How Do You Feel When Someone Copies Your Work

By Sean Platt

stack of self published books

Today’s question is how do you feel when someone copies your work?

(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the Smarter Artist Podcast)

We’ve all heard that adage, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I believe there’s a lot of truth to that.

Personally it doesn’t bother me at all. Let me explain, because I think for a lot of people it would bother them.

One of favorite artists is Quentin Tarantino. I love his dialogue. I love his style. I love his balls. I love the energy. I think his stuff has a great aesthetic.

But it’s definitely of this imitation is the sincerest form of flattery taken to an extreme.

Dave sent me a YouTube video one time that I really loved. On the left hand side of the video there were old clips from the movies from the 60s and 70s, a lot of the grind house stuff that Tarantino loves. Plus a lot of regular flicks.

And on the right hand side, spliced next to the original clips from these movies, was Tarantino’s versions. A lot of them are shot-for-shot duplicates.

I think that’s really interesting.

My wife has always said creativity is borrowed, and I also like that phrase.

Frustrated writerI think plagiarism is different. That’s when somebody is taking your exact words and steals them and takes it as their own.

They’re not riffing on an idea or expanding on an idea. They’re literally taking your words and claiming credit for it. And that’s horrible. That’s a violation. That’s always going to feel terrible.

George Romero invented this idea for zombies with the original Night of the Living Dead. Countless authors have riffed on that ever since and I think that zombie culture exists because of that.

That’s okay.

We’ve been copied a lot.

When we originally did serials, calling our stuff episodes and seasons, we were copying what we saw on TV.

We were copying stuff that Charles Dickens had done way, way, way before us.

We were copying what Stephen King did with the Green Mile in the early 90s.

We were using a lot of our influences there. But we were the first people that I know of to take that television language and put it on Kindle with episodes and seasons.

Of course we were stealing from TV. We were copying, but that’s okay. We were copying to create something new.

drawings of men drawing on each otherThat’s the key there. You don’t want to copy just to be a hollow echo. You want to copy and put it through the filter of your own creative voice to make something different.

We put out Write, Publish, Repeat and sure enough we were parodied on that with a book called Write, Rubbish, Repeat. Hilarious, right?

But that’s okay because I think that when you start out, you’re going to copy. Even if you don’t mean to.

And if you are being copied, it means that you’ve resonated with someone. You’ve made a difference in the way that they think about their art and their presentation.

That’s a good thing, because we all do borrow from each other and it’s unreasonable to think that the things that you see and experience in your daily life are not going to seep into your own work.

It’s unreasonable to think that the things that you see and experience in your daily life are not going to seep into your own work. Click To Tweet

It’s a matter of not hiding it, or not being embarrassed of your influences, but rather loudly wearing them on your sleeve, like Tarantino does.

You can’t pretend that they’re not there.

If you really want to flip this on its head and not feel bad that people are copying you, I think that should just show that you’re making a difference.

And if you want to give yourself permission for copying other people, you just want to be loud and proud about it.

Look at your work and see maybe where you have copied before, then look for a place where maybe a little imitation would have made your work better. Use other people’s work to improve your own.

Sean Platt is the founder of Sterling & Stone and loves that he not only gets paid to make up stories and come up with crazy ideas, but that he gets to do so with his best friends. Together, they've also co-authored the bestselling non-fiction titles Write. Publish. Repeat., Fiction Unboxed, and Iterate & Optimize to help Smarter Artists get smarter, faster.

Sean lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Cindy and their two children, Ethan and Haley.

Keep Reading