Selling on Etsy: How to Handle Copy Cats


If you are a maker of any sort and you choose to put your work on the Internet for all to see, most likely (and sadly) you will be ripped off at some point. When it happens you'll probably go through a series of emotions - I know I have. For whatever reason I've been having trouble sleeping the last few days. This has resulted in late nights working and while I was researching how well my items were showing up on Etsy search results (it's an ever-changing ball game, folks!), I came across these:



Do any of them look familiar? Yeah, thought so. That's because they all mimic the (thank you, Jesus) extremely popular Hey Y'all Print that we have been selling in our shop for two years now. All four of those showed up on the front page and one of them even showed up ahead of my Hey Y'all print.



When I first started selling this print (pictured above), do you know how many "Hey Y'all" prints would show up on Etsy? One. And it was mine. It's one thing to be inspired or influenced - there are many "Hey Y'all" prints available on Etsy now, who may or may not have been inspired by our version. With the exception of the obvious copy cats, they have chosen to create a product that fits their style and doesn't reflect our design choices. (An uppercase "HEY" and a lowercase script "y'all" can't possibly be the only way to lay this phrase out! Gimme a break!) I don't own the southern phrases we use in our Sweet Southern Charm collection. I know I'm "not the only one who can use the phrase "Hey Y'all" - thank you so much to the "blogger" (who used to have a post up sharing a "DIY gold foil hey y'all print" tutorial with a downloadable template for her readers as well as MY photo as an "inspiration" reference") for telling me that.

I know there are mean people in this world and sometimes you're just going to get taken advantage of. But the thing that really gets me about most of the people who have copied me, is that they seem to be big dreamers as well. They're chasing after a dream similar to my own. They talk about their "new" prints and how hard they've worked and seem to be totally oblivious to the fact that they are not only hurting themselves but they're hurting the very industry they're trying to break into. Finding these copy cats has practically consumed the last two days of my life. I've been sending messages and researching how to make it all go away when I should be answering emails to my loyal customers and working on new products that will be released soon.

So - in an effort to stop this from ruining my productivity and to help you if ever you find yourself in a similar situation, below are 4 tips to get you through the unfortunate mess. Please know that this is my take on it as I'm going through the experience, right now. Others may feel differently and may have other ways for you to handle the situation. I would love to hear any tips you may have. Feel free to leave them in the comment section.



BREATHE | If you're anything like me I know you're fuming right now and you want to put them in their place. How dare they rip off your hard work and take advantage because they see you doing something well and they want a piece of the pie. I took about a day to mull it over on my own. I didn't message or email them and I didn't talk about it publicly. This gave me time to come off the ledge and really think about the course of action I wanted to take. They say not to argue when you're angry, and while I was still pretty mad when I reached out, I had cooled off and could get my point across in a more professional manner.

GATHER THE HONEY | Y'know how they say you kill more bees with honey? Well, sometimes that is true and sometimes it is not but let's give these copy cats the benefit of the doubt. Occasionally a designer may not realize when they are being too inspired by something they see out in the world. They may even be your biggest fan and honestly did not think they were ripping you off. I usually like to send a nice and understanding email or Etsy message giving them a chance to reconcile the situation. Below is word for word what I sent out to one of the perpetrators. In this case the honey didn't work. I have received no response and she continues to sell her knock-off. But I still think it was worth a shot because this stance has worked in the past!

Hi "Etsy Seller"!

My name is Stephanie Creekmur and I own an online shop (as well as an Etsy shop) and while researching how well my products (including my Hey Y'all print that I've been selling for 2 years: www.etsy.com/listing/113251294/hey-yall-print-11-x-14-gold-or-silver) show up on Etsy and Google I came across your Hey Y'all print and I couldn't help but notice a very close similarity. While you are completely entitled to design and sell a Hey Y'all print of your own it is an infringement of copyright to sell one that so closely resembles mine. I do have to ask that you remove this product from your shop.

A lot of times this sort of thing is a misunderstanding and the person behind it doesn't realize they were copying. If you have any questions for me, just let me know. Thanks so much for your understanding.

Warmly,
Stephanie Creekmur
www.stephaniecreekmur.com

CONSULT AN ATTORNEY | Unfortunately, this seems to be the next step for me. I have never felt like I needed to take it this far before but one of the knock-offs is too close for comfort. If someone has seen a photo of our Hey Y'all print on a blog, Pinterest or Tumblr and they go to search for it on Etsy, they might be tricked into thinking they have found it. My guess is that she is well aware how popular the print has been and like I said above, wants a piece of the pie. I shared about my situation on Instagram and Facebook and have had lots of people tell me to hire and attorney and that it makes the whole process a lot easier. Isn't it crazy that I'm going to have to pay an attorney to get someone to stop selling a knock off print? Crazy, I tell you! If I go down that road I'll be sure to fill you in on how that process went!

TAKE THE HIGH ROAD | Let me go ahead and be honest with y'all - It's extremely hard for me to take the high road in these instances. A personal flaw of mine is to put people in their place when they are in the wrong. If a copy cat gives even the slightest bit of attitude or plays on the defensive, I take this as my opportunity to pounce and give them a piece of my mind. While I actually do feel much better, I haven't really won anything. All I've done is stooped to their level. Protect yourself and your work but don't be like them. Be gracious and know that you will come out on top. They will always be two steps behind. (Thank you Instagram community for that encouragement!)

Shew! I already feel so much better just writing that all out. If you're still hanging in there with me, thank you for reading! I hope you never have to deal with such a thing (wishful thinking, right?). Going forward, I plan to not seek out copy cats. It's going to happen whether I like it or not. If it is brought to my attention I will most certainly handle it but I can't stress myself out and go after every arts and crafter (please see copy cat photo #4, please) who wants to sell a second-rate version for $5.

I'd love to know how you handle situations like this.
DO YOU IGNORE THEM AND TAKE THE HIGH ROAD OR DO YOU TAKE ACTION?

UPDATE

October 20, 2014: Val of Val Marie Paper has written the best article on how to handle copycats. She says it all way better than I ever could. I highly suggest you head over and add to the conversation!

4 comments:

  1. I am so, so glad someone is talking about the Etsy copycats and is doing something about it :) This has happened to me on Etsy as well and it's such a terrible feeling. Thank you for sharing all of this so I have a resource in case it ever happens again!
    -EH

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  2. I'm so sorry this is happening to you. How frustrating! One thing I have learned is to always watermark photos that go online. At least that way they can't use your photos (which are gorgeous! ) I hope this gets resolved quickly for you!

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  3. Such a miserable feeling. In a different sense I've experienced copycats + jealousy. I'm so used to the blogging world being a supportive + caring atmosphere, but there are definitely people out there who just want to make $ or profit from your ideas. I like your approach! Mine is the same- you catch more flies with honey than vinegar :) Like tracy, i've also begun watermaking my photos (can't hurt!)

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  4. Stephanie, thank you so so much for writing this post. I am currently going through this and have been googling about what to do, which is how I found this post — it made me feel less helpless about the whole situation and now I have a plan of action. Thanks so much!

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