Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? That’s what we were taught in grade school. Even before I started a blog of my own, I imitated my favorite style bloggers and drew major inspo for my sorority dance outfits and spring break packing. The goal of content creators is to move you and inspire you (I hate to say influence, but that, too.)
But what happens when someone goes from drawing inspiration from your content to copying it?
I had heard horror stories about copycats from friends in the industry, but when the news story about two feuding Chicago women broke last year, the problem was finally being talked about without whispering. Who could forget the “blogger drama” that made its way to news outlets over the world, when both women alleged the other of copying her Instagram feed? It brought me more questions than answers: What qualifies as my intellectual property? What can I do when someone else uses my intellectual property? How do I make sure I don’t accidentally use someone else’s? Intellectual property was just a term we used in business classes in college!
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, intellectual property “refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”
If you are a blogger, that means that an awful lot of what you do is YOUR intellectual property, and someone copying your content technically is using your intellectual property and claiming it as their own. Here are some stories from bloggers whose intellectual property has been copied.
When I first started blogging I had a girl who used to copy my posts and then swap in her own affiliate links. Found out about it one day when I saw lots of affiliate traffic coming from HER blog — she’d accidentally left one of my links in her copycat post.Thea domber, effortlesslywithroxy.com
About a month ago, I took a trip to San Francisco and wrote up a travel guide post, full with a ton of hotel, food, and activity recommendations. For those that don’t know, travel guides take the longest of all my posts to plan and write- first comes doing initial research for every recommendation, planning outfits + shooting photos, then writing the actual post, and organizing everything in a way that would be helpful to readers. Moral of the story is, it takes a LOT of work to put one of these up. After I posted the guide I got a DM from this blogger I know saying that she would definitely be using my post for her trip to SF in December. I responded with, “Amazing! Can’t wait to hear all about it.” Fast forward a month, and I go on Instagram and see that she has posted her SF travel guide. I was curious to see which places she visited while in town, so I go to check out her blog post and was so shocked at what I found. Half of the places I had shared were included in the post, with no credit given whatsoever, even for specific restaurant recommendations that took forever for me to find. On top of that, this blogger included the exact same hotel recommendations I had included in my post, with the description saying “hotels near Fisherman’s Wharf. The funny thing is, one of the hotels I had included was a recommendation from a friend and is actually nowhere near Fisherman’s Wharf, so evidently she didn’t do any research on her own. She also goes on to share secret photo locations I shared in my own post, with no mention of it being a recommendation anywhere in the post. All of that said, it is extremely frustrating, especially as a small blogger to see your work being copied with no recognition. Let’s be clear- we all get inspiration from our own ways, sometimes even from other bloggers. However, stealing others’ thoughts and ideas is not only immoral, it is illegal. Creating content isn’t always an easy job, and it’s aggravating seeing fellow bloggers take credit for intellectual property that is not theirs to take. Isn’t the whole point of blogging to have a CREATIVE outlet?Summer lee, withlovesummer.com
Shortly after my blog launched and gained some traction, a girl reached out to me and asked for my help in starting her own. After sharing a wealth of knowledge, I was shocked to find out that, when her blog launched a few weeks later, she had stolen my blog name and even copied some of my content. She eventually took it down and gave up blogging altogether. This experience helped me make the clear choice to begin offering small business and blog consulting services. I’m a big believer in helping others, but your knowledge and personal research is too valuable to hand out to every person who asks!sarah caton, spaceplaceandsoutherngrace.com
My story is much like the others. I have experienced people reposting my images without crediting me, swapping out my link on Pinterest pins for theirs, copying and pasting sentences from blog posts, etc. Not all of these were done by bloggers – some were done by brands. I am extremely happy to report that most of the bloggers had no idea that they were in the wrong and were EXTREMELY apologetic! This is why I think education on this matter is so important, especially as influencer marketing continues to grow.
If we are seeing our intellectual property being used, are there any forms of legal action we can take? Lawyer and blogger Brittany Stevens says, “There are not a lot of legal options at this point as this is such a new and evolving area of the law. I would recommend having copyright notices on your site and if someone copies your blog post on their blog, for example, email them directly to let them know you are aware. Perhaps it is an innocent mistake, perhaps they are deliberately copying. A lot of times by emailing and making that initial contact that scares the person – and they are likely stunned that you actually took the initiative to say something!! I always like to start off nice in a ‘hey, I’m watching you and am not going away/not backing down’ sort-of manner, then resort to getting nasty, if need be.”
SO, I think our best course of action is to hold our heads high, keep creating kick-ass content, and keep the following in mind:
- Draw inspiration from your favorite content creators. I never would have developed my style had bloggers not shown me certain items were wearable!
- Give credit where credit is due. If you based your travels in a city off a blogger’s travel guide, just throw them a backlink and a “thanks to so-and-so for the awesome recs!” Heck, they may even share your post if you mention them.
- Ask questions if you are unsure of what you are doing with regards to a post. I had someone reach out to me and let me know they loved my Mexico travel diary and were going to try to get a similar beach shot – they then asked if I would like to be tagged in the photo to show credit. However, since the photo was nothing revolutionary at allllllll (like how many “girl turned away from camera on beach” photos have you seen? a million? cause same) I told them not to worry at all 🙂
- Add a copyright notice to your site.
- Get in contact when someone else takes your content and claims it as their own without giving you credit. I was a little hesitant to approach a large brand who reposted my image without crediting me, but at the end of the day, it was MY content! They ended up tagging me after I emailed their social media manager.
- Keep one another responsible. My friend Olivia had shared a photo with me months prior that fit just perfectly with my IG feed last week, and I reposted it. Another friend of mine asked me where I took that photo, and I realized I had forgotten to tag Olivia! Had she not texted me and given me a reminder, I would not have properly given credit.
- Exactly copy an image, piece of writing, or video. This is plagiarism.
- Try to pass off someone’s work as your own. If you repost an image, make sure to give credit through a tag in the photo or caption. If you are unsure of the source, use something like “pic from Pinterest” in the caption to show it’s not your original content.
- Be afraid to stand up for yourself and your amazing content.
- Assume that the other person is intentionally and maliciously copying your content.
- Beat yourself up if you’re reading this post and thinking, Holy crap, I 100% have been guilty of this! We are all human and make mistakes. I’m positive that all of us along the way have accidentally used someone else’s intellectual property incorrectly solely because we didn’t know better, which is why education is so important!
Let’s all agree to hold one another accountable and support one another in our content creation journeys. I love all the empowering and beautiful women I have met through this industry, and when we lift each other up, amazing things can happen!