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Copy Cats: What To Do When Someone Takes Your Idea
Remember: nothing beats the original.
Career 05 Jul 2022

It’s much easier said than done to “take it as a compliment” when someone steals your idea.

We’ve probably all experienced being copied before – maybe someone in school copied your fashion sense, or someone at work loudly joined in with “yeah that’s what I actually thought, too” when your idea was praised in a meeting. A lot of the time, being copied is irritating but not actually going to do damage to your life or career. But what about when it’s threatening to do just that?

A lot of people working in the arts are freelancers and creatives, turning their ideas into projects, companies, and art works. When someone turns up to the table with something that’s just too similar to your work for it to be a coincidence, it’s no wonder that it can feel like your universe is shattering. After all – you have built your entire career by yourself, and to feel like that’s all going to vanish because of a thief is understandably distressing.

Inspired by curator and founder of All About Art Alexandra Steinacker’s IG story, here’s our deep-dive into how to react to being copied. There are many areas in which someone might be copying you, but for the purposes of this article we will refer to it as your “product” (even though it might be a style, an idea, or a whole business that is being copied).

Break It Down & Calm Down

What about their product is similar to yours? Try to think as objectively as you can, and don’t get swept up in emotional phrases like “they’ve copied everything!” Doing this thinking process will calm you down and highlight where the real issue is. Finding the specifics of the problem (for example, that the colour-scheme for their new logo is the same as yours, the font is similar, but their brand actually does quite a different thing from yours) will give you the best ammo for if you decide to speak to the other person about it, and will help stop you feeling like your whole world is falling apart.

Check The Law

Feel like you’ve been copied in a serious, business-altering way? Check the law. The other person may be in breach of copyright, which means you can really kick up a fuss and get their product taken down.

Find Your USP

Question: If you imagine that the other person’s product was literally identical to yours in every way – say, you both run networking companies targeted to the same people with the same branding, social media following, and style – what would make yours different? Answer: It’s you. What do you bring to the table that’s totally untouchable? Have faith in your own power, and let the copiers come and go. Nothing beats the original.

Will This Matter in 6 Months?

This is a helpful thing to ask yourself whenever you face a challenge. Whether it be a week, a month, a year, or ten years, asking yourself if the issue at hand will still be relevant in the future is really good for grounding yourself and not letting yourself be distracted by the hurdles. It might be that – as a matter of fact – you’re going to be stopping your podcast at the end of the month any way, or that you want to take your local-business national in the next two years, or you’re planning on changing your artistic style to follow a different route, so whatever anyone else is doing isn’t going to be relevant to you very soon. Sure, at this very moment it feels like you’re both fighting for the same spot, but in a month you might not even want that spot any more.

Collaborate

If you’re feeling generous or see opportunity to cash-in from this unhappy circumstance, try reaching out to your copier and seeing if there’s a way you can join forces. This is a good thing to do, too, when the seeds-of-copying are being sewn and you suspect that someone might soon be launching a full-blown copy of your product. Catch them in the act before they overstep the mark, and find something to collaborate on. This will remind them to not tread on your turf (because you’re watching them) and might end up with both of you having a better or different product that you can run with. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, babes.

Keep Your Cards Close To Your Chest

In the words of Julia Fox: “I don’t like to speak of things before they’re finished… but so far it’s a masterpiece”. Don’t give your competitors any sneak previews of what you’re working on. It’s also helpful not to announce a product before it exists so you don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to get it out there and for it to live up to any hype. Hustle at your own pace and keep the development stages sacred.

Ignore

Block block block. Don’t follow the copier or you’ll end up getting obsessed with their product and what they’re doing, when your priority needs to be you. If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Don’t allow the copier to be a distraction in your life, and carry on plowing forward.

Communicate

You might feel like you need to speak to the other person about what is going on. Make sure you do this in a way that’s healthy for you – don’t go in all guns blazing, because this will only end you up in a conflict that leaves you feeling constantly anxious whenever you get a DM or email. Remain cool and collected (and make sure you’ve followed our first pointer) – remember, you’re in charge of your reaction to this (even if you don’t feel in charge of the situation) and stay above petty fighting. Communicating with them might result in a great compromise – and a much-needed apology from them – which leaves you both happy. And if need be, you can let them know to get a lawyer…

Be Inspired

Your idea or product has been copied? What new thing are you going to do? While changing your product isn’t your responsibility in this situation, for some people they can find the fortitude to take the situation on the chin (probably after a lot of tears and calls to your mum) and evolve their product to move away from the copier. Let no one hog your spotlight and if they stand in it, move. You are special and the spotlight will follow.

Author: Verity Babbs

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