The Shocking Truth about Copycats

The creative industry is such a funny space. It really is. I subscribe to many emails in the field, and I notice a lot of different strategies for growth …

Some people are direct and aggressive. They’ll offer you their product for sale – plain and simple. They might even give you a sample, and then you’ll buy it or you won’t.

Other people are indirect and passive-aggressive. They will put down every other product on the market, throw around the word “copycat” and attempt to sour all the other offers out there. Next, they’ll whisper in your ear that they’ve made something [quite similar to the products they’ve just bashed], but it’s only for the best kind of people who also turn their nose up at [the product they’ve just created that, by their own declaration, is so much better than the similar products they’ve just bashed].

I  question the word copycat, and I feel myself cringing at anyone who throws that accusation around. Don’t claim you’re the victim unless you’re willing to admit that you’re sometimes also the culprit! Unless of course, you’ve completely barricaded yourself indoors with nothing but your imagination and a blank canvas to keep you company.

The Shocking Truth about Copycats |

We’re all inspired by the word and work of others, but in my experience coaching creatives,  the concept of copycatting appears in two forms: (1.) The basic fear of “not being original enough.” In other words, “I might create something that accidentally resembles another product I’ve seen in my lifetime!” Or, (2.) The debatable idea that they’re “too original” and everyone will try to steal their work. In other words, “Everything I do is so unique, and everybody wants to steal my ideas!”

And it’s no wonder!  There’s a plethora of copycat worries in our industry. Artists become obsessed with either feeling like a copier or fearing them – that ever-elusive band of dirty copycats trolling the internet to steal our designs, our copywriting, and even our pictures!

The “too original”

I’ve seen copyrights and watermarks. I’ve coached artists who won’t sell digital prints because they’ve conjured up an imaginary scene in which their work will be reprinted and sold by others at art shows.

I understand protecting the art and the rights of the creative, but I feel the “too original” artist tends to shelter their work, fearing a hypothetical crime while causing their own suffrage.

This group takes themselves a bit too seriously. If you’re really that great of an artist, people won’t settle for knock-offs. They’ll seek out the original, and you have no control over the rest.

The “not original enough”

On the other hand, this group doesn’t take themselves seriously enough. They don’t yet believe in their own unique talents, but when they do … look out.

[Tweet “No one threatens your originality; You are a unique creator. @_LisaJacobs_”]

How to fix it, either way:

Stick to the facts.

  • You don’t have to strive to be unique; you already are.
  • You don’t have to protect your uniqueness; no one can take it from you.
  • You know how to tap into your imagination and create something from nothing. That’s amazing; never fear showing it off!
  • You are passionate (and possibly somewhat of a perfectionist) which means you pour your heart + soul into each piece of work. No one could replicate or replace that, no matter what.
  • Your creations reflect what is beautiful to you; it’s a form of innovative self-expression and cannot be copied.
  • Even if another artist, maker or designer has created something similar at one time or another, their work can never be exactly like yours. Yours will always be authentic to you.

Who Cares about Copycats?

I know that there are horrible copycat stories circling the web in which beautiful artwork was copied or plagiarized or boxed in a big store. Hands down, those are crimes against the artist. However, those stories are not the norm. In creative business, we’re making it all up as we go along. When we come to depend on this income and our livelihood is at stake, scary stories like those create widespread panic, and I’m no fan of panic.

You don’t have to be afraid of copycats. I’m telling you this from experience. Sure, it can happen, but it’s very unlikely that it will matter to your bottom line.

Take for example my lovely little Energy Shop. It’s been open since 2010, and since that year, I’ve been telling people exactly how to build a thriving creative business, my keyword examples, my photography tips, my marketing strategies and everything else under the sun. People take that information and run! Can I blame them?

Maybe I could, but I don’t. I’m too busy thinking about the next design I’m going to create or the project I’m working on behind-the-scenes to even pay attention. It’s never hurt my bottom line. I believe that everyone has their beginnings somewhere, and I don’t mind being the inspiration.

The shocking truth about copycats is that they’ll either be forced to carve their own path or shrivel in someone else’s shadow.

