Trademarks, original ideas, and copycats

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Copying is a regular topic of discussion among artists. Recently, someone suggested copyright and trademarks as ways to protect clever product or workshop names that we use, and so on.

I can’t give you legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. But, here are a few of my experiences and opinions:


I’m not convinced that it’s worth the time or trouble for a small business to trademark a zine, eBook, or workshop name.

My opinion is, unless you’re the first one to do something, or the first to do something WELL, you don’t have much protection when it comes to ideas, titles, or names. Ultimately, it has to be about you, personally, and the energy that shines through in everything that you do.

Of course, those of us with slightly neurotic Virgo tendencies, get caught up in the “if you can’t do something well, don’t do it at all” trap: We don’t follow-through with great ideas because we can’t do them perfectly.

Likewise, don’t hold yourself back from great ideas because you’re neither first nor the best to do them. Or, because you’re afraid you’ll be copied.

But, unless it’s the most blatant act of copying AND you’ve got deep pockets for a protracted legal battle, don’t get bogged down by fears that you’re “copying” someone else (even inadvertently), or that you might be copied, yourself.

Oh yes, a clever workshop name makes your class stand out from the rest, sometimes. But generally, students take a class because they want to study with YOU, first & foremost.

Quirky brand/business names–such as Yahoo, Google, and Amazon–are just funky enough that people tend to remember them. “Branding”, as it’s called, is an entire field of study in itself; Internet marketing expert Seth Godin has given his books such stand-out titles as “The Big Red Fez” and “Purple Cow.” That’s a good idea.

From there it becomes a PR game, so that you (and your project) are well enough known that anyone else who does the same thing, is labelled as a copycat.

Be the very best YOU that you can be. Don’t copy, of course. But also, don’t worry about the copycats, and don’t fret if it turns out that your original idea was–at the same time–being developed in someone else’s studio at the same time.

Do what you do, and do it as well as you can. And, as you approach the big leagues, get attorneys to sort out trademark issues for you. That’s my best advice on the subject.

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