Lately I have had several conversations with friends and other designers about imitations in the blog and design world. And though I don’t have all the answers for every situation, I have come to a level of peace about this topic in my own life which might be helpful to share.
I’ll start off by saying that each situation is different and that there is no “right” path for everyone. Depending on the level of imitation in design, content, phrasing, or commerce different actions can be taken.
If someone is blatantly passing off your work as their own, there is likely a legal issue at play. This is why it’s important to site the source of images, quotes, and ideas. Also, respecting the sourcing preferences of the originating artist is a good and natural thing to do.
Further, if someone is profiting off your same exact design, talking to a lawyer may be helpful to discuss legal ramifications. Afraid your idea might get ripped off right at the outset? Consider getting your copyright, trademarks, patents, or other legal documents taken care of before you share your concept with the marketplace.
However, there are many other situations beyond these blatant rip-off scenarios which are more subtle and difficult to discern.
What about when someone does something very similar, but just a little bit different? What if someone sees you launch a new product or series and then decides to make the same addition to their own offerings? What if you feel like someone is constantly observing what you do and incorporating similar aspects to their own career or designs?
This is where personal reaction becomes much more relevant than legal action.
Some might want to call out the imitator through social media. Though I’ve never seen this happen personally, I’ve heard accounts of designers or business owners sharing anything from a casual Tweet about being copied, to actual text and links devoted to outing copy cats on the sales page of their website.
Personally, though I understand the frustration, I don’t think this is the most power-filled way to react. Putting someone else down publicly rarely seems like the best thing to do, as it can reflect poorly on everyone involved.
When these situations have come up with my own company, I have chosen to remember a pivotal conversation I had once with a man who developed products overseas.
The successful businessman was encouraging me to work with large Chinese manufacturers to produce components for Jess LC jewelry.
Though I never decided to go this route, during our conversation he mentioned that it’s pretty common to have your designs ripped off by the same factory or neighboring factories abroad. I then asked him if it was worth getting copyrights for my designs to avoid this fate.
He responded with this: The cost of getting those copyrights and then enforcing them will be so high that it really won’t be worth the months of legal action and heartache. Instead, realize that your business is really only as valuable as the relationships you have with your customers. There is no way you can ever ensure that others won’t imitate your work. You just need to serve your clients so well that they won’t want to go anywhere else.
At that moment I found a level of peace about my business that has stuck with me to this day.
The issue isn’t usually about what other people are doing. That’s outside our control unless we politely ask them to stop copying our designs or take legal action. And even then we cannot personally force them change their course.
The issue is about focusing on serving our clients so well that they’d rather come to us for our designs than get an imitation from someone else.
The truth is that imitations of a unique concept will never feel as fresh or inspired as the real thing. And if someone simply wants a cheaper version of our offering, they aren’t our ideal customer in the first place.
Another element to consider is the inspiration factor. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Consider if it’s more peaceful for you to privately forgive them for their imitation and move on with your life.
Often, it is the more sincerely powerful and proactive course of action.
And lastly, I will say that I have found incredible peace when I choose not to pay attention to what others are doing which may be similar to myself.
We don’t need to stalk the actions of imitators just to convince ourselves that we are being copied and deserve to remain upset. In fact, our most loyal fans may recognize what is happening on their own and choose to remain loyal to us because they see us rise above the whole situation.
For my own career I feel that the occurrence of copying is a great signal that it’s time to take my current offering to the next level or do something new and fresh in my own career.
It’s not about what other’s are doing which might be similar to my past body of work. It’s about defining what exciting new territory I’m going to embark upon next to continue to inspire and better serve my community.
I’m too excited about my next evolution to worry about anyone else.