Friday, 19 November 2010

Friend Friday: Copying

Image courtesy of Image.  Photographer: Moi!

This week's Friend Friday questions are about copying.  Friend Friday is run by Katy at Modly Chic.  To participate email

Nothing is more culpable for less and less original material doing more and more rounds of the Internet than those two functions on our computers, COPY and PASTE! Just the other day I googled "Rachel Zoe Pregnant" - (I'm so excited to see what she wears!! Can you imagine the maternity range? It's enough to prompt one to concieve!) - I was sorely disappointed to find that with each link I clicked on, I just kept reading the same text copied and pasted, in many cases verbatim, from one celebrity gossip site to another.  In many cases the same pictures were used as well.  These were some suprisingly well established sites and yet nobody writing for them had anything new to add to their take on the news, nor even it seems the time to do some paraphrasing to avoid copyright infringement cases being taken out against them.

Now copying is a hot topic for fashion bloggers too.  I'm going to copy and paste (ha ha) Katy's Google groups header to give you a flavour of the breadth of things she's highlighting:

"This past week I encountered the topic of blogger copying twice. The first time was as I scrolled through the numerous bloggers doing the 30 for 30 challenge. I realized that after one person poses with an umbrella dozens others will. Or as Kendi poses in a parking garage suddenly 20 other bloggers appear in a parking garage. And then I was talking with Kinsey about some of favorite blogs and she mentioned seeing a blogger post a DIY recipe and two weeks later another blogger posted a very similar DIY recipe complete with the same wrappings. That got me thinking... how much of blogging is coming up with your own content and how much is mirroring what we see others doing"

1. What are the 'unwritten rules' about copying content that we bloggers should all abide by?

Always credit your sources for anything you use on your blog be it images or text you are quoting and link back to the source.  If there are notices on someones blog that they require permission to use their material or to be credited as the source then abide by their requests.  And if you are lifting material copyrighted by corporates without at least crediting them you risk being sued!

Some bloggers even reference another blogger if something the latter posted gave them the inspiration for their own post, which strictly speaking is probably not necessary but it's a nice thing to do.  For instance when Courtney of Those Graces posted about blowing her wedding outfit budget it gave me the inkling for my Spring Wedding Outfit post and I worked a mention of this in the introduction.

Now let me turn this around and throw a question out there because I would like to have some advice on an issue bugging me about crediting content.  What about material in the public domain?  For example you might find a picture of Kate Moss or SJP or even Billy Halliday on someones blog and wish to use it. But if it is obviously an iconic picture that has been kicking around both printed press and the Internet for eon's who are you actually obliged to credit?  The blogger is obviously not the original source of the image and has him/herself lifted the image from elsewhere.

Any thoughts?
Who do I credit? HBO??
2. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But when is a post imitation and when is it copying?

I think this is a grey area as there are millions of fashion blogs out there with millions of minds behind them interested in the same thing: fashion, style, clothes.  Statistically people are bound to find that their original ideas intersect precisely with those of others.

Take for example my personal experience.  Months ago I took this picture of my style guides neatly stacked up with the intention of writing a post reviewing my bedtime reading material.

In the time lag before downloading the photo and writing my post I stumbled across some rather fetching images of books stacked up in Cloud of Secrets' blog posts "Book Niche" and "Chasing Scarlet".  Here also was a blogger whose captivating photography of objects reminded me very much of some of the imagery I was trying to achieve in my own blog and prompted me to become an immediate follower.  I then also discovered she had beaten me to reviewing Style Clinic, one of the books I'd intended to review!

So how do two women living in London and Wisconsin come up with the same ideas without previously being aware of each other's existences?  I imagine it is nothing more than our common interests of style, fashion, photography and aesthetics narrowing down considerably the kind of images and subjects that pique our interests as bloggers.

My post remained unwritten because it suddenly didn't feel original anymore and I certainly didn't want to give a blogger I'd newly followed the idea I was copying her.  But say I had written my post anyway? Could you really say I was copying or even imitating?