As a creative, it’s in your nature to observe the world (and other creators) around you, and in doing so, you often find new inspiration. Don’t let this scare you … it doesn’t mean you’re copying or vulnerable to being copied. Observing the beauty around you only means you’re awake, alive and well. Breathe it in and continue to be inspired.

What are your thoughts on the matter? I’d love to know,

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  • Copycatting is an interesting concept. I’ve had people purposely try to copy my products. What ends up happening is that their heart isn’t in the creation and so their products don’t generally work the same as mine. I’ve had inspiration by looking at the work of others, but purposely put my own spin on it. If it is something I’m truly into creating, the idea usually works. If I’m being too much of a copy cat, it dies on the vine. I’m learning to balance and I’m learning to not worry about being copied. Instead, I go with my inner calling.

    • Thank you, De. I agree, a copied product has no legs to stand on. When I see copies of my work, my opinion is always the same: “Yours exists, but mine shines.” Unless they put some originality into it, there’s no comparison! Appreciate your add.

  • I appreciate your article SO much! Honestly, I fear copying others, so whenever I think I have a brilliant idea, I google it to death to make sure there’s nothing like it! I think it stifles my creativity though, because it takes a lot longer to produce anything. Now I feel inspired to just tackle my projects, and see where it takes me! The more we use our creativity, the more creative we get. I have to admit that it bothers me when someone was clearly inspired by another project, and they don’t at least acknowledge that and add a link to their source of inspiration. Is that common courtesy, or is that going overboard?! Thanks again for your article!

    • Thanks for adding, Abby! I do think it’s common courtesy to link + share what inspires you. When you stop looking at it as “copying” and take the fear + emotion out of it, it feels more natural to allow yourself to be inspired. Great points & thanks again.

  • Thanks for this article Lisa! I have the same condition as Abby, I spend so much time scouring the net to see if someone has already done something, and if I find one person doing something similar in the *whole world* I get paranoid! Many painters learnt by copying the masters, and for learning (and not profiting) I think it should be perfectly fine to do.
    And as for commercial copying – it sucks, but if you let it take hold it can suck all the creativity from you and then they win. Accepting what you cant change and getting on to your new thing is great advice.

    “The shocking truth about copycats is that they’ll either be forced to carve their own path or shrivel in someone else’s shadow.”
    SO TRUE!

    Thank you for putting this out there!

    • Yes! Thank you for adding, Emily. The discussion on this post is so lightweight & refreshing! You’re so right – you can’t change it – you can’t really do anything at all about it – so just do you & create. Perfect summary!

  • I’ve had problems in the past with my patterns being copied, but this year I will not let it bother me. I will be focusing on my next pattern. Thank you for a new way to look at this.

  • I have been copied. I am one of those that will tell you I am the original creator of the type of headpieces I sell. I even had one person who copied my items tell me it was flattering for someone to copy my work. Yeah, okie dokie.
    I guess if no one has ever copied your original design it can seem like it is ok. I don’t have a problem with people who use my items as inspiration. Far from it. But when someone copies your work and even your descriptions word for word then sells them as their own-sorry but I take offense to that.

    • Thanks for adding, Dawn. I certainly didn’t expect everyone to agree with this point of view, and I appreciate your sharing your opinion on the matter.

      I do want to say (in response) that people have most definitely been inspired (aka copied) my original designs as well. Where you take offense, I choose not to pay attention to it.

      • Dawn, please read my response little further below. I totally understand how you feel about being copied. My initial response was the same as yours and I cried and did not understand how someone could be so mean. And when it happened with my bestselling patterns it was another BIG blow, Especially since it was a website, who was ALREADY in business a long time and HAD oodles of patterns to sell, while I struggled along to get a good patterns, which takes weeks for me.
        The sadness, hostility, and upset is really hurting and stifling our OWN creativity, which in turn hurts our business and success. At least I can’t productively create something that makes people happy, if I have hard feelings inside. So look ahead, KNOW your worth and understand nobody can reach ALL the market that is out there for that product. Steadily build your brand and you will succeed, regardless, who copied or even steals your product. Hope that helps a little.

