… or, what to do when someone copies your stuff!
First: congratulations. If you’ve just found out that someone has copied your stuff, you are now officially an Influencer.
If that un-asked for title doesn’t melt the sick, anxious feeling in your gut, then read on.
You might be feeling distress mixed with anger. Anger at the offender for having the cheek to swipe the stuff you have sweated hard to create, as well as anger for yourself for being too nice, too open and too trusting.
I’m posting this today after learning that a lovely business owner and friend of mine has been subject to the second case of a competitor mimicking stealing her brand identity online this year.
I am a creator who strives to be authentic and original. I do not follow trends and styles simply because they sell or are popular (i.e. to gain follows, or raise brand awareness).
I enjoy putting a lot of work into creating various brand incarnations from scratch. They are build upward around me, from a core set of values embodied in me and reflected in each business.
In reality, it takes weeks for my concept to leave my brain, evolve experimentally, until finally culminating in a uniting, cohesive style.
And I like hanging out with other ethical, conscious highly sensitive business owners. They are my people.
So it comes as a real suprise when, on a few rare occasions, I have had a peer copy my style, blog posts or services.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? I imagine that statement rings true if you are a band and your fans all dye their hair the same colour as you after attending your gigs and buying your records.
It’s not the same when someone with no investment in or loyalty to you, walks off with the cream of your creative efforts.
In ‘the olden days’, i.e. pre-internet, it was less easy to copy. In this digital world, some people think that because it can be easy to copy and paste, or hand your stuff to a designer on Fiverr to imitate, that it’s fair game.
When someone copies your stuff, whether subtly or brazenly, your magical worldview and faith in humanity comes crashing down. As well as the pain you feel as a creator, you are left with an incredible sense of injustice and powerlessness.
Fortunately, I’ve only experienced being copied a few times in my self-employed career. But it hurt and I took months to recover.
So, I have a few nougats that might help you get back on your feet if this has happened to you.
Here’s a spiritual healing perspective on what to do when someone copies your stuff below.
CopyCat Cure: Contact the offender
If someone has copied your stuff (online or otherwise) the knee-jerk reaction can be to want to throw the metaphorical dummy out of the pram and all the babies out with the bathwater.
There are some cases when someone copies your stuff that are simply blatant – and outright lazy – on the part of the copier.
Essentially, you have to decide whether or not to bring their attention to the fact that what they have done is wrong and has had an impact on you, the original creator.
You may decide to approach them in a friendly way. After all, they may not actually realise that plagiarism is unethical: many non-creatives don’t. For example, people who copy and share other artists’ or photographers’ work without any credit on social media often don’t realise that copyright law exist to protect the originators of their work.
In more serious cases, you can send them a ‘cease and desist-style letter’. For more information on the latter, see the blog post by online marketeer Nathalie Lussier. You can also gain some practical legal advice from Suzanne Dibble’s SBLA if in the UK or Rocket Legal in the US.
The truth is that not all forms of copying are overt. Therefore, challenging someone when they copy your stuff in a subtle way, can feel like overkill. When someone copies your stuff in a subtle way, you can’t use a hammer to smash a nut. Not only do you risk damaging your reputation, that kind of confrontation can leave a sour taste in your own mouth while not actually accomplishing what you want to achieve. Such a person may not even admit to themselves that what they did was sneaky, so they will likely get defensive.
In instances when your options are limited, rather than trying to control what is going in the outside world, the answer to ‘What to do when someone copies your stuff’ is about finding an inner shift that restores your balance, composure and peace of mind.
CopyCat Cure: What is copying?
Some ethical conundrums from pop culture:
- Should Madonna stop J-Lo attending her pop concerts and ‘being influenced’ by her style or musicality?
- Should Marie Forleo feel territorial about her business (i.e. I got there first) as she watches online marketing newbies excel?
- Should Debbie Harry, Boy George or Gwen Stefani have felt excited or angry when their fans copied their signature look?
- Is Nicki Minaj over-reacting when she aggressively ‘defends’ her Queen of Rappers position, by calling out industry copycats?
And in order to be a creative success – people have to actually see your ‘stuff’.
Your stuff could be a brand, style, look, values, writing, poetry, photography, design, etc.