Another example was when I wrote a post about Amelia Earhart's influence on the Aviator jacket trend, itself hardly original as loads of people made the connection and posted about it.  A little birdie at that online institution responsible for the shrinking of all journalism sources, Wikipedia, gave me the idea for mentioning the legend of her sleeping in her leather jacket to make it look more worn in in order to gain acceptance amongst her male peers.

A couple of days after my post was published I was bemused to read another online article about Amelia and the Aviator jacket written by Jess Cartner-Morely of the Guardian fashion column in which the very same story was mentioned.  Both articles use Amelia's mythical tactic to have a sly dig at the hoops that women have to jump through in life compared to their male counterparts. (Yeah Jess I noticed!)

Should I have challenged Jess to a showdown of keyboards at dawn? Of course not.  Though she didn't credit her source it's hard to justify throwing down the gauntlet when in all likelihood she looked up Earhart's history on Wikipedia too.  In addition with Big Brother Google in charge of what we see first when we google keywords in our online research for blog topics, you and thousands of others are being fed the same information to reference for your posts, effectively reducing all our chances of being truly original.

Given all this I think that unless a blogger has copied and pasted word for word what you have written or used a photo that is obviously taken by you originally then proving the copying of ideas for posts would be very difficult.

3. Taking another blogger's idea (perhaps for an outfit, or DIY tutorial) is pretty common in the blogging world. Do you think it is necessary to credit the original source?

They say all art is theft don't they?  I feel this is very much like the argument of trying to copyright fashion design.  In order to lay claim to an idea you would have to have re-invented the wheel and prove nobody else had done it before in order to be able to claim it was yours.  Its like trying to argue who to credit for the design of sleeves or skirts - where do you draw the line?

I think common sense should prevail.  It would really depend how original the blogger's DIY or outfit was or whether it was something that was already pretty common knowledge or a current trend already doing the rounds.  If I were following some very original DIY or outfit tips to the letter and posting about it then yes I think it is necessary to credit the person from whom you benefited from gaining that knowledge.

But if your post uses an idea but takes a different approach or represents your unique of view on something then I don't think you would have to.  Nothing is enforceable here and I don't think you would have to change too much before you could claim you've added enough to the "prior art" to make it a new body of work.  (I've written patents before and was staggered at how little had to be added to an idea before you could patent it as a new one.)  But as I said in question one, it's just a generous thing to do as part of the fashion blogging community.

For example I've seen several bloggers doing outfit posts with leather shorts as they are in fashion at the moment.  It has reminded me that I own a pair, should wear them more and could also do an outfit post at the same time.  I'm unlikely to credit every blogger I've seen posting on leather shorts for prompting me to get them out, even if I wear some top and heels combination like many outfit posts out there, because that's just a fashionable look that is around at the moment.  Who can really say they came up with the idea first? Vogue? Alexa Chung? Or the Germans in their lederhosen??

But say I see some combination I find unusual or original - like Angela's combination of a polka dot candy pink blouse with her leather shorts at Everyone Love's Lipstick which I liked very much.  After seeing her post I thought maybe I should try pairing some polka dotted blouses in my closet with my shorts.  If I then did an outfit post, even though my outfit won't look the same as hers, I would credit her for the inspiration.

4. How have you improved your blog by comparing it to other bloggers? Have you made changes due to something you have seen others doing?

I increased the width and made the images bigger.  Did anyone notice?  I'd been playing around with HTML and tossing up as to whether to do it or not for a long while but after Pearl of Fashion Pearls of Wisdom did it I finally took the plunge.

5. Have you ever had one of your posts copied by another blogger or publication? How did you handle the situation?

I had part of a post quoted on another blog but the blogger in question did me the courtesy of referencing me and linking back to my post so it was fine.  I was actually pretty flattered.

I've seen some nasty stories about bloggers discovering entire posts from their blogs lifted and used by online or print magazines.  I think this is unacceptable and makes it important for bloggers to at least have a statement (which I have recently added) about their policy on third parties using material from their blog.

I take my answer to the last question back.  After reading other Friend Friday posts and seeing how many other people had come up with issues of being copied I thought I'd do a more in depth check to see if maybe I was being a bit lax and thinking my blog was too under the radar to be copied.  I was wrong! 

