I have shared before that outside of this blogger world I am an attorney. During law school, I took ONE Intellectual Property class and decided that was not my thing. Never did I think some years later I would be removing the cobwebs to try to recall the key things I “learned” in that class. This blogger world though? It is a giant Intellectual Property minefield where it is important you not only know your rights, but you enforce them as well. So this is a little blog post about why you should “Protect Yo Stuff!”
Let me preface what I am about to say with this. While I am an attorney I am not YOUR attorney and none of this is intended to be legal advice. More than anything, I want this blog post to make other creators think and consider all of their options when it comes to protecting their property. Now that mission may lead you to some self-help articles online or an attorney’s office. That decision is up to you, I just hope this provokes some thinking on your end.
How do you protect yo stuff?
Let’s dive into this shall we? Here is a misconception that people often think. So you came up with a brilliant name for a blog/business. You bought the website and opened up all of the social media pages for your name. You believe that you have sufficiently established yourself and stop there. Here are a few examples of why it is not enough. The first one, the time a reality star’s nemesis on the show bought the trademark to her swimwear line right from under her nose. Or the time a clever guy in Kentucky operated an adult toy company under the name Victor’s Little Secret. Both examples show why owning your website etc are not enough to stop an infringer.
The next step in protecting yourself is determining what you need, a trademark, copyright or patent. A trademark generally protects words or symbols that are associated with a brand or product. Patents deals with inventions. Copyright protects “original works of authorship” like artistic works such as novels, poems, songs, architecture. Knowing when to use a copyright versus a trademark can be tricky! There are some instances where you could benefit from both. Do your research! That is when the internet can come in handy or shelling out some coins for an attorney. Additionally, check to make sure YOU are not an infringer while researching. Outside of IP law, you should also look into business organizations like LLCs, Corporations and perhaps a DBA.
Imitation is NOT the Sincerest Form of Flattery
After completing all the necessary steps from above, you may discover a “cheater brand” that is using a name that is pretty darn close to your brand. Or perhaps stealing your photos and offering them up as their own. As small business owners people often encourage us to ignore these things or consider it a compliment. Yes, a compliment that someone would steal something that you spent hours creating and claim as their own?! Another one is, oh if they credited you then it only helps your brand *insert stale face here.* This belief is wrong guys and we have to move past that. Defending yourself and your brand is NOT litigious. It is your right and you should.
Here is the thing with infringement, you may never know how far and wide it goes! I am admittedly a huge fan of every Housewives series from Atlanta to Beverly Hills and New York. On recent seasons of RHONY, we’ve seen business tycoon Bethenny Frankel lord over her Skinny Girl brand. The cool thing is if you have watched the show for years, you saw her build this thing from the ground up. Well last season, fellow cast mate Sonja Morgan proudly announced she too had a brand, called Tipsy Girl. Bethenny was livid and labeled this brand a “cheater brand.”
I will admit, at first I rolled my eyes at Bethenny. Like, GIRL BYE. Let Sonja make her little coins while you roll in the millions. But as I toil away as a little blogger I get it now. Here are the issues. Cheater brands or imitators create confusion in the market place. People think the brands are connected or the same thing. Most importantly, they will attribute the experience or feeling about one brand to BOTH brands. As the creator of the original, you are then responsible for how the other person runs their business! If it’s trash and unprofessional? People will think you are the same. Yes you can actively work to distinguish the two and if someone asks, make the distinction. What’s worse there though? You don’t know what you don’t know. Someone could see a post from you float up on their Facebook feed and hit block because of their negative experience with the other brand. Now you’ve lost an opportunity to win that customer/follower/client because of the other brand.
That is obviously worst case scenario. It is very possible the other brand could be great! Despite them completely ignoring originality and intellectual property laws, they may actually run a reputable business and thus do not bring negative attention your way. The ultimate problem here is they are riding your coattails, i.e. cheater brand. Assuming you too are a reputable business, and you obviously would be if someone copied your name/business model, then they benefit from your GOOD name and hard work! The brand entered a marketplace where their brand had the benefit of positive attribution or affinity because of you. Connections you made are now reaching to them believing you are the same! Or they are splitting your market with a similar name. All of this is bad for business and are things you should take action to stop!
As my blog name implies I am a HUGE proponent of supporting black women (women in general honestly) in their endeavors. That can be supporting a black business by patronizing it, blogging about it and just referring others to it. Behind the scenes I have cultivated a network of blogger friends who I constantly share tips with and they do the same. Collectively we make each other better bloggers and stronger brands. Supporting others is key, but never let your support of others be detrimental to your own brand.
Going back to the Bethenny vs. Sonja example, people (including me) said Bethenny should support her cast mate who like her was a single mother just trying to make it after a horrific divorce. Bethenny mentored Sonja and provided her sound business advice, but where she drew the line was Sonja creating a cheater brand rather than cultivating her own. So again, you can support others and protect yo stuff! Never feel bad about enforcing your rights as the law allows.
All of these things are thoughts I toyed with myself. Thinking IP protections may not be necessary, or believing enforcement as small as asking for attribution on a IG picture will be perceived negatively. I also never want to appear that I am knocking someone else’s hustle. From the reasons stated above, I finally moved past this thinking and decided protecting my brand was more important. Your brand is like a precious family member, treat it as such. You have worked to distinguish yourself and must ensure that others respect that. Finally, please remember that there is only one BLACK GirlS Who Brunch :).