We in­ves­ti­gate mis­taken copy­ing claims

Mollie Makes - - Contents - Mol­ Words: JES­SICA BATE­MAN Il­lus­tra­tion: STEPH BAX­TER

One morn­ing Anna*, a de­signer-maker and il­lus­tra­tor, switched on her Mac to check her emails, coffee in hand as usual. Yawn­ing, she scrolled through the usual Etsy queries and whole­sale ne­go­ti­a­tions, when one jumped out. ‘Cease and de­sist’ it stated bluntly. Shak­ing, she clicked on it, slowly read­ing the lawyer’s words ac­cus­ing her of copy­ing an­other de­signer. “My first thought was: ‘Could I have done this?’” she re­calls. “And then: ‘Am I go­ing to lose my busi­ness?’”

Anna hadn’t ac­tu­ally copied any de­signs. But, un­for­tu­nately, mis­taken ac­cu­sa­tions of copy­ing are not un­com­mon in the de­signer-maker com­mu­nity. It can be dif­fcult to ever 100% prove where de­signs orig­i­nated from, es­pe­cially when they fea­ture com­mon trends and mo­tifs, and highly-pub­li­cised ‘sham­ing’ of al­leged copiers on so­cial me­dia may have caused some to be­come slightly trig­ger happy in their re­ac­tions. A false ac­cu­sa­tion of copy­ing can be ex­pen­sive and, of course, tar­nish your rep­u­ta­tion. So how do you pro­tect your­self?


As Con­tent Lead for Folksy (, Camilla Wester­gaard has wit­nessed many mis­taken claims of copy­ing arise on­line. “I once fea­tured a#neck­lace on our blog that some­one claimed was a#rip-o! of their de­sign,” she re­veals. “A lot of ar­gu­ing broke out in the com­ments, un­til even­tu­ally the claimant deleted her re­marks, then emailed me to apol­o­gise for be­ing wrong.” Camilla rec­om­mends keep­ing all your sketches and other ev­i­dence of ideas gen­er­a­tion to prove de­signs orig­i­nated with you – prefer­ably date-mark­ing them some­how: “I’ve known de­sign­ers to post sketch­books to them­selves, which they’ll leave un­opened.” At the very least, make sure you sign and date them.

If you re­ally want to pro­tect your de­signs with an#iron fist, then in the eyes of the law the best thing to do would be to reg­is­ter them as be­long­ing to you, such as hav­ing a trade mark reg­is­tered with the UK In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty (IP) O"ce. How­ever, this is un­for­tu­nately way out of the bud­gets of most de­signer-mak­ers and in­de­pen­dent cre­atives. In­stead, con­sider reg­is­ter­ing them with Anti-Copy­ing in De­sign’s (ACID) De­sign Data­bank ( www.acid.­sign-data­bank.html). Al­though this doesn’t add to your le­gal rights in the same way, it pro­vides re­li­able third party ev­i­dence of when de­signs were cre­ated.

ACID also rec­om­mends putting to­gether an ‘IP strat­egy’ for your busi­ness – both to pro­tect from ac­cu­sa­tions of copy­ing but also to stop oth­ers copy­ing you. This may in­clude state­ments on your web­site, mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial or prod­ucts; iden­ti­fy­ing risk fac­tors and keep­ing ideas close to your chest.


Luck­ily for Anna, she didn’t end up go­ing bank­rupt or los­ing her busi­ness. How­ever, the false ac­cu­sa­tions levied against her still turned out to be rather costly. “I scan ev­ery­thing I draw and I also work from a lot of pho­to­graphs, so I had plenty of ev­i­dence to send the lawyer,” she tells us. “But get­ting a so­lic­i­tor to draft my re­ply wasn’t cheap and I ended up los­ing a con­sid­er­able por­tion of my year’s prof­its.” Un­for­tu­nately, the only way she#could ever re­claim the money from the com­plainant would be to take them to court – a pricey move. “I now keep a sep­a­rate sav­ings ac­count in case some­thing like this crops up again,” she says.

And al­though it might sound like we’re stat­ing the ob­vi­ous, the sin­gle most im­por­tant thing you can do to pro­tect your­self is to stay as orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble in your de­signs – a sur­pris­ingly tricky feat when faced with pres­sure to be on-trend and com­mer­cial. “It’s a myth that if you change a de­sign by a cer­tain per­cent­age or num­ber of changes, that you have cre­ated a new de­sign,” ad­vises ACID. “The scope of pro­tec­tion en­ables le­gal ac­tion against an­other who pro­duces a sim­i­lar de­sign that creates the over­all same im­pres­sion.” Try not to look to other de­sign­ers for in­spi­ra­tion too much – get out and about, visit gal­leries and mu­se­ums, or draw and paint out­side. Not only will you pro­duce bet­ter work, you’re bound#to feel much more cre­atively sat­is­fied, too.

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