What about copycats?

Every time I talk to a group of makers and creatives about going for publicity, the same reservation comes up.

I’m afraid to promote my work, because I don’t want someone to steal it.

Especially in the indie and handmade communities, where product is valued for more than its ability to generate profit, this fear looms large.

Because this is such a personal and charged issue, I stayed out of the conversation. Today, I want to share my perspective as a communicator and a marketer.

The threat of theft is the cost of doing business. You can choose to respond with fear and bitterness or to seize opportunity.

Before you throw rotten tomatoes at me, let me elaborate.

1. The second you show your work to another person, you run the risk of being copied.

This is so obviously true, but you might be saying, “Of course I know this, but the risk grows as my audience broadens.” Well…

2. Publicity can actually protect you. 

When you’re small (in both customer base and funding), it’s really easy to steal from you. A schoolyard bully doesn’t pick on the other big kids, right? He steals the lunch money from kids that are smaller than him. He’s safe, because he knows they can’t, or won’t, fight back. The same is true when you guard your work from the world. Your only defense is a lawsuit, which accomplishes just as much as running to the principal. You might get reparations, but you’ve still been wronged.

3. Free yourself to focus on opportunities, not threats. 

When you stop letting fear make your business decisions, you are choosing to expand.

What dreams do you only half-admit to yourself now, because you’re too scared of all the badness that could happen along the way? Do some free-writing right now. Spend 10 minutes each on the following prompts.

  • If I weren’t afraid of being copied, I would:
  • This would affect my business by:

How do you feel looking at your lists? Are these rewards worth the risk?

4. Success is the best revenge. 

Let’s say you’re having a hard time visualizing the good. Fine. As they say, don’t get mad, get even. Wouldn’t it feel more satisfying to become successful beyond your wildest dreams, on your own terms, than to cower?

5. Even an instance of copying can be an opportunity.

Here’s where we really get our PR on. How can you actually profit from copying?

Let’s say Urban Outfitters steals your design (since they’re so notorious for it). First, you’ve learned something about your audience. If Urban wants your art, then it’s gonna appeal to spoiled teenagers (because how else could they afford it?) and 20-something hipsters. Why not use what you know about hipsters to beat Urban at its own game. Get together with all the artists you know that were ripped off, create marked-up editions of your copied work, and use the proceeds to start a public awareness campaign about big brand theft. In fact, if anyone wants to run with this idea, I’ll consult for free. Public awareness campaigns are how I got my start in PR.

This is a deeply personal issue for creators and innovators. It’s practically impossible to say: “You could be copied, but you have to move forward,” without stirring up a wasp nest.

That’s a big part of the problem. Often, when you’re copied, it’s your ego that suffers, not your business.

If you can make the switch, if you can see the threat but focus on the opportunity, you’ll see that being copied isn’t nearly as damaging as the script that’s holding you back.