Creativity, Competition & Copycats

In part two of my recap on the Etsy Virtual Lab talk on Inspiring Creativity, I’ll be covering the topic of creativity in business, creative competition and what to do when you are challenged by a copycat.

Do you spend your time worrying about copycats?

Creativity in Business
I believe that small businesses are fun. And that as a small business owner, the best thing about spearheading a creative business — no matter if you’re an independent store owner, an Etsy seller or a freelance writer — is that you are able to change your strategies whenever you feel it’s necessary.

Unlike the bureaucratic red tape that big organizations have, you’re in charge of your company’s fate. If that marketing strategy isn’t working? Change a new one then. Not happy about how people think about your items? Find a way to make it better. It’s all up to you to steer your ship. And that’s why creativity in your work will also reflect in the way you do your business. When you train your mind to think out of the box and to experience new things, you are letting in fresh perspective instead of allowing yourself to follow just one track or just meander in the footsteps of others.

Challenging assumptions is also a powerful way to see what is wrong with the current state of your business. Why is one tactic better than the other? Measure your results constantly, and from then build on the information that you know. Without testing and refining on a strategy, you’ll never find out what works and what doesn’t, and may give up before weighing in on your options for improvement.

Creative Competition and What to do About Copycats
I believe that competition is a good thing, and I believe that monopoly breeds complacency. During the course of your research, you’ll be taken to competitor sites of whom you glean a little inspiration in the making of your own wares subconsciously or not.

This is not wrong. Almost everything has been done before. The trick is in how you interpret the idea and make it yours. Making things better is one option. And so is changing aesthetics. But your goal ultimately, is to solve a problem.

So what if you created the perfect product?

What if you are afraid of getting ripped off?

My take on it is that you can be angry for awhile. Write them a note telling them you are on to them. Do it again if they persist. But here is when I say stop.

By acknowledging and pursuing the matter with a copycat, you’re wasting valuable time and energy focusing on the wrong thing. You’re an artist. A designer. Someone who is creative. And what do creative people do? They work on that next big thing. They innovate. And being innovative and pushing the envelope is what every small businesses should be doing.

Unless, of course, you might be afraid that you can’t possibly do better than your current creation — and that’s when a lot of people has let fear (and anger) gain control of them. Yes, you can get a lawyer, a letter to cease and desist, and fight it out till the end. At what cost though? If it’s substantial enough an amount, the answer might be yes. But for the rest of us, what do we do? We move on to bigger, better things; because once you’ve made something great, you should have that quiet confidence that you’ll be able to do it again. And don’t just say it. Put your heart into it.

And here’s an important thing to consider. The copycat items aren’t as fabulous as yours. And their price point would probably be lower to entice customers. If competing on price is the only thing they can offer, what good will it do for their business? I figure they have to work twice as hard to make that knock-off look believable for a very tiny profit. That my friends, is not what you would call a viable business. Yes, it’s irritating, but for the most part, it’s just plain stupid.

The most important thing you need to remember is that your copycats are serving a market entirely different from yours, and you have no fear of crossing paths or wrestling with them for what you deserve. One caveat: If their item is way fabulous than yours even though you thought of it first, then turn the tables around and learn from them and make it even better. The point is that you do something about it.

Great ideas made by designers and artists are copied all the time. Mass production allows everyone to get their hands on them at a lower price point. Remember mobile phones? They were almost the size of a suitcase when it was first launched, and yet people still bought them! But what happened? People got busy and tweaked the design, making mobile phones smaller, faster, lighter. And the process is still ongoing. Bigger corporations with mass production plants and innovators serve a different market, and if we take an objective look at the situation, we have them to thank for that mobile phone we have in our pockets, instead of it being something that is only within reach of a select few.

Conclusion
So there you have it — this was the gist of the whole talk which I thoroughly enjoyed doing (the time seem to just fly by!) Of course there were other fun bits, like how I tell others that I watch Southpark when I’m stuck in a rut (anyone like fishsticks?) and also how my husband mixes weird cocktail concoctions because he’s not afraid of introducing something new into his drinks (or mouth for that matter.) and so he’s also my hero when it comes to freeing the mind to accept new things.

I’m already planning a return to Etsy’s Virtual Labs in the next coming weeks, so if you’re interested to see me up there again (without the cowlick this time, ahem), it’s best to subscribe to the Pikaland mailing list.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts and I’m always up to learning more, so fire away!

