As independent traders, you’ve worked hard on your brand. Your ideas are unique, and you’ve developed your marketing strategy around them. You feel like things are doing well; people are responding to your designs, your ideas have traction. Huzzah!
But what happens when a bigger fish in the pond steals your work? Can you fight back?
David v Goliath
Urban Outfitters have a bit of form for this. They’ve been accused of stealing clothing patterns and of copying jewellery designs from Etsy sellers, amongst other things. They also won a Court case against the Navajo nation, who protested against the store’s use of the tribe’s indigenous patterns.
Zara is another big business with form for theft. They’ve been accused of ripping off ideas from illustrator Tuesday Bassen (although it’s not just smaller artists that Zara will take a run at; they also put out a copycat version of Kanye’s Yeezys – not a move for the fainthearted).
Many an independent trader on Instagram has felt their heart sink when they’ve realised their creativity has been crashed by a larger firm with more legal clout than the entirety of the Law & Order back catalogue.
So what can you do?
The answer is: not a great deal. Because ultimately, you can patent protect your ideas, put intellectual property rights in place and ask collaborators to sign non-disclosure agreements, but if someone like UO or Zara wants to nick your pattern design, or your t-shirt range, then they’ll be able to price you out of Court before you’ll get anywhere. Plagiarism is big business.
There is one recourse – social media. And this is where the connections you’ve made amongst other indie businesses in your field can work to your advantage. Shout as loud as you can, and get your contacts to do the same. Best case scenario, the product gets pulled because the larger firm is embarrassed by the shitstorm you’re creating. You might even be able to negotiate some compensation.
Life’s a beach?
It’s not ideal, and it does mean they’ve probably, to all intents and purposes, got away with thieving your life’s work. That’s massively dispiriting, and unfair, but with a bit of luck you can chalk it up to experience and move on successfully.
Remember: running your own business is a bit like shark fishing. You might have all the right equipment, but that’s a big old ocean and there’s some serious shit going on under the waves. Ultimately, be as prepared and as mindful as you can be. And prepare your dramatic monologue, for when you’re showing off your scars to the newbies at your next freelancers meeting.