Asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property

Q: I sell items on Etsy with designs I have made on canvas or illustrator. Another seller is saying I copied their design

My designs is similar to theirs in layout but the colour scheme and main image are different. The two designs do look similar but not an exact copy. What exactly is copyright and intellectual property - similar or exactly the same?

1 Lawyer Answer
Will Blackton
Will Blackton
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Raleigh, NC

A: Copyright law protects original works of authorship from unauthorized copying or use. This includes original designs, illustrations, and other creative works.

Copyright law provides protection for original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression, such as a canvas or digital file. Copyright protection arises automatically when a work is created, and the copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, display, and create derivative works based on the original work.

In the case of your designs, if your designs are sufficiently original and were independently created, then you may have a valid copyright in your work, even if it is similar to another design. The key issue is whether your design is substantially similar to the other seller's design, to the point where a reasonable person would think that one design was copied from the other.

If the two designs are not identical but are substantially similar, then there may be a claim of copyright infringement. In determining whether two works are substantially similar, courts look at various factors, including the overall look and feel of the works, the layout and arrangement of the elements, and the extent of the similarities and differences between the works.

It's important to note that intellectual property law protects original works of authorship, not just exact copies. If your design was created independently and is not substantially similar to the other seller's design, then you should be able to continue selling your design without infringing on their copyright. However, if there is a concern that your design may be infringing on someone else's copyright, it's always a good idea to consult with a legal professional who specializes in intellectual property law.

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