“Art is theft” – Pablo Picasso
As a creative, I’ve been dealing with copycats all my life. This has become even more of an issue since I started selling t shirts online. No one likes to be called a copycat, but what is a copycat? In MBA we call it someone who steals a design and uses it without permission. Merch by Amazon copycat designs can lead to you losing profit on your shirts.
The great thing about selling clothing online is anyone can do it. This is a double edged sword because some people who don’t care about Copyright or Intellectual Property end up doing the same thing. This issue has been incredibly bad on Merch by Amazon. While Amazon tries to get rid of the copycats, it is difficult when tens of thousands of shirts are being uploaded everyday. Thankfully the moderation process has gotten much better, but the issue is not likely to go away in the near future. Even though we can’t get rid of copycats, there are things we can do to save ourselves.
An important note on copycat designs
Copyright and Intellectual Property are incredibly complex issues that lawyers dedicate their careers to. Rather than giving a full lesson on copyright, I want to provide you with the types of copycats out there, and what to do if it happens to you.
1. An Exact Copy
It is the WORST feeling to see a link to a shirt with your design on it, that you aren’t getting paid for. Thankfully Amazon has started cracking down on these cats, but it still happens.
2. Slight Alterations
Sometimes you will see your shirt design, but it has been changed slightly. While this is still copying, it’s going to be very hard to do anything about this since there are so many shirts out there and technically the design is slightly different.
3. Similar but No Original Design Elements
Since so many people are uploading shirts on a daily basis, when one goes viral there will almost immediately be 50 other shirts that look almost exactly like it within a couple days. For example, there was a funcle shirt that went viral recently and within days there were dozens of designs like it. There was a range of true copies, slight alterations and “heavily inspired” shirts. While these are a concern, they’re more like vultures. They try to pick up any scraps from the best sellers, but if you made a design and it is truly a best seller you will usually be rewarded with a top ranking slot.
What do I do when someone copies my shirt design?
If you see someone who copied your design this is copyright infringement and should be reported to Amazon via their Infringement Report Form. Once completed you will receive a confirmation from Amazon. It will take a while for them to follow up on your report, but feel free to reach out to the Amazon team regularly to check the status of your report.
Copycat designs are an inevitable part of business. Think about McDonald’s and Burger King (not taking sides here). Don’t let a copycat bring you down. If they stole your work, it means you’re doing something right. So keep doing it!
Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence. Copyright infringement and intellectual property theft are real crimes and you should report it if this happens to you.
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