I believe there are two kinds of success that can be copied:
1) People see your stuff, love it and suddenly you are influencial. Many artists and musicians with great kudos have this definition of success;
2) People see your stuff, love it, invest in it and you are influencial. The second is when there is some monetary exchange, such as art/book/music/event sales, and mutual respect.
The latter is fair because the artist/creator is rewarded. Then if people ‘copy’ the creator, at least the creator’s basic needs are met and recognised.
CopyCat Cure: Are you an original or a copier?
As a creator, you are drawing on a well-spring of creativity every time you make something new from nothing.
You are in contact with the source of creativity (life force, prana, chi) within you.
The creativity you tap into is the same creative force that runs through that whole of humanity… and the universe. When you channel that natural creative force you feel alive, motivated, positive, inspired and excited.
At the same time, your personal experiences, likes, dislikes and tastes form a filter through which that energy is diffused and altered. You put your own unique stamp on what you co-create with spirit.
This is an alchemical process with peaks and troughs, valleys and mountains, euphoria and doubt (and even hopelessness).
Out of that process comes something very carefully crafted, which captures the essence of you and what you want to say to the world.
Ideally, this ‘thing’ or ‘final product’ (i.e. a piece of clothing, artwork, blog post, website, logo, book or photograph) will also be appealing to others. When you create something that is personally satisfying and also serves the greater good it can be said that you have found your soul’s purpose.
This kind of creative output is extremely gratifying because you have completely earned every ounce of pleasure attained from gazing at, using and sharing your finished piece. Any praise, acknowledgement or gratitude is simply icing on the very delicious (gluten-free vegan) cake. Yummy.
Therefore, it should not matter when you discover that someone doing very similar work to you has liked your creation so much they’ve taken parts of it for themselves.
But, it does.
Somehow it can really hurt.
Example: A shop owner takes great pride in the shop’s creative window displays; a new shop selling similar products opens a few doors down and imitates their style. Should the first shop owner feel upset?
I feel the difference comes down to whether or not your success has given someone permission to express something deep within themselves.
OR, whether the copier has merely felt a twang of envy, or even jealousy, and copied your stuff in a calculated way because they want what you have.
CopyCat Cure: Don’t blame the internet
Love it or hate it, the internet has changed the business and creative landscapes forever. A quick trawl of the interwebs is all that’s needed to see what other people are doing design-wise.
Rapid regurgitation of ideas and people’s hunger to jump onto the next big thing; searching for the magic bullet for success; the latest shiny object and wanting to stand out from the crowd, can mean that ethical considerations are rendered meaningless. Users ‘steal, borrow or share’ other people’s content without even thinking of attribution.
Social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest encourage this. While devious people take advantage by cropping out watermarks and claiming content as their own, you can’t live your life in a creative cave because you’re afraid of someone pilfering your best ideas. You just can’t.
A talented artist friend of mine won’t promote her work at all because she’s too afraid people will copy her aesthetic. When I challenged her about these crippling fears, she replied: “You don’t know what it feels like to have your work copied! It’s awful!” Sadly, her fears about being copied have stopped her finding people who appreciate her creations and are willing to pay for them. Her beautiful paintings pile up inside her house, never to be seen by the outside world.
Yet, I can think of a time when I was just starting out that I appropriated a designer’s work by borrowing the colours (yellow and black) and using a similar typeface to The Ragged School in London for my first website. I saw the theme in a graphic design book I owned. I just liked it – ironically because it was different!
Would the original designer have been upset that I used a similar yellow/black colour scheme and tyepface? I don’t know. I think that if I was a similar business trying to muscle in on The Ragged School’s market, location or if I was another service positioning myself within the same industry, yes.
As a moonlighting palm-reader with absolutely nothing in common with The Ragged School’s business, perhaps it was not such an ethical issue. But I recognise now that I took this action because I didn’t have my own style back then.
I didn’t have the creative know-how to make something polished from scratch either. That’s not an excuse.
CopyCat Cure: Be the best plum
If you are ‘inspired’ by someone online and thinking of using their ‘look’ for yourself, I suggest pausing for a moment. Think it through.
