…that mediocrity can pay to greatness’.
I saw this on twitter recently in response to a blogger having real problems with someone stealing her content. As she says it’s the last part of that quote that makes it important, because the stand alone and more commonly used ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ has recently got me thinking – is it really though? Or is it just simply annoying, wrong even?
Since I got into blogging I’ve seen instances where people’s content has been stolen, copied and pasted literally from one blog to another but always on a big scale. Full time bloggers who have had a lot of success seeing content they’d written appear on rubbish replica sites, and a couple of years ago it was quite a big thing when one of them just ended up outing someone. Needless to say it stopped for her, but this is actually a much bigger, more widespread issue.
I never would have thought it would happen to me, a small hobby blogger that just likes taking photos. but it has, and when I’ve looked into it, it’s happened a good few times this year without me realising until now. I don’t for one second think I am the ‘greatness’ the quote refers to, but it’s bloody annoyed me regardless. It’s not quite on the scale of replicating full blog posts, which is why I’ve struggled to get my head around it. Does that make it any less wrong? Well I think just by writing this post you know what my answer to that is.
A few weeks ago I saw a few photos being shared on Instagram that seemed pretty familiar to me. Familiar as in hey I have one like that. Initially I brushed it off as coincidence, but then it kept happening, and captions too. Not only were the photos very similar, but I realised some of them were ‘inspired’ by content within some of my blogs. It was a mix of very similar photos to ones I’ve taken, but also paragraphs from my blog also being used as inspiration for photos and matching captions. There were about 4 like this.
It prompted me to look further into it, and as I scrolled back through their Instagram photos from this year, I found a further 6 or 7 occasions where photos I’ve taken have been replicated, or very specific details I’ve mentioned either on stories or in blog posts have then been used for their content within weeks after I’ve done it.
I realise initially this may sound really petty, which is an attitude I will go on to discuss, but I took screenshots and when you see them side by side with my own there really is no avoiding it, and it’s way past the point of being a coincidence. As DS Arnott would say, I don’t believe in coincidences.
I discussed this with a number of people that have varying levels of knowledge of the blogging/Instagram world and etiquette if you like, showing them the screenshots of both my content and the copycat versions. All agreed there’s no denying it so at least I wasn’t going mad.
It’s a really awkward position to be in and very difficult to know how to handle. You kind of think are they copying me or does that sound big headed if I say that? If confronted would they tell me to get over myself, or brush it off as nothing. Would it cause disruption and arguments within the blogging community if I were to raise it?
These are all questions I asked myself, and the last thing I want to do is contribute to anyone being outed or made to feel crap online. I’m also very aware that hundreds of thousands of people take the same photos all the time, there’s always saturation, overlap and similarities, is it really that big a deal?
Well yes it is when it goes too far.
It happens. In a world full of smartphones we all take the same photos. Particularly now with how accessible travel is, but you only have to look at the Instagram discover page to see similarities in all content types. Fashion, lifestyle, beauty styling, flat lays and filters. But every photo can be taken a thousand different ways, different angles, different lighting etc.
To be clear, I feel like It’s completely fine to be inspired by other people’s content, to better and develop yourself, but the main thing is to always put your own spin on it. Most people who take things like this seriously do anyway. I’m a big believer in looking at others for inspiration, what’s trending, what’s performing well, and what’s currently popular.
I have pinterest boards and Instagram saves dedicated purely to photos I love and strive to be even vaguely like. I’ve even recently started an Instagram highlight to share #photosiwishidtaken. I am all for sharing the creativity. The challenge is taking inspiration as a starting point, and always making it your own. Add to it, change it, or use it as a starting point to develop it into something totally different.
Is that not the entire point of creativity? Most creative fields involve a level of brainstorming, idea generation and mood boards that take what’s been done before to create something new.
But direct copying? No.
The value of creativity
I know that when it comes to social media many just scoff, ‘oh its JUST Instagram’. While that is the case for many, it’s also a really useful tool for so many individuals and businesses – especially freelancers, sole traders and anyone creative. I absolutely love this quote that sums up my thoughts on it perfectly.
