Imitation is NOT the greatest form of flattery
This blog is going to cover my recent experience with having aspects of Made by Leah stolen and designs copied and a brief look at the battle I've faced along with the importance of understanding a small business and it's need to be protected...
To start with…
Building a brand takes time. Sometimes people can successfully build a brand more quickly than others and, for some, reputation and success can take months or years.
For this post I’m going to tell you about my brand ‘Made by Leah’ and let you know a few details about my business and my story before delving into protecting your brand and my story around that, too. Copyright is a touchy subject but one I have been aware of since starting my brand, therefore getting myself sorted on the issue before even setting out as an illustrator! (definitely read up about it if you are starting or already have a small business).
Made by Leah has been an official business since October 2016, which makes it almost 3 years old. Although I didn’t go full time with it until the middle of 2017 so I would personally say that Made by Leah is 2 years old this summer. Still a baby really. My baby!
Made by Leah:
I have always done all things in my business including marketing, social media, designing, packing and everything in between. I know my business inside out (one of the main reasons I can’t imagine bringing anyone else on board, but maybe one day!). For those that think being self-employed is a walk in the park, it is absolutely INCREDIBLE (and I will talk about how incredible it is and give you some tips in next weeks blog) but it definitely comes with its fair share of challenges. My art is how I earn a living. The main challenge being you are basically an accountant and a business manager and a social media director and a marketer and any other job you can think of, and the to do list never ends. That being said, it’s the most rewarding and wonderful thing and I would recommend ANYBODY to chase their dreams if being self employed is something that appeals to you. I love it, genuinely and honestly and have NEVER questioned this being my dream job. (I mean, I can wear PJs and a crown and watch Disney movies whenever, what’s not to love?!).
But, in my opinion (and the main reason for me writing this blog) the biggest challenge I have faced so far has been a recent battle I have encountered with having MY designs and ideas stolen. That, along with the emails and businesses asking for my advice too, which I’ll go into later.
Back to the copying…
The fact I’m on my own in business and the need to sort the problem was all on me really hit hard at first when my designs were taken and copied. Of course, I had my husband and parents for advice but it’s my businesses and therefore was my decision on where to take the problem and how to react to it. No boss to pass the message onto and a full feeling of having worked damn hard for something that someone so flippantly thought, “Nice idea, I’ll take it”. I appreciate not all businesses have their designs stolen and I hope if you have a small business it never happens to you but I have seen FAR too many situations where larger brands have stolen small business ideas. I’m not naming any names or here to shame the few people that have done it to me, but in my personal case, the business that stole my designs was not a “big brand” like a high street store (thankfully, I can’t imagine fighting those ones), but they have been brands with a higher following than me. Seems unfair. I realise numbers aren’t everything but a lot of people view instagram followers to how successful a business is. BUT at the same time, they had not a single leg to stand on so they could literally take their thousands of followers and do one. I wasn’t going to let them steal.
8 of my designs got stolen through the period of my challenge. None of my major best sellers such as my magazine or unicorns or new work (thank goodness) but designs including my rabbits, bunches of flowers, mermaid and a few others. It didn’t feel relevant what they’d stolen at the time; it was a problem and therefore mine. Each took weeks to sort and I’m actually still in contact with one scandal, which is yet to be 100% cleared up.
THIS PARAGRAPH THOUGH:
I just wanted to briefly bring it to your attention to show you all that, even though I’m a small business, this kind of thing can happen to anyone. It is STEALING. Don’t let anyone say ‘Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” because now that it’s happened to me I can safely 100% say I was not flattered, not even slightly. It’s not flattering, it’s stealing and taking something that has taken months or years to create and develop. It’s lazy and it’s ILLEGAL.
I simply can’t stress that enough. That phrase shouldn’t be allowed.
I thought I’d just say at this point, I am so thankful for lots of other illustrators and small businesses that I know and have become friends with. They help me grow creatively and aren’t competition at all, we all help each other along. Businesses can help businesses greatly and I’m sure you all know that! Social media and fellow creatives are amazing and I’m thankful for it all every day and how both have helped made by Leah to grow! I also want to just say I don’t want to come across as ranting or negative and hope I have shared this information without being doom and gloom.
But onto the next point from here, other businesses asking for advice/tips….
Here’s a letter as to why I won’t help people to copy my brand or give people personal advice when it cuts too close to that copycat line…
Dear followers/business owners/creatives or anyone who it may concern,
I really appreciate your messages always.
My emails and inboxes are FULL to the brim with lovely lovely followers saying things about my work or work they have bought from me. Followers and people dmiring and loving any of my work is something I feel humbled by every single day. But along with these lovely messages come ones such as “Where do you get your work printed?” and “Oooh lovely mugs/tea towels/ notebooks where do you get these done?” or “what paint/brush do use or what techniques do you use to get that effect?” But please appreciate that it has taken me months of product testing, samples and just general hard work and I simply won’t reply to you asking, basically, how to copy aspects of my business. I’m sure many of you are innocently asking and not trying to copy me at all, but I have recently realised I can’t answer a lot of these questions. I’m sorry to anyone not copying me at all, or people not even realising that are just innocent, but I hope you understand that protecting yourself comes first!
If you want answers to your questions, work hard and follow the ‘How to build a brand’ steps to create your own unique one. I worked and trialed to get the perfect product or technique, do the same with your own creativity!
I’m getting on my small business box now and saying to you all that a business is your heart and soul. My heart and soul and individuality makes made by Leah what it is today and to be honest, I want to protect it just as much as if it were my baby.
It seems almost laughable now that the months and years of collecting my brains ideas and actions to create my brand would just be dished out to someone I have never even met or hardly know. Please think before you ask for very specific or intrusive advice.
Not everyone is out to copy or steal but also, secrets must!
Unfortunately it takes hard work and a lot of looking around and trial and error to create something successful, so you’ll have to do that too!
I hope you all know and think I’m always a decent person but this kind of info crosses the line for me. It has taken a few people and businesses to ask questions and copy for me to come to write this post. I used to dish out suggestions and help much more willingly when I first started and had nothing to lose, (and don’t get me wrong, I’d still give as much info to anyone as I’m comfortable with!) but since becoming a little more established myself I am much more aware of copycats and protecting things I have worked hard to build. I hope you all understand that.
Being copied for me has really hit home as to how people can be, and the journey that I’ve been on with having my brand and designs stolen has made me more aware and wanting to share it with you all. It hurts when people take what’s yours.
Admiring is the greatest form of flattery. Admire and appreciate and everyone can grow. Leah x
I just want to finish with a short paragraph to say THANK YOU for sticking with this blog and I hope you’ve found it useful (or at least interesting to know!). I hope copying doesn’t happen to me again and I hope you can all appreciate the protection and love in an individual’s brand. I’ve covered the issues of asking other brands for advice that skips the work for you, and also just plain and simple copying. Do share any experiences you have had or your thoughts!
Have a fabulous week all of you, creativity is limitless and I am eternally thankful to everyone who admires and loves my work, which is almost 100% of you.!