When Copycats Come Calling

If you’re any kind of artist, at one point or another you will deal with the issue of copying. Either you will be copied, or YOU will be doing the copying. It’s inevitable.

This now well-known collage is part of a series that shows the severe lack of originality in Hollywood. See all the collages at http://imgur.com/a/9UiqX.

What’s an artist to do? Well, here are some ideas for dealing with the issue of copying.

  • C.Y.A. (Cover Your Assets). If you do have a genuinely unique idea that particularly has huge financial or marketing potential, do what you can to legally protect your I.P. (Intellectual Property). Register scripts with the Writers Guild of America. Register trademarks with the USPTO. Starting using ™ and (sm) marks with slogans, logos, and other trademark-able IP. If you ever need to take someone to court, you’ll need to show the court that you did all that was required to show your use of an idea in trade before the copycatter. And I’m no lawyer, but I think that in order to have any kind of financial recourse, you must have a legally filed trademark.
  • Secure the Domains. Make sure you can get the popular top-level domains for any idea you have (i.e. .com, .net, .org, etc.) Whenever I have an inkling of an idea I may want to start, I’ll register the .com at least. And for the record, I’m not at all talking about cyber squatting. I’m talking about an original idea you have that you legitimately may want to embark upon.
  • Adapt and Evolve. Many of the artists who are copied don’t mind as much because they are always evolving their work. Fashion designers come up with new fashions. Authors write new stories. Filmmakers experiment with new genres. They always stay one step ahead of the game. By the time the copycats start coming, they’ve already milked their original idea for all its worth, and are moving on to the next thing. They are true trailblazers.
  • Build a Strong Brand. Do a masterful job getting your ideas out there so that the world knows YOU are the originator and the leader. Build your business and your brand in such a way that even when others copy you, your business will be strong because YOU are seen as the leader. More often than not, the copycats are not as good as the original. Eventually, word of mouth will prove that out. The smart businesses who get copied know that copycats usually cut corners and deliver less quality. Be known as the one who delivers the best in what you do.
  • Stay Focused. Don’t let the copycats derail you from your singular mission. Keep your nose to the grindstone, continuing to improve whatever it is you do. Many copycats won’t have the fortitude to keep up.
  • Get over it. I know this sounds harsh, but the truth of the matter, if you do good work, you WILL be copied. It’s plain and simple. There is no picture, movie, song or book, no matter how original when first created, which isn’t eventually copied. (Just browse through the teen book section at Barnes & Noble and see all the teen vampire romance novels that look and sound remarkably like “Twilight”; which, when you think about it, sounds a lot like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with regards to a teen girl falling in love with a vampire. But I digress). The point is this–you need to find some way of coping with the feelings of frustration you have when it happens. Not saying you don’t have a right to feel mad, but you feeling mad won’t change the fact.
  • Don’t be the Pot to Someone Else’s Kettle. Lastly, remember that chances are, you too are doing something that someone else could claim is a rip-off of their work. Come on. Admit it. That last wedding video you shot looks a lot like you know who’s. Or that last script your wrote, seems a lot like you know what movie.

Even the best in the business copy. Steve Jobs did a video interview saying Apple Shamelessly copied. And then there’s this shot by shot comparison of Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with an older movie. Quite fascinating.

So you see, even the people and companies who you think are trailblazing, are often just copycats themselves.

2 thoughts on “When Copycats Come Calling

  1. Excellent timing Ron! I found just last night that there’s a local photographer who seems to be leaning toward marketing my very specialized genre. I expected this eventually, it’s not practical to assume that others won’t want to pursue a similar interest, especially since I’ve spent so much time and effort getting my name out and my brand recognized. What I think is unprofessional, is the look and feel of her website is extremely similar to mine! I will admit when I was starting out, I often networked with professionals already in this field and one in particular had a similar style to mine and a great way to organize information on her website that was similar to what I planned on including in mine. The difference, as you mentioned above, is that I called to make sure that she was ok with the similarities. We were already networking and her business is not geographically close to mine, so it’s something that we were both ok with. It’s not that I feel my market is threatened, it’s just that it seems unprofessional when I’ve spent so much time, money and effort getting my brand known in the community for another artist to have a strikingly similar look. Thanks for the thoughts, as usual! 🙂

    1. I can understand the feeling. We were in a similar situation with the photogs who contacted us. They weren’t in our market and the fact that they called and asked showed some class.

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