I found my post about my mother copied and pasted word for word on what appears to be a scraper blog which just trawls the internet and lifts content off other blogs.  I'm furious obviously and have contacted the service provider.  Just goes to show it can happen to anybody.  Oh and any advice appreciated from those with similar experiences!


  1. Beautifully written, as ever. I do not understand why somebody would have a blog to copy and paste others.
    The whole idea of blogging is to have a wider platform to express yourself, wheather in clothes style, personal interests...etc.
    Te abrazo siempre.

  2. Your post is so well written, as always. You make some really valid points about Google and the sources that we all see when researching a specific topic. Originality seems to be more and more difficult to achieve in the internet world!

  3. I think it's inevitable to have ideas overlap when there are hundreds of thousands of style bloggers across the world with similar interests. We all ponder similar questions about what looks good together or where fashion originated.

    I don't think that finding sartorial inspiration in another person's outfit is copying her. Honestly, who really knows where a trend starts? It probably wasn't Vogue. Was it a designer? Where the designer find that inspiration? His muse? Where did she get it from? You get the idea.

    However, obviously copying a post is inexcusable. And even finding inspiration in a post that leads to a similar post is questionable. However, if two people happen to write about the same thing without knowing about the other's post in advance, then "great minds think alike" right? ;-)

    But I will say that a couple of years ago, I did a DIY of the CL Petal heels and I tied petal-shaped fabric to a pair of t-strap pumps. This was even before I started blogging. I was just out shopping and had the idea and went with it. I posted it on my site and come to learn later that Love Megan had done a similar DIY. I felt embarrassed and I didn't want people to think that I copied her - but I hadn't even heard of her blog when I did the DIY or even when I posted it.

    Anyway, those are my two cents for this morning. Phew!

  4. That's such an interesting post! I've noticed a few bloggers pinching my side bar photos, yes they are in the public domain but some took hours of searching. Cheeky but not really bad.
    I don't think anything I ramble on about is worthy of copying.
    In real life as well as in blogging I find myself drawn to women with similiar tastes to myself so I do find that if we're on the same wavelength we're going to dress in a like-minded manner subconciously.
    I've put my very favourite vintage leopard coat on a backburner though, there's so many High Street rip-off out there I'm beginning to feel like a sad clone. xxx

  5. Excellent responses to the questions given. I really enjoyed reading this, and I thought your answers were very on point. I'm glad I decided to stop by.


  6. Oh goodness, dear lady! I would not have felt copied at all, and would have enjoyed your post about your current reading. Your photo compositions and your thoughts on your books -- even Style Clini -- would have been the first presented to the universe.

    Actually, I seem to remember that my own impetus to photograph favorite stacks of books came from another blogger -- probably PinkBow. I might have thought to do it on my own eventually, but she really triggered the idea first. Still, I'm photographing my breakfasts, and giving the imagery my own spin in terms of composition and written accompaniment, so I don't feel it's copying. It's...accepting inspiration.

  7. Such a thoughtful post bringing up so many questions... When is it inspiration and when is it copying? Also, we are all influenced by the same cultural information, movements, etc. Personally I always like to credit the blogger/source where my inspiration comes from - it's part of the socialisation that is blogging. Like you I have experienced the situation that I've been working on a post for a while just to find someone else posted something very similar. That is frustrating!

  8. My comment and links got cut up somehow! There are a couple of paragraphs missing.

    I said something about how if a blogger appreciates another blogger's photography or writing subject ideas, it's perfectly okay to try one's own hand at the topic -- with one's own spin on it.

    I also said that my inspiration for photographing books probably came from Bardot in Blue. The idea for photographing breakfasts most definitely came from PinkBow!

    Then I said I was glad that you enjoyed my photos enough to follow and become a delightful style blogging acquaitnance -- but that I was sorry my posts had quashed yours in the making. And I asked what you thought of Style Clinic. :-D

    I'm glad I checked back. As posted, my comment almost made sense without all the missing content, but not quite!

  9. @Cloud of Secrets - lol! Don't worry, I have been meaning to do that book post and review but have been sidelined by other blogging distractions rather than feeling quashed. Of course I certainly know now that you probably wouldn't have minded but as a new acquaintance at the time I thought it better to leave some time lapse after following your blog to be safe! I think it's more a question of great minds think alike and totally with you - one should sometimes just accept inspiration!

