Do I need to find a copyright lawyer, or am I overreacting?
May 3, 2014 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I did an illustration/painting a number of years ago, and have been meaning to further develop it, but never got around to it. Today a friend messaged me to point out a publication which is uncannily similar to my concept. I am...not sure if I am needing to pursue this, or if I am just overreacting and "feeling" like my idea was stolen.

I posted this image on my portfolio, and some other websites and discussed with some friends and acquaintances my idea in more detail. The publication and company I was made aware of today are not anything I have ever heard of before, and no one I know is affiliated. The idea is very specific, or it seems so to me, so if this company came up with it independently, that'd be possible I guess, but not something I'd have really expected.

I am not sure I should post the specifics publicly, but if you'd like to memail me I'll provide details/images.

I don't know whether I should contact a lawyer or just chalk this up to coincidence and let it go. I don't want to start trying to consult with a lawyer unless it's actually suggested that I do so, because:

1) I could be overreacting maybe, and I don't even know if this kind of thing is actionable anyway
2) I imagine even consulting with a lawyer costs money, but I actually have no idea, and I am actually broke at the moment so I'd have to borrow the money from my fiance or family.
3) I'm a pushover

Lastly, assuming I am correct, any recommendation sin the Atlanta area?
posted by polywomp to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's impossible to answer this question without knowing the specifics of your concept. I'm not a copyright lawyer - and I don't have any particular expertise on the matter, so I won't have you memail me. But I will say that almost every time I've ever read about an idea being "stolen" on the internet, my sense is that the people making the complaint are overreacting, and consider the idea much more unique than it actually is. True originality is rare (and not always a good thing). The art is in the execution. So yes, my vote, given the information you've provided, is that you're probably over-reacting. But again, there's really no way for me to know for sure.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:50 AM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks. I guess I should clarify that I am not looking for legal advice, but rather whether it's even worth it to seek legal advice.

I should also clarify that while I do understand that it's hard to know without specifics, I am choosing to share those specifics via mail rather than publicly so that I don't seem to be accusing anyone should I be wrong.
posted by polywomp at 12:01 PM on May 3, 2014

+1 for pretentious illiterate, you need something more, a smoking gun pointing back to you, to dispel their plausible deniability and claim of independent conception. as it stands now, you have some chicken, and a lot of chicken feathers, but you don't have enough chicken to make a chicken salad.
posted by bruce at 12:01 PM on May 3, 2014

This question comes up pretty frequently on ask in various forms. For example see that ask. Without more information no one can say.
posted by rr at 12:02 PM on May 3, 2014

IANAL, but my first thought is to ask what they are using the image for. Are they selling prints? Are they making money off it? If so, then you may have more of a basis for sending them a cease and desist letter. To involve a lawyer, you're probably going to need to prove damages. Unfortunately 'it's not fair' might not go far. Does it suck either way? Yes. I'm sorry. Good luck.
posted by hydra77 at 12:02 PM on May 3, 2014

I once had a large advertising class and we had to do some mockups for different products. Some of the ads I created were almost identical to another student's, so similar I confronted the professor because I didn't want him to think there was any sort of collusion or any cheating going on. He sort of laughed and said it's very common in large classes for two students to come up with the same concepts independently.

Without more evidence, I would chalk this one up to coincidence.
posted by banished at 12:15 PM on May 3, 2014

Best answer: Even if they did intentionally copy your idea, which may not be the case, as you said, bringing legal action is probably not a great idea.

If the image in question is totally identical in shape, proportions, colors, etc. and they are selling it as a print or design on something, you potentially have a winnable case. HOWEVER, if this is a large corporation you are going up against, or even a reasonably sized company, you are in for a lengthy and expensive legal battle, even if it was directly lifted from your portfolio.

Sadly, unless you have a good deal of time and money to throw at this, or a good copyright lawyer willing to work for free, you are either going to lose the case and be responsible for the hefty legal fees this will incur, or financially cripple yourself while you wait for your settlement.

Here is an article about exactly this issue.

I'm really sorry that you are going through this. I hope things work out!
posted by ananci at 12:38 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Copyright can't cover the idea, however specific. So even if they saw your painting and said "hey, that's awesome, I want to do something with the same concept", you can't go after them. Now, the actual painting you did is copyrighted, so if they took actually from your expression, then there's a case.

The distinction can be tricky. Here is a pic I posted on facebook a day or two ago (should work, sorry if it doesn't). The top is a painting I own. The bottom is a post by I Fucking Love Science. Assuming they didn't licence the image, that was probably copyright infringement. The particular placement and color of the various galaxies in the eye are the same, the green wavy line in the pupil is the same.

Now if they both had an eye reflecting the universe, but with different "images" of the universe, there's no infringement.

I don't know what your particular situation is like, of course, but hopefully that might help you decide if you think there's infringement or just an idea taken.

Even if it is infringing, it might not be worth pursuing hard, maybe no action is best, maybe a cease & desist is best, I don't know offhand.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:44 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

How are you damaged? Does the existence of this other illustration stop you from developing your work further or selling prints or whatever you want to do with it? If you want to contact a lawyer, I think you'd be spending money with no real results.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:46 PM on May 3, 2014

Try to arrange a free initial consultation with a lawyer.

Do you care? What do you want to have happen here? Those are the things you need to worry about prior to meeting with lawyer, I think. They can assess legal rights and explain options.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:51 PM on May 3, 2014

Response by poster: I guess the only damage would be if I was unable to do my own version of this in the future without *them* threatening me.

Thanks all, this sounds like a big headache.
posted by polywomp at 2:03 PM on May 3, 2014

Maybe tell @picpedant about it?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:08 AM on May 4, 2014

« Older Recs for Top Down/Bottom Up Blinds?   |   Does having an organ transplant affect home... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.