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creativity, coincidence & credit


Instagram is – for the most part – a really brilliant place. It has great communities and is full of inspiration and encouragement. BUT every now and again there are situations that aren’t ideal and I wanted to talk a little about my experiences and perhaps how (not) to deal with the odd bit of nonsense. Some I haven’t dealt with well so hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. Let me tell you some stories about creativity, coincidence & credit.

creativity coincidence credit

Not long after I started using Instagram, maybe only a couple of months, I had a comment left on one of my photos which said ‘my idea, your gallery’. My heart sank. Literally. After a small conversation with the person in question (there were no DM’s at that time so this was all on my photo) it turned out that we had had exactly the same idea, posted the same photo except for colours, and she thought I had copied her. I hadn’t, I hadn’t even heard of her never mind seen her photo which I explained. Then in a moment of stress I blocked her. She blocked me. She left a comment on the hub who had featured my photo (that was how she found it) and it was just ugly. Pressing that block button I’m sure made me look guilty of copying even though I hadn’t. Thinking about it still makes me feel uncomfortable now…

I’ve thought about this situation a lot since. How should I have handled it and what would I do if it happened now? You see coincidences do happen, often actually.

At the end of last year I had taken a photo for a campaign I was running only to see exactly the same composition posted a few days later (before I had posted mine) in a beautiful gallery with a LOT more followers than I had. I mean exactly the same, even down to the props we had used. It was difficult to be rational about this coincidence as I had to post on a certain date and we had interpreted the brief in exactly the same way. You couldn’t have made it up. I handled this one differently, maybe slightly better, but it still makes me cringe… I had conversations with a couple of good friends who are Instagrammers – who were brilliant I have to say – they reassured and calmed me down a little. I messaged the other Instagrammer who also said don’t worry about it. I took the photo again with rearranged props but still to fit the brief and posted it on the date scheduled, then the first comment left on it was suggesting it was the same as the other Instagrammers photo. This I knew. I had spent a couple of days worrying about it, had messaged the brand whose campaign it was and had cried a lot. But that first comment upset me. I tried to reply with enormous ineptitude and cried some more. The photo was on borrowed time from the moment I posted it because of all this even though I loved it, it is now long gone. To be honest though, I am pretty sure I overreacted again…

There have been countless occasions when people have re-posted my photos, more often than not without asking, sometimes with added filters which I detest or text overlaid. This feels not just like theft but also like they have defaced my photo as if drawing a moustache on a portrait with a marker pen. A long time ago this used to bother me so much that I would meticulously report each one I came across, would ask to have photos removed by Instagram. Oh they must have rolled their eyes every time I filled in the copyright infringement form… I don’t often fill them out now unless someone is using several of my photos in their gallery without credit, claiming them to be their own, or there is a very specific reason why I want it removed.

On a side note I think it’s important to mention another aspect of credit. If you are so inspired by another Instagrammers compositions or style that you take a similar photo deliberately, please credit them as inspiration. Just a mention in the caption or even perhaps consider asking if they mind (I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t). Not that I am suggesting you might and my ego is not big enough to believe that you will be inspired so much by my photos as to re-create them, it has happened to me in the past so I can say from experience that there is an awful feeling that accompanies seeing a copy of your photo appear in someone else’s gallery without even a mention of you as the source of direct inspiration. It is copying at best, feels like theft at worst and could be so easily rectified by a couple of words inspired by @xyz

I have invested a huge amount of time over three years into this app and my space there means a great deal to me. It has been a life changing, opportunity bringing thing and I absolutely adore it but it isn’t perfect. I have learned to step back a little and take it all a bit – a lot – less personally.

So I’ll share some advice and will try to keep it short…

– Keep things in perspective. For the most part you don’t know the people you chat to every day, not really. It is incredibly easy to misinterpret things online, if needs be try and get to the bottom of a situation before deciding on which course of action to take. This applies whether you are dealing with a friend or stranger. Speaking to people online takes away reference points such as tone of voice and facial expression and things are easily misconstrued.

 – Unless you have a really good reason to request they be removed, let the reposts go. It’s a back handed compliment of sorts. If you are lucky enough to be credited by the person who shares your photo then you have to weigh up whether it is worth making a fuss. Many people repost images, I guess in the way that we retweet on Twitter or pin on Pinterest. If you come across a re-post that hasn’t credited you then there are a few things I might suggest. A DM to them asking them to credit you/remove it would be the first step. Many times this does the trick and no-one worries any further. If not and you particularly want Instagram to take the photo down you can fill in a long and scary sounding form, search the help pages for copyright infringement and follow the steps. As I said though you have to make a judgement about whether it is really worth your/their time. Remember your photo is in your gallery first. The way I look at it is that as soon as you post a photo to a public account it is out there, no longer for private use but in the public domain.

