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Skip the Rage: Jessica Hische on Dealing with Ripoffs

Lettering and illustration rockstar Jessica Hische is also the author of warm, witty treatises on working and thriving as a creator. Her most recent article deals with the thorny issue of ripoffs. A designer wrote about discovering imitators – some working for large campaigns for major companies – and asked Hische “…how you personally deal. Frankly, I’m flattered and simultaneously depressed at any given moment and try not to think about it.”

Hische’s counsel is her typical blend of humor and practical advice. In describing the typical sequence of outraged reaction followed by regret and a more formal communication with the infringer, she recommends skipping the rage. She also distinguishes between an individual who is copying an artists’ style versus a designer or agency actually reusing work without permission. In the former case, Hische points out that the imitator may be inexperienced, and she advises educating them about the inadvisability of copying someone else’s style.

In the case of a work being outright infringed, Hische recommends sending a stern letter to the artist or agency that produced the infringing work. However, she cautions that taking on a large company can be expensive and time consuming, citing Modern Dog’s recent successful case against Target, Disney and Jaya Apparel Group. She sums up by stating that her best advice is to register the copyright on your creations: “While you of course ‘own the copyright’ to the images you create unless you’re transferring them to the client in a contract, it’s difficult to pursue copyright infringement cases without having filed for copyright of the images officially.”

Note: While original images are automatically copyrighted to their creators, registering the copyrights confers a extra degree of legal clout: it creates a public record of authorship, it’s required before an infringer can be taken to court, and it enables the creator to sue for damages and be awarded legal fees. For more information on copyrights, visit our article in our Resources page.

The issue of fan-copying is a topic Hische addressed in a much earlier article, “Inspiration vs. Imitation.” The article was directed towards aspiring artists  and fans who openly plagiarized Hiche’s work. In this article she makes a clear distinction between copying as a learning tool, versus passing off work which closely replicates another’s as original work. She advises new artists on how to move past simply imitating their role models: draw from many inspirations rather than a chosen few; dig into historical references; train your eye to spot differences and originality; and be aware that passing derivative work as original will  ruin your reputation amongst your peers and potential employers.

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