How Can I Stop People Copying My Business?
As a lad, little Jimmy would copy your homework. You could bash him, or rat him out, and that would stop the problem.
As a teen, duller kids would copy your fashion sense. That was fine. 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'.
As an adult, it's not so fine when you start a business and you find someone else is copying you.
So, what can you do? Here are a few tips.
First, let's turn it around.
1a. Make sure you are not a copycat yourself
You see someone selling mauve sneakers. You start selling purple plimsolls. You come across another geezer selling fuschia slippers? How dare they!
You see what I mean? You can't copyright an idea. People think they've come up with something original when all that happened was that they subconsciously picked up on a trend that was already up-and-coming. A small variation on an existing good or service is not enough grounds to try to claim intellectual ownership of the thing itself.
1b. Try not to use public domain works
You can spend two years getting your t-shirt business going only to find that the images you thought were free actually belonged to Getty images and now they've sent a letter demanding fees and you've 2000 shirts in the warehouse with the same stupid picture on them.
Buy your content and keep your receipt. Buy from reputable sources.
Only people who can quickly get rid of work which uses public domain art, and with no pain, should use it. That means students, internet commenters, stall-holders and eBayers. By this I mean people who can pull the plug quickly if it turns out that that CD of 20,000 images they bought for £2.50 actually contained copyright material.
Anyone hoping to have a substantial business should be careful only to use work they have bought the legal right to. Just because something is labeled Creative Commons by a nerd on the internet doesn't mean it actually is!
1c. Don't get too clever
You think Apple or Disney don't eat plagiarists for breakfast? The big firms know that their brand is their livelihood. They'll come after you. They have hundreds of lawsuits going at any one time. CEOs of big companies are maniacs. They have to be. They sue each other when they're not suing Rajah Patel in Ilford.
They'll pressurise local authorities to come after you. If a local bureaucrat doesn't realise how much money there is in the XYZ brand he finds out when some scratter in his constituency starts churning out 10,000 copies and then the phone calls start.
Have a look around your local flea-market. Notice how many brands are not plagiarised there? This is why.
2. Be original
Make your own music, art, design, whatever. You can pay someone else to do it, but make sure they sign over copyright. Yes, it's tempting to save time and copy that beautiful bit of work that guy in Slovenia put online, but you may pay for it big-time later.
Be sure that if you make it big and have any kind of success someone will try to get a piece of it, even if they've no legal right: 'Where there's a hit, there's a writ'.
So, if you get copied, you may have to put up with it. Do what you can to defend your work, but don't get let it divert you from making a batter product. Take heart; as a Franciscan put it to me once: "Crooks often take themselves out of the picture, over time."
Ok, so you've developed the next Model T Ford. What can you do to stymie copycats?
3. The 'Prior Art' argument
If you've been selling gold-embroidered purple plimsolls, with a particular motif, for twenty years, and with a unique trading name on them, then you have good legal grounds to sue anyone else who copies your good. This assumes you have the money to do so, but, calling them out on social media may be a cheaper alternative.
Disney can hammer Mickey Mouse plagiarists into the ground. You don't have the money to go that far, but a simple 'Cease and Desist' and a court date can work wonders on a nervous back-room forger.
If you can demonstrate that you're the creator of the good, that it dates back to 1998 and no one else developed it before you, that means you have a much better case.
4. Make sure it's worth it
Only trademark a money-spinner. If you're in month 6 of your development and you've still not sold a thing and you don't have any public interest in the product yet, why register a trademark? It's not so much the money (a trademark registration is relatively cheap) but the time and effort.
If in doubt, go with your gut.
5. Register the trademark
So, you've really got something you feel in your gut could be big. They're selling online like hot cakes and you can't keep them on your stall. Pics of them are starting to show up on local media. Now is the time to register a trademark before Mr. Evil does! Here's the main link:
Note: If you want to register a company, you can do that at Companies House but one of these is not a substitute for the other: registering a company does not protect the trademark and registering a trademark does not stop someone registering a company of that name, as long they don't start trying to pass themselves off as your brand or goods.
Even then, they can just register it and ignore your pleas.
6. Help, someone's copying my registered trademark!
Now you get your solicitor to send a Cease and Desist and await developments.
7. Offer luxury
People want to buy good quality and a good 'feeling'. Knock-offs tend not to offer either of these. Consider what you think about some doofus wearing a bootleg Rolex. It might be an excellent time-piece but who cares? It's not the real thing and some people will actually take against them if they spot it.
It's a lot harder to copy your original, high-quality, branded perfume than a £4.50 iPhone case.
Top brands tend not to be cheap, either in price or quality. So take a hint. You want people to associate your brand with high quality. You can buy a handbag or you can buy Hermes. Selling quality is something a vendor can totally control from the get-go, unlike his marketing budget.
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