I‘ve written a lot here on the subject of copyright theft, and what do to if someone steals your words, pictures, or even your whole blog.
There’s another type of copying that occurs in the blogosphere, though, and it’s a far harder one to tackle: in fact, it’s a hard topic to even talk about, without sounding a bit paranoid, or like you have an over-inflated ego which makes you think everyone who does something even remotely similar to you is OBVIOUSLY copying you.
I’m talking here about the so-called sincerest form of flattery: imitation. When someone doesn’t actually copy and paste the content of your blog and try to pass it off as their own, but who may as well have, because they start to mimic (either consciously or unconsciously) your style – whether it be writing, clothing, or even your blog theme and design.
I’ve had this happen a few times now, and these incidents have been some of the most awkward I’ve ever had to deal with as a blogger. In one case, I remember a blogger who started commenting on all of my posts, always praising them, often mentioning that she would love to be able to dress like me, or do her hair like that, or whatever. At first I didn’t think anything of it: in fact, I thought she was incredibly sweet, and well, it’s hard not to like someone who’s being SO NICE to you, isn’t it?
After a while, though, I noticed that the comments changed from, “I love your lipstick!” to “Can you tell me the exact colour and brand of your lipstick, because I’m going to buy it this weekend?” and so on and so forth. Now, I honestly didn’t think anything of that, either: the nature of blogging (and particularly of fashion and beauty blogging), is that people want to buy the items they see you wearing, and in most cases that’s a good thing – it’s what allows bloggers to make money from affiliate links, after all, and what makes brands want to work with us, because they see as “influencers”.
In this case, however, the “influence” obviously went too far, because once she’d acquired all the same makeup as me, and many of the same clothes (she had the same colouring as me, which made the end result of this all the more creepy), she decided to start a blog of her own. “What’s the name of your blog theme?” she asked me. “Because I think I’m going to get it, too. What’s the font you use in your posts?” Then, one day her comments came with a URL attached to them, so I clicked on it, and…
I mean, I can’t say she had copied me exactly, because she hadn’t. But reading her blog was eerily familiar to me. The green dresses. The red lipstick (same brand I used). The messy updo I used to wear a lot at that time. The poses. Even the writing style was very, very familiar, with certain words and phrases which I tended to use a lot cropping up in her writing, which was on the same themes as mine. She hated the OMGSNOW. She referred to people she didn’t understand as ‘The Others’. One day I posted a photo of the top of my head, showing a bow clipped into in my messy bun: the next day, she posted exactly the same picture, but of the top of HER head, showing an almost identical bow clipped into HER messy bun. And so it went on.
When things like this happen, what most people tell you is that you should “just be flattered” – because, after all, the person must really like you/your blog if they want to copy you THAT much, mustn’t they?
Now, that IS flattering, of course: but something someone once said to me that really stuck with me is that it’s flattering… but in the least flattering way possible. Which sounds a bit confusing, but it struck a chord with me, because what I took it to mean is that being copied in this way is flattering, sure – but it’s a type of “flattery” that doesn’t make you feel good. Actually, it makes you feel a bit sad, and frustrated, and it also puts you in an incredibly awkward position, because what you REALLY want to say is, “Look, why not get your own theme/outfit/writing style” rather than just mimicking mine?” but how on earth do you say that to someone who’s indicated that they really like and look up to you, and who you know means no harm to you?
For that matter, how do you even prove that the copying is happening AT ALL? I’m not the first redhead to have a love or green dresses and high heels, after all. I didn’t invent the word “OMGSNOW” and I’m not the first person to talk about ‘The Others’. I also don’t own the exclusive rights to the blog theme I use, am not the only person in the world to use Playfair Display as my body text, and I am definitely not the only blogger who takes photos of computers and coffee cups on white backdrops.
There are plenty of trends that sweep across the blogosphere, and which everyone seems to pick up at once. We all have those Ban.do pens, Kate Spade planners, and a nice collection of succulents in copper pots. What’s more, we all shop in the same stores, so we own the same clothes, and sometimes we put them together in the same kind of way, entirely by co-incidence.
On THAT subject, co-incidences DO happen. I held off publishing my ‘Blog Predictions for 2016’ post, for instance, because no sooner had I written it and saved it to draft, I saw another (much more popular) blogger, publish a post with exactly the same title. I didn’t copy her, and she definitely didn’t copy me – we just happened to have the same idea, at roughly the same time, and that happens more often than you’d think. Right now, for instance, there’s a post in my drafts folder which I’m similarly afraid to publish, because a few days ago someone tweeted a link to a much larger blog, which had just published something very similar. I’m worried that if I publish my post, people will think I’ve copied them: and the fact that I know I didn’t isn’t much of a defense is it?
This is why this kind of blog copying is so hard to deal with. In the case I talked about above, for instance, I dealt with it in completely the wrong way: by doing… well, nothing, really. Well, it’s not like you can go to someone’s blog and say, “I know I posted a link to that dress last week, but actually, I’m the only person who’s allowed to buy it, so you CAN’T,” can you? So I did nothing, in the hope that she’d eventually find someone else to copy – which she did… eventually.
What should I have done differently? I honestly don’t know. Er, it’s just occurred to me that you probably clicked onto this post in the hope that I’d have some awesome advice for you, but I really don’t: because this kind of thing has happened to me a few times now, and has also happened to some other bloggers I know, and I STILL don’t know what the best way to deal with it is. One thing I DO know is that it’s important not to jump to conclusions, or call someone out publicly: I’ve been on the receiving end of THAT, too, back in my freelancing days, when someone accused the blog I edited at the time of copying her site – which I’d never even heard of, let alone set out to copy. The blogger in question, however, just could not accept that shoe bloggers tend to end up writing about the same shoes every now and then, so she threw around some very unpleasant accusations about me and my fellow writers, finally resorting to the old “commenting under different names” trick, to try to make us think there were lots of people attacking us.
It wasn’t nice – and, more importantly, what she was saying just wasn’t TRUE. The few occasions where we’d covered the same topic as her had been genuine co-incidence, and down to the fact that we were all monitoring the same shoe sites every day, looking out for new products to feature. That experience was more than enough to convince me that public accusations are never a good idea – but I’m not sure I’d know how to approach someone privately either, and say, “Hey, I see you’ve been copying me again!” I mean, AWKWARD, right?