Photo Booth Industry Copycats and Rip Offs
(Article originally published Sep 2015, updated Jul 2017)
Invariably everywhere you look in business there are copycats and rip offs and for the photo booth industry this is no different. They say that copying is the highest form of flattery. However the distinction which makes all the difference is are they copying a good idea with their own spin or blatantly ripping it off?
Then there is the level below this of simply stealing some of your content eg pictures and content but regardless of how serious or innocuous the level of theft is the law is pretty clear and you are well within your rights to protect your intellectual property. Copyright is nothing you need to apply for (unlike Trademarks) all you have to do is to be able to prove you were the original creator of said content and you automatically hold the copyright to that content.
The Different Types of Copyright Breaches and Other Infringements
- Images (the use of your copyrighted images)
- Content (the use of your written word whether in part or in whole)
- Trademarks (the use of your trademarked names and logos or something very similar)
- Business Name (the use of your business name or something very similar)
What can you do if your copyright or trademarks are infringed?
Unfortunately whilst the law is on your side the onus is on you to monitor, detect and deal with any infringements. Here is a list of things I recommend doing to protect your copyright:
- Use online tools like Grammarly and Copyscape to detect content theft
- Contact the offending site owners by email and politely advise them of the breach and ask them to rectify within a short time frame (eg 72hrs)
- If no response is received or the offending material not removed within 72 hrs send a follow up "Cease and Desist" advising they have 24hrs to comply or you will report them to Google and/or their ISP. You can find free online templates to help you formulate your own official looking cease and desist. This is much cheaper than involving a lawyer but will often have the same effect.
- If still no action report their site to Google via the Google DMCA page
- You can also report serious breaches to the offending sites ISP (use the WHOis search to find out who the ISP is) just search for the right process on the ISPs website. This can be a long and drawn out process but if successful you can get the site shut down until all offending materials are removed.
- If you have suffered financial or loss or there is a serious trademark infringement you may look to involve a lawyer.
My Run In With A Photo Booth Industry Rip Off
When we first opened our photo booth hire business in 2010 the idea of hiring out photo booths for weddings, parties and corporate events wasn't new. We had seen how much fun they were and we thought we would copy their great idea and open our own photo booth rental business. When we looked around there were really only two or three manufacturers world wide producing portable photo booths. No matter which one we picked there was already a company in place in Australia that was using the same booths so we would essentially copying them to a degree. So we chose what we thought was the best of the booths and bought a franchise with an existing operator who we liked making us a legitimate copycat of sorts but not a rip off which sat better with us.
In the subsequent five years we saw the demand for photo booths grow exponentially and with it came more copycats. For the most part they at least were smart enough to try and differentiate themselves with completely different business names, photo booths, offerings or target markets. But there were a handful that totally ripped us off. They would not only use extremely similar business names and the same photo booths but our website content, pictures and marketing resources word for word! Naturally this made us and the frachisor very angry but its very important to note that it's also illegal. There is a copyright law which gives rights which do not need to be stated to the author of any and all print copy. Unfortunately whether through ignorance, laziness or a will to be fraudulant this didnt stop or deter many of our new competitors. After discussing with a lawyer and Fair Trading it quickly became apparent that the onus was on us to “protect” our copyright. So many “cease and desist” letters were written to get these operators to remove the infringed copy. For the most part this worked very well but the stress and not to mention time and effort it took from us to protect our rights did get taxing as the interaction were generally not friendly no matter how we tackled it.
When we sold our photo booth franchise and started Photobooth Finder we did an immense amount of lead up research for about a year prior and knew we were the first in the world to have the great idea to create a photo booth comparison, research and enquiry directory and go live with it. Whilst we knew we couldn't protect the idea we wanted to protect the brand for the future. Unfortunately within days of putting our website live there was already not just a copycat but a rip off online. The only positive was they werent here in Australia but they had taken our website content word for word and many of our pictures albeit word pressed it into a crude website. Once again I was angry and writing “cease and desist” letters and talking with lawyers. This was unexpected and very frustrating. Pleading ignorance and unintended harm the copied content was for the most part removed and for the next six months nothing much seemed to happen on their copycat site. Meanwhile we had been working extremely hard and had attracted over 100 photo booth operators and helped hundreds of people find the right photo booth for their event. Then one day it appeared they had given up, their website was gone! Hooray!
Unfortunately the joy was short lived. A few weeks back something tipped me off and I found them not only back online with a new website but they had ripped of our website layouts and structures this time! It's hard to grasp how someone can be so blatant having already been caught out before ripping you off. It gives you quite the insight into what sort of business based morals these people have. Good ethics and morals should form part of every aspect of your life and business should be no different but unfortunately this is one avenue where some people allow the prospect of wealth creation to cloud their judgement.
So if you are a business person who has something original and/or unique remember the onus is on you to protect it. If you need any help be sure to contact your state Fair Trading office and/or seek the advice of an Intellectual Property Lawyer and be prepared to fight for your rights.
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Disclaimer: While every caution has been taken to provide readers with most accurate information and honest analysis, please use your discretion before taking any decisions based on the information in this blog. Author will not compensate you in any way whatsoever if you ever happen to suffer a loss/inconvenience/damage because of/while making use of information in this blog.
Photo Credit - Flickr
(Photo Booth Blogger: Justin Jowett)
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