People make a living using these platforms, and the value of what is created is therefore worth so much more than many might assume. While I may not rely on Instagram or even my blog for my main income, that’s not to say it doesn’t have any value or might become my main source one day. By ripping off my content, or anyone else’s for that matter it can have an affect.
I do work with brands, I do have relationships with brands and PR companies. What’s to stop them saying to me that I’ve copied someone else? Or choosing someone else over me because they think they are original? Especially when it’s so close to home and chances are very high that we would overlap.
What might seem like a simple photo, or nothing post, can actually involve a lot of work and behind the scenes effort. My lovely friend Laura Jayne designs once sent this to me. It’s kind of similar, and in these times we shouldn’t forget the value that people put into what they do. Even if it is ’just’ social media. To have someone cheaply imitate this is insulting.
A Credit Goes A Long Way
I can even understand that in some instances, there’s no avoiding similarities. How many itineraries for Paris must be out there? Nobody ‘did it first’. Also at blogger events for example, chances are everyone is going to get very similar photos of whatever’s happening or being showcased. I’m not even against this, I think everyone has different audiences, and creates in different ways.
But if it really is unavoidable, or you know deep down that you’ve gone a little too far with the similarities, a simple credit can go a very long way.
From my experience being a travel blogger, I use other travel blogs or Instagram accounts ALL the time to get inspiration and to plan my trips. I use so many sources and I really do try to share how or where I found things. I could only swim with turtles in Akumal and get there myself because of a blog I read – and they’re right there with a link back. The best brunches in New York? I got my inspiration from an Instagram account which is tagged and linked to. The same on Instagram when I went to a restaurant in Sorrento, I heard of it because Dannielle Lily featured it. So I made sure she got the credit.
To me that’s just manners. Laura from Proper Scrumptious recently stayed at the Principal Hotel in Manchester, and she included both myself and another blogger as she knew she saw our posts. She even called out on Twitter when she was writing it as she couldn’t remember exactly who it was.
Now I’m not saying everyone should always reference where they first read about somewhere, and I’m definitely not discouraging people from booking places or copying itineraries even in small blogging circles. That is the entire point of my blog – to hopefully inspire trips, activities and share information on the places I’ve been.
I love nothing more than getting those messages like ‘I’ve booked the hotel you stayed at after seeing you feature it’, or ‘I’ve saved your post for when I go to…’. Comments and messages like that are so nice to get, and they really help when justifying who and what reads your stuff. I know of four people this year who have booked the Time Hotel in NYC after reading my post.
But for me there’s a clear difference between that, and then taking it further to create content that’s basically the same, with no reference or even vague mention from one blogger to another.
How to handle it?
This is what’s caused me the most stress. I’ve asked on twitter, I’ve asked in blogger groups I’m a part of, I’ve asked people who I know have had a similar thing done to them, and I’ve asked people who work in a similar field to me. There is no clear way of how to deal with this, and I find it really frustrating that I’m the one worrying about it when it’s my content that’s been copied.
Some say to confront. But as I said there are actually quite big consequences of rocking the boat like this, and I don’t want to contribute in a negative way to that. I’m not quite at Coleen Rooney levels of savagery.
Other’s say to ignore it, but I think as I’ve hopefully demonstrated, there are a lot of very valid reasons why this doesn’t sit well with me either.
And finally, so many people roll out the ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ quote.
Well I’m not flattered, I’m annoyed. I value the effort and time that I put into what I do, even on the small scale that I do it.
So I’ve decided instead to write about it, as one of the suggestions given to me was to make it very plainly obvious that you’re on to them. Maybe it’s passive aggressive, but it feels like a middle ground.
If you’re reading this, this is my way of asking you to stop.
Some other blogs I read when writing this:
A great post from someone who actually did the copying, Wonderlass – My Biggest Blogging Mistake
My manager and equestrian blogger had a similar problem to me and wrote – Get Defensive About Your Creativity
I know I’ve also read another North East bloggers post on the same topic, she’s usually a beauty blogger but I can’t find it. If this is you please get in touch!