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Inspiration, Imitation, Plagiarism: When is it ok to use other bloggers’ ideas or material?

don't copy me.

This week’s Friend Friday topic is copying/imitation/plagiarism in the blogosphere. This topic was prompted because apparently there has been a craze sweeping the bloggers doing the 30 for 30 challenge for suddenly posing with umbrellas and for chosing similar locations as Kendi herself. And then there’s always stories of people who find that their content has been copied wholesale on another blog, or sometimes even a commerical publication.

On with the questions:

1. What are the ‘unwritten rules’ about copying content that we bloggers should all abide by?

The commonly applied rule seem to be that if you’re a personal blogger who blogs for fun and doesn’t earn any money from it, you can use other people’s photos in your posts as long as you give credit to the source, similar to the way the Creative Commons licences work. If you’re a profit generating blog, a commercial website or a magazine, it would be expected that you would get permission first, and possibly offer payment as well (even if not legally required to – see the comments in this article on Independent Fashion Bloggers).

As I understand it the legal situation is much more hardline, that you would always need to get permission, unless the person has labelled their content with a Creative Commons licence, in which case you just need to give credit, or signed away their rights in some other way like in the IFB Chictopia/Payless example linked to above.

Personally, I try to do more than the minimum when I use other people’s photos myself. For example, in this post on ways of wearing vintage, I contacted all the girls featured to ask them if it was ok to use their image in a collage. And all of them were surprised and pleased that I had checked first, so I don’t think anyone very much does that at all.

I do admit that when using people’s photos off flickr without editing them or commenting on them (such as in this post), I don’t ask first, though I always attribute the source and link through to the original photo. I figure that flickr does give you lots of options for controlling for how people can use your image, and if you don’t want your image to be reblogged and shared, you can always turn that option off, as many people do. I also keep an eye out for copyright statement so I know if people are concerned about this issue.

In all my time doing this, I have only ever had one person objecting, and several people have commented to say they loved that I used their photos. But I appreciate I am on somewhat shaky legal ground there and I think everyone needs to work out for themselves what their position is on this.

2. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But when is a post imitation and when is it copying?

For me, there is a huge difference between the two types of imitation mentioned in the introduction. I don’t think the examples of the props you pose with, or the locations you pose in front can really be considered copying in a meaningful way. That would be like saying that Kendi owns the idea of standing in an empty car park, which is just a bit ludicrous*. Taking someone else’s actual content in its entirety, like in the second example, is completely different, and clearly plagiarism.

Ultimately, I think it’s a continuum from being inspired by something to imitating it and eventually plagiarising. The more specific things you use/copy and the more closely the copy resembles the original, the more credit you owe your source.

I wouldn’t want to stop inspiration/low level copying altogether as this is how trends happen, through imitation and slight changes, and I love this process!

trapped.

3. Taking another blogger’s idea (perhaps for an outfit, or DIY tutorial) is pretty common in the blogging world. Do you think it is necessary to credit the original source?

I think if you can, you should always credit, or course. It’s nice and it takes two seconds of your time. And if it’s a really distinctive thing and you don’t and someone notices, it’ll be embarrassing.

However, if the idea is quite a diffuse idea and you’ve got it from somewhere and you don’t really remember where, that’s a bit different. I don’t tend to take much literal inspiration from other bloggers, because I have quite a defined personal style already, but assuming I had seen someone somewhere on a style blog wear a red dress with a waistcoat and black and white stripy socks (or whatever), and wanted to wear something similar myself, I don’t think it would be necessary for me to spend hours retracing my steps to find that blog again. I would just say that I had seen it somewhere and that it wasn’t my original idea.

Plus, sometimes ideas are just out there in the ether, aren’t they? Like recently, when I made moustaches on sticks. Obviously I don’t claim to have come up with the idea, I got it from somewhere, but where? So many people have done it, particularly since it’s Movember, so it wouldn’t be possible to pinpoint the one source of the idea. So I didn’t credit anyone.

