Copycat, Copycat, When Will It End?

The internet is an insanely powerful tool; it can do so much good, but it can cause great harm, too. Something that runs rampant on the internet is copyright infringement. As anyone who has ever published any type of copyable content on the web knows, it happens, it’s inevitable, and you could spend your whole day attempting to police it.

There is the day-to-day problem of individuals republishing your content on their blogs, social networks, and the like. It’s annoying, but it’s probably not severely damaging and less likely done with real harm intended. It’s not good. Copy and paste is your friend, but don’t forget to copy and paste the source of your content, too (and make sure you’re allowed to take such content and republish it). This is why I do appreciate things like Pinterest’s bookmarklet that automatically grabs the source so you can share easily but still attribute the work to the original author.

But there are more serious violations, and it happens when brands and corporations, who should know better, do so. About two years ago, e.l.f. cosmetics sent out a newsletter to their subscribers. I had several readers forward me the newsletter, because there was an unauthorized photo of my eye used in it (you can actually still view here. It sucks to have it copied without permission, but it sucks even more beceause the photo didn’t use any e.l.f. products and therefore I felt it was very misleading. e.l.f. also has at least two instances of using my images on their website (under Beauty Tips here for “Island Glow” and “Has your beautician messed up your eyebrows?”).

It took around six weeks to get a response out of e.l.f. regarding the newsletter image usage, and they apologized and said it was a mistake. Except, you know, that it was done twice more on their website, and those instances were never, ever addressed by the brand and despite the steps I’ve taken, they remain there. (It is, for the record, probably likely that whoever is in charge of sourcing the images did a Google Images source and copied and pasted willy-nilly.)  These are the reasons why I do not feature e.l.f. on Temptalia; e.l.f. as a company needs to accept responsibility for the actions of their employees or design teams and remedy them, not ignore or perpetuate those activities.

Swatch & Learn and The Swatchaholic have recently experienced something similar: Sinful Colors (nail polish brand available at mass) used their images without permission and published them in promotional pamphlets (and neither of them used Sinful Colors in their images!). Parent company Revlon recently addressed this matter this morning seemingly only a day or so behind when the incident was discovered–which is pretty quick for a major corporation like Revlon. What resolution Revlon works out with the individual bloggers is their matter, and ultimately what makes each blogger feel whole again is also their matter. (I just became aware of this incident this AM when reader Athena asked me about it and was starting to write something when Revlon posted on their Facebook.)

In all likelihood, somebody working on the pamphlet is at fault, and that person is hopefully found out and learns their lesson. I can’t imagine the CEO of Revlon sitting at their desk going over something as minute as promotional imagery used in a subsidiary brand, can you? But it does speak to the larger issue of how easy it is to use someone else’s work and pretend like it’s yours or that you have the rights to it.

Education of what you can and cannot do with other people’s images/content is what’s going to prevent future incidents like these. This is not legal advice (speak with your legal team/lawyer if you want to understand what is and isn’t copyright infringement).  When it comes to the etiquette of republishing content, the bare minimum is to provide a link to the original source and some indicating that they’re the actual source. If it’s somebody’s 100% original content, say a blog post and photos, it is unlikely that it’s okay for you to take the whole thing and put it on your blog. You might consider sharing an image or an excerpt from the post and then linking to it, so that people read and visit the original author’s site. You wouldn’t take someone else’s image and put your own watermark on it.

Brands need to make their teams aware that taking images without permissions is not allowed and it’s a bad practice (which could potentially cost them money, least of all customer loyalty).  I plead with brands to take five minutes to ask permission and work out those details, because getting caught is so much worse.  Instead of using Google Images and taking whatever you see of there (which is NOT your stock photo library!), cough up a few bucks for stock photography or use Compfight and look for images with the right permissions.

Update @ 7/26: I received this yesterday afternoon, but I just received permission to republish it this morning. e.l.f. reached out to be with this email:

Christine, My name is Joey Shamah and I am the CEO of e.l.f. cosmetics. I am writing in response to your blog “Copycat, Copycat when will it end” – We are in agreement that intellectual property is sacred and should not be reused and misrepresented by companies or individuals. We also concur that as companies grow and workload gets divided, it is not expected of all executives to review all creatives that the company puts out.

That being said, I can only apologize if an outsourced creative designer unethically took your images and misrepresented them as our own. I can assure you this that actions like these are not condoned by the company and we have built our business with fair and just business practices.

Regarding your decision on not featuring elf, I would ask that you reconsider – although I understand if you dont. I would hate for your readers and followers to miss out on a great brand because of the action of one individual. Thank you for your time


P.S. – all images have been taken down from our site – the email link you sent is being taken down momentarily. we are contacting our ESP provider to make sure it is removed asap.