– Remember, as I have said before, Instagram is a photo sharing app. World peace does not depend on it. If you have had a similar idea to someone else, or they to you then see the humour where possible. If we all look at similar photos every day inevitably we find ourselves inspired in similar ways. The photo I mentioned at the top of this post was a hundreds and thousands heart, oh so many of them have graced the galleries of Instagram, possibly even hundreds or thousands. It was not a masterpiece I spent hours creating, it was a 2 minute photo. If that. What I should have done was laugh it off and let it go…

– To block or not to block…? Let’s keep this really simple. The only reason to block someone is to send them a message that they are not welcome in your gallery. Remember that your photos can be seen on third party platforms and you will not be able to block other Instagrammers there. Blocking isn’t a solution to very much really. I have been known to block people, particularly those who consistently take my photos without a mention of me as owner of the image, but I am realistic enough to know that it won’t actually prevent people from using my photos if they feel the need to.

– keep in mind that the negative few are just that. A few. And thankfully they are far between. I hope you never have to deal with the nonsense and if perhaps you do, that you can remember that Instagram is one of the most positive online communities out there. Surely this outweighs the odd moment of silliness? Occasionally crossing paths with a person who wants to leave a negative comment is just a fact of the app. You can delete any comments on your photos should you wish…

I have deliberately chosen the photo at the top of this page because I know my friend Emma will humour me, we had coffee together, we styled this table together, she has already posted this photo (well the one she took) on both her blog and Instagram account. Sometimes we take the same photos / have the same ideas / share similar blog posts, not just Emma and I though. Parallels run across this online world, often unintentionally on my part at least. Instead of seeing it as a negative, perhaps it simply means we have a thought in common and we are inspired by similar things. This photo is a little nod to my own ridiculous reactions over the years and a lot of a nod to a coffee and a chat with someone who gets the behind the scenes ‘stresses’ of Instagram. And tea and cake always help…

I hope you can learn something from my mistakes!

Julia x


12 comments on “creativity, coincidence & credit”

  1. Lots of great advice here Julia! Honestly the composition thing, we all in end post relatively the same subjects, and trends and etc. Whoever told you off the first time around needs to chill! Lol

    1. This is so true Belinda, and the only way to deal with it is know that it happens and shrug it off hey? Life is too short xx

  2. Such a great post!!! And this resonated with me a bit as I forever have been inspired by other instagrammers and then reinterpreted what has inspired me into my own feed. I’ll admit my map pics came as direct inspiration from @5ftinf’s account – and Philippa knows that too! And for sure you, Hannah, and a number of others inspire my flower-related flatlay photos. I hope no one has ever felt negativity from that, as I also strive to be individual too! I think you’ve sadly been unlucky with negativity in your comments – what a shame that some people feel to be that way! And i’m with you on the whole not knowing how to react to things and blocking drama too. I’ve only twice blocked and it wasn’t done lightly. And yet recently a long time follower blocked me and I have no idea why and it is bothering me more than it should! I could go on, but I’ll leave it there! I do hope we get to have coffee and cake ourselves one day – we would have a lot to say! xxx

  3. Very touching post. I’ve had my words copied several times and twice by the same person which is a little frustrating but after much food stamping and pacing, my husband talked me round and said take it as a compliment or on the chin and keep doing what you’re doing.

    Tough but true. We just keep going. Elinor x

    1. Thank you Elinor, I can imagine how frustrating that would be! But yes I agree, in the long run you can’t hold onto things like copying as it is a reflection of the person who does it rather than of you. I find it so helpful to remind myself why I take and share photos and not to let this stuff get in the way xx

  4. Instagram is a game. You can choose whether to play along. Or not. And in five years I have a feeling we will wonder what all the fuss was about…

    1. It is indeed a game, that is how I describe it too! A game I love though. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes over the next few years as – I don’t know about you – I think it’s changed a lot over the last three years…

  5. Really interesting post Julia, and sound advice. It can be such a grey area, inspiration vs. copying. I think we are so often inspired by many things that all go into a big melting pot in our brains, that we can produce something that turns out similar to another post without realising it at all. Entirely different of course, to intentionally copying another’s image, or intentionally using another’s image as the base for a new work. But I totally agree with you, that it’s good to take a step back and largely take things with a pinch of salt. I think there’s still much to learn about IG etiquette, especially given that it is a fascinating melting pot of experience, age and culture… It’s a brilliant topic for an IG post, look forward to seeing the other discussions. Z x

    1. Thanks Zoë, as you say Instagram etiquette is a learning process and even so, everyone has different ideas of what it involves. And that’s ok! I know my experiences are not the same as yours or the next persons. I guess what I am saying is that perhaps on occasion there are times when it is a little less enjoyable than it could be and of at all possible we should take it on the chin, react only when we need to and remember that it is just an app after all xx

  6. Lovely post Julia and very good advise. It’s always easy to be rational with hindsight and less easy in the moment, this stuff means a lot to us after all! I’m with you on the re-edit, I reeeeeeally wish people (and brands) wouldn’t do that! xxx

    1. Thanks Hannah, a lot of things get easier to take on the chin don’t they but that re-edit, that irritates me every time… x

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