How to Deal with People Copying Your Work

“They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but I just think it’s annoying.” –Pink

I’m the creator, director, and executive producer (along with Bridgette Wright) of the American Dream Revised, a web-based docuseries and blog. The project’s purpose was to tell the stories of Millennials who have started companies since the economic downturn. I wanted to showcase the why, how, and what of starting a company in complicated times. Bridgette and I completed this project independently – we didn’t take outside money. I’m proud of the fact that we finished because as it goes in Hollywood, many projects start and don’t finish. Also, when we started this project, there were a couple of other folks claiming to do similar projects. To my knowledge, none of those got completed.

So the other day, I’m roaming around the interwebs, and I stumble on a project that sounded and looked a lot like mine. The topic was the same. The structure was the same. The themes were the same. It smelled like copying given how identical things were so I checked the dates. This project had started long after ours had been released. I won’t get into all the specifics around why we know we were copied – you’ll have to take my word for it.

That’s not the point anyway. The point is how to deal with such tomfoolery. I went through a wide range of emotions in the span of about two hours:

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Let’s explore each of these individually:
Confusion: When someone copies another person’s work, there’s a moment of “Wait, what’s happening?” and then “Huh? Why?” I was confused as to why the parties in power didn’t just come to us and strike a deal for us to produce a film. But that quickly turned into…

Anger: “Why the f*** are you copying my work?! ‘I am an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.'” I had visions of how hard we worked and how many shenanigans we had to deal with from crazy people. I was angered because we had done the mental and creative heavy lifting for this fool to swoop in and copy. And that led to…

Disappointment: I was frustrated that the folks in power wouldn’t work with us instead of copying us. I had dealt with these folks so it’s not like they didn’t know how to get to me. They were just being lazy and trifling. But I got over the disappointment and then I felt…

Affirmation: The thing about someone jacking your style is that it’s an indication that you’re doing something right. Nobody copies folks who aren’t interesting and original. So as much as it sucks, this person was copying because my work is worth copying. And that’s a compliment to my awesomeness which inspires…

Motivation: As a line stepper and disruptor, I have a competitive streak that can be used for good or evil. I choose to use this little situation as motivation to keep pushing. Clearly my ideas are great since creative thugs are out here trying to steal my shine. And this response is the magic – the best way to deal with people who steal ideas is to simply create more. Every truly creative person I know has more ideas than the know what to do with. I have no concern about this project being replicated because as I grow and expand, I’ll be copied many more times. I still don’t consider it flattering, but I do realize that it’s the price of being a person who’s visible and creating interesting things.

I believe in creative karma. I believe the score gets settled for guys like them if only because, in the words of the great philosopher Jay-Z, “Soon they forget where they plucked they whole style from and try to reverse the outcome.” You can’t repeat what you didn’t create.

So I’m moving on and trusting that the score will be evened up with these losers. Hopefully you’ll do the same if anybody ever jacks your IP.

  • There are some great insights here I can walk away with that will help me with what I’m going through. No one wants to hear the details, but yea – I’ve been copied for the past year by an old, bitter partner. I’ve taken screenshots with dates, etc. This is really tough stuff! You pour your heart into something as a creative person just to have it stolen. Even worse like in my case where someone is using it to make money. Everyone keeps saying “creative karma” but it’s still…. annoying!