May 18, 2009

Copy Cat Jewelry Designers

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , , @ 2:33 pm

Has someone copied your best design and left you steaming mad? Copy Cats are a perennial problem in the jewelry world, where copyright violations are rampant. We hear about it all the time at Nina Designs and we experience it too.  I once received a catalog from India that consisted entirely of pages xeroxed from my own catalog! While we copyright all of our sterling silver designs, there is nothing I could do about an Indian Copy Cat with no physical presence in the U.S. The sad truth is that while litigation, or the threat of litigation, can be useful in certain extremely blatant situations, jewelry copyrights are notoriously difficult to enforce. Our response? We try to have so many designs in our pipeline that no one else can keep up with us!

Sometimes our competitors make exact copies of our designs.  Other times, the connection is less direct but just as striking. Chanel recently came out with earrings almost identical to our gold plated silver Deco Rose pendant and Tiffany just launched a whole collection of silver keys.

Chanel Earrings like our Deco Rose

Chanel Earrings like our Deco Rose

Gold Deco Rose Nina Designs Original Design

Gold Deco Rose Nina Designs Original Design

While frustrating, copycats are just a fact of life in fashion. They can even help drive up demand for your designs. We are fully expecting our silver keys and Deco Rose to get even more popular now that the Big Guns have put their marketing muscle behind those looks. Likewise, we tried for years to get traction with our gorgeous Black Satin collection, but it wasn’t until jewelers started pushing the look in the Sundance catalog and other trendy venues that sales took off.

It also helps to remember that we all get inspiration from perusing the magazines and checking out jewelry where ever we see it. I know I should look people in the face first, but my eyes go straight to their jewelry! None of this takes the sting out of seeing your designs copied, but since there isn’t much you can do about it, why not look on the bright side? Remember, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

  • Nal

    I agree, protecting your designs against non-US copiers is difficult, and maybe even close to impossible. I grew up working at my dad’s jewelry store, and as an attorney, I focus on protecting all artists’ rights, including those of jewelry designers’. I always tell my clients to register as many designs as possible with the copyright office, and to do so immediately! If Chanel is selling YOUR design (which it looks like they are), then they are probably selling it for a whole lot more than you sell it for. As the author of the design, you can get all the profits made off of your design, and then license them the right to continue selling it. That way, you can still get the benefits of their advertising and promotions while maintaining control over your design. Don’t give up just because it hasn’t worked once or twice! Your designs are beautiful, and most importantly, YOURS!

  • You raise some good points that we discuss in more recent Copyright Posts. Registration is key and foreign copycats are the most pernicious. Thanks for the feedback and encouragement!

  • Barbara Murphy

    I must disagree with Nal’s assessment that it looks like Chanel is selling your design (and, by the way, I have no relationship to Chanel). Copyright laws do not protect ideas, but protect a specific expression of an idea. The most famous expression of the openwork graphic rose ‘idea’ (which is at least as similar to your design as the Chanel pendant) was produced by Charles Rennie Mackintosh over a hundred years ago. Numerous other expressions of that idea can be found in a simple google search. Copyright protects the specific design that you have produced – not the idea behind it. Ideas are protected by patents. I am currently a stay at home mom, but I’m a registered patent attorney and also practiced in the area of copyright and trademark law. It troubles me to see how much misinformation is being passed around about what copyright law protects and what it doesn’t protect – let’s try not to compound the problem.

  • novella

    Can anyone point me in the right direction of a copyright / trademark lawyer in PA?

  • Harriete Estel Berman

    Any updates regarding “copycats” of your jewelry designs.” It seems to me that the copycat problem is even more rampant than ever before.

  • Hi Harriete,
    I agree, the problem is much more acute these days and my position has evolved with the proliferation of cheap imports on the internet. We can’t control what is produced overseas but we do monitor US websites like Etsy and Ebay for copyright infringement. Here is a link to another Blog on the topic.

  • Thanks for educating me.


  • Catalina

    It’s become quite common to see Nina designed spiral earrings designs all over Etsy and Facebook and the seller calls it “their” most popular and “their original” design. Seriously? I’m amazed they get away with it and are never called out for stealing that design.