One of the trickiest obstacles to running a successful and profitable handmade business is the amount of designers who will try to copy your work.
It’s so frustrating to see a product that you’ve put your heart and soul into get copied by another designer (or company). Even more so if you see that the copycat product is being offered at a cheaper price to undercut your own product sales.
In some cases, copycat products can have a huge detrimental impact on your business. Especially if a big commercial retailer decides to rip off your design. Yes, it really does happen! See for yourself how Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie decided to do just that – nab the design that an indie designer already produced.
It makes sense to seek inspiration from a variety of sources when you’re creating something handmade. It’s normal to do that - it’s perfectly ok to see an idea and take influence from it in your own work.
But replicating someone else’s product? That’s just plain unethical. Sadly, it does happen and it can happen to anyone!
So, in this post, to better protect yourself from copycat designers, we’ve suggested some ways that you can really put your own stamp on your handmade products so that they are fairly hard to copy.
Develop a unique brand
To position yourself in the marketplace as an established handmade business i.e. a force to be reckoned with, you’ll need (at the very least) a quality logo to go alongside your unique business name and tagline.
Your logo should appear on your online shop header, on your business cards, in your email communications, on your blog, on your social media profiles and any other place where you communicate with your customers. By doing that, people will start to recognize your brand and what you do.
Use a range of unique materials within your designs
When planning your product designs, look for materials that aren’t so easy to get hold of and have something different about them. Find suppliers who specialize in unique products (like us with our Candy Jade beads!) or local independent artists who make their own materials. You could even consider making some of your own supplies if possible.
Try to be creative and original with your own product designs while letting your own individual style and voice show through.
Lastly, never reveal your sources within your product descriptions in your store. It’s nice to give credit to the company or artist you’ve bought your materials from, but at the end of the day, you’re opening yourself up to having your designs copied.
Keep new handmade products a secret
If you’re intending to launch a new product, keep schtum about your plans. This is especially the case if you run a blog or Facebook page alongside your handmade business so you can keep your customers informed. You never know when a competitor may be lurking to try to find out what your next amazing product design will be!
Protect your product photos
Add your logo or the name of your handmade business to your product photos. You can do this easily in PicMonkey (a free photo editing platform) if you don’t have Photoshop.
By adding your details to your images, this will let other people know that the photographed work is yours and yours alone. You might still be the victim of a copycat designer, but staking your claim in this way will put some of them off even trying.
Brush up on your knowledge of copyright law
Copyright law is different in every country, but for those living in the US, copyright law is governed by The Copyright Act 1976.
Creative works are copyrighted from the moment they exist. However, if you want to sue someone for infringement of a US work, you’ll need to have already registered your work for copyright so that it’s a matter of public record.
This might seem like a hassle - but actually registering your work for copyright could definitely scare copycat designers away right from the start.
Another way to avoid having your product designs copied is by simply placing a short statement at the bottom of your product descriptions to say that your work is original and copyrighted. This means that anyone caught copying your products can’t really get away with saying that they did it unintentionally!
What to do if you see your product copied by another designer
First of all, make sure they have actually copied your product. For it to be classed as copying, it needs to be a replica of your product. If you’re sure your work has been copied, put together a case for evidence. Take screenshots of the product itself and the product description.
Then send the perpetrator an official email or letter (don’t forget your branding for this!) asking them to “Cease and Desist” (stop selling the copied work) as they are infringing on copyright. Include photos of your work and theirs.
That might be enough to scare the socks off the copycat designer, but if not, your next step will be to seek legal advice. You will have to pay for legal advice, but if you’re set on taking down the copycat, you’ll need your case backed up by an expert.
Once a legal firm gets involved, you should find that the copycat designer backs down (unless it’s a big commercial retailer in which case their legal firm will probably have more clout than yours).
Having your much loved handmade products copied that you’ve put so much work into is no fun at all. But by establishing yourself as quality designer, embracing your own originality and keeping up-to-date with copyright law, you can help to protect your business from copycats.
Before you go, you might want to check out our other posts in our Craft Business Tips section – see them here!
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