet experienced my work being reproduced and sold on the mass market but know of many designers and artists who have gone through lengthy court proceedings in order to deal with their work being copied or used without consent.


A copycat is something entirely different. These tend to be the "inspired by" folks who see a design selling well and decide to try and replicate - without infringing your design of course - but the final product leaves obvious comparisons. These are most obvious when you compare the design in question to their other work - it stands out as the general style often does not match. In reality, this whole process is how trends develop. One person creates an original and others continue to develop the theme, but mostly keeping within their own style.


So what happens if you find yourself the subject of a copycat? I have found it is best to breath deeply and accept the action as a compliment. It can be upsetting at first - particuarly as a small business owner who is dependant on their designs selling well in order to pay the bills - but in reality, there has been no laws broken. The nature of the internet means people can, and will, copy and you most likely will never even notice them. The best approach, in my experience, is to continue to develop your own work and pay little attention to the crowd in your wake.


Some people are meant to lead, and others are destined only to follow. 

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