Absorbing too much other people’s lifestyle choices, colour schemes, adventures and filters can erode your own originality and voice.
When you are going into your own creative planning process I recommend limiting your use of the internet, especially social media, while you develop your own style.
It’s great to browse magazines, books, film and online for occasional inspiration, but I believe that continually being exposed to what others are up to business- or creative-wise is counterproductive.
The temptation is to absorb the superficial display of, for example, someone’s feed, and contrast their perceived progress with your own.
It takes the focus away from ‘how can I be the best version of me’ and replaces it with comparison. The latter is never good because it erodes your self-esteem and integrity.
I have stumbled across websites that look wonderful; where the creative output, social engagement and humble brags have left me questioning: Am I doing it right? Am I doing enough?
Additionally, too much time using social media correlates negatively with wellbeing and happiness anyway. (Just saying.)
Ultimately, being plugged into others in this way is unhelpful.
CopyCat Cure: Comparison is the thief of joy
[Quote copied from Theodore Roosevelt]
The grass is always greener on the other side: stay in lane and cultivate your own garden. If you are already gazing at other people’s work until you’ve lost all sense of your inner compass, you need to get perspective.
Have a complete break for a few days and go and climb a mountain or walk in the woods. You’ll soon regain your balance and composure.
Regardless, when someone copies your stuff, you can’t just blame the internet.
If you’ve laid awake at night, or ever had ‘the fear’ or felt crushed to the core due to someone else counterfeiting something you poured blood, sweat and creative tears into, you may also have to look inwards at exactly why being copied impacts you so deeply.
CopyCat Cure: Shift your mindset
The cause of any pain may be an earlier issue that needs to be resolved. There may be a wound that needs to be brought into the light of awareness to be healed. This might be something that happened when you were younger (i.e. boundaries being overstepped or not standing up for yourself).
Or scarcity thinking, where you need to examine your beliefs and blocks around abundance and universal supply.
The different potential reactions you could have come down to personal choice.
- What story do you tell yourself?
- What beliefs do you allow yourself to think?
- What fears do you allow to dominate your mood?
- How much progress have you made in your own self-worth, empowerment and self-belief?
You could choose to see ‘someone copying your stuff’ as a test.
It is challenge to make yourself even stronger, so that you really believe in yourself and what you have to offer.
Recently, I noticed how differently I felt in relation to this issue, compared to how I’d felt a few years ago when something had happened.
I am now doing work that is truer than ever before to who I am as a person.
It’s coming from my centre and that has given me confidence.
I decided to rise to the challenge and noticed that I felt compelled to improve my offerings, skills and presence. It was time for an upgrade, make-over and re-build so that my online offerings reflected a change in consciousness I’d already undergone.
So, in this instance, being ‘copied’ was a motivator: inside I new I could do better with what I was producing and expressing in the world. Now the gauntlet had been thrown down= and it was time to up my game, shed a skin, keep calm and carry on.
It may be that the pain and fear caused by being slavishly imitated declines if you continue to follow your true north without compromise or trade-off.
Finally, remember this:
When you are being your authentic self you know there is only one of you in the whole universe. It is therefore impossible for anyone to be an energetic match to you, your work or your creations.
Your people want YOU. And only you.
In conclusion, my message to you is this:
Don’t fall down a Twitter-, Insta- or FB -hole. You are enough. BE YOU.
And don’t be an –hole either.
CopyCat Cure: Rapid-Response Recovery Checklist
Your internal bases are affected when someone copies your stuff. You are not over-reacting. Practice self-compassion – for some time to come you will be processing stormy emotions.
Adopt extreme self-care to help you bounce back from any feelings of disempowerment, frustration and victimisation.
Tell your story: speak to supportive friends and colleagues who will help you feel less alone.
Restore your inner equilibrium and balance by spending more time than usual amongst the people who love and respect you.
See what’s happened as a spiritual flashlight, and a chance to uplevel your offerings, be even more dynamic and stay one step ahead.
Try my Heart Healing Meditation (It’s designed to soothe a heart that is reeling from disappointment or betrayal): Heart Healing Meditation.
You may be feeling creatively stung and in need of TLC, but after you bounce back you will be ready for your next big trajectory!
This is not the end.