Someone stole my logo! Now what?

Someone stole my logo
There will be a time in your freelance career where you really start to make a name for yourself. You’re getting awesome clients, doing awesome work, and it’s only going up hill. However, with success comes scammers, trolls, and the most commonly, people that copy, “borrow”, or blatantly steal your design work. Has that happened to you yet?

Last week I stumbled upon a blatant copy of my logo on a design firm’s portfolio. It was a full page with large images of my logo mocked up on different products, but with a different business name under it. To see this company benefiting on my hard work and personal brand was a serious issue for me.

How did I find out?

First, let me take a step back and explain how I stumbled upon this rip-off of my logo.

There are two ways of finding out if your work is being stolen:

  1. You’re informed by one of your peers.
  2. You can manually search where your designs are showing up online. Go to Google Image search, upload an image of one of your designs, and let the results pour in.

Google Image Search

I do a Google image search with some of my favorite designs every other month or so – just out of curiosity.

So back to the story… I found a copy of my logo on this design firm’s portfolio by Image searching with my logo. I searched the business name in the mockups, and it was for a genuine business. To them, I felt bad, that they were given a stolen logo. But towards the design firm, I was borderline enraged.

However, I had to keep my cool and reach out asap to get the situation resolved. I’ve reached out to individuals before in the past. Some were utterly embarrassed that I found out and removed the stolen content. Then there were some that became defensive. They tried to convince me they didn’t steal the work, but then proceeded to lash out and troll me (hard) online for the next few months. I had to beef up my online security, moderate my comments, block several accounts, etc. It was really rough for a while, but luckily it passed.

How to resolve the infringing work

You must consider if the situation is a big deal. Most often, it’s a small-time, inexperienced designer wanting to have cool work in their portfolio. In this case, it can be a good learning opportunity for them. They may think you’ll never find out, but you did. So reach out and explain the seriousness of the situation, and try to educate them of what they did wrong.

However, if it’s someone reselling your designs, passing it off as their own, or marketing their own services with it, then you should feel threatened. Keep your cool. Your first step will be to reach out via phone or email. The key is to have your first contact with this person be as polite and least threatening as possible. If you can do that, chances are they’ll do the same. And if they’re quick to respond and take action on removing the stolen work, thank them for their cooperation. If they refuse or don’t respond, then you can start to consider threatening them with legal action.

How to respond

When I reached out to the design firm that stole my logo, I wrote:

I’m reaching out because I noticed the strong similarity of your portfolio piece […] to my own logo. Your use of my logo from my personal brand constitutes an infringement of my copyright and therefore subjects you to substantial liability under federal copyright law. Please immediately remove the logo from your website, Facebook page, Instagram, and any other place you may be showcasing it online or off, and please refrain from any further use of any designs derived from my website.

I would prefer to resolve this matter without legal action and trust that your prompt cooperation will allow us to do just that. Would you please send me a confirmation that the infringing logo and branding materials will be immediately removed from your online presence so that this matter can be resolved? Thank you for your cooperation.

I then recieved a very quick response from the company’s CEO, apologizing for the “massive resemblance” in the logo, and that he’ll talk to his designer about the situation. Turned out, it was a pro bono project and their designer assumed that since she was in another country, that “nobody would know.” He again gave me his deepest apologies, removed the infringing work, and said he was going to offer a pro bono redesign for the client using my logo. At the end of the day, it was resolved very quickly in a polite manner, so I had no hard feelings.

What if they aren’t responding?

If you’re unable to get a response from someone, then you still have options. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a legislation that covers your right in circumstances like stolen work. Whether you’ve officially filed any paperwork or not, you still own the rights to your own designs.

With a simple search of the infringing site’s host provider, you can have the site shut down under a “DMCA Takedown.” But only if you truly own the rights.

Another option is to use Google Support to report the infringing content and to have it removed from their search engine.

How to keep your designs safe

The obvious route would be to trademark your logo and any of your important designs. I’ve found LegalZoom to be a great resource if you’re new to this and don’t have the time or money to invest in a legal professional.

The easiest thing you can do is add “Copyright 2014 Your Legal Name. All Rights Reserved.” to the footer of your website.

From what I’ve read on my own (I’m not a lawyer), you get an automatic trademark and copyright under state law. If you can prove that the design is yours, then you may have a case, and if it’s a big deal you may want to consider lawyering up.

Conclusion

While every situation is different and the outcome is never 100% guaranteed success, I hope what I’ve had to share can be of use.

Have you ever had your design work stolen? Share your stories in the comments below. If you have any advice to add to this post, then please share as well. Someone else could be going through the same thing you are right now and it could help them out a lot to get a bit of direction.

Disclaimer: You should always consult a professional relating to legal, insurance, tax, or financial issues. This article is from my personal experience and is only intended as a guide.


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  • I know this article is a bit old, but I’m “trolling” your blog to gain knowledge. I’m a new stay at home mom with a degree in graphic and website design. I took a job with a large construction company after the economy kind of tanked in my hometown of Montana. I only have about 2 years of actual design work under a creative designer, and I’m finding your blog to be very helpful in this new season of life. Thanks for all the insights and experience you’re sharing!

