You fire up your laptop and log in for the day and up pops a product that looks exactly like one of yours, but it isn’t. You are dealing with a copycat!
Immediately you feel a gut-wrenching surge of shock, anger and upset, because you spent hours and maybe even years perfecting what you do. How dare they do this to you!
Hey, I’ve been there, and it sucks! It’s an extremely, emotionally charged moment that can leave us in a quandary for what to do and how to react. Today on the podcast I’m giving my advice on how you should be dealing with copycats.
My Story in dealing with copycats
I had been dyeing yarn and fibre for a while under the name Sara’s Texture Crafts and one of the things I was known for was technical dyeing and a great understanding of fibre base vs. end use. This helped my customers find the perfect product for their projects. Through my years working in the fashion industry I had also developed a good understanding of colour and wearablity, and so part of my success was in producing dye colourways that worked for different skin tones and in harmony with colour shifts during spinning or knitting.
In fact, my dyeing was sought after enough for me to be asked to teach dyeing on many occasions at guilds or by private clients. My answer had always been no, because to me my techniques were my ‘secret recipe’, my success if you like. So, at most I produced a basic tutorial for a primary colour kit that I started selling, just to share the basics of dyeing with people.
Later, as I developed friendships with a select few I remember finding myself open to talking a little more about technique… not fully, never fully, but enough to get them started with personal dyeing. There was a safety in those friendships that lowered my guard and for a few years it was never an issue.
Until one day it was.
I hadn’t had experience in dealing with copycats… well not in my dyeing anyway, so when it happened to me, I wasn’t sure how to deal with it.
The first I found out about this incident was firing up my laptop and opening my emails to a barrage of customers asking me to check out a link to a new Etsy shop. There was confusion – was I dyeing under a new name, or was there a copycat at large?
I can appreciate that there was a confusion at first, because I had previously been working for a few retailers as a freelance dyer and I had been open about this on my podcast. Although I was surprised that there was confusion, because I had always gone out of my way to develop specific dye colourways for these unique clients.
I clicked open the link I had been sent by several people and to my surprise it was the shop of one of my ‘friends’, someone with whom I had discussed a bit about dyeing and which dye companies I used to my acid dye stuff.
Like a sledgehammer to my guts there were about ten colourways of dyed fibre that were clearly mine and on closer inspection two or three others from other well-known UK dyers. I felt a mixture of shock, rage, insult and of course utter stupidity. I had been duped into friendship, purely to gain insight to my business.
I remember calling my partner Darrin and crying on the phone and he said I should contact her about it, but I felt silly… was I knowingly being copied, was I even able to ask someone to cease and desist if you can’t copyright a colourway?
By the next morning it turned out that my customers had intervened on my behalf and the bulk of the listings were taken down. I’ll never know what happened to that stock, I can only assume it was sold at craft shows, but it didn’t reappear online again. Being the case, I did not need to contact the ‘friend’ in question, needless to say we did not speak again (which spoke in volumes that our friendship was purely an intentional act of theft of my designs).
Looking back, I always wished I had said something though.
The process of being copied has taught me many things; not to be so open, to build a loyal following who can spot a copy a mile off and of course what I could have done if I’d had legal standing.
So, if you feel you have been copied and you are just getting over the initial shock of it all, then read more to find out what my advice is on how to act effectively 👇
Dealing with Copycats:
You be You and I’ll be Me!
Or listen here;
Dealing with copycats is an emotionally charged subject, even more so if you are in the creative industries and the bulk of your product is hand produced. I get asked by coaching clients and Craft Biz Incubator members occasionally how to deal with this and so I wanted to put together a list of things I consider are good practices for craft businesses in this position.
Firstly, I think you need to be 100% sure that you are being copied, before you take any action. Don’t take one listing into account, especially if there are several other artisans producing very similar things. Instead look at the bigger picture, are you broadly being copied. If the answer is ‘yes, then look into the exact details of the extent of this across products and particular product details.
When you have this worked out the next thing to do is to decide whether legal action is required or not.
There are legal ways you can protect your work if you are designing and producing something with a truly unique aspect to it. These are;
Trademarking your business, or product brand name.
A trademark is “a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product.” ~ Google dictionary
Seek Patents for individual inventions.
