Dealing with a Design Doppelganger

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By MJ

It’s a moment that happens to every prolific designer, but also one that fills artists with dread…

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Seeing a design that looks suspiciously like your own work brings a flood of emotions- you might feel hurt, angry, stressed or even scared. But before you do anything rash, examine the facts.

Is the design exactly like yours?

If the art (not just the concept!) matches your work exactly, then it looks like you’ve encountered a ripper. The good news is that since even casual observers will be able to tell that the art is identical, your path in getting it removed will be pretty straight forward.

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Find contact information for the store (or individual) selling the item and let them know you’re the creator and haven’t given permission. In most cases they’ll remove it, but in some cases you may need to escalate the situation by threatening legal action.

What if the idea is stolen, but the art isn’t?

Something to consider is that sometimes artists independently come up with the same idea, with no stealing involved at all. Have you ever googled an idea you had and seen that someone else already made the same joke? It’s like that. It can still hurt to see something you’ve worked on recreated, but it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault that it happened.

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Bear in mind is that the same thing that inspired your art might have inspired the other artist. For instance, maybe the reason some of the illustration is posed the same way is because both of you referenced the same famous Tesla photo. Maybe a comedian you both follow on Twitter made a joke about Transformers that sparked a thought about Iron Giant. And some things are even more universal, like puns. With so many people creating, there’s bound to be some overlap.

That said, if you have strong reason to suspect that the copying was intentional, here’s some advice on how to proceed…

1. Whenever possible, keep the conversation private.

Although it can be tempting to unleash your Facebook fans on a copycat, it can easy spiral into a witch hunt that is unfair to the accused. It also looks unprofessional to others in the industry, and can even backfire- are you 100% sure your art came first and there’s not another piece by someone else who might have had the idea before either of you? Keeping things private prevents the situation from escalating and avoids burning bridges.

2. Treat others how you’d want to be treated.

It’s easy to lash out in the heat of the moment and blast someone for stealing your art, but it’s wise to approach things with a cooler head. If the similarity is coincidental, calling the artist a thief (or worse!) is going to be needlessly hurtful. So don’t send a message until you’ve got your emotions under control and you’ve been able to look at the situation fairly.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Maybe you’re unsure whether another design is too close for comfort with yours. It might be a good idea to ask fellow artists for their opinions. Be clear that you’re looking for opinions and don’t want anyone to attack the other artist.

4. And Finally…

Although it may seem unfair, unless the artwork itself has been duplicated, you probably don’t have any legal standing to get the copy removed. This is one reason why it’s very important to be courteous and professional when dealing with the other artist- you’re often relying on their own goodwill and sense of fair play. This is why in some situations, the best move in a case of possible copying can be to just move on and make more art rather than focusing on a past idea.

 

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MJ is a t-shirt nerd, designer and blogger. Visit TeeMagnet.com for daily tee roundups and Compete-tee-tion.com for shirt design reviews and contest news for artists.

  • Erin Macdonald

    This has happened to me personally with custom tattoos… and it’s very hard to know how to react. Good article!

  • Shea

    This is a very good article, especially for the non-professional designers. It’s quite easy to fly off the handle when you see your hard work plagiarized, and it’s always best to handle things in a professional manner … no matter how much you want to feed somebody their own spleen.

  • Myco Sys

    It can suck, but can also be worth remembering that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.