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.