  10. @Cloud of Secrets - oh and I will post on Style Clinic soon!

  11. Veshoevius--I must say that after reading a number of fairly light treatments of this topic, YOU have done the most thoughtful analysis. I am a creative writer and throughout most of the 19th century--American authors could be reprinted in Great Britain without owing the American a cent and vice versa. Copyright was a long time coming. And yet, when i teach my creative writing classes we discuss the "stealing of ideas". In our workshops, if a piece of writing is too derivative, my students will often tell their classmates. It is dismaying to me that my students are mostly doing Harry Potter, Stephanie Meyer and anime knock-offs.

    Your post, it seems to me, get at the underlying questions about "intellectual property". This is a ticklish legal question in the era of cyberspace.

    I was especially interested after you had described repeated trips to a boutique this week so that the details of a dress might be replicated at home. :)

  12. Wonderful post!! I have also read a couple of other articles on this post as well and I really like reading these articles on such intense subjects. It really makes you sit down and re-think about things as well as think things through going forward so thank you!
    PS--yes you do have to read my London posts!! I am still taking tea everyday since we have been back. I just love the culture there, it is quite amazing!
    Have a fab weekend!


  13. Hi dear! You have such a lovely blog! Following! Follow back? Kiss

  14. "So how do two women living in London and Wisconsin come up with the same ideas without previously being aware of each other's existences? I imagine it is nothing more than our common interests of style, fashion, photography and aesthetics narrowing down considerably the kind of images and subjects that pique our interests as bloggers.

    My post remained unwritten because it suddenly didn't feel original anymore and I certainly didn't want to give a blogger I'd newly followed the idea I was copying her. But say I had written my post anyway? Could you really say I was copying or even imitating?"

    That's actually something that comes up in copyright infringement cases-- where they are, what access they'd have to each other's materials (because 2 people without internet in different countries would have a hard time knicking an idea).

    So in that vein, very thoughtful response!

  15. Great post - I knew you'd tackle it head-on.

    Just read about your being plagiarised - that's awful. Must be worse that it's the post about a member of your family. That's exactly why I wondered whether 'smaller' bloggers may be more vulnerable - you haven't got hundreds of followers to say, "hang on a minute...", and some people may not feel that they have the clout to claim it is their intellectual property.

    As an aside: I love Jess C-M, but I've noticed a few instances of the kind you mention...

  16. Wow, copied the post about your mother word for word. That's just plain stealing. It doesn't matter how many followers any blogger has it's still your published content and it's wrong for someone to just take another bloggers information and call it their own.

    Interesting take on Fashion Design copyright. It's tough to prove who created what and when. I agree that if I saw someone that I was inspired by that I would credit them as a courtesy.

  17. Yeesh - sorry to hear about the scraping of the post about your mother. I discovered a few months ago that my post on Gothic Nightgowns had been lifted wholesale, text and images, and posted on a silly robo-blog about nightgowns -- I didn't know there was a term for such blogs. Scraper blogs. Good to have the relevant vocabulary! At first I was angry and disturbed, but then I was amused. At least the scraper blog provided links back to the original source, and it did actually bring me visitors who'd been searching for gothic nightgowns!

  18. Gah this whole issue just gets crazier the more you think about it! Kudos to you for tackling it so deeply. Generally I have my head in the clouds and don't notice this kind of thing until my academic head rears. I HATE HATE HATE it when someone makes a sweeping statement without referencing the original source my post scheduled for Monday on the history of shoes drove me mad at one stage as I kept getting the same quote over and over but couldn't find any actual evidence - due to the fact I am obsessive about such things I will be spending a day in the library over it LOL. But generally I think it is just polite to acknowledge people (thanks for your link to me - which links back another two people to the original- this I like). I think that you shouldnt worry if your book post is similar, most bloggers will do one in fact My Lady asked me to recommend some of my fav fashion books so I will be doing one soon, but like you say does it look like idea stealing!! I think that so long as you are true to yourself and treat others with respect everything will pretty much work itself out x

  19. P.S Love'd Kate Moss Style and I actually recommended it to another blogger earlier!

  20. Thanks all for your comments. I have since added a postscript to this post noting, sadly, that one of my posts dearest to me (about my Mum) has been copied by some type of scraper splog which I hope gets shut down (I'm in the process of complaining). Let this be a warning to you all!

