Discovering that someone else's work is uncomfortably similar to yours can be jarring. Why would they do that? It is not flattering -- you feel violated. That copycat is taking something away from you. They are benefiting from your hard work and hard-earned reputation.
It would be wise to step back from the emotions and take a critical look at the situation. Ask yourself if it is really an imitation or are both of you using very common materials, forms, or techniques. Ask your friends for an honest assessment. It may be time for you to evolve your own efforts toward more unique work.
Eye of the Beholder © 2009
Recycled tin cans
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
However, if the other artist's work is just too much of a coincidence, you should take some action. Do a little research on the other artist to investigate the history behind their work and where they have shown work. Use the internet to search and start asking around.
It surprises me, but even with mounting evidence of an imitator, many artists and makers are reluctant to assert themselves for fear of hurt feelings or being labeled a "mean person."
While you have likely heard that there is no such thing as a "nice" Cease and Desist letter, there are occasions when an artist should consider approaching another artist with sincere concerns to protect their work from copycat work or coincidence.
You can raise the issue and awareness without being confrontational.
Below is a sample letter for politely approaching an artist who is doing work uncomfortably similar to yours. (A more formal Cease and Desist Letter will be in the next post.) Simply letting them know that you are aware of the similar work may be enough for them to change direction.
Make your own modifications to this sample letter as necessary for your circumstances. Suggestions are in brackets.
Date: (Month Day, Year)
Dear [fill in name here],
I am a/an _______ [pick one: artist/ maker/ craftsperson] working with ____________________ . [Describe your materials or design style and how long you have been working in this style or with this media.]
Last week, ___________ [pick one: Google Alerts, a fellow artist, book, magazine, etc.] brought to my attention that you recently published an image of work that appears to ____________ . [Describe the offending aspect that you feel copies your work without being rude or insulting. Stick to the facts.]
I have been working with this _______ [material, media, style] for the past _____[number] years while your use seems to have been launched more recently.
At this time, I respectfully request that you discontinue this particular line of work that so closely resembles my work. The fact that your work is so similar significantly increases the possibility of confusion between my work and yours. Most galleries, exhibitions, and collectors will avoid showing or buying work that appears to copy an earlier artist's prior work.
Whether the similarity in your work was intentional or coincidental, I hope that this notice will allow you to rethink your efforts. I sincerely believe that each artist will achieve their best work by finding a unique path that provides long-term growth and personal expression. Please consider taking your skills in another direction.
I would like to resolve this issue between the two of us without further publicity or involving formal legal action. Please email me or give me a call at ____________ [telephone number].
Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Name of artist
This is the "polite" approach. If readers of ASK Harriete want to copy my sample letter for future reference, go right ahead.
I also recommend that you use the Internet as a tool by setting up Google Alerts for your name, titles of your work, materials, or techniques so that you can catch copycats early. And when you find one, at least send this polite letter of concern.
If you have additional suggestions to improve this letter, please add your comment or contact me directly. My goal is to add a Cease and Desist letter as a topic to the Professional Guidelines. Your help and experience would be greatly appreciated by the entire arts community.
A sample of a more formal Cease and Desist Letter will be provided in the next post. Future posts will cover legal protection and other recent points of discussion.
This post was updated on January 13, 2022.