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P/s—For those who missed it, here’s the first part of the recap.

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38 thoughts on “Creativity, Competition & Copycats

  1. i love your thoughts about solving a problem visually or with a product. i disagree a little bit on the subject of copy cats though – perhaps because i’ve had so much experience with them — sometimes your target market is exactly the same and that’s why they’re copying you! also, i think when you contact an infringer personally, it gets personal – i think the investment in legal counsel can often be well worth it because they can act as a liaison giving you peace of mind, knowing the situation is being handled diplomatically and professionally.

    “at what cost” is right though – some people can bounce back from being copied with no problem, others feel they have to defend their work time and time again because of brand recognition and it can be an emotional and financial battle. however, when and if you ever get ripped off on a larger scale – by a corporation catering to a market larger than yours — i think it’s incredibly important to establish your credibility and a history of defense. in one case i had in particular – one in which a major corporation had traced my logo and reproduced it as a graphic for apparel – it was one of my key defenses to show proof of previous settlement and cease/desist when it came to this same image. ie, i had a record of proof that my work was signature and recognizable as mine.

    i think the important thing with being copied is to recognize when you can/can’t do anything about it. not every ‘copying’ situation is a case for cease and desist, and sometimes you have to just move forward and try not to dwell on it.

    sorry so longwinded :) this subject gets me all riled up. overall, i think the approach is: eyes on your own path. don’t appropriate other designers work, and don’t scour other designers work looking for signs of your own. if there is a copy bad enough, i think someone will tell you, and vice versa – keep an eye out for your fellow designers. that’s just my opinion though!

  2. Hi Susie,

    I know how this gets to you, and I also do agree on your points. I admit it’s a little different when it comes to technology and aesthetic redesign, etc. And when big corporations rip off small time designers, it’s an awful situation indeed, not to mention downright wrong. And that part about other designers looking out for each other? So very true.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Amy this is really helpful espcially since im just starting a small business. Thank you so much for sharing and i look forward to your virtual lab session…if it’s the right time and im not at day job. :) Have a lovely merry happy weekend and love to you!

  4. Thank you! Very wise words – it’s everyone’s worst nightmare but something that has to be worked through and thought about all the same.

  5. Thank you for a very insightful post on copycats! Any of us who have published or posted our artwork “out there” in the world worry about this. It was very refreshing to hear you spread the importance of moving on! I REALLY enjoyed everything you had to say and would love to participate in one of the future PikaPackage Projects {but I’ll email you separately @ that!}.

    wonderfully wise words :)

    xox
    Jen

  6. thanks so much for posting this! It’s awesome to read a really positive way of dealing with copycats and I completely agree, it just makes me want to work harder and create more beautiful things!

  7. Another interesting aspect of the copycat issue is how worked up customers get over the whole issue. Some of my ever-loving loyal fans take the issue on themselves and write their own letters to the copycats (!) while other write me when they see work based on mine begging me to get worked up about it.

    I tend to send lecture-letters in the tone of a big sister and leave it at that because like you said, their market just isn’t my market and honestly their work really wasn’t as fabulous as mine.

    Copycatted work just reeks of soul-lessness.

    Thank you for a great post!

  8. I’ve had people threaten to copy me all the time. When they actually try it, they drop it quickly because they gain new respect for what I do, and realize they really can’t compete, and keep to the same modest price points- all except for the ones who live in China and other countries where a dollar a day is a living wage. Those are a problem- and unfortunately they are pretty much out of reach of little folk with skinny wallets. To make it worse in a way, I identify with their problems; so many are living under extreme pressure to keep food on the table in repressive circumstances. However, so am I! I may not be dealing with chickens in the living room and the gestapo at my door, but one bounced check and my home and studio become dark caves with no light, no access and no business. Then I won’t be able to put food on the table either. How do we reconcile that with people who are too hard pressed to care about fair play, and who all too often think of us as rich, spoiled rotten, and therefore fair game for whatever they can get away with?

  9. How true!! It’s so hard to not try taking it to the next level when you see someone has copied you. But you make some wonderful points, and I definitely agree with every one of them! As far as when I’m stuck in a rut.. I think Sat. Night Live helps :) MacGruber and anything Will Ferrell rock, they definitely help get the creativity flowing! :) Thanks for all of the helpful advice!!

