I have intentionally not written this post for a very long time. And then after I began to write it, I have been sitting on it for a while longer, not quite ready to finish and post it.
To be precise, I have attempted to summarise my feelings, somewhat inarticulately, a couple of times before but have hesitated to truly put my point across. My reasons for holding my tongue have included working on my own reaction and emotions towards the whole situation and, if I am honest, really not wanting to offend anyone. Even those who have upset me.
For several months now I have been winding myself up to the end of a creative exploration that I have enjoyed for the past five years. It began with cups in wreaths and - when the copying of them reached a point where I was truly struggling with it - I developed it into a calendar. The calendar began as an idea to which I wasn't so personally attached. Calendars are everywhere, those inside wreaths are too, I was not in any way aiming to be truly original and have never claimed to be.
I was simply inspired by the test shots from the cups in wreaths (often taken before adding the cup just to check the arrangement / light) and illustrated calendars I had seen on Pinterest. Without wanting to sound in any way arrogant, I knew it would be copied before I even started it. And copied it has been. Often.
I am ready to let it go in this form now, the post above was my last. But to get to this place I have had to work really hard on myself, my feelings and my reactions to the ridiculousness that is a life online.
What started almost by accident, became a creative project which I was determined to perfect. When I first created the cups in wreaths, I was in no way prepared for how quickly they would become an 'instagram thing' rather than the quiet, almost meditative personal project they were to begin with. (I have written about the beginnings of this project before so won't go into the details again, but I will add some links at the end of this post for those who are interested.)
And so there's the thing about Instagram. About social media. About posting work online. About putting your creative-self 'out there'.
Once you have shared your idea, it really is 'out there' too. If it happens to be a good idea / popular idea / worthwhile idea, someone will undoubtedly copy it.
End of story.
Because then, like it or not, if you happen across a copy of your work, you will have to deal with the horrible, uncomfortable feelings that come with that discovery.
Obviously I am writing this post from a particular viewpoint and with reference to photography and instagram, though I know from chatting with other creative folk that copying is rife in many ways and across many genres.
inspiration | copying
Inspiration is an amazing thing, we all need it, it is incredibly valuable - no - essential to a creative life. Using others work as reference to develop our own ideas and style is also valuable. Where I think we come unstuck is the point at which inspiration becomes copying. And further to this, how we deal with sharing work that may be very close in style and technique to someone else's work.
I am not talking about photos of locations to which everyone and their dog has been and twirled in front of. Nope. That is not creative, that's just pretty places.
I am talking about arranging, styling and photographing a scene that closely resemble someone else's photographs. There needs to be a fundamental element of the photographers self and personality to create a unique style. Otherwise it really is just copying. I see the world one way. I am absolutely sure you see it another. I photograph what catches my eye, what I like, and so you should photograph what you like. Of course we may like the same things, but still we will usually see and interpret them differently. And I am not presuming you are copying anyone because most people are happy enough being themselves too...
"be yourself, everyone else is already taken"
The crux of the problem - I believe - lies with those who are not truly being themselves. Those who are seeking likes, comments, compliments, I don't really know what to be honest. Money. Ugh, I hate to reference it, but financial gain can and often will be included in the quest for rising Instagram success and the need for pretty pictures that perform well...
But I do feel very strongly that imitation is NOT the sincerest form of flattery. Thanks very much, I'd rather pass. I am trying very hard here to be myself, would you mind just doing the same for yourself too?
When I posted about stopping the calendar wreaths, the overwhelming answer in comments and messages was one of understanding. Yet what has stayed with me is the few messages from people who told me had inspired them to create their own versions. I am completely torn between wanting to inspire, yes, but struggling with feeling somehow violated by the number of posts done in fairly close imitation without development or personalisation. You don't have to do a wreath. There are a thousand and one ways you could create a calendar.
Often these posts come without credit or reference to the source of inspiration either which, when the copy is close, is just good manners surely?
