CLEVELAND — A local company is calling out copycats and confronting a problem it's dealt with for years.
Greg Vlosich, owner of GV Art + Design, said the company's unique T-shirt designs are being copied and sold by online companies, as well as some vendors outside of local stadiums and ballparks.
"We spend so much time on our designs," Vlosich said. "We put a lot of creativity into them to make them unique, and I think that’s what people expect from us now is really unique designs."
That makes this copycat problem all the more frustrating. Vlosich said he's thankful for the company's fans and customers, who alert them to people passing off GV's designs as their own.
"A lot of times, they’ll report the people stealing them and stuff," Vlosich said. "So I think that’s the neatest part about it, is seeing how much people appreciate our designs and our creativity, and seeing Clevelanders kind of have each other’s back with us being like a local family business."
The company prides itself on original, one-of-a-kind designs. It's even part of the logo on the door at the company's Lakewood store. But with others selling those designs, GV is calling out some of the culprits on social media.
On Wednesday, a Twitter user posted a link to shirts identical to GV's designs, in a reply to a Cleveland Browns tweet. News 5 reached out to that user but did not get a response.
GV's brand new "Home Run Pitch" design, which was just released this week, was being hawked by a company on Facebook within two days of GV's announcement. The photos of the shirts each company was selling differ by only a couple of details.
The post from that company was no longer visible as of Thursday, but a Twitter user screenshotted it and tweeted it to GV. Messages to that company's Facebook pages were not returned.
"I think people who know our brand really look for it to make sure," Vlosich said. "There’s a lot of people, though, that aren’t familiar with us that just see a cool design on the street and stuff and want to buy it."
He noted that people looking to buy GV merchandise should "make sure it’s got the GV logo on the front, and then we always put our 'Cleveland that I love' or GV circle on the back, so people kind of know the quality of our product and just the quality of the material as well."
Vlosich said GV's lawyer will send out cease-and-desist letters to some of those copying the designs, though he acknowledged that "there’s that fine line of having to pick your battles on what’s worth really going after."
"In our mind, we just want it to be stopped," Vlosich said. "We’ve had a lot of people get bootleg products and they’re not the same quality, they’re not the same material."
Vlosich said in addition to online companies, there are vendors in the city of Cleveland who he has seen selling his designs without permission.
Dan Williams, director of media relations for the city of Cleveland's mayor, said that the Division of Assessments and Licenses is responsible for giving permits to vendors, which require vendors to remain in assigned spots.
Sergeant Jennifer Ciaccia of the Cleveland Division of Police said CPD officers work outside of sports and entertainment venues and check for vendor licensing, issuing citations when appropriate.
Professor Andrew Geronimo, director of the IP Venture Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, weighed in on the legal aspects of copying designs in a written statement:
“Copyright law gives the authors of creative works certain exclusive rights to use their art during a limited time. These rights include making copies of the art, publicly displaying the art, and using the art to make other creative works. The copyright act is a federal statute, and someone who thinks someone is infringing their validly registered copyright could bring a lawsuit in federal court seeking damages, an injunction, and potential impounding of infringing goods. Copyright law also provides for certain rights to protect creative works on the internet, including a takedown process that many online platforms use in order to avoid liability for the platform itself. While copyright law also provides for certain unauthorized, but lawful, 'fair' uses -- such as news reporting, criticism, and parody -- a court is unlikely to find that copying and selling similar products with a substantially similar design constitutes such a fair use.”