  10. I am really, really torn about copycats (my original designs get copied anew about once a week). On one hand, yes, the vast majority of times they’re not reaching the same market and fail miserably at their attempts at a “slice of the market pie” and just end up looking like major losers.

    On the other hand, that doesn’t make it okay and I resent that I am required to work ever harder (having one’s own business is a ton of time & energy as it is) to stay ahead of wanna-be’s.

    I think the problem is the juxtaposition between the ideals/principles (stealing is wrong) and the practicality (stealing is rarely successful).

    Just ramblin’,
    Celeste (Crickets)

  11. I had a Master’s student blatantly out-in-out copy my work when I was a Bachelor’s student for an end of the year show and this act took a huge toll on me emotionally for a few years. I still seem to have not quite let go of it when I think about it , but I’m starting to come back out into the creative world again with my artwork and also some accesories and I think your article helps and is reassuring for me. Copy cats still scare the crap out of me, but I see now to gage their level of copying and whether or not it’s worth it to go after them or just find a way to let go and shine brighter than they ever could.

  12. Awesome!, Great insight, Thank you for the positive words. So much better than all the negative that could spiral up about the copyright issue.

  13. I’m not the only one responding to the copycat issue. It is hurtful and stressful. Yes, and if possible letting it roll off is great, but a number of other readers really expressed the opposite side of the coin. For one I would like to quote Celeste (Crickets), “…(stealing is wrong) and …(stealing is rarely successful).” Unfortunately. I don’t think a hammer could impress this upon those who do steal designs. We can only know in our hearts that they are not really artists, but of course that doesn’t pay our bills.

  14. Wasn’t it Coco Chanel who said that imitation is a form of flattery? That is an upside to having someone copy your work. It just means they really like what you do. I understand when you come up with a creation, it is disheartening to see someone steal it but doesn’t it kind of make you feel like, heck yeah! someone wants to be like me! I will admit, I have copied other peoples work, but it’s only because I like what I see and I like the challenge of figuring out how to do it. And I don’t sell copies unless I changed it to be different.

  15. I’ve had many copy my work too, but like Amy, I just said to myself that my work looked more authentic and others couldn’t get it smaller than mine. Also, having filed copyright and trademark gives me grounds to confront copycats. However, I don’t because it wastes my time. Those who follow my work always lets me know about how they’ve seen copycats, but say that my work was special because it was nicer and neater. Quality of work is what they always mention and come back to me for my next creation. I feel that many here on Etsy have great items that show the quality of work that went into their product. Of course, sadly, there are still some copycats here on Etsy too.

  16. Thank you so much to everyone for sharing your thoughts! I enjoy the discussion a lot, and I’m learning more and more as I read what others have to say about this.

    I have to stress that I absolutely do not condone copying, especially if they are blatant rip-offs. What I am expressing in the article is my take on what I personally would do if I was in that position. I’ve had my ideas ripped off before, and I was very, very upset about it. As the years pass and as I see more and more cases of rip-offism (ha!), I know that I can’t change what copycats wanted to do with my designs. The only thing I could change was how I chose to view the situation.

    And while I do agree (to a certain extent) that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but because we’re in a field where hand-crafted items are involved,I would feel that emotions run higher because of the love and care involved in each piece. Of course this doesn’t mean that a copycat was personally attacking whomever they gleaned the inspiration from — this is one point I have to remind myself. But what if they were able to think up of something new and different, rather than trying to figure the inner mechanics of someone else’ designs? Wouldn’t they have made something uniquely their own by challenging other people’s designs and throwing their own doors open for experimentation instead of replicating other people’s work? The reason they aren’t doing so is maybe because they are afraid of failure, or perhaps they would rather run with an idea that already works? As artists we are constantly battling our own voices, thoughts and ideas — and because of that we grow.

    The growing process is the one thing that copycats can’t glean from you, ever.

  17. Another perspective is that copycat designs hurt sometimes because we feel we were the ones who came up with the concept first. To clarify… I’d like to think I was the first one to make an illustration in this way, but the truth is, I was actually influenced by a small element in someone else’s visual work and then appropriated it, or a song lyric, or an idea tossed around by another.

    This is why the saying goes ‘nothing is original..’ unless of coarse, you have been completely cut off from your society and interaction with the people in it. At the same time, work is and can be original. It’s original because it’s your way of seeing various influences and communicating that through a piece of creation.