        • I’ve caught several people who blatantly plagiarized my work. I felt violated- like someone literally stole something from my heart and soul. It’s a disgusting feeling. While I can agree that this can interfere with our creative juices, I totally don’t think it’s okay to plagiarize (I mean, it IS illegal). I’ve confronted the thieves every time and will continue to do so. It’s one thing when a piece of jewelry looks mighty familiar (for example), but you can’t say for sure that they copied you. But when stories you write are being blatantly copied and resold, there’s just no way around it- it’s thievery. :/

          • I agree, but I think plagiarism is a slightly different ballgame with clearer rules to follow. It’s funny you say this because every time I find someone posting similar jewelry designs by taking similar photographs (and even tagging their product with my brand), I always check the listing with an attitude like: “As long as you didn’t steal my words …”

            I can’t control product likeness, and I’ve come to accept that, but don’t steal my writing! I know what you mean.

  • Lisa, that is a well thought out article and you are right on!!! I am fairly new to internet marketing and my very first pattern was bought and is distributed now. I was “crushed”!!!! Ever since 2 of my best selling patterns are freely shared in crochet groups, even though they are paid patterns. I have NO control over that even though they are watermarked and all!
    What I do have control over: There are more ideas where those came from and in spite of those liberal “sharers” there are STILL millions of customers, who will pay me for my work. Yes, it is not nice to do what they do and I might carry some loss, but I have my dignity, ethics and value in place and they do not.

    In the creative field, we have to realize only God can create something from nothing. Everything else was and is already been done and will come again. In my opinion, there is NO competition in art or creativity: We ALL ( or at least those of us, who are successful) give our very best to our medium and the customer’s dollar decides who will have the winning bid. Sure there are many pattern sellers that are more successful than I am and I by far have not overcome my struggle to find my niche, but I also can only congratulate those you have “made it” into a good income with their hard work, because that is what it takes in any business to succeed. To have satisfaction and enthusiasm in our work it is far better to look at what is ahead, than to look what is behind. Forgiveness is very liberating in any area of life. Good job , Lisa. One of these days I will pick up on this copycat theme/subject on my web site also and copycat you. 🙂 I hope you do not mind and actually will enjoy my take on it. Much love to you, Lisa, and continued success.

  • Great article! This really hits close to home for me, and I believe is completely spot on. I found out during the holidays (through a not so nice customer) that my best selling sign was ripped off by Pier 1. I’m not going to lie. I cried all day. Maybe not a river, but I was spent for the rest of the day. I didn’t have a clue what to do about this situation so I reached out to a few friends in the small online business community, and they thankfully were all very sweet and helped pick me back up. They also reminded me to keep pushing forward, and even though this was a low blow no one could EVER take away my unique creativity. A few even told me that if you look at this situation in a positive light it’s actually kind of an honor to be copied. It means that your stuff is that great that someone (a big name store) wanted it! This concept is hard to swallow, but I’ve decided that I’m not going to let it stop me from creating.

    I also found that reading “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon really helped me gain perspective on the copycats, copywriting and overall how to overcome my fears of situations like this happening again in the future. Because lets face it. It probably will if you showcase all of your work online.

    Thanks again Lisa 🙂

    P.S. I also found out there is a “cease and desist” letter that can be sent out if you would like to start or threaten legal action. It can be a little expensive to have a copyright attorney write this up for you ($1200ish), but there are plenty of examples online to write your own if you choose to take this route. Just knowing that I have this option kind of helps put me at ease too!

  • You have such a beautiful, positive attitude. I haven’t had too many problems with this. But I did start making little tag blankets after a friend made one for my daughter’s new baby. It was adorable! I made many different kinds and sold a number at craft fairs, gave a lot as gifts, and put them on my website. There were only over 900 listings for Taggy blankets at the time and I think I sold 2 on the etsy shop. Suddenly, I received a Convo from a company saying they had a patent on anything that had a looped ribbon tag on it for sensory purposes for babies. They gave me a certain amount of time to respond and remove my blankets from the shop, or they would begin legal process. seriously! I was devastated for about 24 hours. I did a little checking and realized it wasn’t worth stewing over. I removed the blankets from the shop, wrote a very nice convo back, apologizing for not being aware of the patent, and hoped that the other 900 listings would respond the same ;). I received a very nice reply of appreciation for my understanding and cooperation. Guess all of this can go both ways. I still think about it every time I see a new blog and tutorial about how to make a Taggy blanket. Funny!

