The problem with putting your work on the web is that it gives you next to zero control over who views that content and what they do with it.
One of the main issues here is that it’s so easy to just grab a piece of artwork off of your site, reproduce it, sell it and never get caught. It’s also virtually impossible to monitor this kind of theft to any successful degree without significant resources.
If you find that someone has copied your craft work without consent, the easiest thing to do is to get mad (or even flattered) and brush it off as out of your control. Taking legal action, however, is both expensive and time-consuming.
The most difficult thing to do is launch a wildly expensive and drawn out legal battle that will probably cost you more money than you’ll gain. Both of these reactions are fairly undesirable and shouldn’t necessarily be your first choice.
Here are a few ways to try and resolve it first:
Reach out to them politely
Ask yourself if you can honestly say you have never used elements of other people’s work in your designs? Maybe your answer is a no, or a yes. But often people are inspired by things they have seen but don’t consciously set out to copy them. If the offender admires you enough to copy your work, making contact with them may well be enough to make them think and be inspired to seek out new ideas elsewhere.
Create a compelling brand that is unique to you
Establishing a brand for your business ensures you have a good chance that if someone copies your brand name, logo, or anything that comes close, it will make it that much harder for an unknown company to profit from your branding efforts.
As we all know, branding your handmade business is the best proactive tool you have as an artist to discourage competition from companies that knock off other creative companies. This can be harder to replicate (and is more obvious when it is copied) and will make your products stand out over copy-cat versions.
Trademark your design or copyright the name
When it comes to trademarking your business names or products, Melbourne-based trademark and copyright lawyer Sharon Givoni says that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Copyrights are intended to protect an individual’s rights to an original creation. Basically, the law protects the original and distinctive features of your work, including original products and website content.
You always own the rights of your work the moment it is created, but getting a copyright is the official way to prove you were the first to create and claim the work.
Applying for a copyright costs about $35 per work/product and can take approximately 6 weeks or less. For an added fee, you can apply for additional rights such as the right to file for statutory damages (you pre-designate how much your work is worth), which can be used later to increase the potential damages you might receive if another is found in court to have violated your copyright. You can find out more at the United States Copyright Office.
Small handmade businesses
The best thing that you can do is to build a loyal following and accept that another business owner who is not as creative as you may copy your work. If you focus your efforts on developing unique value in your brand and a loyal following, you will find that copycats will always simply seem behind the trend, while you innovate to success.
Always remember, if your competitors follow you, that makes you a leader. Use your energy to stay ahead of the pack, and strive to innovate, rather than watching your back all the time.
Have you ever had your artwork stolen? Let us hear your stories in the comments below. Be sure to share any advice you have to others going through the same problem.