7 copyright tips for your designs

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Getting our designs and ideas ripped off is a worry for anyone in this industry. It happens all the time, but what are we supposed to do about it?

As you may know, when I’m not busy making websites, I make t-shirts inspired by retro video games. Recently some of our designs were shamelessly ripped off by an ex-supplier of ours, who then, (astoundingly) tried to wholesale them back to us!

I spoke to several law firms and organisations and thought I would share the advice I received.
Please note that while I am paraphrasing advice I received, you should in no way assume this information to be legally sound – I would ALWAYS advise you to speak to a copyright lawyer in these matters. This said, here follows my top copyright tips:

1. Your work is automatically copyrighted

According to UK copyright law, the act of creating original work automatically gives you copyright over that work for 75 years after your death.
Of course the burden of proof is on you, but assuming you are able to assert yourself as the author of the work (drafts, layered PSDs, etc. should suffice) the law is very much on your side.

2. Register your work with A©ID

A©ID – which stands for ‘Anti Copying in Design’ are an organisation set up for individuals and small businesses to copyright their original works. For a moderate yearly fee, you are able to register your work on their database. Essentially all this does is help you assert yourself as the copyright holder. An entry into the A©ID database would look good in court if your case ever got that far. A©ID also has deals with copyright lawyers across the country, which can offer advice and in some cases, discounted litigation.

3. Even though the law is on your side, you’ll still have to find the money to litigate

Litigation is expensive. Lawyers cost a ridiculous amount of money, and you’ll have to pay them to take anyone to court. In the likely case that you win, whoever copied your work will usually be liable for your legal fees, but you’ll still have to pay up front and recover the cost later – which is usually way too expensive.
It’s not all bad though…

4. Write a letter

Most half-friendly copyright lawyers will write a letter for you for around £75. This is a fairly standard ‘cease and desist’ letter, which notifies of copyright infringement and requests the immediate discontinuation of said infringement. Essentially, you’re telling company X to stop using your design immediately.

In most cases, this is as far as it goes. A scary looking letter from a lawyer is usually enough to stop most people copying your work. You can try to get some compensation for any items they’ve sold too, but don’t hold your breath.
If you can’t afford to pay the lawyer, there’s nothing stopping you from sending a strongly worded letter yourself – it’s just as valid, but obviously more likely to be ignored. If company X ignores your letter, the next step is expensive litigation.

5. If you can’t afford to litigate, let them know that you intend to… at a later date

This is the important one. From the moment they receive your first letter notifying them of copyright infringement, they are liable. Send them another letter telling them that you can’t afford to take them to court right now, but that as soon as you can, you will. Even if you decide to take them to court 10 years down the line, they’re still liable; and if they kept using your design for those 10 years, they’ll have to pay for the lot.
Beautiful, that one.

6. There is more than one way to infringe on copyright

The act of copying your work is one infringement, but offering it for sale is another infringement in itself. What this means is if your work has been copied by a wholesaler, as mine had, then any customers of theirs that buy from them and offer your work for sale, are also liable – even if they have no knowledge that the work was yours originally. Again, send them a letter notifying them of copyright infringement. Usually these guys will immediately discontinue the product and send you a letter back.

The idea here isn’t to get the little guy – the idea is that they will go back to their suppliers complaining that the product they bought from them was yours… it’s a house of cards.

7. Don’t lose sleep over it… Really.

You can get yourself incredibly worked up over the copyright issue, but the fact remains that you can’t always stop it from happening. It’s a harsh world. Do what you can, and get on with your life.


Filed under: General.


  1. Anthony @afovea

    Mar 20th, 2009
    5:09 pm

    There are so many people/small companies affected by this everyday, it’s a wonder why there isn’t some sort of group setup to support the people that can’t afford to fight back. If they could work out an agreeable way to feed some of the reparations back into the group to support other claimants.

    At least that way the ‘copiers’ would have far more to be scared of than ripping off a small company with nobody to turn to for help. Sort of a ‘my mate’s bigger than yours’ scenario.


  2. Jack Hooker

    Mar 20th, 2009
    7:39 pm

    Useful post. Thanks for the info. In addition I have some links which may be of some use relating to law and copyright:



Simian Enterprises is the trading name of Gary Stanton, a freelance web developer working by the sea in Brighton, UK. Gary's been creating websites since 1996 and still loves it. Read more


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