  21. @Cloud of Secrets - Oh well I guess at least you got some visitors but I wasn't credited with a link - at least they didn't get my images (not sure why as there were plenty of images ripped off other blogs).

    @Pearl Westwood - the library? Wow that is dedication - kudos! I liked the Mossy book too!

    @Mrs Bossa - re: JC Morely - ooooh! Juicy!! Do tell!!

    @Terri - thanks for your comment! Flattered! Mum and I were pretty cheeky I'll admit but given it was a one off I wonder if there would have been anything the company could have done about it. At any rate we were too poor to make it worthwhile suing us!!

  22. @Closet confections - thanks for visiting and for your comment! Glad you liked the post.

    @Ashe Mischief @Shopgirl @Jessica - it is a bit hard sometimes to feel original because of what is essentially something statistically bound to happen and our shrinking reference material. I don't think we should beat ourselves up about our posting in light of finding similar things on others blogs though, even though that can be hard when the wind's been stolen from your sails.

  23. Fascinating! Halfway thru reading every word of your post, I sent an email to Katy asking to be on her list. Then I kept reading.

    So much I'd like to add on the subject... I just wrote a whole thing here and deleted it because it's ridiculously long.

    One thing I did discover - how random is this - that a phrase that I put in a post a few months after I started blogging - referring to a girl who wore a great looking school blazer over a bustier and skirt who I shot @ the Tate - I called the look 'underwear as outerwear'. I KNOW that at the time I wrote it, I had not read or seen that phrase anywhere before (not to be confused with not having seen the look - of course I had, including all the wonderful Gaultier/Madonna influences etc etc).

    I've since seen it everywhere, especially in print journalism. I've yet to find any cases of it before I wrote it in my post (if you google my name and 'underwear as outerwear' you'll see the dates). I banged on about it in a post about six months ago and someone anonymously said I didn't invent the trend and I was like 'I KNOW! I just think I accidentally coined the PHRASE!' but when I mentioned it to my husband his attitude was 'well Jill you're not getting any royalties for it so who gives a shit.'

    I love - absolutely love - as Sabine has said, how we all reference and borrow and steal and influence each other. It reminds me of what I imagine it was like in, say, Florence in the early Renaissance, or Paris in the 20s and 30s... what is happening in the 'fashion blogging community' - the DIY stuff - the reporting on street style, via photography - is directly influencing the business of fashion. That is incredible. I'm just happy to be a part of it, just a grain of sand, a drop of water in this beautiful turquoise sea.

    It's like waking up tomorrow and feeling like wearing purple (or 'burgundy' or 'plum' as Style Odyssey's recent post mentioned). If other people feel like wearing that colour, I like to think we've all drawn from the same subliminal well. We've all had the same dream.

  24. @Polka Dot - "I like to think we've all drawn from the same subliminal well. We've all had the same dream." What a lovely phrase! A collective fashion consciousness as it were.

    I am SO intrigued by your story! Someone, somewhere must have been the seed that planted the idea for some of what becomes ingrained fashion terminology - shoe boots, shoots, fash pack, underwear as outerwear, glam goth, biker chic. This is completely invented lingo.

    I wonder how many fashion industry types are reading your blog. There are things that you read or hear from other people that just stick in your head - and then later it starts coming out of your mouth or you write it down like it was something you had always been saying when the memory of where you saw it first is already dim.

    Would be great to see what you come up with for Friend Friday posts!

  25. Great post! Blogging is tricky because it's lawless - but TJ is right it's wrong to take someone else's material and call it your own. That's plagiarism. Re: photographic images nabbed off the internet, I always try if possible to credit the photographer, if that's not possible I credit the website/blog where I sourced the image. It's only right and proper!


Thank you kindly for your comments! Please be aware that comment moderation is on to weed out the spammers and I can only check comments once a day, so please don't worry if you don't see your comment come up at first - it is probably there and will be up later xx


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