How to stop copycat designers from stealing your work

In light of World Intellectual Property Day (WIPD) 2018, we ask designers and IP professionals their advice for graduates on how to protect their work from copyright infringement.

Dids Macdonald, founder, Anti-Copying in Design

“Creating a proactive, preventative IP strategy is a good first step. IP isn’t rocket science!

Firstly, become IP savvy. This means: knowing and understanding the laws that protect you; registering your designs, remembering that UK and European Union (EU) registration authorities don’t examine applications, so what you submit is what you rely on; and ensuring you have agreements in place for collaborative design projects.

Secondly, if you can’t afford registration, my organisation Anti-Copying in Design (ACID) offers access to an online IP Databank for copyright and unregistered designs providing a safe, uniquely numbered certificate to record each stage of your design process. This is all crucial evidence for any designer.

Thirdly, watch the competition. Trademark your brand name if you can; the more you build up your reputation under your brand, the stronger protection you will have.

Next, shout loudly about your IP ownership. If you don’t want to be copied, say so with a simple, IP deterrent statement running through every page on your website. ACID can help with this.

Finally, encourage respect, compliance and respect of your own IP and demand it from others.

Usually only good ideas get copied – but imitation isn’t flattery if it costs you your business.”

Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring

“The first point is to know the law. There’s a concise and simple guide from the Government online in the intellectual property section. What’s most relevant to designers just starting out is the impact your employment status has on your right to claim copyright, so take 10 minutes to get your head around it now.

Secondly, if you feel your copyright has been infringed, you must be able to explain yourself clearly. This is one of the many reasons that great design has strategy behind it – strategy ensures you can frame your design explanation in objective rather than subjective terms, and clarify why you designed what you did, how you did.”

Sarah Weir, CEO, Design Council

“Protecting your precious design is, in equal measure, as important as having created your precious design in the first place. Creation without protection means it isn’t just yours, but could easily become someone else’s right under your nose. If you think IP sounds boring, legalistic and too much like red tape, think again. It will be even more boring and legalistic if you end up in court trying to untangle someone having infringed upon your rights. There are plenty of experienced people who can help, so I advise going to them. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) can advise on registering your designs, and ACID provides membership for designers and also campaigns for their intellectual property rights.”

Emily Penny, brand consultant, Colourful

“Creatives often, understandably, focus more on the making than the business of making. But it’s good to remember that visual assets are exactly that – assets. It’s something constantly reinforced for me in my branding work and consultancy in effectiveness case studies.

Intellectual property is such an important concept because it acknowledges that creativity and invention is valuable and creators have rights. And to protect your work the fundamental thing is seeing the value yourself, sometimes in the face of being told otherwise.

To the people who didn’t take you seriously when you studied art or design, to those who saw it as a hobby, to the clients who ask for free work in exchange for exposure, to the firms who think new graduates don’t need to be paid – this is all wrong. Design shapes the future, it delivers profit and it has value.

Your mind-set is key. Take a minute to stop valuing your work by working hours and material costs and think about what it will achieve. Then you’ll be more likely to take steps to assert ownership and get the credit you deserve.”

Ruth Wasserman, design director, Made

“The best thing that new designers can do to protect their work is to educate themselves in the basics of the law. ACID offers stepped fees so if you are just starting out you can join for a small amount and make use of their in-depth knowledge and advice. Design registration is very costly for independent designers, but knowing unregistered design rights’ limitations can be helpful in knowing what protection you do have.”

Rosy Greenlees, executive director, Crafts Council

“It’s always good to keep a paper trail: note face-to-face or phone conversations with follow-up emails; date your images; sign and date designs; use the © logo as a deterrent. That said, I would advise people to continue to create the best version of their own creative vision – continue to take risks and push yourself creatively. That can never truly be copied or taken away from you.”

Do you have advice for designers on protecting their work from copyright infringement? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Andrew Bird May 1, 2018 at 8:56 am

    As a young twenty-three year old designer in 1986, working in a print and design company in the Thames side village of Henley on Thames I was asked to do an illustration in pen and ink of a view of from the Stewards Enclosure (prior to it being erected) looking across towards St Mary’s Church and the Hart Hotel. After initial sketches for the client I produced an oversized A3 illustration, hand drew the lettering for ‘Visitors & Henley Town Regatta’ with the days and dates plus my signature and year. All this artwork was done for probably a minimal cost. Posters produced and a scaled down image for the regatta programme.
    The business got taken over in 1991 myself and the other designer made redundant in 1995. All artwork, and design work was scooped up by the new company. My life and creativity moved on, in 2014 I happened to be in Henley when the same regatta was taking place, to my surprise twenty-eight years after I had done the original the same illustration although somewhat defaced with my signature and year (1986) still visible was being used on the programme.
    I traced the chairman of the regatta and enquired about the use of the illustration he quite openly said that they had used it for the last 28 years on the cover.

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