Whether you’re a graphic designer or fine artist, it’s devastating when another person steals a design you worked so hard on. While filing a lawsuit is an option, there are steps you can take beforehand to evaluate and strengthen your legal case. Fast Company offers the following advice on what to do when another person has pilfered your design.
Only ideas, concepts, and designs that have actually been recorded on a fixed, tangible medium are protected. If your design never made it out of the planning stage, you likely don’t have much basis for a lawsuit. On the other hand, if you do have a tangible example of the design or concept that you claim to be stolen, you have established a common-law copyright. This is the first step in bringing action against the party you feel is responsible. If you formally registered your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, it would further bolster your rights in the work.
If the infringer copied your design pixel for pixel it is easy to prove infringement. However, if the infringer copied your design by creating a similar but not identical design, it is more difficult to show infringement. You’ll need to prove that the person was exposed to your work and that the work they produced is indeed a copy. The former can be a bit complex since it can be hard to prove somebody saw something unless you have concrete evidence. The latter concept is a bit easier thanks to rules regarding derivative work. In such a case, you only need to establish that a reasonable person could confuse the two works due to their similarities.
Finally, you must notify the alleged infringer to cease and desist the infringing action. In many instances, the cease and desist letter will be enough to end the offending action. If the person refuses to comply, the next step is to evaluate whether it is worth pursuing a lawsuit. As every situation is unique, it’s recommended that you work with an experienced attorney to ensure your case has the best chance of success.