What To Do About Copy-Cats?

For quite a while now, we’ve been flattered to see others create videos that appear very similar to ours. In many cases, these are positive videos that are used as classroom exercises.  We encourage others in the education world to create Common Craft-inspired videos. Of course, some producers have taken the idea in new directions and mediums, which we also encourage. Further, some producers choose to publicly attribute Common Craft for inspiring their work - and we deeply appreciate this kind of recognition.

However, we’re seeing a growing number of professional (and non-professional) video producers pass off the exact Common Craft Paperworks format as their own original idea. We often get email from fans pointing to these videos as “rip-offs??? or “copy-cats.???  We certainly see this point of view and are concerned about the potential for these videos and producers to harm our brand.  However, figuring out how to react is not something we take lightly.

As a small, open-minded company, we’re looking for good and responsible ways we can protect and promote our brand without discouraging those who are inspired by our work.

Here are some examples that concern us…

  1. A creative company produces a video for a large company that is heavily inspired by Common Craft. The videos are presented as an original idea and format and the large company is impressed – until they discover that the video is a copy of Common Craft videos. The producers are seen as copycats.
  2. Video producers post Common Craft inspired videos to YouTube.  Often commenters say things like “what an original format!??? or “you’ve figured out a great way to present information.??? These comments are evidence that others can take credit for a format we originated.
  3. We receive emails that say “I see that you’ve done a video for XYZ Company and I’d like you to do one for me.???  The problem is that we didn’t create the video for XYZ Company.  The viewer is being confused because we are tied so closely to the Paperworks format.  Often, these videos don’t represent the quality of work we do and the confusion is bad for our brand.

In these cases, Common Craft's reputation is at stake.  Other producers are creating videos that match almost exactly with our unique style and passing them off as their own idea, without ensuring the level of quality that people expect from our work.  It unfairly lets producers take credit for originality that is not their own, and lets videos of any quality be confused with Common Craft.  From our perspective, the problem isn’t copies, it’s copies without attribution.

We're not surprised, but we do recognize our challenge is encouraging video producers to do the right thing – to make clear the source of their inspiration and not be seen as a copycat.  We don’t want to limit a producer’s ability to make videos and a living using any format they choose – but we think it’s better for those producers and Common Craft if everyone is clear with viewers about Common Craft’s role in the process.

Some questions:

Is this a realistic perspective?  Is it fair to expect clarity via attribution?
What are the best ways to communicate our expectations, if it is fair?
What are other ways we can limit confusion without squelching the potential of those who are inspired by our work?