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British Library: Protecting Your Creative Business

Jun 14, 2013

by BritishLibrary handmade and vintage goods

Fran Taylor, Creative Industries Marketing Manager at the British Library assists designer-makers to find helpful resources in the British Library’s Business and IP centre. Visit her in the library for help with market research and exploring intellectual property laws. Here she gives us an introduction to IP basics for creative businesses.

What happens if someone steals my creative idea?

Having your ideas stolen can be a big worry for designers and makers, particularly when your products are so visible online. Sometimes it can also be a sign that your work is getting out there – you know that you’re starting to get somewhere when people want to recreate your work! There are lots of high profile cases of designers who have had their ideas stolen. Remember Tatty Devine’s campaign against Claire’s Accessories: Can you spot the difference? So that you know your rights, it’s important that you understand how the Intellectual Property (IP) system works in the UK.  IP covers four main areas:

  • Patents – How something works
  • Designs – What it looks like
  • Trade marks – What you call it
  • Copyright – Artistic or literary expression

At the British Library Business & IP Centre in London we offer lots of free workshops, advice sessions and resources to help you get to grips with them.  There are also lots of tips on our website.
Patents, trade marks and designs should to be registered with the Intellectual Property Office for a fee. Copyright is the exception to this as it is owned automatically by the creator of a piece of work and you don’t need to register it, and therefore it’s free. But you do need to be able to prove when you created it, to show you were first. Whether or not you choose to register some of your IP rights depends on lots of factors – the costs, the amount of money you expect to make from a product range and its life span, etc.

So what do you do if someone has stolen your idea? As a first step, it’s worth speaking to a professional for advice, for example, either at Ideas21 or the Intellectual Property Office. It doesn’t have to cost much (or anything) as there are lots of free support services available out there.

Defending IP rights in a court of law can be very costly and time-consuming; there are other tactics you could consider before resorting legal proceedings. You can negotiate directly with the individual or company that has copied you. Or, in the case of Tatty Devine, you can use the story to create publicity for your brand. It might lead to an increase in sales for you (despite being copied) and significant embarrassment for the other party. Tatty Devine’s David-and-Goliath story was covered by national press such as the Guardian, Daily Mail, Telegraph, it trended on twitter (with over 2,500 tweets) and gained over 200 comments on their website.

This article was written by Fran Taylor from the British Library. Read her Inspired by blog on how creatives can use the Library’s collections and Business & IP Centre.


  • modernfolk

    Jacob de Graaf from modernfolk said 6 years ago

    There have been some big stories here in the past (thinking of Paperchase copying HidenSeek here on Etsy). So far, I'm not aware of anyone copying my work (knock on wood), but it's always good to keep your eyes open! I think sharing your creative process is definitely a good way of being able to prove that you designed something before whoever copied your design!

  • JackieJcards

    Jacqueline Jack from JackieJcards said 6 years ago

    Sharing is all well and good if you consented to it . In this age of fast growing internet technology artists should be able to protect their art because it is your vision and no one else's. I have had countless instances of fellow students 'borrowing' my ideas in ,quite frankly , a shamelessly obvious manner . I pity people who make a livelihood as an artist in any form who have to steal other people' s ideas. This is a very current and important issue . Artists should have the pride and self belief to defend their right to copyright . Of course inspiration and collaboration is a wonderful and fulfilling part of the life of an artist ,but it is with consent that one 'shares ' their ideas with another . Being naive does not pay . Love your work , honour it and enable yourself to give the world joy .

  • HandsomeAndLace

    Keira Morgan from HandsomeAndLace said 6 years ago

    @jacqueline I couldn't agree more! It is not flattering to be copied. I have people who have taken my ideas, or even people who I know personally in my hometown who don't mind stepping over me to take ideas and process. It's much more cool to have your own ideas that represent you, not what you see making money. I feel like a crazy person blocking other tie makers that follow me on instagram but copiers have done this to me. I'm sincerely paranoid! :(

  • VanillaKiln

    Jude Winnall from VanillaKiln said 6 years ago

    This is a subject I am concerned about so thank you! I like the simple description of IP terms. There are also two other organisations that may be helpful to UK Etsy sellers. ACID is an online community where you can upload an unlimited amount of unregistered designs to a database. There is an annual fee to join. If you are a member you will be among other reputable designer/makers who have the same issues. As a member you could display the logo in your Etsy shop as a possible deterrent. OwnIt has loads of info too. They offer templates of contracts to downlaod which are useful.

  • realfaery

    realfaery from realfaery said 6 years ago

    THanks for bringing up the issue. Unfortunately one of my design was stolen by someone who bought two necklaces from me. I had an arguement with her but I could not do anything. Now the same lady copied one of my team member design and selling it. My team member is also not able to do anything about it. I am very sceptic about small individual designers protecting their work. You simple have no time to do it on each of your design, especially if you make OOAK stuff. And you can not afford it. Good to know about more options. Thanks for sharing.

