Friday, December 12, 2008

Copy Cats

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but when people are imitating your designs and selling them as their own, well that just sucks.

Yesterday Juliene sent me an e-mail.

"Found this while I was messing around on Etsy. They aren't exact copies, but they're similar. Just thought you'd like to keep your eye on them."

Juliene is a little bit our self-appointed watchdog, since she's constantly shopping online, is deeply involved with dogs, and is protective over Paco Collars like a cougar over her cubs (not that she's old, like a cougar). It puts her in a unique position to scout for imitators.

I click on the link not expecting much. Most of the time it's nothing. I mean, there are only a handful of design elements out there, most leather supplies in the US come from the same supplier, so there is occasionally something that kind of looks like our stuff because it uses the same decoration. Usually it's different enough to not be a threat. I mean, unless you have the $2,000 deposit to create a die and your own series of custom conchos, you're kind of stuck using what's out there. Since that's the case, it's not company policy to jump all over every Joe Schmoe who uses a Celtic Heart on one of their collars. It's not what you use, it's how you use it.

The page opens. Up comes pics of many different collars, I see the usual array of conchos that everyone likes to use, but then I see it: our collar. It's exactly our collar but in a different color. And it's not even a case where they're using the same decoration. It's a copy of our Simple Two-Tone collar, which has no decorations. Woah.

This happened once before. Many years back we had a customer order a custom dog collar for her dog. We worked with her, designed a collar for her dog, everyone was happy. About 6 months later I received a weird e-mail telling me to watch out for this particular customer and it contained a link. I clicked on the link and up came a thread from a forum where the customer was bragging about how she created a custom collar company.

(paraphrasing here)

"I recently purchased a custom leather collar for my dog as was disappointed at how much it cost so I decided to create my own *affordable* custom collar company," she touted. And on came the pictures of the collars she created. I scrolled through, yawning ("crap, crap, crap"), until I came across... drum roll please... an exact copy of the collar we designed her dog! Yeah, she was making, and selling, the exact collar we designed for her dog. And bragging about it.

At this point my stomach turned. It kind of felt like being dumped, but different. It was like dating someone you weren't really into, you were planning on breaking up with them but, before you could, they cheated on you with someone super hot just to beat you to the punch and rub your face in it. It's a small part heartbreak, a huge part disgust, with a sprinkle of losing all trust in the rest of humanity.

And so began my education in intellectual property.

I won't bore you with all the details, but I cannot emphasize how important it is for artists to protect themselves. The majority of people are not creative, so it's much easier for them to take something that's been done and try and own it. I did a lot of research, sent the former customer a cease and desist letter, and she pulled the design. Easy peasy.

But then it happened again about a year later. Knowing that she probably wasn't going to roll over easily, and that this was starting to look like a habit rather than a mistake, this time I pulled out the big guns. I put out my feelers and found an intellectual property lawyer within a few degrees of me. Turns out his wife wanted some leather goods for their dog and baby so we traded some legal consultation for product. We sent another cease and desist letter. As predicted, she did not want to roll over, but our case was pretty strong so she eventually conceded.

To me there is just something so wrong about copying designs, but I realize to some extent I'm in the minority. I mean, give me $50 and any parking lot in Oakland and I can buy you a faux Louis Vuitton handbag from a someone's trunk. Designers keep Oscar dresses under wraps but imitations pop up within 24 hours after the event. It's not a new concept, but when a company is as small as Paco Collars, any imitation could take away market share, which means taking money from our pockets, which means people don't get paid, and when you mess with my people I get pissed.

It's fortuitous that this new site pops up as we're in the midst of collaborating with the same intellectual property lawyer on building our body of work. See, Paul wants to go to law school so this is his practice. And how perfect that he gets a real life opportunity to stretch his fledgling legal legs?

So I want to thank this newest copy cat for giving us the opportunity to expand our legal knowledge even further. Wording on their website-under-construction alludes to the fact that they're placing themselves to be in direct competition with us (and there are parts where they actually lift and use our exact wording) so claiming spontaneous generation is not a viable argument.

I thank them for allowing Paul this opportunity to break his legal cherry. And all I have to say is, "Watch out guys, you're going down." Pissing off Ana Poe is one thing, but you've got folks that are way more mad about it than me.


Anonymous said...

seems like you might want make copies of the current site before it changes - potential fodder for future legal battles!

ana poe said...

Good call! Screen shots = done!

J said...

he he. i'm pretty sure that being imitated is an indicator that your brand is strong and your designs hot. i guess that's the bright side to all of this. if you want some help, i have a lawyer friend that's in need of a collar. -jane

Home2K9 Pack Leader said...

Unreal. "Mean people suck."


Home2K9 Pack Leader said...

Oh, and... I'm not a lawyer or a cougar, but if there's anything I can do???

I can shoot guns, bake poisoned banana bread, utilize vicious rhetoric or spear them with my fingernails. Take your pick.

ana poe said...

Poisoned banana bread, eh? With the holidays coming up it may be the perfect time for mysterious packages to show up on doorsteps... bwahaha!

Anonymous said...

If I see anyone wearing a knock off of the collar you designed for me, I'm just gonna beat them up until they tell me where they got it. Then I'm gonna find the person that made it and break their fingers to splinters. That's the mood I'm in lately. Plus I really love this collar.

Bennett Samuel Lin said...

I just read this article, and it totally reminded me of your post.

If you watch the trailer at the bottom of the page, you can see just how much it borrows from other movies. Even the last scene reminds me of Stand By Me. And all the reviews I've read seem to confirm this as well.

I'm just as amazed as you are that there are people out there willing to invest so much time, energy and capital into creating obviously derivative works.

From the looks of this article, I get the feeling that the producers of this movie saw themselves as underdogs, and were thus blindly confident that the public would root for them to succeed just for that very reason. And maybe this woman was caught up in a similar tunnel vision, banking on the sympathy vote to put her ahead.