copycat, kiss the rat

 Image source: Chaglr

This week's Friend Friday hinges on the topic of copying. 

1. What are the 'unwritten rules' about copying content that we bloggers should all abide by?
2. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But when is a post imitation and when is it copying?
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?
4. How have you improved your blog by comparing it to other blogs? Have you made changes due to something you have seen others doing?
5. Have you ever had one of your posts copied by another blogger or publication? How did you handle the situation?


I thought I'd answer them somehow in a long-ish post. . .

In academia, plagiarism is a serious offence that can get one expelled. They are especially anal about it in Singapore as compared to many other parts of the world, according to many reports that I have read. Personally, whether in academia or in daily life, I do not like to rip ideas off, especially not wholesale. Sure, I get inspired a lot, but I think it is fundamentally important to attribute and to credit the source-- someone's hard work, blood, sweat and ideas. When extrapolated to the blogosphere where there are few rules, unformalised codes of ethics, and with perhaps just a little 'Copyright' caveat slapped at the end of one's site, the scene is way more chaotic. There is no anti-plagiarism software like Turnitin and no rules to kick you out of the scene. Else, you can easily start a new blog with a new identity. At best there are other bloggers and netizens trawling the net, and if you're fortunate enough, they might tell you. But, who really knows what has been copied if it is lurking in some corner of the vast world wide web-- it's akin to looking for a dwarfic-needle in a gargantuan haystack.

To me, a post is imitation when something has been completely ripped-off. For instance, the blatant copying-and-pasting of some contents, perhaps with a little font-tweaking or picture-editing. This would clearly be the work of someone else. Someone's ideas, someone's analysis, someone's unique stance and perspective or lines. Not yours. And, that is rather dishonest. Now, that is not flattery, just plain laziness and disrespect. Then we stride the thin red line between copying-versus-inspired when we think of a certain look or concept being copied. Katy Rose herself wrote "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." An unfortunate reality. That might be seen a little as flattery, but, it just gets tired after some time. A little like walking down the street and seeing everyone in the same thing and then realising, 'oh that's the latest disposable trend'. But, trends are meant to fulfill that function; the work of a blogger putting out original content and ideas onto the blogosphere isn't. Perhaps one might think, "Oh that is a great concept, I shall adopt it" or "I might not be able to come up with such ideas myself, so I'll copy it". We are always looking for bigger, better and bolder ideas, especially when we're floating, sinking, drifting or sailing along the ocean of Fashion Blogosphere, but really, credit your source.

My own experiences with being copied has not been on the internet, to the best of my knowledge, but rather in real life. I used to watch my style get 'criticised' or discussed about behind my back, because of the strangeness or novelty or the boundaries I push, these being reported to me by some close friends, only to see these same 'critics' adopting the same style a few months later. By which time, I'd be playing with a new look. Generally I like to pretend I don't notice or know such things-- you wonder if you're being paranoid or afflicted with some sort of delusional grandiosity--but it becomes apparent when people you aren't really close to start telling you they noticed X and Y being blatant rip-offs. Even worse have been rather bizarre identity-copycats and size-stalkers who'd really be emotionally-disturbing. The crux here is not the 'imitation as flattery' part, which I couldn't give two hoots about, but rather in terms of being a 'clone' who doesn't look at herself in the mirror but rather wants to do/wear/be exactly the same thing as you. For instance, you could have a phase when you are completely into Portuguese men and she'll suddenly say the same thing; insist on wearing the same size as you when your body shapes are different; or suddenly read the same books you do whilst insisting that you copied her. There was a rather odd girl who would imitate my way of stuffing my stash of stuff in Mango paperbags and then carrying a tiny handbag. She'd come to my house and get those paperbags. Then she did a lot of other rather nasty things and I learned she'd been spreading untruths behind my back so I let her be and ignored her. Three months later when I ran into her accidentally, hey, there she was in hemlines shorter than the skirts she'd criticise me for being indecent in, carrying the same Mango paperbags and a tiny handbag, and. . walking with my gait. Odd. Let's just say that in life, I have met many interesting, colourful and strong characters that I have been blessed with, and also many bizarre, problematic ones too.

And in terms of the content I've come up with, I have an even more unfortunate story. Well, the most unfortunate story would be during my A-Levels when I was 18. For my General Paper prelims, I had received an extremely high score on an essay on beauty products and consumption, where I had quoted all sorts of statistics and launched into an exposé on advertising and the creation of imagined necessities, with people continuing to fall prey despite being aware of it. It was a splendid masterpiece, if I say so myself, and during my A-Levels itself, I nearly lurched out of my seat when I saw a similar question. So I set out to write almost exactly the same thing, and by the time I had put my pen down, I was happy as a lark. What sort of odds would that be. I was confident I had definitely bagged a very high distinction. And then, as I left the classroom, I heard my name being called. And someone went, "Oh God, I am so thankful I memorised your essay, I reproduced it completely!" (Singaporeans are known for memorising everything up to eight decimal places, a pet peeve of mine). I stopped short in my tracks. "What are you talking about?" I genuinely had no idea. And she pulled out a book-- a book on best essays for the prelim examinations. I felt the colour drain from my face. MY work was published without me knowing it and people had memorised it? Then about six other people including some I had never seen before accosted me in the five-minute walk out of school telling me the same thing, thanking me as though I was their saviour, and I wanted the floor to open and swallow me up.

