Oh yes, I said THIEVES. Not that amazing smelling essential oil from Young Living (my fav oil ever!), but legit THIEVES. Intellectual property theft is what I’m talking about.
If you’re a person that has put their all into their business, only to find that someone has stolen your material or intellectual property, you can understand the frustration that we’ve felt before.
We’ve become those victims. It’s happened a few times, and it’s always perplexing when it does happen. Is it really so hard to figure out how to say something on your own? We’ve had a gal, under the guise of being a future client, steal our questionnaire and probably use it. We’ve had people swipe our specific, injected-with-our-personalities wording from our listing details. People have copy/pasted generic information from our listings. It’s insane that people are really that lazy and dishonest. We’ve also had folks inquire and solicit for more information about our services, claiming that they were in the market…except they worked in the same market. We’ve even had a few of our premade logos blatantly copied. (I mean, they were pretty awesome.)
We’ve handled it directly. We’ve submitted reports for copyright/intellectual property infringement, both with federal organizations and with Etsy, since that’s where the crime happened. Yes, crime. Because it is. (What? You didn’t know?) We’ve learned a few things along the way.
Reach out to these people, if you want to take action against them. One thing that I learned in the military is that you should always handle things at the lowest level possible, because it’s often easiest this way. It’s always great to have a record, too, where you can submit proof of requesting the information/item to be removed. If someone knows that they’ve been busted, they likely won’t want any trouble and will remove the offending pieces from their website or shop. If they oblige, it’s super simple and fast. (But keep an eye out; our experiences have been such that we’ve had repeat offenders.)
You might encounter some full-of-crap excuses. “I’m so sorry, I had no idea, I hired a guy to write my content for me, and I guess he stole it.” or “It’s not wrong to use YOUR business name in my logo display, give me proof.” (Yes, someone took Autumn Lane Paperie, OUR business name, and used it as a display name in their own shop’s logos.)
Submit a report.
If you run an Etsy shop, their IP section has a standard operating procedure for something like this. It requires you to submit a report, but they do request that you reach out to the person(s) first to handle it without the “grown ups” getting involved. Having screenshots of the infringement will be key to having action taken, and Etsy doesn’t take infringement lightly.
…but only if you’re certain.
You should also understand that Etsy, and many other entities, doesn’t take false reports lightly, nor do they take kindly to reports that come from shop owners that are under-prepared to make a claim…for example, no legal paperwork showing trademark rights, screenshots of plagiarism, and so on. A false report or a report in which you simply feel that you have been wronged but don’t have the legal stuff to back it up could result in your own shop being shut down.
Hire a Professional.
Hire a professional if you’re unsure. A lawyer can send a cease and desist letter to the offending person, and, lawsuits can be filed over this stuff. You should definitely use this as a last resort, though — you might wind up spending more than it’s worth just to prove a point.
Sometimes, doing nothing might be the best option. Follow me on this one. We’ve had a few incidents where people took generic wording directly from our product information. I hear you saying, “If it’s generic, how do you even know?” It’s pretty simple. We noticed patterns. Following on social media, sudden likes and favorites, and oh look, you’re a competitor? When you’re knee deep in web design, writing, and design work, you tend to notice stuff like this. You also likely have ALL of the resources necessary to track down information.
Well, not NOTHING. Keep an eye out.
When we get some fishy looking followers and favorites, and then notice you’re a competitor that is fairly new to the scene, and we see the exact generic wording contained in our listings showing up in yours…it’s pretty damn obvious. Sure is a big coincidence that even our generic information and lengthy lists are word-for-word. If it’s generic, we often choose not to do anything drastic except for thanking for the favorites (we’ve got our eyes on you), and watching (yep, still have our eyes on you). You can only be so creative when you’re listing what your branding package includes. At the same time, no one likes it when you directly copy/paste — stop being lazy.
The whole thing sucks, let’s be honest. It sucks to realize you’ve been taken advantage of and that you’ve been stolen from after you’ve put countless hours into what you have. On the other hand, it’s a slight compliment (in the weirdest way) that someone sees you as successful enough to want to mirror your business down to your wording for generic branding items.
We recommend a legal statement on your website and shop to ensure protection. Hire a professional, if you have any questions or concerns about whether or not your IP rights were violated. You might also want to look into protection through an entity like DMCA. We’d also recommend trying to protect yourself by ensuring YOUR ducks are in a row and that YOU aren’t inadvertently being the problem. Ensure that you keep licensing, if applicable, on hand so that you can offer proof if there is a question. Additionally, make sure that if you’re doing business with other entities that maintain crystal clear policies.
Let me close this by saying that in our experiences, every single person that we’ve caught stealing from us has actually gone on to shut their shops down shortly thereafter. It won’t be true every single time, but you can’t get that far on stolen stuff or imitating abilities. Karma’s a bitch, after all.