I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about people copying others in the online world. People on all sides seem to be upset; those who feel they’ve been copied and those that think they’re being unfairly accused of copying.
Here’s what I think is missing in this debate; a recognition of what it is to be a human being. The most basic truth about human beings is this; we learn through imitation. From the day we’re born we imitate the facial expressions of our parents. We imitate the way they talk, walk and laugh.
In the process of imitation we find our own quirky way of walking, talking and so forth but essentially we’re all still doing the same thing (walking and talking).
And so it goes through every aspect of society. Trends are, by definition, a large group of people copying one another. And in the instance of trends, no one seems to have a problem with the copying.
Interior design is one of my favourite passions/hobbies. I love it. I read lots of magazines and I’m constantly moving my rooms around trying new formats and styles. When I think about styling a room, the very first thing I do is look in my stacks of old magazines. Specifically, I look for things to copy. I don’t think about it that way though. I think of it as getting inspiration. But the truth is, if I see a lamp or rug or lounge that I like, I will try to acquire that very piece or something very similar.
So where’s the line drawn between inspiration and copying? Artists, writers, dancers have been copying each other throughout the ages as a way of learning and refining their craft. In this sense, online entrepreneurs are following a well trodden path.
Of course websites and sales pages are a melting pot of potential problems when it comes to copying. Firstly because as a society we’re all learning together about what is and isn’t possible when it comes to web design. Design features come in and out of style and people follow trends. Just as we do with clothes and hair, entertainment and holiday destinations.
So when you’re creating your first website there’s one thing that’s an essential part of your journey; looking at other people’s sites. Inevitably you’ll find an opt in button or a photo you like the look of. Perhaps you’ll find a turn of phrase that perfectly captures what you’re trying to express or a way of structuring and promoting content that you think will hit the mark with your own audience.
Personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking that inspiration and then putting it together with all the other pieces of inspiration you’ve picked up along the way, and then creating something new and wonderful with it.
That’s exactly what Baz Luhrmann did in Moulin Rouge; he took a tried and tested plot line, used other people’s songs and came up with something completely unique. It could have ended up as a horrible mishmash of other people’s work. But Baz didn’t stop at replication. He elevated the entire experience to something new. Something that had literally never been seen before in film.
That’s the invitation for all of us I think.
So before you start despairing about other people copying you or becoming fearful that you might be accused of copying, here’s my suggestion for pursuing a path that’s aligned and in integrity.[Tweet “Unsure of the line between taking inspiration and copying? When in doubt, ask first @samnolansmith”]
For the copied:
For those who might be copying (or accused of copying, or tempted to do so):
That’s my say on the copying v inspiration debate and I’d also love to hear from you. Have you been in a situation of either feeling copied or being accused of copying and if so, how did you handle it? What wisdom did you glean from the experience?
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