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IS BEING COPIED A COMPLIMENT OR A CHEEK?

When a business owner has been running their own show for a period of time, they will eventually find that someone somewhere copies them.

Someone sees this idea, that project or that event and, out of the blue, that idea, project, event pops up out of nowhere looking alarmingly similar to something you’ve just done, just announced or you’ve talked about in their hearing. You just know intuitively that you have been copied. 

Has this happened to you yet? 

It’s happened to me in my business Scott Media several times – and I’ve noticed that it’s happened to the team at Total Guide/Total Swindon on numerous occasions too. It’s rude, disrespectful and it can cause disruption and even anger between parties who were previously clients or business contacts. 

How do you tackle this type of behaviour? For each business owner, they will know their own red lines, it’s different for us all. 

The truth is there’s no copyright in ideas, I was taught that when I first started working as a journalist – there is copyright in physical art, design, poetry, writing, photography and many other creative pursuits.  

I wouldn’t go into an art gallery, buy a piece of art and then take photographs of it, print that on a t-shirt and say it was my art and my product - totally ignoring the fact that I'd stolen someone's artwork to create my product.

Proving that someone has outright copied you is not easy unless they’ve done something that blatant and even then it’s a costly legal matter which many small businesses simply can’t entertain. This can make them vulnerable to copycats.

Big brands don’t hesitate to stamp on this. In the last year two of my contacts have been involved with bigger brands who believed their brand and identity was being compromised by my clients’ products. Both clients had properly trademarked their products – one had an objection the night before the objection deadline, the other several months after the product had been on sale. Both had to work with the brand to achieve an acceptable, mutual compromise. Both small businesses could not afford to take on the legal might of a corporate. And the corporates know this. Equally most small businesses cannot afford long legal litigation in a civil case, and some copycats know this. 

However in the world of small business, this kind of thing can make or break a healthy business relationship. While it’s difficult to prove that someone has copied you, there are some things you can do to call out and highlight the ‘copycat’ even if it’s just between you and them. It shows you are not a ‘fool’ and you know what’s really happened here. Sometimes calling it out is enough to 'scare' that person into back tracking. 

*First of all, consider does this behaviour need a one-to-one honest chat before any kind of legal warning? If so, don’t email or phone, arrange to meet up and present your case in a reasonable manner and see what the other party says. I’ve done this once and the other party backed down immediately and removed the claims which were incorrect and related to my work and not her’s. 

*Second, is this a compliment? Is it something which you’ve seen somewhere in the past, finally got around to doing and someone else has done something very similar? So the idea wasn’t new to you however it was new to your circle or community? In this case pick up the phone and have a gentle chat? perhaps ask them to change a couple of things or to acknowledge that the idea came from you and your brand.

*Is this sheer cheek? If it is and the previous two points do not apply, then now is the time to hunker down and stay firmly in your lane. The best way to beat a copycat is to keep on being better. This may seem like a lame response however it shows a strong belief in your business and your vision.

Generally copycats disappear weeks or months down the line because they flip flop from one idea to the other, pinching ideas from here and there. Sooner or later you see them doing it to another business and then another and so on. You realise you are one in a long line of people they have copied.

And if you as a business owner, see a good idea and you think ‘that would work well for me’ pick up the phone to your valued business contact and see if you can, with their permission, piggy back their event – or collaborate on the next project – or adapt the idea for your purposes with their permission, perhaps with an affiliate deal.

In business, it’s always better to collaborate than to copycat.  The former builds a positive relationship, the latter can destroy it. 

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