Several previous posts dealt with what to do if someone or some business is copying your work. Among the comments and responses to these posts and related discussions, more than a few artists and makers suggest that they would prefer to ignore the copycat (whether friend or foe) because the situation is too uncomfortable or too unlikely to reach an acceptable outcome. The "originator" typically justifies ignoring their copycat with a rationale such as "I have moved on" or "I don't care so much about old work" or other similar justification.
I disagree with ignoring the copycat -- although I can also acknowledge the discomfort and uncertainty of outcomes. But, I can not simply ignore the copycat regardless of the situation for two very fundamental reasons.
1. Copies affect your income and reputation possibly devaluing both your past and future artwork.
2. Copies may be used in contexts that damage your reputation or trademark.
Seeing copies of your artwork used in an advertising campaign, printed on t-shirts or sold at an undesirable venue may not be how you want your reputation exploited in public. Use your imagination. Would you want your work to represent issues, people, or topics that offend you? In a comment on a previous post by Cindy, "Art and photos may be used to advertise or promote businesses and causes that are in conflict with the artist's beliefs. It makes it appear they are sell outs or hypocrites because not everyone will know it was infringement and not a paid use."
What if the copy impacts the value of your brand/trademark? For example "Tiffany and Company sued Costco for the sale of counterfeit TIFFANY diamond engagement rings. "
Here's another example of how a copycat can affect your revenue from Natascha Bybee, Past President of the Seattle Metals Guild and reader of ASK Harriete. "I read an article about an artist being copied. I was very upset on their behalf, but sadly could not remember the name of the company. [Later] I saw "their" product at a craft show in December, but I didn't know if I was dealing with the originator or the copier, so I didn't buy anything and it made me have a more reserved attitude towards their booth. Since I couldn't distinguish between the two artists, I just avoided them altogether and would never recommend them."
Video clips from Antiques Roadshow show several examples of the negative impact of copycats (shown below) where fakes, copies of the original, or outright forgeries impact the value of all the work attributed to an artist or maker.
Listen to the very end of each video segment to get the triple whammy full impact of how fakes/copycats affect value. Customer confusion is the relevant issue. It doesn't matter if the copy is not of the same quality, or the same patina, or finish, if it causes customer confusion the copy still affects the perceived value for all the work in that genre as buyers doubt the authenticity.
An original receipt for this Charles Laloma Bracelet is considered "as important as the bracelet" because "there are a lot of fakes on the market." Any potential buyer will question every time, "Is this real? Or is it not real?"
Fake George Ohr Vase, ca. 2013 is made to deceive "by a person in the northeast who keeps producing them and selling them on the Internet. They appear, they are seen, and they are purchased by people who just don't know."
Let me know in the comments or privately if you know of other examples.
More personally, whether you sell your work online, from your studio, or in a gallery, a purchaser expects their purchase to be unique, worth the price, and a consummation of a special relationship with you. If your customer finds a cheap knockoff elsewhere, they are going to feel ripped off. The question of authenticity will raise doubts about your work and your reputation. You may never know how many customers may withhold recommending you and your work to their friends.
What to do if you find a copycat copying your work.
- Evaluate the situation carefully. Recommendations are in the post What is a Copy. Copycat?
- If images are posted online, a simple "DMCA Take Down" might force the website to remove the images. This is easy to do and takes about 15 minutes and it is free.
- Contact the copier with the Initial Copycat Communication.
- If the copycat work is shown at a gallery, write to the gallery.
- Private and confidential will be your initial approach before taking stronger tactics.
The suggestions in this post aren't guaranteed to work. The point is that some diligence and effort may protect your work and your reputation by stopping copycats as soon as you become aware of them. Speaking out and addressing this issue is your first step.
Perhaps not every situation demands a full out response, but choosing to automatically ignore a situation can have some very negative consequences. I believe that the recommended initial actions in these posts do not require extensive effort and have a reasonable chance to stop the copycat at an early stage before much damage is done.
What do you think?
This post was updated on December 11th, 2021.