Are You a Copycat?
"If you want to be a creative company, you have got to be comfortable with and basically enjoy the fact that people copy your stuff...Just because Yahoo has a search box doesn't mean they're Google." -Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel
Alright, y’all, been thinking on this one for a bit.
A little over a month ago some of my work was copied. As in, I saw paragraphs of my writing somewhere else. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen my work elsewhere, but this is the first time I’ve seen so much of it just hanging out online with someone else’s name attached to it.
I gotta tell you, I was triggered. My emotions ran high. I was pissed. Indignant even.
I went and vented to my Mastermind Group. I called my mom (ha, but really). I talked to my business bestie.
Then, I had to simmer down a bit because a) I had actual work to do and b) I needed to question my indignance.
In the midst of this, because life is a mirror, two members in my private group program experienced copying.
If you share your thoughts and work with the world, there’s a good chance this has happened to you, too. And, if it hasn’t, it probably will.
I’ve since had a little time to sit with this and make sense of my opinions and emotions. After my last experience some questions popped up. Did I have the right to be angry? Why was I so angry? What exactly constitutes as copying? And, ugh…have I ever unintentionally copied someone else’s work?
Like so many things, this is a giant grey area with a few absolutes hanging out on the perimeter.
Wading past the emotions, the truth is, nothing is new. I mean, NOTHING is new.
Everything we consume has been inspired by someone or something else. Unless you were raised by wolves in the forest and were never exposed to a drop of humanity, art, or education, your work is influenced by other work.
Austin Kleon talks about this in Steal Like an Artist: “Here’s what artists understand. It’s a three-word sentence that fills me with hope every time I read it: Nothing is Original…Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of previous ideas…You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.”
Ain’t that the truth? Ever watch a brilliant movie and then realize the plot line is based on Shakespeare or The Bible?
Every idea we have, every genius “new” thought, and creation we make…they’re all influenced by everything we’ve ever experienced.
Kleon talks about collecting and curating ideas from the greats and blending them into our own work, creating a new, but not completely new, piece of art.
I can sit here and pride myself in the originality of my work, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought everything I shared wasn’t influenced by my mentors, teachers, coaches, friends, clients, books, culture, art, and my surroundings.
Everything is 100 percent me and from my point of view, sure, that’s what gives it an original stamp and keeps me out of Copycatville, but I am a walking, talking mashup (thanks Kleon for the word) of everything I’ve been exposed to up to now.
Most of the time we aren’t even aware of what we’re picking up and injecting into our work. We get a flash of brilliance and deem it our creative genius when most likely it’s our subconscious connecting the dots of what we’ve previously fed it.
After realizing this, I had to bring my indignancey down a notch because aside from the blatant copying, which we’ll chat about in a second, the other times I’d been “copied”…they were more my ego having a field day seeing bits and pieces of ideas I had shared…ideas I’m sure I picked up elsewhere…which is the very definition of “stealing like an artist.”
And, isn’t that the whole freaking point of sharing our work anyway? To inspire others?
It’s a little backward when we then get into a huff about said inspiration being used. Besides, there's a good chance we read similar books, watch similar movies, have similar mentors and teachers, and are thus both influenced by the same ideas.
So often I’ve written a blog post and have seen someone I respect write something similar around the same time. It happens so often, I make it a point not to read other people’s work on similar topics I’m writing about until after I’m finished.
Does this mean we’re all copycats, then?
“Stealing like an artist", as Kleon calls it, is a creative blender. The end result is an “original” with our thumbprint on it.
While nothing is entirely new, we put a fresh spin on things when we “steal like an artist.” It still requires thought, a fresh perspective, a different insight, or unique combination. This is inherently different from copying and pasting someone else’s work.
Being inspired and putting your mark on something is different from lifting an image, removing the creator's name, and calling it your own. This is light years away from changing two words in a sentence on a page of text and putting your name on it.
Blatantly copying is not “stealing like an artist”; it’s just stealing and unethical.
Let’s check in with the dictionary. It says: copying is to make a similar or identical version of; reproduce.
Taking something else, without altering it, and claiming it as your own is hogwash; it’s illegal, and quite honestly, it won’t do your business any good because most of us can spot a copy a mile away.
I’m not going to give the whole copying thing too much credence because it’s wasted energy.
If we know no idea is new, and we’re constantly inspired by others, how do we walk the line and “steal like an artist” instead of copying?
Get inspired, learn, read, watch, consume, listen and look to the greats in your industry and outside your industry and then find ways to make things your own.
Use your life stories; no one else has them, so you guarantee an ‘oirginal’ take. Find a way to make something better and elevate it. Mix a bunch of ideas together and make a creative smoothie.
This is where new, not-so-new ideas and creations are born. This is not copying. This is the very essence of being a creative thinker and creative: seeing the world in new ways.
Here’s the deal, if you want to share someone else’s work, you can just give some credit! Not to sound like your high school English teacher, but cite your sources and share away. When we share other people’s work this way, we give credit where credit is due. We elevate our own work because we show, "Hey, look, here’s some evidence that supports my thoughts." And we give a boost to the person whose work we’re citing.
Citing your sources and your mentors is win-win.
Let’s sum up this blog that’s getting longer than I intended.
Copying = Not Cool. Just don’t do it.
Being inspired and influenced = very cool, as long as you’re doing it with class.
Please don’t let the fear of being copied keep you from sharing your work. The idea is to influence and inspire others, right? Which means, the more you share, the more your work will be imprinted on others' work. It may sting a little, but remember, you’re doing the same thing.
This blog, for example? It’s MINE. My ideas, and yet, think how many influencers I’ve mentioned, from Auston Kleon to my group coaching members, and those are only the obvious ones.
And, if you find someone copying yo' shit word for word, say something! See above, NOT COOL. Know your worth, your rights, and respect your boundaries enough to say something. Please. If you want to ‘steal’ a page from my book, see it as an opportunity to own your voice.
But, please, don’t worry so much about your work inspiring similar versions. Keep your eyes on your own paper and remember there’s enough room for all of us.
Wishing you your version of success,
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