When you’ve put in the hard work to build a successful business, it can be devastating when you find someone else has copied your ideas and is trying to take advantage of your customers. While you can take steps to protect your business, it’s important to remember that the best defense is a good offense.
Here are some steps you can take when faced with a copycat:
1. Educate yourself about the law
There are laws created to protect intellectual property such as trademarks, copyrights, and patents. These laws will help determine what is considered infringement and how best to respond to it. When you have a good understanding of the laws, you can make confident and informed decisions about handling your copycat.
2. Work with an attorney
Even if you know the law, it’s always good to consult with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the legal process. An attorney can help you determine your options, prepare any necessary documentation, file court papers, and represent you in court if needed.
Because copyright infringement cases can be complex, working with an attorney will give you the best chance of success. Always seek legal help if you find yourself in this situation.
3. Send a cease and desist letter
A cease and desist letter is a formal notice demanding the recipient stop engaging in infringing activity. It also puts the recipient on notice that you’re aware of the infringement and are prepared to take legal action.
This letter can be sent by an attorney on your behalf, or you can send one yourself. If you choose to send the letter yourself, research your state’s specific laws regarding the proper format and content of a cease and desist letter.
4. File a complaint with the appropriate government agency
Many federal and state agencies are responsible for enforcing intellectual property laws. If you find someone is infringing on your work, it’s important to file a complaint with the appropriate agency so they can investigate. Some of the most commonly used agencies include:
- The U.S. Copyright Office
- The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
- The Federal Trade Commission
5. Make a complaint to the website hosting company
If the copycat is using a website to spread their stolen content, you can make a complaint directly to the website host. This type of complaint is typically handled by an abuse team that may decide to remove the infringing content or shut down the website entirely.
6. Contact the copycat directly
Some copycats may not even realize that they are doing something illegal or unethical, especially if they are small businesses or startups. In cases like this, it may be possible to resolve the situation by directly reaching out to the copycat and explaining why their actions are harmful.
While this option is not guaranteed to work, it can be worth a try if you’re feeling generous or believe the copycat is acting in good faith. Always consult with an attorney before taking this step to ensure it’s the best course of action for your particular case.
7. Take action on social media
If the copycat is using social media to spread their stolen content, you can directly take action on these platforms. Many social media sites have dedicated help or abuse pages where you can report violations. For example, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube all have similar reporting tools that allow users to flag posts or accounts that violate their terms of service.
8. Pursue legal action against the copycat
Depending on the severity of the infringement and your ability to prove your case, you may decide to take legal action against the copycat. This is usually a last resort since it can be costly and time-consuming, but it may be necessary to protect your business.
If you do decide to take legal action, there are a few different options available:
- Filing a lawsuit
- Asking for an injunction
- Seeking damages
9. Issue a press release
When a well-known or high-profile business is copied, it can significantly impact the original brand. In cases like this, issuing a press release to condemn the copycat publicly and explain why it’s harmful may be appropriate.
Enlisting the help of the press can also be an excellent way to put pressure on copycat and encourage them to stop their infringing activity.
10. Ignore it
In some cases, it may be best to simply ignore the copycat and move on with your business. This is often true when the infringement is not having a significant impact on your brand or bottom line. In these cases, it can simply be easier (and cheaper) to let the copycat continue on in peace.
When you find someone copying your business, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your work. The most important thing is to act quickly and decisively, because the longer you wait, the harder it can be to resolve the situation. Always consult with an attorney before taking any legal action to make sure you are protected.