See that up there on the left of the red line? That's not mine.
Except - it actually is. Used by someone else*, without my knowledge or permission, on cards.
The card appeared on the blog of one of our local decor magazines. I wrote to the designer as soon as I saw it, with photos of my prints, some dated as far back as 2008. (It's one of the reasons I stash photos of prints on Flickr - they're nicely dated in case anyone wants to check.) I asked her to stop selling the cards and to take any reference to the designs off her blog, website, etc. She complied immediately, which I'm very grateful to her for.
I was of course itching to rant about this in public, but I wanted to give her a chance to fix her mistake in private. It's possible that she really didn't know that you can't just take the first image that comes up in a Google search and use it as your own. ('Protea print' - that's the search.) I didn't think it was really necessary to go public.
But a few people had already contacted me about this, wanting to know if I knew, and offering to throw all kinds of nastiness at the original blog post. So I contacted the magazine to explain the situation and to ask whether they'd consider taking the post down. I thought they might not want to be associated with copying, and I also thought the designer might not want her name publicly attached to this.
Their reply was a little unsettling, along the lines of 'grey areas' and 'is it actually a direct copy' and 'who copied who.' I'd sent them the same dated photos (2008, remember? It's 2012 now) and ... well, just count the dots, for goodness' sake! They even said something about not being able to protect products that weren't copyrighted.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but I believe that a design belongs to you as soon as you've made it. There's no need to 'copyright' it. Ah, here we are:
Any freelancer producing non-commissioned work owns the initial copyright
The law gives copyright protection in the absence of any agreement specifying copyright ownership rights.
(Source: SAFREA's Copyright Explained page)
Fair enough, the magazine didn't want to rule on the issue. But the designer had retracted her work, and there was definite potential for embarrassment here. Yet I had to ask the designer to email the magazine to explain the situation, and to ask for the post to be taken down. This was starting to feel extremely awkward. Thankfully, she mailed them right away.
Everything worked out fine in the end, but I'm still left with a niggling worry about the magazine's response. They didn't exactly feel like champions of local design, for a few minutes back there.
If only we had something like ACID, an anti-copying campaign. I found out about them in this post about some truly jaw-dropping copying.
*I'm not naming the designer; she behaved brilliantly as soon as I contacted her, and deserves credit for that.