If the alleged infringer won’t co-operate, it’s time to consider legal action. For truly massive infringements, this means lawyering up and heading to the Patents County Court. But if you believe the case is worth less than £5,000, this is where the new small claims court for intellectual property comes in. Part of the Patents County Court, it’s a less formal process than a traditional court case, and is aimed at allowing individuals and small businesses to fight their corner without needing a lawyer.

To launch proceedings, contact the court for a claim form, which briefly outlines your case and the remedy you’d like. You then send this to the alleged infringer, who has four weeks to respond, and may opt to settle rather than go to court. When you’ve received their form, lodge the documents with the court, which will contact you to arrange a hearing. You’ll be asked to prepare a concise description of your case ahead of the hearing. These usually take place in the judge’s offices and are less stuffy than standard court cases. And in the small claims court, the losing party does not have to pay the victor’s fees. 

It’s a welcome addition to the legal protection available to creatives, but it’s still a time-consuming and draining process, and is not to be entered into lightly. And, unfortunately, the most flagrant copying often comes from places with weaker copyright laws, such as China, making pursuing the infraction tricky. 

“It’s about your resources: if you’re a big brand, you might have the resources to hire a lawyer in China,” says Derek. “There’s quite a lot of people in situations where it’s not going to be worthwhile.”

And sometimes, the best response is to shrug and get on with your life, he recommends. “We talk to people for whom it only galvanises their desire to move on, and keep doing new stuff.”

App misappropriation

Spotting work that’s suspiciously similar to yours is “like a swift smack in the face,” says digital studio director Moist Boi. It’s a feeling he has often faced, although in the digital design world, this can be even harder to prove than in illustration.

“Determining if something is a ‘rip’... can be very subjective,” he explains. He asks his peers’ opinions and “I think about the situation objectively and try to determine if there’s any possible way the similar work was arrived at coincidentally. Most times this isn’t the case unfortunately, but you don’t want to run straight out pointing the finger and end up looking like an uninformed idiot.”

When he’s certain his work is being ripped off, Moist contacts the culprit. “If that fails and you feel you’ve been dismissed or ignored, do what you must to deliver the swift kick to the groin people like this deserve,” he recommends. He delivers this by drawing attention to the copying online. “The internet is the great equaliser,” he says.

“In our case, the shitbags who stole our work most likely weren’t making enough money off the idea to make legal action make sense financially – not to mention the time involved,” he adds. “Showing a fraud for what they are is nearly as satisfying as making a couple of bucks by suing them. Nearly.”

Moist Boi is an assumed name. 

Quick on the draw 

Gemma Correll’s Pugs Not Drugs design was licenced to Urban Outfitters, but has been copied and used without permission by clothing makers supplying market stalls

Gemma Correll’s cheerful, quirky images have spearheaded the hand-drawn trend, and while many have been inspired by her style, some have come too close for comfort.

She has seen her designs simply copied all over the world, and has even come across major retailers selling T-shirts with designs in a similar style, featuring similar characters and even the same slogans, but drawn by unnamed other artists. That “doesn’t feel good,” she says. “It’s frustrating, because a lot of big corporations steal indie designers’ work, whether directly copying or being extremely ‘inspired’, but they know they can get away with it.”

When Gemma feels a product bears an uncanny resemblance to her own work, first she asks others whether they agree it’s a rip-off. “If it’s a direct copy, I send a Cease and Desist letter, and if it’s not direct but I’m certain it’s a copy, I’ll write a personal email.”

She consults Briffa, which provides design insurance, or Anti Copying In Design for cases in the UK. However, when the designers are based in countries with weak intellectual property laws, she says there’s “not much you can do” apart from take a screenshot and move on.

“If the copy is made by a company in another country and I feel it’s not worth pursuing, I just try to laugh – I’ve seen some pretty funny versions of my designs – and forget about it.”