4. How have you improved your blog by comparing it to other blogs? Have you made changes due to something you have seen others doing?

I have definitely been inspired by others’ blog layouts and designs. For me, it’s really interesting how there are fashions in blog design as in anything else. I have changed my layout twice, first going to three columns, and that was definitely because of Veronica Darling – I used the same tutorial as her to chop up my template just after she did.

Then I noticed that there was a definite trend for simple layouts and lots of white space about, and I liked what i saw, so I changed back to two columns with lots of borders and a horizontal tab bar. What I ended up with wasn’t based on anyone’s blog in particular, but definitely followed something that was in the air, everywhere.

keep breathing

5. Have you ever had one of your posts copied by another blogger or publication? How did you handle the situation?

I’ve never had any post copied in its entirety, and I would not be happy if that happened! It would be a difficult situation if you’re just one person without legal representation, and all you can do is email the person and hope that they’ll be reasonable.

I’ve had my photos used on other’s blogs every now and then, and mainly I like it, people have linked back to me and said good things and it’s been a nice surprise (noone has ever checked with me first). I’ve commented and said hi and thank you. I’ve also had my photos stolen twice by scary flickr tights and scarf fetishists, and posted to their photostream like it was theirs, and I’ve had to email them to take down the photo and I have reported them to flickr. But I take that in my stride and it was sorted pretty quickly.

A few times people have posted outfits they’ve worn inspired by me and I must say I loved that! I don’t think I have a very aspirational style, so it’s nice that occasionally someone likes something enough to copy it. So I would say definitely, definitely link back to people, and email them to let them know, chances are they’ll be very happy about it!

What say you???

Visit ModlyChic for a round up of the other posts on this topic.

photo via here

* just wanted to clarify that Kendi doesn’t claim to own that idea and as far as I know isn’t annoyed at others following her lead. I was just using that as an example because it was mentioned in the intro to the questions.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Linda 19 November 2010, 2:23 pm

    This is interesting topic. Where are the discussions happening about people copying from Kendi? I'm doing the 30 for 30, trying to represent my own personality and ideas, but I haven't noticed any outright copying by anyone.

    The Auspicious Life

  • Franca 19 November 2010, 2:30 pm

    I don't think there's a big discussion, it was just something that Katy of ModlyChic noticed when she set the questions. I'm not doing 30 for 30, so my only contact with people doing the challenge has been the photos of people already in my reader anyway. No umbrellas or car parks there though!

  • Linda 19 November 2010, 2:38 pm

    Oh, ok. I obviously haven't been following everyone in the challenge, but it seems like everyone is doing their own thing and expressing themselves.
    It's funny because I do joke about this topic. My outfit one day early on happened to look very similar to Kendi's. When I saw her post go up before mine during the day, I wrote a tongue in cheek post about not being a crook. It never occurred to me that copying was actually a 'thing' around the blogs.

    The Auspicious Life

  • sacramento 19 November 2010, 3:27 pm

    You are always inspired by other bloggers, but that is as far as it should go. I do not understand the point of having a blog to copy others…Do you????
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  • Alli XT 19 November 2010, 3:52 pm

    Hi Franca! Thanks for your comment on my post on the topic too!
    I agree w/Sacramento-what's the point of blogging if you don't want to be original? I like your points about inspiration vs copying. In the case of copying I'd mentioned on my blog the person in question makes their living as a blogger which is why I was so peeved. Im all for people borrowing or reporting great thought w/credit back but I fond it really suspect that someone who makes money off of their "innovative" and "inspiring" posts would wholesale steal the work of a smaller fish in the blogging sea.

  • Shallow Mallow 19 November 2010, 4:00 pm

    I think in today's world it 's hard not to copy. Everything has been done a million times before. The best we can do is do it in our personal ways.

    Jim Jarmusch says it all for me:
    "Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”

    Happy weekend!

