Competition, Copyright, and Copy Cats. A positive spin on clawing your way through the industry.

 I’ve come down with a serious case of writer’s insomnia.  I wake up at the ungodly hour of 3am with what Shaun lovingly calls “racing mind syndrome.”  I used to chalk it up to worry and struggle to fall back asleep until 6am, when I would begrudgingly roll out of bed with a chip on my shoulder.  These days, I realize it is part of my crazy creative process.  So?  I’m writing a book.  Hold the laughter.  I can hear it, and it’s not nice!

In the meantime, I have all of these topics swirling through my head and I want to share them with you.  I’ve realized in teaching workshops that I can’t possibly share everything I’ve learned (and am still learning) about beating the odds in this insane industry in just 3 days.  So after you come meet us in person (by signing up right here!), you can keep in touch with me on our learning website.  I’ll be blogging (at 3am), answering FAQ’s, writing newsletters (join the list) and writing my book.  I still hear the laughter.  Tisk, tisk!


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So my first topic today is a hot one.  Grab some ice water, unbutton your shirt, and enjoy!


Competition.  Yup.  I have a lot to say about it.  One of our biggest FAQ’s is, “Heidi, doesn’t it piss you off when people copy you?”  The truth is, I don’t care anymore.  Really.  But, I did once and I want to share how I got over it because it was LIFE CHANGING.


First, lets define the two types main types of copying.


There is the illegal kind, AKA Copyright Infringement.  This is a NO-NO.  When someone uses or displays a photo you have taken, or steals text or content from your written work without your consent or crediting you, it is Copyright Infringement.  Be it another photographer, an etsy shop, a blog selling cat food, or your client’s great grandmother…. it’s all the same.  Displaying or reproducing your photography or copy without your consent is illegal over here in America.  With the advent of Social Media and especially Pinterest, the lines have become heavily blurred and frankly it can become a full time job to keep up with it.  I sure as heck know I don’t want to invest all of my energy into this aspect of my business.  If you are confronted with copyright infringement, my best advice is hand the whole thing over to your lawyer.  Send them the websites and let them handle the rest.  Don’t have the money for a lawyer?  Then you need to reexamine your business plan, and we’ll talk more about that in another post.  Does it stink that some loser stealing your work is costing you legal fees?  It sure does.  Coming from experience, I can tell you the sooner you chalk it up to a Cost of Doing Business, the better.


I’m not giving thieves a free pass here.  I like seeing a thief punished just as much as you.  If you want your daily dose of industry drama, there are some fabulous websites out there trying to combat this problem head on.  Check out the site PS Don’t Steal.  Sometimes I grab some popcorn and read the comment section of sites like this.  That shit can get REAL!


Is there anything you can do to protect yourself against this type of theft?  Yes.  The first thing you should do is register your work with the Federal Copyright Office.  Peter Krogh wrote a very informative article HERE.  Another thing that will help protect you and your clients from image theft is to watermark any image that you upload to the web.  We released ONE unwatermarked photo to a vendor back-in-the-day and it was our most stolen image ever.  The darn thing is even pinned on one of Pottery Barn’s inspiration boards with no credit or link back to HHP anywhere!  Bummer dude.  I’m sure it’s selling millions of pettiskirts all over the world.  And I haven’t seen a dime.  Forgiveness.  Let’s move on.


The second kind of copying is just plain old copycatting.  This feels even slimier.  Is “slimier” a word?  Copycatting isn’t illegal because they haven’t taken your EXACT photo or text, but they’ve taken what you have created and altered it ever so slightly so that it flies under the radar of being illegal.  I’m talking like the same exact photo except for the fact that they couldn’t find the same human being to sit in it. Or whole paragraphs of text with one or two words changed. Nasty right?  Well, as I’ve learned from my lawyer and the expensive bill he sent, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about someone copying your entire business, all of your shoots, and even trying to poach your customer base.  Stinks like the landfill in Johnston on a balmy summer night, right?  (Side note, “balmy” is our new favorite word at the studio.)


Here’s my big life lesson:  Get over it.  I know what you’re saying.  “Heidi, I don’t want to get over it.  I’m infuriated.  This is my livelihood.  What they are doing is WRONG.  They are stealing everything from me.  I’m fighting back!”


There are always many solutions to a problem and I’m not saying any particular way of dealing with competition or creepers is wrong.  I’m simply going to share what worked for me and how it changed my life.  Cue angels singing.


