Copycat, copycat

Oh, hello there, darling.


I’m a little hot under the collar at the moment, so forgive the absence of my usual fluttery whimsicality.  Today, I’ve got beef, and I’m laying it out on the table.

Did everybody see The Avengers last weekend?  Yes?  OK, good.  Let’s start with a specific example of what’s making me want to go Hulk on somebody.  My friend Liz, a professional photographer, posted something online this week that blew my mind.  Completely frustrated after an experience she’d had while shooting a wedding, she shared the following gem:

How to drive a wedding photographer’s blood pressure into coma range:

1) Take your brand new, hulking digital camera and lens kit to the next wedding you’re invited to.

2) Spend the day shooting under the photographer’s feet or over their shoulder.

3) Keep the camera in front of your face all day so that every image the photographer takes includes your awesome new camera.

4) Try to spark up conversation with photographer about camera gear.

5) Post all your pictures from the wedding with your logo on your facebook “business page.” 

After I stopped laughing, I started getting mad, even though I’m sure the dude’s “photographs” weren’t one-tenth as amazing as those of the actual professional he was mimicking, and even though this arguably funny story had nothing to do with me.  But my protective instinct kicked in and my own anger started to build as I saw parallels forming between us.  Her irritation had kind of hit a nerve.

Even though I’m new to freelancing, I’ve been writing in some way, shape or form for years, and my work’s been plagiarized beyond belief in ways that will spin me into an irrational rage if I spend too much time on the particulars.  Yeah, yeah, “imitation is the purest form of flattery” and all that, but there’s imitation and there’s robbery, and the line between the two might be blurry, but not THAT blurry.  I suppose it should be flattering on some level, but — actually, no.   When you’ve shed a certain amount of sweat over a piece of work and someone else walks by, lifts their leg on it, then takes what you’ve done and passes it off as their own, trying to gain something from talent that isn’t theirs to sell… well, that’s just bullshit.

Here’s the thing.  We’re all intelligent individuals in some way or another.  We all have the potential to do great things.  And like we were taught in elementary school, stealing and/or screwing with our neighbor’s work isn’t okay.  Regardless of how crafty someone might be in their execution — regardless of what loopholes they crawl through like Catherine Zeta Jones in her catsuit with the little red lasers in that thing she was in with Sean Connery — thievery is still thievery, and there’s nothing cool about it unless maybe it’s being committed in the name of freeing innocent prisoners in a war-torn nation or something, but that’s an act of bravery I’m pretty sure my copy-and-pasters and Liz’s dude at the wedding were not, in fact, up to.

Yes, we’re all influenced by one another.  Yes, we can be derivative without even realizing it; I fully admit I’m a perpetrator of that myself… but for god’s sake, man, don’t plagiarize.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking your victim dead in the eye and smiling while you make a copy of their car key or if you’re smashing and grabbing while they’re out of town.  I don’t care if you’re backed against a wall at the eleventh hour and think you have no choice.  Hey, I’ve stood against that wall and cursed the clock myself, but I can say with certainty that I’ve never stolen someone else’s stuff and passed it off as mine.  I’d rather take the heat for being late, being slipshod… anything, really, other than pick-pocketing.  And if the reason behind it is as simple as someone being worried that their own capabilities don’t measure up, they have two choices: either prove themselves wrong or suck it up and change course. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  He was right.  When paired with too much ego, it steals joy from all involved.

Nobody likes a jackass.  If you ever happen to catch one red-handed, please call them out and tell them they’re better than that. Because somewhere deep down, maybe they are.  And if they’re not, I know a big green gamma man perhaps they’d like to meet.



4 thoughts on “Copycat, copycat

  1. Unfortunately, I truly believe a lot of people who plagiarize honestly don’t know they’re doing it. I took an upper level Writing Theory class in college and most of my classmates were senior education majors, a semester away from teaching America’s young and impressionable. The professor was irate after grading our first papers and said that, instead of failing most everyone (not me. I know what plagiarism is) he was going to give a lecture to make sure everyone knew exactly what not to do EVER AGAIN. And then nobody would be able to use the excuse that they “didn’t know.”

    I was as surprised as the professor when students started raising their hands, throughout the slideshow, confused. “But why is that plagiarism,” they asked. “You changed those two words [out of 50].” Over the next hour, many light bulbs went off. The students were totally shocked and kept repeating things like “I never knew that before,” “teachers always said just change a few words and you were fine;” they were blown away. Even at the end, some students still didn’t get it though.

    [deep sigh]

    • Oh my god, that’s really scary. For the most part, I believe people generally have good intentions at heart but just get derailed by laziness and, sometimes, desperation… but sadly, someone’s got to hold kids accountable and explain why it’s not okay to “change a few things around” and then try to take credit for coming up with something original. Thankfully, there are teachers like the one you had who realize the importance of drawing a line in the sand, but it’s mind-boggling that so many people still just don’t get it… including those who are responsible for holding that line in the future. Yikes.

  2. I work at that university you graduated from and I deal with this on a daily basis. (Cheating and fake doctor appointment notes are also the big winners from the semester that just ended.) Unfortunately, it’s on the rise with no end in site and it’s depressing. If they are lucky, maybe some day these kids will have their work plagiarized and will see how it feels.

    • This makes me so sad. It boils down to integrity, and when someone’s devoid of it or blithely unaware of why it’s important, it’s just disturbing. I do a lot of writing for a commercial site on which I don’t have a byline, and I’ve seen my posts literally copied and pasted onto competing sites with someone else’s name listed as the author, making money off of advertisers who think they’ve bought space on a site with original content. It’s insane.

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