It's tricky, you see? As I said above, I started them with eyes open, knowing this would happen, yet I am still uncomfortable with it. And the way forward is also confusing for the very same reason, I find myself constantly caught between wanting to put my creative self out there and inspire others, and being fearful of my reaction to the result.
I had a conversation recently with a lovely artist about this. She has some experience of copying also and we agreed that the realisation that someone is using your ideas is uncomfortable. Unpleasant even. But we don't want to rock the boat by approaching those who have copied our work because what if we are over reacting? Over sensitive? So then, how can we process all those uncomfortable feelings for ourselves?
There is no such thing as closure here. Turn a blind eye has been my approach as often as not, then I won't have to see or deal with it.
But what I do have (and am proud of) is the creative process. You can trace it back for years, see it develop, note the journey that started almost by accident.
A long time ago, I used to share a number of creative pursuits on Instagram. I am a compulsive crafter, always making something or other. I learned very quickly about the theft of creative projects when a blogger wrote a tutorial about a craft project I had posted a few weeks earlier. She had asked me how I did it. I told her. More fool me apparently, lesson learned.
My advice to you would be don't put good things out there unless you are aware they may well be copied and can accept it when they are.
I keep most of my creative life completely offline now, it's a kind of self protection as I am not sure I am equipped to deal with the thought of others making money on idea I have developed and perfected over time. Hat's off to you if you are braver than me!
Books like steal like an artist have a lot to answer for you know. I have read it, and actually think it is a great book when you keep it in context. But we don't bother much with context do we? We remember short quotes or partial ideas or notions. As a book, I think it's worth a read, I'm happy to lend it to you if you'd like to see, because it encourages creatives to think outside of the box and use plenty of experimentation along with lots of different sources for inspiration.
We all take our ideas from somewhere, nothing is truly original in that sense. What makes our work unique is ourselves, our views and our own ideas. All of this put together from many reference points will create something that is our own creation.
I have written before about finding creative inspiration so will not go into it again here, instead I will put a link to the post at the bottom of this page if you would like to read it. Suffice to say, look anywhere other than the place you are going to share your work for ideas and inspiration. Not only that, look in several places for each individual idea or project. Then use a collection of everything to develop a project in your own style.
know your rights
While I am still working on how I feel about the inevitable travel of a good idea, and have limited advice on that, what I can offer you here is a few extra resources should you need them.
Whatever your course of action may be on discovering someone has copied your work, or stolen your images, I have found some websites that can prove useful. Actually I found some of these while researching what to do after finding someone had uploaded one of my images to a stock photo website, where it was for sale, listed as copyright free. Completely ignoring the fact that it is my image and I own the copyright and have never given permission for it to be used without said copyright...
Obviously I am based in the UK, and the following two links are from the Intellectual Property Office here so you may need to find the relevant document for your country if you are not based here. But they do clear up the definition of use of images and ownership online.
- You can read the copyright ownership document here. In this document it is made clear, in black and white, how copyright of images online is owned.
- Further to copyright, there is this page on intellectual property ownership, which is a great place to start if you aren't sure about ownership of creative ideas.
- How to protect your images online - five suggestions from Pixsy here.
- Then, last week, I came across this article from The Design Trust, which includes several suggestions for further resources.
there is no end
Copying is just a fact of creative life. Unfortunately. I do believe it is more prevalent since the internet and social media took off, because we now have access to much more than we ever did before. You don't have to come across the artist or creative in person or in print to see their work, you just have to find them online.
What is the answer...? I have no idea. Do you? To share or not to share is the only question I keep coming back to, and for the answer to that, you will need to decide for yourself.
For what it's worth though, I think you do you brilliantly.
I'm going to post this while I am feeling brave, so apologies for any mistakes, I have proof read as much as I can stand to! I'd love to hear your thoughts though in the comments below...
A quick note on comments - this new website of mine has a teeny tiny box that says 'log in to comment' at the foot of each blog post. I am not collecting your information to use in any way other than to prove you are human and prevent spam comments. It is exactly the same as my old website, you only need a name and email address to log in!
If you have the time, are interested, or want to see my inarticulate previous posts on this, here are the links....