    • Wow, Diane. What an interesting take from the other side of the issue. I have to say, the blankets sound amazing – and I wish yours were still around to check out. There are currently 1400 items under that term, and I don’t know that I would have been willing to comply with the convo!

      I know Etsy will request you deactivate a listing if they have proof of a patent, trademark or copyright. I made a Shamballa bracelet before (they’re a macrame-style crystal bracelet), and I called it Shamballa because that’s what I thought they were called. Turns out, the name Shamballa is somebody’s trademark. I could still sell the bracelet as long as I didn’t call it that. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  • Great discussion. I have actually done a little research on the patent thing. What I found out is that 1) it is pretty expensive so not worth it for me and 2) they are VERY exacting, down to the last detail. I wonder how many people say you’ve broken their patent without actually having a leg to stand on. I would personally never want to be so locked into a patent that I couldn’t create as I want to. My products are all individual and, while I have certain lines that I use, every one is unique and what I made a couple of years ago will not be the same as what I make now. I firmly believe that good energy produces good and negative energy produces negative. Those who are jealous, angry, resentful, unoriginal, etc. just aren’t as likely to succeed in the long run. And they sure don’t sleep as well.

  • Great post Lisa 🙂

    I totally agree with your points,,

    I think when you are starting out in business you already have your own ideas, but research what’s all ready out there and working .. I know I did there were a few ideas that I found and converted into my own style ..

    My business is coming up to almost 1 year old and this past week I have noticed a very similar shop to mine , I have to admit I was a bit annoyed at first as the photography , description and over all theme is so so similar ( they are even sending friend requests to the people who like my business on Facebook , as my sister in law informed me last night ..

    So reading your blog post provided me with a different way to look at things..

    I also think, that this potential “copying” experience has made me want to succeed even more with my business !! So New products and Packaging ,, marketing ect

    Thanks so much , have a great weekend xo

  • Great post. I really enjoyed reading this and all the comments. As someone who has been on the other end of this and was the one being accused of the copying I can say things aren’t always what they seem. We both made handbags and it was the totes in particular that I was accused of copying. But the basis for her claim was the wording I had used to describe my products. The totes were just simple totes. Mine were from a pattern I developed 15 years ago. But they were similar in style. And because I used some of the same words as her, such as unique, one of a kind, handmade, basically general description words she accused me of copying. I was extremely offended. Although our products were similar I in no way was copying her. My designs were my own. I was very angry and it took me awhile to get over it. But I decided there was no point in letting it steal my creative mojo and just let it go.

    I have also had someone copy me. A year ago I changed my business name and a few months later someone who followed me on Facebook changed their name to something very similar. Right down to the spelling. Although we don’t make the same type of products it still bothered me at first. And even now it still kind of does. But I have decided it’s not worth my time to worry about it.

  • This was so timely and a great read!! I have two friends who constantly compete with each other. They complain to me about the other and its utterly exhausting!! I keep telling them its ridiculous! ! I posted a quote on instagram the other day that I’m simply done competing with other people. The ONLY thing I can do is be the best I can be. I strive to be better than I was yesterday.

    Also, this one REALLY got to me. “Girls compete with each other, WOMEN empower each other”! How true!! I want to build up my fellow crafters, we’re all in this together!! I’m here to help you and guide you! There is plenty of business for all of us. I have no time to compete, I’ll compete with myself and that’s about it!!

  • I had a friend who copied my work time after time. At first I wasn’t bothered, I thought it was nice she liked my work enough to copy me. Once I found out she was not only copying my work and selling it as her own and original, but also putting my work down to anyone who asked about it I lost that feeling of thinking it was ok.

    Over time however, I did come to realise that perseverance and new ideas and formulas win on the day. I still feel it is wrong to outright copy someones work and sell it as your own but I know I can’t stop it so I try not to let it bother me anymore. Stealing my words is another things altogether!

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