You see, you can copy the statistics I quoted because I probably got that off InStyle magazine when I was an avid reader who devoured about ten magazines from cover-to-cover monthly during those years. I acknowledged my sources. You can write about some similar ideas if you developed them on your own, if you're passionate about the same bloody thing, like makeup trends and the R&D going into product development. But don't bloody write about La Mer and their £300 eye cream and sound-wave energy used to increase the potency of the biofermentation process in Max Huber's lab if you're not remotely aware of interested about it but rather regurgitating on that. I was furious, but there was nothing I could do.

Therefore, I have extremely strong beliefs about copying-- in the form of theft. Especially if the thief in mind is just being a mindless clone adopting something like slapping thick cakes of foundation in a completely-off shade without looking in the mirror or blending. And pretending coolly that this was one's very own style from the start. Being a clone is not the answer-- the question is, what is you and what suits you. Self-exploration, self-knowledge, and definitely not copying.

Do we want policing, censorship or watchdog bodies such as Big Brother government bodies that slap your wrists and monitor your moves, or community bodies that might do the same? The internet has always been known to be a place of freedom and creative expression; but of course, the double-edged sword that this dictates is unfortunate phenomena such as wholesale copying, cyber-bullying and rumour-mongering, for starters. I think it starts with blogger self-responsibility. It wouldn't hurt to acknowledge where you got your ideas from, more so if it was especially inspired by someone.

Jim Jarmusch said it best-- Nothing is original; Godard went, "It's where you take them to". Indeed, if one mulls about the origins of the originality of something, nothing is ever original, and we adopt elements from here, there, and everywhere, whether consciously or unknowningly, especially so if you can draw inspiration from anywhere. Tattered ceilings, dilapidated buildings, sunny skies and eerie forests in the dark. I was mulling over the same topic with D the other night when he was looking for inspiration for new designs and like we discussed, all great designers steal ideas in some form or another from each other, before making it their own. Besides, we are after all, a hodgepodge and amalgamation of DNA fragments, socialised experiences, thoughts, ideas and concepts picked up and rubbed onto us along the way. If some concept or style or idea is you, or appeals to you, rather than simply as something that might be 'big' or 'popular' or 'I have to jump on the bandwagon', by all means, do it justice and take it to greater heights. Not steal and pass off for your own, falsifying ownership. For instance,  I received a polite mail from the lovely Leia asking if I would be fine with her doing her own version of blissful bathtimes, which I naturally was happy to say yes. I wouldn't even mind if she came up with her own post without asking me, because. . hey, I'm sure there are loads of people who have come up with similar posts that I didn't consult. Because it is a very general category rather than a specific, niche topic or blatant use of say, umbrellas in photography. In the same way, I was happy that Pearl of Fashion Pearls of Wisdom participated in her own version of shoes stories that I came up with earlier. As I told Leia, I'd love to read her tips-- I love baths, and what better than to share and learn more to up the ante on having a great time? In this sense, 'imitation', 'copying' or 'ripping-off' will never spring to mind here. Rather, like-minded people expanding and exchanging ideas, inspiring each other and making life slightly better for everyone.



To participate in Friend Friday, drop a line to Katy Rose of ModlyChic!

8 comments:

  1. My heart sank when I read about what happened to you and your essay! I don't know what I would do in such a situation... I was always told by professors not to share essays with other students in case they memorise and plagiarise them in exams. Eek!

    Also, I totally agree that there are very few ideas that are completely original. I mean, style blogging for instance! When I decided to start a blog, I had no idea that an entire WORLD of similar blogs existed! I think it's fine to be inspired by people - and even imitate them to a certain extent - as long as you ask for permission. And graciously back down if they say "no" - they may have their reasons! And finally, always give credit where it is due. :)

    Have a lovely weekend! xx

    Leia

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  2. Sorry to hear about your exam story! In my final year of my degree I remember being in the library and finding a photocopy of my answers to an assignment I had done a couple of years before hand. I was always a top student but was disturbed to find that two years after I had passed through that year there was still a black market trade for my work being passed around as a crib sheet! Makes you wonder how many people really deserve to graduate and get the jobs they do.

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  3. I can't imagine how frustrating and maddening it would be to have put so much work into something only to have others benefit directly from your hard work.

    Interesting about that girl that bashed you then copied, I always wonder about people like that, what drives them to adopt the likes and quirks of another, it's one thing to draw inspiriation and do your own thing but to out and out copy is weird. I had that happen to me as well once, it was a friend who was the copier and it got completely out of control and incredibly awkward :(

    excellent post, I enjoyed reading it.

    ~Em K

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  4. Wow. On all accounts. Very eloquently said' and sorry for your theft. I've had some professional scares myself, being a freelance designer. And there is nothing truly original! Paula

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  5. "I used to watch my style get 'criticised' or discussed about behind my back, because of the strangeness or novelty or the boundaries I push, these being reported to me by some close friends, only to see these same 'critics' adopting the same style a few months later. -- early adaptors always get that shizz. I still see it happen online, which is why I started saying "Never is the next new thing.™" Everyone screams "never!" about a new look and then you see them all wearing it six months later.

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  6. What a pleasure to read about Jim jarmush, I love him, I love his films ! Thank you !
    http://selenite.weebly.com/

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  7. I have really enjoyed this blog. Keep up the good work. The Septic Tank Man

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  8. Thank you!

    @Wendy-- absolutely. sometimes you wonder whether never is screamed as a conditioned reflex.

    @Em K-- I can imagine how awkward it can get. It happened to me thrice.

    @Veshoevius-- I am many a time of the view that many people in 'school', titled and degreed may not be that intelligent after all. Esp the arrogant snobs

    @Leia: I was taught since young by some teachers not to share but . . I'd share with those I don't mind sharing with. Just not those who like to take advantage of others.

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