When another business is doing something illegally, it isn’t right.  After kindly requesting that they take down the photo or text, we hand it over to our lawyer who will then mail out cease and desist notices.  I have been stolen from many times.  Images from my website, my entire about me section, and portraits of my own daughters have all been ripped off.  Once I paid $600 to an etsy shop (who shall remain nameless) that closed up shop and never sent me my product!  I have had the power to publicly humiliate these people if I’ve wanted to…. MUAH HAH HA… but, I have chosen a different path.  Not because they deserve it.  Not because I feel bad for them (I don’t, I think they are scum).  Because I deserve it.


I deserve to work in a positive industry and positive environment.  I deserve to be as creative as humanly possible.


I’m not sharing what has happened to me to complain about it.  I am sharing so that you know the problem is universal and we all face it from time to time.  I’m not coming from a land of rainbows and unicorns where difficulties don’t confront me.  I’m coming from a place of understanding the reality of business.  I believe if you can change the way you handle difficult situations, you might just see some better outcomes.


You see, back-in-the-day, I  would create just to stay one step ahead of the competition that was ripping me off.  I would actually make something and exclaim “copy that bitches!”  I crack myself up.


Then I learned.


When you create from a place of competition, you limit yourself.  You limit yourself to the confines of your competition.  I don’t want to be one step ahead of someone else.  I want to be the greatest version of myself.


True creativity is born out of an inner space of authenticity.  It is unlimited.  The more you look inwards for inspiration, the greater your creative potential will be.  The only way to hear that inner voice is to get rid of the outer noise.


So I stopped looking.  I forgave those that didn’t play by the rules.  I began sharing my gifts without fear.  I began to celebrate the success of others.  I finally understood that nothing I truly possess could ever be stolen from me.


And you know what happened?  My world became positive.  And I learned the greatest lesson of my life.  What we see in our world is a reflection of ourselves.  The industry we see is a reflection of ourselves.  Choose to see the good and you will rise to a whole new level.  Choose to be consumed by the negativity (which exists in every industry by-the-way), and it is a cold, dark world out there my friends.


So the next time a thief visits your world I challenge you to do this.  Take the legal action necessary, then pour yourself a big glass of wine (errr bottle) and call up a close girlfriend who can agree with you that this person is a acting like a scumbag.


And then, here comes the magic part, FORGIVE it.  Let it go.  Wake up with a hangover and go back to being the awesome, rockin’ photographer who everyone else wants to rip off!  Remember, everyone makes mistakes, and maybe before you were perfect, you made a few yourself.  I know I sure did.


Are you struggling with competition, copying, and copyright??  I want to hear about it!  I’ll be that girlfriend… I’ll go get the wine, and you can comment below and tell me about it.  Please don’t name names here though.  We’re keepin’ it a happy place!


Your friend,



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23 Responses

  1. Love this! I live in a small town where competition is tough. Every mom with a DSLR is a “photographer”. This is a reminder that I need to stop trying to think of ways to out-do the competition; I just need to focus on me and do my thang!

    I totally understand why someone would rip you off, you are UH-mazing! But there is only one HH, and we love her!

  2. Thanks for the post. I think it’s horrible that some photographers steal actual photos from photographers. They do a disservice to their clients due to false advertizing as well as their own business when they can’t deliver the same quality of product as the stolen images on their website.

  3. Girlfriend…GRAB a case of wine please! (& I don’t even like wine!) Please don’t send me hate-mail! Anyways, this article is on it! In my short time of being in this industry I have totally experienced the latter. And though I know the first topic discussed would be beyond frustrating, I almost feel it’s easier to deal with in a way because you can physically do something or at least try.

    The other..not so much. Copycatting is so personal & so beyond anything I can even comprehend. It just feels dirty & gross. Sometimes I really feel it’s just a nasty little game that others play to distract you from being you because of jealousy or some other ulterior motives. Add in this whole business of these people hiding behind being “inspired by others” and it becomes even nastier. People forget that being inspired does not mean seeing something & just trying to ‘one up’ the person. It’s not inspiration as soon as you make it a competition. If you see someone’s work & think to yourself “I can do that & I can do it better, watch this,” please just put the camera down.

    This is a popular industry & it is just going to keep growing. There are so many photographers, but there are so many opportunities to be someone’s photographer. We would be crazy to think it’s a competition, unless it is just with ourself.