  • thenosuchdisco

    Dave from thenosuchdisco said 6 years ago

    Great article and really pertinent at the moment. Just last week I found on a rival site that a number of different sellers had lifted my Fat Kitty design and were selling it as their own on iPhone cases! I hit the blummin' roof! fortunately the admin team on this site were really helpful and took the listings down... sadly, they keep popping back up from time to time. Its a pain in the arse staying on top of it... feels like its 'wack a mole' at times... but i'm very protective of my brand!

  • crochetgal

    crochetgal from crochetgal said 6 years ago

    Thanks for a very informative article.

  • isewcute

    June from isewcute said 6 years ago

    Good to know our rights! Thank you for shedding some light on this.

  • LoveButtons

    Julia K Walton from FireHorseVintageHQ said 6 years ago

    Having been a victim of this myself, this has some good advice in case it happens again. Thank you.

  • textilechicken

    textilechicken from textilechicken said 6 years ago

    Interesting advice it is so annoying to find your designs used elsewhere,its happened to me to, many years ago and made me wary. Copying is not flattery its a sad sign of others laziness or lack of ideas. Thanks for the information and good luck party members,may it never happen to you.

  • kerryjane

    kerryjane from kerryjane said 6 years ago

    I too have had my designs copied and when I contacted the person in question she told me in no uncertain terms to go away. I agree with a previous poster that even if you can find someone to represent you ( no one I spoke to was interested in representing a small work at home business) the costs involved are so high it makes it an unrealistic for small businesses to take action. II feel within the creative community where there a lot of small businesses there is an attitude of acceptance that it is OK to take what you want from other creatives, this isn't acceptable within larger corporations.

  • daisyjaned

    jane d from EarthAndAirJewellery said 6 years ago

    This is a topic I've done a bit of research into myself, as I'm selling PDF polymer clay tutorials for how to make the images I put onto my jewellery. As I'm selling the tutorial I'm obviously expecting people to copy my work but ask people to credit my website or Etsy shop should they choose to sell any work they have created using it, and hope that my work is better ;) The PDF file itself though is very easy to copy and redistribute. Again, I have stated that the tutorial is completely my own work and I do not permit it's copying, redistribution or resale. As far as proving a work is your own, you can post a copy of your own design/pattern to yourself and leave the envelope sealed (with a mark or code on the outside so you can tell what it is). This will then be post marked to prove when you sent it, so if anybody copies you have proof that you made it first. It may be best to use registered post/special delivery.

  • daisyjaned

    jane d from EarthAndAirJewellery said 6 years ago

    This is a topic I've done a bit of research into as I sell PDF polymer clay tutorials for the images I put on my jewellery. Obviously, as I'm selling the tutorial, I'm expecting people to copy my work. I've just put a polite notice to credit my website or Etsy shop if they do sell it, and hope people are honest and that my work is better ;) As far as the PDF goes tho, they are so easy to copy and resell. Again I have put a polite note saying this work is my own and I do not permit it's copying, redistribution or resale. As far as proving you made a design, tutorial or pattern, the best way is probably to post yourself a copy (before putting the work up for sale) and leave the envelope sealed when it arrives. This way the post mark will prove that you did it first. It may be best to use recorded/special delivery. And don't forget to mark the envelope so that you know which pattern/design is inside it. I'd love to know what other people do in this situation.

  • zizogoods

    zizogoods from zizogoods said 6 years ago

    Valuable information, thanks! And please everyone, keep making beautiful products, don't let yourself be discouraged (spoken to myself as well ;)!

  • art2theextreme

    Nicole from art2theextreme said 6 years ago

    Very informative! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • laremi

    Mirela Lace Wedding from Laremi said 6 years ago

    Thank you! I was looking for these kind of information!

  • TheModernGranny

    Laura Silverthorn said 6 years ago

    When I come up with ideas, I love to do extensive research first to see if anyone else has done this yet. The envelope idea is pretty awesome.. but if you have a blog and you post the beginning and design process I mean that is all date stamped as well I often take pictures of in process and my scribbles of design ideas.I have not sold on etsy yet, just in the marketing phase. But great info to know.

  • virginiathewolf

    Virginia the Wolf from VirginiatheWolf said 5 years ago

    Unfortunately people are copying my designs and I dont know what to do. Admittedly they are big fans, but still it completely goes against all artistic integrity and what creativity stands for. I think its shameful to openly copy other people's work and these people should be made aware of to etsy and etsy should be lead by responsible example and they should have a policy against this.

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