A patent is “a government authority or licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.” ~ Google dictionary
Register individual design rights, known as ‘Intellectual Property’ (IPO)
IPO – “intangible property that is the result of creativity, such as patents, copyrights, etc.” ~ Google dictionary
According to the UK government;
Having the right type of intellectual property protection helps you to stop people stealing or copying:
the names of your products or brands
the design or look of your products
things you write, make or produce
IPO includes; trademarked work, patents and design. The UK Government go further to say that in the case of design this can include;
configuration (or how different parts of a design are arranged together)
It is important to say that these elements of legality must be in place when you report infringement for legal proceedings to benefit you. Therefore, if you are new in business it is important to see if registration is the way forward for your business (and be aware there will be financial implications here).
If you are not legally covered and a copycat has appeared on the market, then I would see how you can cover your work immediately to protect new designs in the future. Legal cover may not be possible retrospectively.
If there are no grounds for legal cover, then you could try to stop to this activity through raising a ‘cease and desist’ letter via your solicitor.
Cease and desist
“denoting a legally enforceable order from a court or government agency directing someone to stop engaging in a particular activity.” ~ Google dictionary.
This type of letter is purely a warning of possible legal action you may choose to take with the perpetrator if the copying doesn’t stop. From what I understand it does not in itself help you to win a case and you may find that your case is thrown out by a judge if they deem no violation of your rights has been made, or if your design does not have legal grounds for defence.
*Disclaimer - I do have to add that I am not a lawyer, so if you wish to make a legal claim, or gain legal cover you must talk with someone fully qualified to provide you with full advice based on your situation.
If you are in the UK you can also contact https://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/
Other things you can do, or should know when dealing with copycats
Either financially or circumstantially it may not be possible to pursue legal complaints when dealing with copycats. In this case there are some other things you can do;
Don’t be afraid to speak up – Even if you aren’t legally covered it is quite ok to email your copycat and ask them to stop. My advice is to do this in a polite and professional way.
Stay true to your vision – What copycats miss the most is your understanding of your market and customers. This understanding has lead you to where you with your business and that deep connection has given you a far reaching vision… because as your customer and the market evolves you will be much better placed to move with them (because you understand their needs). Copycats usually fall dead on their feet here.
Stay true to your customers – Remember that your customers buy from you for a reason, so take the opportunity to reconnect with them and show them why their loyalty matters. Copycats usually don’t care about customers; they instead are finically motivated. This to me is a big mistake, because longevity in business is about making products that sell over the long-term and that requires customer connection.
Offer an evolved version of your product – Copycats usually look for momentary trends with which they can ‘make a quick buck’, and as I said before they miss that markets evolve. My best advice is to see how you can make what you do better, which will ultimately make you stand out in the market .
Offer a superior service – Service is a major part of why people buy from you, so make sure that you continue to offer what they need in a way that rounds out their buying experience. These little details again are often missed by those looking to make a quick profit.
Don’t start penny wars – The worst thing you can do is to start a penny war, where you decrease your prices in order to sell more. This will hurt your profitability and can put you out of business altogether if the copycat takes up their own call to arms.
Don’t feel threatened – If you have been making your products for a while, then you have built up your own unique following. Copycats can’t duplicate this quickly. Make sure you keep going, you will often find that copycats don’t last long, because they don’t have the stamina, or the market understanding you do and most importantly the loyalty from customers.
Get used to it – As the great Coco Chanel said;
Ignore them – Spending your valuable time and energy on copycats will ultimately harm your mindset and attitude towards business. Sometimes even stopping you from developing or putting yourself out there. Ignoring what other people are doing will help keep you focused and driven to delivering high quality products based on your knowledge. Ignoring these copycats will help you to do what you need to do to be successful, rather than worrying about what you can do to beat them.
Here’s the thing, dealing with copycats is a sad reality of retail, even in the micro businesses found on sites like Etsy. So, if you find yourself in a position where you are questioning a competitor’s products and creative theft springs to mind, I want you to know that you have options.
Take a day to process what’s happening but come back the next day with a plan of action.
If you want to work out what your next business move is but aren’t sure what to do in order to effectively grow your sales, then I recommend grabbing a copy of my Grow your sales checklist.
Let me show you how to move on from situations like copycats and grow your sales in a way that will help you stand out in a crowded marketplace!