First off, I am really, really excited to announce that one of my video tutorials, Waxes 101, has been transcribed for the hearing impaired by a wonderful lady named Laurie. She saw that I wanted to offer that and volunteered to transcribe my video tutorials. She does it professionally and it was so amazing for her to offer her talents to serve others. We’re hoping to get the slipcover tutorials transcribed as well. If you’d like to check it out, follow the link to the post. There is a button directly under the video that links to the transcribed document.
Now, to the heart of it.
I get a lot of e-mail with questions…mostly about paint and furniture and stains and waxes and running a creative business. I do get a few asking me about a sensitive issue…What do you do when someone copies you outright. Should you be flattered? Should you be offended? Should you confront the person?
First of all, a copycat is always flattering, even when you feel ripped off. Someone likes what you do and wants to do it, too. People usually don’t copy someone they think stinks. So, take it as a compliment.
There are times when copying is okay…even encouraged. We are in the world of DIY blogs, after all. We’re trying to teach our readers how to make something, paint something, sew something, build something and we shouldn’t be surprised when they do it and show it off. Donna and I had a blast with the Copy Me Challenge we ran in January. It was fun to see our styles through the eyes of others.
We also have to remember that there are some people who are very creative and others who aren’t. Some can’t make things up as they go along. They have to follow a picture, tutorial or the design of someone else…and that’s totally okay. I love it when I get pictures or links from my readers sharing a piece they made that was inspired by my blog. Not only did they love what I made, but they loved it enough to bring it into their own home or sell it in their antique booth. It’s one of the best compliments someone can pay.
I think things get sticky when the “copier” is making a profit off the “copy” and/or not giving the true creator any credit for the idea. What’s even worse is when the “copier” is in direct competition with the creator. I think that’s the line where imitation becomes irritation. Here are some things to think through when this happens…
Is it maybe a coincidence? It really is possible that you both had the same brilliant idea around the same time. I was so excited about my sheet music line of Christmas ornaments, only to find that Pottery Barn was doing the same thing! Those thieving, copying, no-good, lousy, rotten… No. Not at all. Pottery Barn creates their lines well in advance and we were both just following trends and taking them in the same direction.
Is it really going to hurt your business? If you’ve created a name for yourself in your field, chances are it won’t hurt your business if there are a couple of Etsy sellers out there making the same thing you are. Your customers are going to want your work and will probably recognize the knock-off.
Use this as an opportunity to spur on your own creativity. Move on and develop new ideas and projects and pieces. Stay one step ahead. I know this is hard when you create one thing over and over and that’s your forte, but you can always change things up a little…even just how you stage and photograph your work.
If you’re going to confront the person, make sure you keep yourself above reproach. There’s a way to approach the issue without being a total jerk about it. Write the e-mail or contact the individual when you’re calm and after you’ve slept on it. Get the opinions of others and see if they think the copying is as blatant as you do. Also, decide what the goal in contacting the offender is…do you want them to stop? Can you even control that? Do you just want to let off some steam? Know what you want before you initiate something.
Now, there are times when copying violates the law and I’m not even going to get into that. I’m not an expert on copyright and trademarks and all of that. I’m just mentioning it to say that there are times when going after someone who’s copying you is within your legal rights and the best thing to do.
Here are some good rules to keep in mind when you’re the one doing the copying…
If you’re keeping the piece for yourself, I think most designers/artists will be okay with it. If it’s just for you in your home, go for it.
If you want to sell the work you’re copying, first of all, it may be illegal. At the very least it may really offend the person you admire and it may take your business down a notch if you’re classified as a copycat. Why not change it up to make it your own? You’re in love with a pillow you saw on Etsy. Instead of making one exactly the same and selling it on Etsy, make one in a different fabric, color, shape, style, etc. If you find you are totally lacking in the creativity department, there are plenty of books and blogs that give permission for the work to be copied exactly and sold. If there’s a doubt, send the creator an e-mail and ask for permission. It could save you a lot of grief.
Lastly, always give credit. Be gracious to the people who inspire you and link to their blog, book or shop.
Does anyone have any other words of wisdom for dealing with this issue?