Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from Kim Kuhteubl, an award-winning producer and writer who works with interior designers, product manufacturers and hosts on business strategy, branding and audience engagement. She is also a speaker at this year’s Image 360˚ Telesummit (Aug, 21 – 22), where she will be discussing branding within the the design industry. Today Kim offers some advice on how to avoid copying others’ work, as well as general steps to keep your work safe from copycats. Thanks, Kim, for sharing your insights with us today! —Stephanie
Read the full post after the jump…
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or so the saying goes and copycats are
par for the course when you’re successful in creative business. It’s an increasing problem on the internet where business has gone global and foreign poachers serving up stolen copy in other languages can be hard to track.
The good news is that closer to home, a well-defined brand can make the blogosphere a lot smaller. One of my clients recently had an office design ripped off by a fellow blogger. Luckily the design had already been published, so said blogger was not as smart as she was nervy. In another case, someone hired a client of mine to design her first home and then started a blog and business claiming the work was entirely her own. In the first case, it was my client’s fans who came to the rescue and pointed out the copycat, before taking her, and the blog that published the rip-off to task. In the second case, a strongly-worded lawyer’s letter resulted in a take-down and the end of a friendship.
Watch & Due
I’m a big believer that certain ideas pop into the zeitgeist because it’s time, which is why it’s common for more than one person to have the same idea at once. It’s why Apple and IBM came onto the scene at the same time or why as a story producer, I got the same pitch idea from strangers on different sides of the country, more than once.
Some ideas get traction, media attention, become mainstream, create opportunity and earn big bucks. Others don’t. The same goes for the people who have them and that’s where the trouble starts. Who knows how many people thought up personal computing devices on the planet, but none took action and communicated the vision of them in the same way that those two now ubiquitous brands did. From a legal standpoint, it’s why ideas can’t be copyrighted but why the expression of them, can.
It’s a slippery slope because the foundation of learning is imitation. It’s how as babies we learn to hold a spoon and how later as artists, we’re taught the how-to of our craft. In the beginning, copying is a requirement of the creative process; so is inspiration. You’ll often hear creative people say, I was inspired by (insert name of recognized creative genius) when I made this. Being inspired by the work of another maker, artist, or designer is one of the most beautiful parts of the creative process. But that’s the difference between a copycat and a pro. Pros are generous with credit and give it where it’s due. They’ve given up copying for something far greater, self-expression.
If you’ve been copied, you may be tempted to stop creating, to keep your ideas underground, or play a smaller game. Don’t.
From a practical standpoint, here are a few things you can do:
- Watermark Images Of Your Work. Add the copyright symbol and your name — or my preference, your url — to every single image of your work that exists online. You can also include copy on your website reminding site visitors that none of the content may be used without your permission and that there are consequences for ignoring your request.
- Google Yourself. Over the years, I’ve found articles I’ve written on the websites of well-meaning (I’m sure) folks who are using my content to help them pimp their services. I’ve reached out and offered them two choices: a use license or to take it down.
- Google Your Images (At Least Quarterly). To check your images if you’re using a mac, drag the image from your site into the search box at http://images.google.com/. Google searches for your image and shows you the list of sites where that image is found. Using this method one of my client found her images on two overseas stock photography portals.
- Lawyer Up. If you’re positive you’re being ripped off, contact a lawyer for advice and to draft a Cease & Desist letter. Consider trademarking your name and/or products that you want to have a long shelf-life early in business. Just because you own the URL does not mean you own the trademark. LegalZoom is another way to do some inexpensive preliminary research around patents, copyrights and other forms of concept protection.
- Keep Creating. It takes courage to be creative and you are. You’re doing the work, putting yourself out there and as much as other people want to be like you, it is genetically impossible. Thank biology for that. Fans who are devoted to you, want what you offer, not the copy, like all of us Apple fans, a company with rabid fans, brand ubiquity despite having less than 15% market share.
As for those inclined to copy, I get that you’re not sure who you are yet and that’s why you’re trying everybody else’s image on for size. But you can’t get there following someone else’s roadmap; first because you don’t know where it’s going, and most importantly, because you’re driving another car.
So take the shortcut to your success. Look in the mirror and get to know yourself. That’s you. Then, stop believing the lie you’ve been telling yourself, the one that says you have to be someone other than who you are to succeed. You are enough. So forget about copying someone else and their work and start doing you.