    • Hi Jenny, thank you for reading through the archive of posts and for sharing your story. I’m glad you’re finding the content here helpful. :)

      If you ever have any unanswered questions along the way, please feel free to reach out. I’m always happy to help as best as I can. Best of luck with everything!

  • Great article! Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Very informative and helpful.

  • urbansoulmag

    Hello Brent, someone used my logo on a bunch of his pictures on social networks. I’d like to eventually report his page if he doesn’t stop using it. It seems to me that I should file a trademark infringement claim on Instagram but it’s only for registered companies? Do you think I could file a copyright infringement claim instead? Thanks. (And your article is already quite helpful btw!)

    • That’s unfortunate to hear. Having your work stolen – especially your own brand – is the worst. I’m not entirely sure of Instagram’s infringement terms, but it never hurts to look into it or submit a request. If you have proof that it’s your logo (and if it’s officially trademarked, the better), then you might have a claim.

      Unfortunately these type of things take time and lots of (wasted) effort. If they pose a serious threat and are making money using your brand, then it’s worth looking into taking serious action.

      I’m not a legal expert, so there’s not much else I can suggest. I hope this helps, and I really hope you get things sorted.

      Best of luck!

      • urbansoulmag

        Thank you for your reply! In the meantime, thanks to your advice in this post, I managed to fix the problem more peacefully as in a less drastic way :)

  • I’ve been browsing your blog and moments after reading this article I came across a guest post by Sam Berson, being a curious person I checked out his website and noticed his logo is very similar to yours. It’s blue and uses a different letter, but essentially the same.

    I don’t want to go pointing fingers considering he is a guest blogger, and maybe you even designed his logo. Just thought it was odd to see a logo so similar only moments after reading this.

    • Hi Shaylee, Sam and I keep in touch quite often, and he actually got my approval on that a while back, so no worries there.

      In the end there’s a major difference from similar in style vs. blatant copies (like the example in this post). If someone copies my logo, I first determine if it’s a threat to my brand. Is it an exact copy, similar in style, and is that going to affect me? From there I decide to take action. Honestly, most often, it’s not worth the stress and effort. Unfortunately I get a lot of people that steal my content, work, and even website. I’ve learned to choose which is a threat, and when to take action.

      Regardless, I appreciate you letting me know. :)

  • Stewart reading-Brown

    This is a great article. I’m actually in a situation where I created a piece for someone and they have reproduced one of the concepts I offered and are using it on their website, essentially they have 2 logos I created (1 genuine, 1 rip off copy). Not sure how to approach it though as I am just starting out.

  • HedgehogLemur

    Thanks for the information about the DMCA Takedown and Google Support. I
    didn’t realize that was an option. I’m in a legal battle at the moment.
    As a freelancer I do not do work as a “work for hire” so that I can
    retain the rights to my designs and choose whether to sign over the
    rights or not. I was hired to create a logo and business card for
    someone and they have formally Trademarked the logo with the State. The
    thing is, I still own the rights to this logo. I offered to sign over
    the rights, for free, but they are refusing to sign the paperwork that
    will then give them those rights to the logo. It’s the strangest thing.
    Most people WANT to own their logo rights, but this person wants to own
    the Trademark but won’t sign the transfer of rights paperwork? It makes
    absolutely no sense. So now I’m in a current court battle with this
    person and now will need to file yet another lawsuit against this person for the
    Trademark violation. Has anyone ever heard of someone doing such a
    thing?

    • PS7

      I’m interested in how your process has been so far?! I have had the EXACT same situation happen to me, except they have not responded to me at all! Please let me know an update and any suggestions you have from what you have learned so far.

  • Tamera Fall

    Several years ago I did logo mockups for an Association and when they had a new Executive Director I shared him the the design mockups knowing he wanted to make some changes as well as show what I could do in hopes of continuing a contracting relationship. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. When I was cleaning up some bookmarks, I happened upon their site and I was shocked at what I saw. They are using one of the logos I provided in the mockup. The only difference is a different color scheme but the same color scheme in other examples proposed and all upper case for their association name. I never in my wildest dreams thought they would use the logo from the PDF file. Have you or anyone else ever had any experience with customers stealing mockups?

    • Hi Tamera, that really sucks. I’ve never had a client directly take something I made and run, but that’s because I have a process in place to help prevent things like this from happening. In a nutshell: I always require a downpayment before I start the design process. Otherwise, I would never send useable design files like PDFs or large images. And if the client still finds a way to rip the logo, well there’s not much you can do. They’re just unprofessional, and someone you should want nothing to do with. In your case, there’s not much you can do other than prevent it from happening in the future.

      Here’s a link to an article I wrote which covers in depth how I get paid on time, every time: http://yourfreelancecareer.com/how-to-set-your-freelance-rates-and-never-get-ripped-off-again/

      Hope this helps!