About a year ago as I was driving home from a work trip in California I received a text message from someone letting me know that my work had been ripped off.

When I inquired what they meant, they sent me a photo from a local photographer who attempted to duplicate one of my shots (which was done for a book cover) pretty exactly. The lighting was similar, the pose was the same, the editing was the same, the mood was the same.

Shocked that someone would blatantly do this I headed over to their social media account to see that this was not the only image of mine they had chosen to copy. In fact there was probably closer to 4 images that looked way too similar to my own images. No credit was given to where this photographer got their ideas from and worse yet, it appeared they were charging clients and claiming this creativity as their own. Funny side note, this photographer eventually “blocked” me so I cannot see their future rip offs of my work.

However, the big question is, what am I to do in this situation? Or what are you to do if you find yourself in a situation that is similar.

Step 1 – Relax. The first instinct of writing an e-mail to this person and posting about it on social media to put them on blast is neither productive nor beneficial to anyone.

Step 2 – Continue to Relax. I put it in there twice because the first time may not work. But seriously, relax. The following steps need to be taken calmly and rationally.

Step 3 – Analyze What Happened and How. Was this an isolated incident? If so, it could very well have been a mistake. Any photographer, writer, artist, will tell you that we all glean inspiration from so many sources that we often don’t remember what inspired us to try something out. If that is all it is, it could simply be nothing to concern yourself with further. If it seems more egregious, then continue.

Step 4 – Document. When and how is the plagiarism happening? Start a log and keep it up to date.

Step 5 – Write a Letter But Don’t Send (Yet). Write a letter to the person who you feel is stealing from your work. But do not send it yet. Be as kind as possible in the e-mail. Note that perhaps you realize that sometimes inspiration happens and we forget where it came from or how to properly attribute it and just ask kindly that they be more careful in the future.

Step 6 – After a Day, Reread and Revise. Remove anything that makes the letter accusatory and negative. Try to keep it positive, but straight forward. You could have someone else review it as a backup. You don’t want to come off angry. Just want to let them know it was something you noticed and would appreciate it if it did not continue. I am going to estimate that 99/100 times this will be the final step you need.

Step 7 – Get Legal or Move On. If you’ve gone through all six steps and the issue still has not been resolved, or it is continuing or worse yet, increasing then you have one of two choices. First, consult an attorney to plan out a course of action that may involve taking this person to court. Just realize the time and investment this will take on your end. But for something that is blatantly impacting your work, this may be your best and only option. If it is not, then you can do what I did in the case of the photographer copying me. Move on.

What I realize is that this photographer can never achieve anything more than me because they are stuck in a mode of copying me. Thus if I continue to grow my brand and my career, they will always be stuck behind me. Truth is, I feel no anger towards this person. Their decisions are unfortunate, but they are not hurting my business and if anything, it is simply just sad for them. Hopefully they figure it out.

Note: In the spirit of full-disclosure, I got the idea for this article from listening to the Goal Digger podcast who did a great episode on how she handles it when the same thing happens to her! Be sure to check it out on iTunes.

James Patrick
IG @jpatrickphoto