    As to what Amy said:
    “But what if they were able to think up of something new and different, rather than trying to figure the inner mechanics of someone else’ designs? Wouldn’t they have made something uniquely their own by challenging other people’s designs and throwing their own doors open for experimentation instead of replicating other people’s work?”

    -copycats don’t think like this (they COULD) but they don’t, so they copy. Being creative means you question everything but when you don’t, you take what has already been set up without building upon it. You take what is given at face value. Artists take what is given but expand upon it, looking at it in and out, etc.

    I personally feel quite sad for the copy cats. I’m not defending their actions. However, I cant put my work up on the internet marketplace and expect everyone to abide by rules and regulations…I don’t believe there are any in this place. Worrying about being copied and feeling angry about someone copying is not an option for me personally, because there’s too much art I want to make and share.

  18. Some of us don’t have enough money to take on the copycats for infringement of copyright. This was is ongoing issue we all have to face. Would this include Altered Artist and those who use collage. They take every day item and turn it into something new. I always add a copyright symbol and state that my images should be not copied. It takes a great deal time and effort to create the art in the first place people including those copycats must respect this. In this age of consumerism and cheap paid mass produced good wouldn’t it be have some original and handmade. Copying isn’t just stealing takes away the livelihood of Artists.

  19. Hear ye,hear ye!
    thank you for your article
    after having realized that i’d need at least 2 more lives to make real my ideas, copycats do not upset me.i just move on and keep creating

    neki desu

  20. whenever I have an issue with designs being ripped off, I’ll think to myself
    creators are always ahead
    copycats are always following behind
    eat my dust!
    cheers & thanks for sharing your insight on this topic.

  21. since copycats are already well known problem, we shouldn’t be worried that people would not question any great idea’s authencity.

    I agree with Amy that what we need to do is to keep going. I’ve worked in MNCs and am working as an individual for different ideas for products and services. Copycats are here to stay.But what we could do is to ‘make use’ of them. Its actually a great way to advertise the original product in a way. Suing them only infuriates you and burns you down for much better innovations. The reason why they are copying is that they have no ability to think well. So let them build up the bad habit. They can never beat the original by the charisma and the talent.

    @karen_fu
    http://twitter.com/karen_fu
    minphf.blogspot.com
    daringtochange.wordpress.com

  22. Hello! I would like to agree with Susie on her ideas about copycat! I mean, with the same market, there is quite a work here that has to be done when it comes to designs..though as much as possible go for creative thinking.

  23. What an incredible discussion, Amy! I often get advice to fight back and to sue. but its not really worth my time. I have many ideas and so much more creating to do. And I LOVE creating.
    Although I’ve been dealing with the copycats for 4 years, I have only recently made my reaction to it known through my blog. however, i don’t name names or out anyone – its simply not my style to destroy anyone. i like to think that i am better than that. and my integrity and my good name will speak for itself. if you’d like to take a quick gander at my particular case study, you can see side by side comparisons of my original designs against the knock-offs. Its incredibly creepy and interesting to see how the items were copied stitch by stitch. see here:

    http://blog.giddygiddy.com/giddygiddy/2010/04/giddy-giddy-knock-off.html

    And thank you again for initiating this dialogue. and for your incredibly positive perspective on this matter. It helps all victims move forward…

    Gratefully,
    Teri
    http://blog.giddygiddy.com

  24. I’m actually a singer. There is so much copying in any industry I guess. I have embarked on many creative endeavors. One girl I know copies everything I do. I’m writing a book so she all of a sudden starts. I’m getting my modeling career started so she goes to an agency. I curl my hair one day she decides to the very next day. I play Ode to Joy and practice piano and then all of a sudden she quits guitar and let’s me know via text message “I’m practicing Piano and getting better.” Some people have no shame. Great post!

  25. There is copying and COPYING.I hold my hand up here! I am a magpie who steals elements that appeal to me , I digest them then put them out there having been ‘Bunnified’. It is never done with malice, nor with the aim of hurting anyone. I can get excited by the way someone paints an eye, collages a sky or puts colours together. I thought everyone did this!

  26. Exactly right! If your ideas are not great, nobody will bother to copy it. All we need to do is to continue finding out ways on how to deal with those copycats and innovate new ideas too. i came across a video that talks about how to deal with those people like a pro. It’s a great video and I’m sure you’ll like it too. marieforleo.com/2012…

  27. Pingback: Getting out of the box: Etsy virtual labs recap #1

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