It’s tough being a small business with no access to a huge legal team to support you with things like copyright.
Have you experienced any of these?
You feel someone is copying your work/product/branding
Someone is selling your work
Someone is using your images claiming they are their own.
Or have you seen this happening:
People using copyrighted images on work, e.g. Disney, Coca Cola
People posting images of other peoples work on social and not crediting them.
So let’s address most of these issues.
Recently our founder Nicki spoke to Ingrid from Dec+Dash and spoke at length on how to copyright products and how to respond when you think someone is copying you.
Here is a summary of the chat.
Here is the transcript of everything discussed in the Live interview.
Today we’re learning all about COPYRIGHT – one surprising fact is that copyright is actually FREE in the UK, it’s just a matter of process…
Pouring your heart and soul into the process of creating, you can feel so hurt if you find somebody is copying (or appearing to copy) your lovingly crafted designs. Emotion is one of the biggest things – hurt can be so overwhelming so if you do find somebody is copying your work, chat it over with a friend or fellow maker, tell someone trusted & try and come back to it later in a practical manner – don’t do anything in a rush & aggravate the situation.
Where Trademark covers Brand, Copyright covers Products and things that are made or created including written work, music etc.
3 things we need to know about Copyright:
1) in the UK, Copyright is free – it’s very different from trademarking & designs or patent (those must be registered with the correct office).
As soon as you create something (drawing, illustration, pottery – anything), you have copyright protection. You don’t have to apply or register, it automatically attaches to whatever you’ve created. A lot of us have it & don’t even realise.
2) Because there’s no registration process, keep track of how it was done (take photos of the process), record date & time or when it was created or written – anything you can do to prove the process and that you had the copyright from a certain date – then if anyone creates something similar, you can prove you made it first.
3) It lasts from 70 years from the date of death of the person who created it – UNLESS the rights have been bequeathed in their estate (this happens a lot with literature especially). It then moves into the public domain & is accessible by all
One of the biggest challenges is not knowing if you’re first – we don’t often consciously copy someone else, but we could easily have had the same idea / influences. It’s important to make the distinction between being inspired and taking influences and looking at something and recreating the exact piece. Most people don’t do that intentionally but it’s easy to have similar inspirations and be influenced by common things.Ingrid at Dec + Dash
How can I copyright my creative products?
Very simply, document the process of making it or creating it.
Take lots of photos that store the date and time of when it was taken. This advice only applies for UK.
What should you do if you think someone has copied you?
1) So many times people don’t even realise they are copying, they don’t know the difference between inspiration & copying. At first instance, get in touch with the person directly & put it in writing – send them an email of what you’ve found -they may not realise what they’ve even done (and some do). Start the conversation with a view to resolving it – do you want them to withdraw their product or make a licensing agreement etc
– Often they simply say it inspired them
– try to mimic but use it as inspiration & their lines get blurred.
– Once they realise they will stop.
2) If that doesn’t work, you can send a Cease & Desist letter – a legal letter (advisable to get a lawyer to help you draft this). It sets out a legal way of what’s been infringed & the options.
3) Get a lawyer
4) Last resort – take legal action. Very expensive & time consuming – it takes over your life, so don’t enter this lightly!
Nicki recommends – chat to others about it as emotions will be high– don’t dive in head first. Allow the initial emotion to settle then have clear intentions about how to resolve the situation and send a concise message/email.
Questions that were asked:
What if they are overseas and trader ignores the emails?
Copyright is very different in each country, for example, in the US they do have to register copyright. People can get rude – intellectual prop rights are difficult to enforce abroad – depends on which country (some have systems similar to UK, some don’t).
Follow the same procedures as we suggested above.
Can/should I share copyright issues on Social Media?
Calling people out – there are some independent brands eg Scamp & Dude who got their designs stolen by big brands like Next and Asda. Their tribe of followers got behind them 100% and the community heard – these examples became very public.
However, always seek legal advice – be sure of your position before you start a public campaign – talk to other makers in your field.
Scamp & Dude knew their rights and sought legal advice first & knew exact infringement first – she wasn’t in the vulnerable position of being accused of maligning a big brand in the press – we don’t want small businesses to be accused of anything or placed in jeopardy (always speak to a lawyer first) – do it in a safe way for your business.
What do you do if you want to use licensed images?
Always go direct – many big brands do licensing in house, don’t use 3rd parties (they just take an extra cut) – go directly to the creator, maker or writer (can be hard with big corporates) but it’s a good income stream for them so try & work out an arrangement with them.
What could you be facing as a maker if you’re seen or found by big companies to be using their copyrighted item/product?
Usually starts with a cease & desist letter- this can be legal, overwhelming and scary – but they are intentionally intimidating. You may have to pull down everything that uses their design. They will usually tell you what products they are and give you a final answer on the next steps and what they want.
It doesn’t have to been all negative e.g. they may want a licence with you (could be an opportunity for a collab), or you may have to destroy/withdraw your products. Not necessarily a negative outcome – usually starts with what they want but you could negotiate.
Don’t worry, you are not about to be hit with loads of fines immediately – there are things you could do/negotiate.
Can you use quotes that may be subject to copyright if you do not plan to sell them and therefore it’s just for social media?
This is tricky because there are a lot of variables: is the quote in the public domain or is it from a protected work? Has the quote been trade marked as well, or does it only have copyright attached to it? Broadly speaking, copyright infringement isn’t only limited to where the copied work is being sold – the infringement occurs when the copyrighted or trade marked material is copied in a new work, not when it’s sold.
Can people retrospectively Trademark or copyright quotes that are common or you may have used within work and would that affect you?
Unfortunately once someone has trade marked a phrase or a word in their particular categories (or classes, as they’re officially called), that person owns the rights to how that phrase is used. The only way a common phrase or word can be trade marked is if the person could use that common phrase or word in a unique way, unrelated to its accepted use. Apple is a great example of this. Apple is heavily trade marked in relation to IT products, services and devices. However, it would not be possible to trade mark Apple as a brand for a company selling apples. Similarly, if someone has trade marked a particular phrase or word that is in common use, but they have trade marked it in categories unrelated to its common use, then that trade mark stands and you may be infringing on their rights (unless you can show that you have been using it since prior to their registration. This is definitely something to seek further advice about, because unfortunately it’s a subjective situation).
Thanks for all the questions during the live video!
Photograph the process – get proof you’re the first one who created it (but also be open to the fact that you might not be!).
How to we register / archive them? Not LEGALLY required to do it, but if its practical for you, many people take photos or print a copy of written work and send it to someone – a lawyer, accountant, whoever you register your company with etc, and that has the dates it’s sent and can be used to prove you made the copy on that certain date. Not as practical for jewellery & sculptures etc, but this is where photographing the item becomes important – photo the process & finalised product, and make notes of your process as you went along.
When you find someone that’s copying its ok to be angry and upset – we are all just human! Many people think they have to remain professional but you are entitled to the feelings, talk to your friends & other makers – people who understand. Get it out, vent, feel, allow yourself to feel upset and angry and THEN think practically.
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