What Would You Do If Someone Challenged Your Copyright?

Fleur-de-lis Firebowl sculpture

Supposing you came across a website selling works that looked very similar to yours. To you, it looked like a straightforward case of copyright infringement. So you asked the owner to stop. But instead of stopping, they took you to court, to challenge the copyright in your work.

And supposing that the way the legal system worked meant that you had to spend tens of thousands of pounds to keep your defence going — because if you ran out of money, you would lose the copyright by default.

Hopefully, you’ll never find out what that’s like. Unfortunately for John T. Unger, he knows exactly how it feels:

I need your help. My original art has been copied by a manufacturer who is now suing me in federal court to overturn my existing copyrights and continue making knockoffs. I have a strong case, a great lawyer and believe that if I can continue to defend myself, the case will be resolved in my favor. If I run out of funds before we reach trial, a default judgment would be issued against me and could put me out of business.

(John T. Unger)

John is an inspiring artist and creative entrepreneur. He’s also a good friend of Lateral Action. To learn about his amazing career, read the interviews he gave us at Lateral Action and Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Nonconformity.

To learn more about John’s current situation — and what you can do to help him — visit this page on John’s blog.

EDIT: Good news! John’s case has now been resolved. But as he points out, this is an issue that concerns all creative professionals, since our intellectual property is often our biggest business asset, so it pays to consider what you might do if it happened to you.

Oh, and make sure to follow John on Twitter. He’s a great guy, well worth getting to know.

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Responses to this Post


  1. I wish I could say I’m surprised. There are people who are hired to troll trade shows with a cell phone to photograph the work of exhibitors. The images are then sent offshore to be made in factories at a fraction of the price (there was an article about it in Crafts Report magazine a couple of years ago).

    The intention, of course, is to starve the artist out. David versus Goliath.

    This kind of thing makes my blood boil. I’ve had low-rent competitors try to steal designs right in front of me. I can’t begin to imagine how horrible it would be to see something mass-produced, and to have the thief try to claim my work as their own on top of it.

    I’m relieved to see there was a settlement.

  2. I don’t know what I would do.

    I predicted this would happen back in May 2009, when I had a blog post scraped and couldn’t get it removed.

    Hint: never put “SEO” in your blog post title.

    Check this out for related issues: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MathWorld

    I remember when this first happened. It was a huge stink. But he signed the contract. So it didn’t matter that CRC was acting in demonstrably bad faith. Case of killing the goose what laid them golden eggs.

    Our system needs overhauling very badly. It’s heavily skewed to favor the big players. My concern is that “SEO” will become so important that small players will completely drop off the SERPs. You can see this happening with the amount of spam served up already. No way I can spend as much $$$ as the big players. But I can write better quality content.

  3. Isn’t that how the legal system works? Whoever has the most money can draw out the process until the other settles.

    I guess the best thing we can do is consult a lawyer now and protect ourselves as much as possible.

  4. John says he’s reached an agreement with these AHs:


    I suppose that’s a somewhat happy ending to this story, which nevertheless sickened me. And we hear/read about so many of them…

  5. Wow, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be in this situation.

    A quick question about the legal fees: If you win the case are they returned?

  6. This is one problem many people can avoid with insurance. A simple general liabiliy policy will pay to defend those claims if you’re legitimate. If you’re going to run a business online you should treat it like a real business and protect it. Unfortunately, most don’t think about it until it’s too late. This is a very unfortunate and sad reality.

    There’s a good book called “Do as I say. Not as I did.”(if I remember correctly) that outlines dozens of stories (mistakes) business people made for us to learn from. One is very similar to John’s.

  7. Justin – it depends. If you win, you often get a costs order against the other side, who has then has to pay your costs and theirs. But not always – and it does depend on whether or not the other side has costs to pay.

    If you make a living based on what you create, it really pays to have intellectual property insurance IMHO. That means your legal costs are covered in situations like this, definitely worth the peace of mind.

    I’m glad to hear this has been resolved.

  8. andreas wedin says:

    I would probably be a bit grumpy and irritated. But I don’t believe I have any copyright and don’t claim to.