We’re happy to welcome back Erin of wrenbirdarts for this post on what to do when your creative idea is copied. If this topic hits close to home check out these posts as well:
How to handle social media copycats and Protect your business: intellectual property, trademark and copyright.
Have you ever spent days and weeks developing a new product, and tweaking it to get it just right, only to run across your design in someone else’s shop, or on social media? Maybe there are subtle differences, but you just know that it was your idea first. Grr, how dare someone steal your idea?!
What do you do next? Do not call your mom and cry! She might say something like “imitation is the highest form of flattery”. This is not true in the handmade world, and it is not helpful advice. Next, you probably vent on Facebook, and your friends ramp you up even more by telling you how great you are and how this soulless person doesn’t have anything on you. Yes, this is all true, but also not helpful. Then, all hopped up on adrenalin, you might consider messaging this person or leaving a nasty comment on their social media. DO NOT DO THIS. You will come off sounding like a lunatic, and chances are, the offender will not remove the listing from their shop. And you will still be fuming.
Whether you decide to contact a lawyer, or Etsy, that’s up to you. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a waste of time and money. And it’ll probably happen again. Are you going to freak out every single time? Your friends and family will stop reacting at some point. And you can’t walk around feeling ticked off about copycats all of the time, it’s just not healthy. Someone copied my bestselling hankie 3 years ago, and to date there are more than 11 pages of people who copied the original rip off artist. My sales dropped off dramatically, because she also sold it for less than I charged. It made a huge dent in my sales for the year, and taught me a valuable lesson about relying too much on a single product to support your business. It still irks me when I think about it, but I no longer turn into a fire breathing, land scorching, dragon.
There are enough of us that we could have a full-on support group where all we would do would be to complain and hurl insults about the people who have copied our work. Even though that would feel really good for a quick minute, it also takes a lot of energy to keep that anger ball afire. And when you are spending your time being angry, it doesn’t leave room for the creative process that is what makes you the person with the original ideas and art that is so great that copycats want to steal them in the first place. Spend that energy creating new products that are equally as great. You have the well, they just took some of your water.
The best advice that I got from someone while ranting about the person that copied my work was to stop looking at it. My first thought was, “are you nuts, of course I am not going to stop looking at it! What if it happens again!” (I did also send her a message, and nothing beneficial came from that little saga). But stalking this shop wasn’t helping me to get over it, so I decided to give it a shot. It was a little maddening, but it did work, and it did get me back into my creative mode. Now, years, and hundreds of designs later, unsure of how many people have copied my work, and I have to say it keeps a lot of unnecessary drama out of my life.
Erin “Wren” Duncan is the owner and handmaker behind wrenbirdarts. She is a former bookseller, barista, grantwriter, event planner, and real estate agent with a Master’s in Social Work. Erin is known for her sometimes cheeky, hand embroidered hankies. Her work has been featured on Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Glamour Magazine, and in several local and international print magazines. Erin lives in Seattle, where you’ll find her walking around exploring farmers markets, the local craft beer scene, and scoping out local businesses. You can follow her on social media @wrenbirdarts.