Photos by Yao Cheng

Photos by Yao Cheng

Copyright infringement is a phrase that can make any creative swirl into a panic. In the modern era, it is all too easy to right click + paste and magic! There is your work on a T-shirt and you’re getting none of the proceeds or credit.

February’s meetup covered copyright infringement. It was a Rise & Design that was yes, filled with a few horror stories, but also loads of great tips and tactics to defend your work.

This potentially stressful recap was written by Anna Hetzel, copywriter (not copyrighter, an unfortunate homonym).


jump to what you actually care about

Horror stories, or why we should care

“Keep calm and...anything…”

How to call them out

Art vs money (be the authority)

Social media tactics

Resources and books


Horror stories, or why we should care

You ready for some story time to get you really motivated to start thinking seriously about copyright infringement? Buckle your seatbelts.

One member is a total rock star when it comes to watercolor design. She was approached by CreativeBug to create a course on her process. What happened next? Well, someone went in, took screenshots of each slide and then recorded another course on a competitor’s website. The copycat even took her exact wording for each slide.

What started as a pure robbery turned into an almost identity theft. The copycat went as a far as replicating the Rise & Designer's website and just put her name in the title.

Another member also has a copycat. Someone has used her design process with food lettering and replicated it. It’s begun to cut into her bottom line, which is just really not ok. What gave the Rise & Designer endless glee was to watch her copycat try to do it live for Adobe. It was a disaster, to say the least. Gotta take your wins where you can.

Keep calm and...anything...

What we need to do is figure out what is robbing and what is influence, what is re-mix vs rip off. The stories about are clearly highway robbery.

Social media is a double-edged sword for creatives. While it inspires new work, it is also way too easy to re-post and call it your own. There is a great need for education, especially in the modern technological age, on what is and what isn’t stealing.

Art is so so hard when it comes to copyright infringement because you can’t copyright an idea. The fashion industry is the perfect example of this. A designer couldn’t copyright the idea for flare jeans, but could only copyright their specific design of clothing. That leads to rampant copying all across the industry. The same is true for any type of creative work.

Taking a painting, making a vector tracing of it, and then reselling that in your Etsy shop is stealing. Taking an idea, twisting it, playing with it, and coming up with something on your own is art.

It’s important to start thinking and educating about those differences. If you are ever in a mentoring or teaching position, take a few days to really go over the finer points of copyright infringement. The more we educate, the more we can combat!

How to call them out

Now that we’re all educated on what is highway copyright robbery, how do we call out the thieves when it happens to us? What do we do?

There are a couple options.

  1. Call them out in a kind caring way. Say something like “Hey I want to support you but it’s so unethical. I can’t support you until XYZ is changed.” This can only go so far, as your copycat doesn’t have the same goal as you do. You want to make art, they want to make money. Pleading to their better side might just get you a scoff, a head nod, and then nothing changes.

  2. Report them. If it gets really serious, try sending them Cease and Desist letters. Here’s where I (Anna, your humble writer) should probably say I’m not a lawyer, so, you know, this isn’t legal advice.

  3. Call them out online, pointing to your original work and publicly shaming them. This is harsh, yes, but what they are doing is way worse.


Art vs money (be the authority)

The copycat isn’t out to make art. Sure, they might have had aspirations at one point to be a famous artist, but they lacked the innovation and drive to create. Creation is exhausting. Creation is a constant practice. So how do we move forward from being constantly robbed?

If someone is stealing your ideas, take comfort in knowing that they will never be able to pass you in creativity. When someone steals ideas more than they have ones of their own, it means they will be unable to iterate the creative process. What they stole from you was the culmination of hundreds of ideas that resulted in that one piece of amazing work. Just think of Danielle's copycat, bumbling through a live video of her making the art.

The copycats don’t have that innovative foundation, so they can never grow the way you can. They are just stealing a product. You are the one at the top of that mountain, you have found that fluffy snow. They are still at the bottom in the muck and the mire (abridged quote from Ben).

Start building up your authority in your space. Teach classes, keep innovating, keep pushing forward. The people who created a trend has the ability to blaze a new one. Everyone else won’t know where to go.

Once you’ve begun building up your authority, clients will see that. You want a client who will hire you for your process and ingenuity, not one that just wants to copy/paste. You want clients who understand that there are multiple layers to your work.

Social media tactics

Social media is so dang tricky. You want to show off your awesome new design or illustration, but every time you hit ‘publish’ you start getting nervous. What if someone steals that idea?

We came up with some pretty stellar social media tactics to help fight copycats.

  1. Share last year’s work. You are a trailblazer. The only people who need to see that newly blazed trail are your clients. They get to see the most recent work, they get to see your process. Social media only gets to see older work. This way the copycats will never be able to catch up. Check out the suggested Instagram scheduling tool below to help you plan out your posts.

  2. Control the conversation. Ben is running a social media challenge for his followers. He knows people are using his Instagram for inspiration or more nefarious purposes, so why not control that? Check out his Instagram here.

  3. Understand the Terms & Conditions of the platforms you use. Facebook and Instagram own every single photo you post there. Just crediting someone in a re-post is still copyright infringement. Ask their permission!

Resources and books

Read these things. Educate yourself.

Ephemera- Joshua Minnich Pre-order your copy now! Our fellow Rise & Designer has just published a great book full of old advertising designs for your inspiration.

Steal Like An Artist- Austin Kleon - How to find the fine line between re-mix vs rip off.

Creative Strategy & The Business of Design- Douglas Davis - The language of business.

Later- Free Instagram scheduler. Plan out your week so you don't have to stress every day on what to post. It saves hashtags and captions so you don't have to type all 15 # you want to use for each post.



Conversion Copywriter