    1. heidi

      Wendy, I totally agree with you girlfriend! I see all of the goodness this profession has to offer, and I think if everyone can focus on that, they will be SO MUCH more successful!

  4. Francesca L

    I can’t believe you wrote this at 3am! Love you and loved reading this during naptime hahaha! Such good messages not only about your work but life in general! Are you a motivational speaker on top of being a creative genius?? I think so…

  5. Jen

    This was awesome Heidi! I myself have at least 2 other “photographers” in a very close area that seem to stalk my page for new things that I am doing and soon after are posting the same things, from types of shoots, to contests and even model calls. I at first was so aggravated and now have learned to wait to see the results and laugh it off. Because of course these are the types that like to undercut my prices too. But hey you get what you pay for! And as a dear friend told me one day “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” author unknown! Keep up the great work. I think you are an amazing inspiration 🙂

  6. Magen J

    Heidi, thank you for such an amazing post! So inspiring and completely the words of truth in any business. Definately sharing and completely glad we’re not alone. Especially women we need to empower each other and celebrate each others magnificent gifts and talents. It’s been too many years of attack, compete, and repeat. So again I will be sharing your article, look forward to your book and just ordered your new backdrops from photoprop backdrop and floors……amazeballs! Congratulations on every piece of success you have and continually will have 😉 INSPIRATIONAL. Thank you for your creative awesomeness!!

  7. I’ve dealt with this first hand for awhile. Small town, lots of local competition, every mom that purchases a dslr is a pro overnight!
    I posted on my personal Facebook page a rant about the copycats, and how so tired of it I was. This led me a slandering post about my business on a crappy forum for people who have no lives.
    I was furious. Thankfully it was removed. All this and after reading your post made me realize it’s time to stop worrying about the others and focus on what’s important, my business, my work & ways to keep improving and creating!

    Thank you for this awesome blog!

  8. What a refreshing, positive (and entertaining) read. Thanks for pulling my focus back to myself and my creative direction. Of all the things that make me want to quit this biz, copy cats are one of the biggest downers that can suck the life out of my passion for photography.
    I’m with the others – totally impressed that this was a 3 am composition. You go, girl! So thankful for the mentoring and teaching opportunities you lend to so many through your blog.

  9. Holly

    What a GREAT read! My sister and I constantly deal with a girl who is completely ridiculous, over the top, even a little on the mental side with copying. It drags on to the point we laugh at how ridiculous it seems!
    Instead of following through with wanting to punch someone in the face, we’ve learned that you cannot change people, only yourself! So we focus on us and growing ourselves and it’s paying off! Thanks for the encouragement!!!

  10. Pingback : Secrets of the Super Photographer: How to be original when it’s all been done before. » Heidi Hope Photography Workshops

  11. I had one of these about 18 Months ago. It got to the stage where I would do a shoot, and within a week, she would have tried to copy it as close to identical as you could get. Even to the point where she would go to exactly the same FB pages to buy the exact same prop/backdrop.
    After being angry about it, and venting…with wine…my dear friend pointed out to me that this was a positive…they just wanted to be awesome like me!

    She has since blocked me from seeing anything on her personal page (we once studied together and were FB friends). Im happy I rose above it though and was able to find the humour 😀

    So happy to have discovered your page. Have a feeling I’ll be sitting here all night reading 😛

  12. This couldn’t have come through my newsfeed at a better time! I’ve had this *one* person who has tried to mimic nearly my every move in this business. From being extra vocal about never wanting anything to do with what I LOVE (birth) to specializing in it *weeks* after I made the announcement that I was. Even recreating personal images of myself and my youngest daughter. Borderline creepy… but ya know what? She will never be me and if the only “creativity” she has is to copy me (and others), that is her problem, not mine 🙂

  13. I loved this. Very well written. I just started photography and have already seen competition and I’m just over here like… I don’t care. But I love that you point out that it limits yourself if you stay with competition!!

  14. Danielle

    This article is exactly what I needed! Between the article and reading everyone’s comments, I am laughing out loud knowing that I’m not alone! Everyone thinks owning a dslr makes you a photographer! I have a copycat who seems to be all about stealing my ideas and trying to one up me! It frustrates me beyond belief and I’ve been looking for someone who understands. You all have made my life a little brighter! thank you!

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