With an unpretentious freehand, a Canon DSLR and an eye for beautiful things, illustrator, designer and content creator Jasmine Dowling has an Instagram feed that’s like one long, scrolling artwork. After years of persistence, Jasmine’s inspirational quote posters have become instantly recognisable to an audience wider than her 185,000 followers, even when you don’t know who exactly is behind them – but that’s exactly the reason copycat accounts popped up everywhere.
“I love it when people take inspiration and start their own thing, but instead some people took my account literally and took everything,” she says of the more obvious impersonators. “There are accounts that have copied my work, my inspiration, my tile layout. They’ve gone through interviews I’ve done and they say similar things. Everything they can take, they’ve taken,” she laments.
Last year, [Jasmine] took on several large retailers – some of the biggest in Australia – for stealing her copyright.
And while it was frustrating (and perhaps a bit creepy) to see personal accounts imitate her style, it was when megastores started taking her work that Jasmine realised what was happening. Last year, she took on several large retailers – some of the biggest in Australia – for stealing her copyright. She won some cases and abandoned others. And as anyone who has been in court knows, the drain on resources was enormous. “I did less physical work last year than any other year,” she laments.
When it comes to major corporations, imitation is never as simple as flattery. “I grew such a personal identity along with my work. People kept saying to me ‘It’s not personal, don’t let it get to you, you should be flattered that this big brand is using your work on its tank tops…’, but you lose creative identity when it happens. I spent so much time building something that I thought was unique to me; for it then to be manipulated and copied – well, it’s hard.”
“I love it when people take inspiration and start their own thing, but instead some people took my account literally and took everything.”
Now on a mission to make sure the same doesn’t happen to other creatives, Jasmine has some solid advice for other artists to fight the good fight:
Know your rights
“A company offered to pay me royalties – for a product that was already being sold in their stores!” she says. “When I contacted them about it, they said they’d pay according to the production cost of each product – which is not how royalties work!”
In fact, royalties are paid on sale price and should be negotiated well before the product hits the stores. Of course, if you can afford it, you should go through your copyrights with a lawyer, but when you are just starting out, IP Australia is an excellent free resource.
Protect your work – or let it go
At the beginning of her career, Jasmine’s work was printed in a major newspaper without permission. When they denied it, she went to pursue them legally, but realised how much it was. She couldn’t afford it, and had to let it go.
“In terms of protecting your work, I think it’s always important to stand up for yourself,” she says. “But it can be very, very expensive. With one department store, it was going to be at least another 12 months of negotiation and I was being threatened with defamation. Every time I got an email or a voicemail, I’d feel sick. I didn’t want to create work anymore. The only thing I could do was let it go. I had to really look at it and think, “What am I going to get from taking this the whole way?”
“I have won cases, and after I won, I thought I’d feel better. I didn’t. There are companies that get away with it so much. They spend big bucks to try and make you go away.”
Eyes on your own work
“On social media, people develop a sense of ownership over other people,” Jasmine says about the accounts who take so much “inspiration” from her work. “I have to just keep putting the work out there. I think people take in so many images these days that it all just ends up in the back of their head.
“I now just block accounts that take my images too literally. Not in a negative way, but they’re not finding inspiration; they’re copying. Hopefully by not seeing my work, they’ll be able to create their own.”
Know when to pivot
“I’ve always been one to dabble,” she says. “I like to do different things anyway. It’s not fun for me to write single words in one style seven days a week!” And while lettering for commercial clients such as David Jones and Max & Co is the main source of Jasmine’s income, she also creates content for brands, collaborates with companies such as Sportsgirl, and has her online store. “I’ve decided I’m just going to pursue any interest that I have. Anything I do will be mine.
“At the end of the day, there’s only so much energy you can put in. I would so much rather put that energy into my work.”