  • The Waves 19 November 2010, 6:32 pm

    I think you pretty much covered everything that I would have said on the topic. I try to credit and link as much as I can. It is polite, and "the right thing to do". I don't really use other people's photos all that much, but I do get inspired by other people's posts. I quite often "borrow" other bloggers' topics, in which case I always credit and link the blogger whose topic I have discussed.

    Everyone in the blogosphere has treated me and my blog with respect, and I really appreciate that. I don't even know how I'd react if someone just outright stole something I wrote.

  • Veronica Darling... 19 November 2010, 8:25 pm

    Yay, yep, I agree with all of the comments above, and had forgotten the Jarmush and Godard quotes… VERY apt in this world now!

    I love that we both referenced each other Franca, that's hilarious!

    Overall, you've summed the whole thing up very eloquently! xoxoxo

  • propriatress 19 November 2010, 9:21 pm

    I think all your points here make really good sense…..I borrow, and I try to always mention where I got the picture…It is ridiculous to say that anyone invented standing somewhere to get her picture taken! Honestly, the world did not start with the invention of blogging or sharing pictures of what you're wearing today…
    Trends, events and fads are what make history….and…
    Shocking as it may seem, people have been drawing, painting, sketching, photographing and writing about themselves and the the things they see and feel……since the beginning of people…..
    😉

  • Terri 20 November 2010, 2:27 am

    Interesting thoughts about ideas that float in the ether–zeitgeist.

  • Style Eyes 20 November 2010, 7:59 am

    I get so many ideas and so much inspiration from other blogs but I would like to think that I always credit any ideas in my blog. In reality I suppose sometimes you don't always realise that you saw something and it gave you an idea. I do think that photos should always be credited and if you are going to copy a blog post in it entirety then what is the point of blogging in the first pleace.

  • Veshoevius 20 November 2010, 10:28 am

    "Plus, sometimes ideas are just out there in the ether, aren’t they?"
    So true! And I think that means more than just one person can tune into them and use them simultaneously and surely that isn't copying.

  • tess 20 November 2010, 3:03 pm

    As I've been writing essays this month I've had to sign forms that say I did not plagiarize or accidentally plagiarize. The idea of accidental plagiarism scares me, but it is a problem. I think this can correlate to the blogosphere as well. It is impossible to be entirely original. Our outfits will inevitably be a hodgepodge of what we've seen in Vogue, at shops, on the street, and online, hopefully its enough of a mix that you can't link it back to one source. But sometimes you do directly take inspiration from one look and at that point you should credit it as you would cite something in an essay. Sometimes we fail to see the comparison until someone points it out later- accidental plagiarism. However, ideally you're running a fashion blog to show your own style not someone elses. So if you occasionally take a cue from another girl's outfit that's okay, but if that's all you're doing then you aren't really blogging but plagiarizing.

  • emily 22 November 2010, 9:26 pm

    There's certainly a lot to think about here. I'd hope that I would always credit someone for inspiration when I'm making something or putting an outfit together and I'd expect others to do the same. If we don't extend these basic courtesies then the internet and the blogging community would soon turn in a pretty grotty place to be… x

  • The Frog's Eyebrows 25 November 2010, 5:00 pm

    I agree with your post and the J-L Godard quote. What's the point of having a blogging community if we can't inspire each other or even start a fad or a challenge just for ourselves. Sometimes I find that I'm wearing a similar outfit to one worn by another blogger that day or I find an interesting clothing concept from another blogger and I try my own spin on it. It's all good as long as you give credit were credit is due, which most of us do since bloggers have good manners. I have had one of my posts copied by another blog, but it was one of my screen cap posts and they did contact me and gave me credit and since I don't own any movie rights, I was fine with it. I haven't had any of my personal photos stolen from me, but I'm sure some of the creepy tights and sweater Flickr people have taken them, I just can't find them.