Sometimes, I get requests from random people who saw Jenna's wedding invites on Oh So Beautiful Paper. I haven't taken any on as clients as I haven't put the time into it. So recently, I set up my Etsy shop to be able to do this.
As I was searching for competing designs on Etsy, I ran across an invitation suite that looked really really familiar to me. At first, I thought they just copied the layout with shittier typography and illustrations. But as I looked harder, I realized the shop had tried to replicate my design, packaging, styling and illustrations so closely that they photoshopped my illustrations into their work!
I'm not anyone well known and, quite frankly, I'm surprised you're reading this. So I've never thought that someone would rip my work off! And yet, there it was.
I had no idea what to do. Was my work copyrighted? Did I need to talk to a lawyer? Etsy has policies against plagiarism, but could I prove they copied my work? What if they tried to say that I copied their work? And was there any way to get the plagiarized design off their personal website?
So I decided to learn about copyright law and what it means for my work. I found out that all work is copyrighted automatically. If it was not registered before the infringement, you are limited to the infringer's profits as your damages. But the key is to get the work registered with the U.S. copyright office. If you have registered the art before the infringing happened, you are entitled to "statutory damages" of up to $150,000 per willful infringement, and you can elect to take that instead of actual damages and the court can make the infringer to pay for legal fees. And you can't take legal action until you registered it anyways. (source) It didn't look like they made a ton of money on my designs based upon their record of sold items but I set to work registering anyways.
I notified the seller of their infringement and the Etsy legal team. I tried to be as friendly as possible to both. My hope was to inform the legal team and get them all the requested materials they needed to be able to take the listing down. Because they seemed to be an unethical company, I didn't trust them and wanted to make sure I was on solid standing with Etsy's legal team. So I supplied them my listing, my portfolio site and the press dated from 2011 so the company didn't try to get my listing pulled. I also took to social media to try to get the word to my friends, family and Etsy via Facebook and Twitter to make it public and shine more light on the seller's policies and actions.
In the end, the seller voluntarily took the listings off Etsy, but I'm still waiting to hear if they'll take it off their personal website. I have so many views and opinions and outrages on how unethical and unprofessional the seller is. I mean, seriously, if they found their work copied by another person or company, I'm sure they would be upset about it too. The seller also told me they reproduced the design for a specific client "years ago." So how does one educate potential clients (who most likely don't have a lot of interactions with designers) to respect the original work?
So how do I keep this from happening again? My work is now registered but the cost of legal fees makes legal action an unlikely outcome. I can ask the blog to take down my work, but my work is my living so if people don't see it, I'm less likely to make money off it. Any suggestions?
My current bet is to set a google alert so I'll know when people are referencing "cactus invitations" and stay vigilant.