If you are a maker of any sort and you choose to put your work on the Internet for all to see, most likely (and sadly) you will be ripped off at some point. When it happens you'll probably go through a series of emotions - I know I have. For whatever reason I've been having trouble sleeping the last few days. This has resulted in late nights working and while I was researching how well my items were showing up on Etsy search results (it's an ever-changing ball game, folks!), I came across these:
Do any of them look familiar? Yeah, thought so. That's because they all mimic the (thank you, Jesus) extremely popular Hey Y'all Print that we have been selling in our shop for two years now. All four of those showed up on the front page and one of them even showed up ahead of my Hey Y'all print.
BREATHEIf you're anything like me I know you're fuming right now and you want to put them in their place. How dare they rip off your hard work and take advantage because they see you doing something well and they want a piece of the pie. I took about a day to mull it over on my own. I didn't message or email them and I didn't talk about it publicly. This gave me time to come off the ledge and really think about the course of action I wanted to take. They say not to argue when you're angry, and while I was still pretty mad when I reached out, I had cooled off and could get my point across in a more professional manner.
GATHER THE HONEYY'know how they say you kill more bees with honey? Well, sometimes that is true and sometimes it is not but let's give these copy cats the benefit of the doubt. Occasionally a designer may not realize when they are being too inspired by something they see out in the world. They may even be your biggest fan and honestly did not think they were ripping you off. I usually like to send a nice and understanding email or Etsy message giving them a chance to reconcile the situation. Below is word for word what I sent out to one of the perpetrators. In this case the honey didn't work. I have received no response and she continues to sell her knock-off. But I still think it was worth a shot because this stance has worked in the past!
My name is Stephanie Creekmur and I own an online shop (as well as an Etsy shop) and while researching how well my products (including my Hey Y'all print that I've been selling for 2 years: www.etsy.com/listing/113251294/hey-yall-print-11-x-14-gold-or-silver ) show up on Etsy and Google I came across your Hey Y'all print and I couldn't help but notice a very close similarity. While you are completely entitled to design and sell a Hey Y'all print of your own it is an infringement of copyright to sell one that so closely resembles mine. I do have to ask that you remove this product from your shop.
A lot of times this sort of thing is a misunderstanding and the person behind it doesn't realize they were copying. If you have any questions for me, just let me know. Thanks so much for your understanding.
CONSULT AN ATTORNEY
Unfortunately, this seems to be the next step for me. I have never felt like I needed to take it this far before but one of the knock-offs is too close for comfort. If someone has seen a photo of our Hey Y'all print on a blog, Pinterest or Tumblr and they go to search for it on Etsy, they might be tricked into thinking they have found it. My guess is that she is well aware how popular the print has been and like I said above, wants a piece of the pie. I shared about my situation on Instagram and Facebook and have had lots of people tell me to hire and attorney and that it makes the whole process a lot easier. Isn't it crazy that I'm going to have to pay an attorney to get someone to stop selling a knock off print? Crazy, I tell you! If I go down that road I'll be sure to fill you in on how that process went!
TAKE THE HIGH ROADLet me go ahead and be honest with y'all - It's extremely hard for me to take the high road in these instances. A personal flaw of mine is to put people in their place when they are in the wrong. If a copy cat gives even the slightest bit of attitude or plays on the defensive, I take this as my opportunity to pounce and give them a piece of my mind. While I actually do feel much better, I haven't really won anything. All I've done is stooped to their level. Protect yourself and your work but don't be like them. Be gracious and know that you will come out on top. They will always be two steps behind. (Thank you Instagram community for that encouragement!)
Do you ignore them and take the high road or do you take action?
UPDATE October 20, 2014: Val of Val Marie Paper has written the best article on how to handle copycats. I highly suggest you head over and add to the conversation!