If you want to be original, be ready to be copied – Coco Chanel
No disrespect Mademoiselle but imitation is actually the sincerest form of annoyance. In the big wide world of business, you’ll always find someone trying to hitch a ride on your creative bandwagon. As a diligent business owner, you do need to keep an eye on competitors and potential copycats. But the key is not to focus all your time and energy on these mimics, otherwise this annoyance can turn into an unnecessary and unhealthy distraction.
If your business is attracting a herd of copycats, here’s some practical, and pro-active ways, to deal with an unwanted following.
Sorry for the cliché folks but hear me out. We all have our own personality, style, skills, experience and knowledge. These are all forms of personal IP. All these personal intangible elements combine to make you, your story and your business – unique. It might not be possible to protect some of these personal qualities through formal means of IP protection. But it might not even be necessary, because it can be bloody hard to capture and copy that X-factor. So get on with the business of being you. If someone wants to try and copy you, it’ll only ever be skin deep.
Take steps to identify any valuable IP within your business and, where possible invest in formal IP protection for your work or assets:
Your business may need to be kitted out with one or a combination of these different forms of IP protection. Also keep in mind, IP protection doesn’t happen overnight, so consider investing in it early on. And if you are dealing with a legit copycat issue, don’t go public and don’t go it alone. Get in touch with an IP attorney sooner rather than later, to find out what your rights and options are.
If you want to take action against a copycat for copyright infringement, you’ll need to prove that copyright exists and that you own it. This can be difficult in Australia because there’s no way or need to formally register for copyright protection; you’re granted copyright ownership and protection when you create an original work. But there’s things you can do to help establish your copyright ownership:
A paper trail is one thing, but proper paperwork is another. Invest in having proper contracts, agreements, policies, and terms and conditions in place for yourself and your business. It helps set out expectations and obligations between you and your clients, customers, employees, co-workers and third parties, in relation to any IP assets you may have. This paperwork can be extremely helpful if push comes to shove and you end up on the set of Law & Order having to fight for your IP rights against a potential copycat. Remember: handshakes are a courtesy not a legality.
Authenticity provides serious currency to any business. Create an authentic experience for your customers and audience. When done consistently, these authentic additions and experiences can become iconic and set you apart from any cheap and nasty imitators. For examples:
‘Cause we are living in a digital world, it pays to be tech savvy. There’s so many tricks and tools to help you protect your work and business online:
Copycats can be a thorn in your side but being complacent in your own business is what will really hurt you in the long run. Any competitive edge you might have today, could be gone tomorrow. Curiosity fuels creativity so continue to question, explore and create better product and service offerings to fill the wants and needs of your customers. Keep an eye on emerging trends within your market or industry, even other industries, and see how it might improve or effect your business. If you keep running the good creative race, chances are your copycats won’t have the cardio to keep up.
Get rid of that crick in your neck and stop constantly looking over your shoulder at your copycats. Continue flexing your creative muscles instead. Focus your energy on your business and where it needs to go; not who’s following in your footsteps. Because remember:
Copycats may try and take your style, but they’ll never take your creative freedom.