If it’s one saying I’m sick and tired of hearing it’s: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
A nice email is a great way to flatter someone. A complimentary comment. A cupcake. Money.
When it comes right down to it, “imitation” = plagiarism. Copyright infringement. Frustrating and stressful and often expensive to fix.
We’ve all heard those stories of folks who copied a blog post only to get completely shut down or bullied into submission. Cook’s Source is the famous one: Small-fry magazine editor, Judith Griggs, steals an article from blogger Monica Gaudio without her permission. Didn’t pay her, didn’t inform her the piece ran. Gaudio found out and contacted Griggos. The editor argued all internet content is free for the taking, Gaudio fought back and posted the exchange online. The drama, Facebook harassment and eventual shutting down of Cook’s Source is now the stuff of legends. You can read all about it on the Great Wikipedia or, if you like interesting writing, check out Gawker, The Guardian, or Reluctant Habits.
That’s not flattery. That’s theft.
What Exactly IS Imitation?
The Cook’s Source example is obviously blatant theft, but what about “imitation?” Where does one draw the line?
For the past six months or so, a fellow blogger has been subtly “stealing” my post topics, writing style (i.e. phrases I made up) and even blog headlines. She’s also ripped off a major designer and even the tagline of a popular blog for 20-somethings.
I’ve done nothing. I’m a chicken. Mostly because I won’t name names OR contact the blogger in question. Because I feel like, well, my content is out there to be interpretated, played with, etc. And also, I can bitch publically, but I’m not the biggest fan of one-on-one confrontation. ESPECIALLY when it comes to the internet.
It’s like recipes. I rarely see food bloggers who don’t list a famous recipe as the source of their inspiration. Granted, they site the source like good little bloggers, and, yes, I’d sort of like to be mentioned, but is that my ego talking or is that a legitimate and ethical expectation?
This post isn’t about me though. It’s about all the crap that does down online where people think they can just take whatever they want. Like some weird dating company using images from Hyperbole and a Half on their Facebook ads without asking or paying.
What’s In a Name?
More recently, popular shoe blog Shoeperwoman has had her NAME stolen. Not just the style of her site, the theme, the language, etc but some desperate newbie is actually calling herself Shoeperwoman and is in the process of trademarking the name, costing the REAL Shoeperwoman thousands of pounds and more stress than she deserves. You can read a great recap about the drama on her site.
Were these people never drilled on plagiarism? Even if you’re not copying content word-for-word, don’t you want to build success on your own creativity? Your own ideas?
So I ask you guys two questions:
1. How would you address someone copying/stealing/replicating/imitating your content?
2. My “Imitation Scale” probably starts at citing-a-recipe-as-inspiration and ends at Cook’s–Source-plagiarism, but I’m not sure where I draw the line. Where is your line? Have you ever had a copycat?
UPDATE: In researching this article, I came across this utterly brilliant blog post by Justine Smith on Outright. While intended for etsy sellers, the advice can apply to anyone who produces creative content. So if you’re having similar problems, I’d definitely take a read.