Imagine this: You’ve been working everyday for the past six months, twelve months, three years, on your own business. You spend your weekends perfecting your website and stay up late planning your social media content and writing new blog posts for your followers. You put every ounce of your creativity, passion, and hard work into this business. And then one day, you’re scrolling through your instagram feed and you notice a business in your niche. When you click on their profile, their business name is almost identical, your logos are similar, and some of the content they are posting YOU created.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but here it just feels rotten. You have put in too much effort and time into your business to have someone else piggyback off of your work. Unfortunately, this happens all too often in the entrepreneurial world. So what do you do?!
I know the first conclusion everyone jumps to is sue them! But, let's be real, filing a lawsuit is expensive and time consuming. So, let’s talk about some options to pursue BEFORE you head to the courthouse!
1. Reach out the person or business copying your work.
As unfortunate as it is for you, sometimes people don’t even know that it is illegal to copy someone else's work. If you notice someone is copying your business name, logo, or content, reach out and let them know first. This doesn’t have to be a harsh interaction. In fact, you can send a pleasant email, giving the person notice that they are “infringing on your intellectual property” and that you would like them to stop. In this email, give them the benefit of the doubt that they really didn’t know it was wrong. Chances are, they didn’t! How they respond to this first email will dictate your next steps.
If they respond and are extremely apologetic and did not understand this was illegal, they are likely going to delete the social media post, website, or change their name and logo. Simple as that! Oftentimes intellectual property issues are resolved by simply pointing out to the person/business that they are doing something illegal.
Other times, however, the person or business may refuse to stop using your content, business name, or logo. This is where I would advise you to seek out help and advice of a licensed attorney. An attorney can help you make more firm steps, like a formal demand letter or cease and desist letter, which will demand that the person or business stop violating the law. This is required before you file suit. Thus, only if the person/business refuses to do so would a lawsuit be necessary. And, you must show that you have suffered significant damages from the violation.
2. Make sure your business is protected.
If copying is happening to you, MAKE SURE your business name and logo is registered! You can register your business name in your state which prevents others doing business in your same state from infringing on your name or logo.
An even stronger protection of your intellectual property is a federal trademark registration. A federal trademark will protect your business name and/or logo from anyone in the entire United states from infringing on your trademark.
3. Stay true to your clients and continuing creating amazing content.
I know it can be extremely discouraging to have someone copying your business and all of your hard work. But remember this, your clients love you for YOU. Continue to produce amazing content and your fans will remain fans. In fact, it is often your most loyal clients who will bring copycats to your attention! If you continue to create new and exciting content, you will create more work for your copycats to keep up with! Make sure you are the number one innovator in your niche and people will look to you as such. Even if you don’t decide to do anything legal with the copycat businesses, your clients will know your brand is the one to trust.