Where to Draw the Line with Copied Content

Selfie of feet with sneaker shoes on art pattern tiles floor bac

While a pessimist would say, “Nothing is original.” an optimist would say, “We're all inspired by each other.”

In the creative industry, there are times when someone's “inspiration” is a pain in the ass. They may create a similar blog, or start a similar event and target your readers. Some might even take your photos and republish them claiming ownership, or even scrape your content completely from your blog. So where do you draw the line? And what can you do about it?

While the obvious advice would be to tell other people to stop copying you, get lawyers involved, and to start a crusade. Our ideas are precious right? Well, the reality is you have to have a bullet proof case before pointing fingers and shaking heads. If it's merely a misunderstanding, then maybe it's something that can be fixed easily by a friendly email. However if it's more sinister and damaging, then action needs to be taken.

Determine if it's just competition

It's natural to ruffle your feathers when seeing someone starting to do something you've been doing for a while, or maybe your instinct is to be welcoming. If you're in a small niche, growth can be a positive sign for both you and your new competition. Small niches can benefit by traffic sharing and working together to build stronger communities. If you were the first, great! But that doesn't mean you will be the only forever… take it as a sign of doing things right.

People deal with competition in different ways, but there are benefits to competition, one of the biggest being innovation. Having someone out there to compete with only makes you work harder to be better, this can create a win-win situation with your readers and the satisfaction you find with your work. Try to make friends with this new competition, you might find a new partner in crime.

Determine if it is the sign of the times

Have you ever noticed content comes in waves? These waves might center around news events, the Cathy Horyn open letter saga, or the Instagram/Twitter fight. Or how everyone started talking about Grumpy Cat at the same time.  They might also be more subtle, and centered around a trend of unknown origin. The truth is, inspiration comes from a lot of places, and if you see another blogger that might be on the same wave length as you, it might be frustrating or flattering… but before jumping the gun, perhaps think about how ideas get into our heads, maybe we all take inspiration from a multitude of places too. It's give and take in the internet world.

Determine if it's plagiarism or copyright infringement

Plagiarism isn't just copy and pasting, it's when the author presenting ideas as his/her own when they are not. While plagiarism's not necessarily illegal, it is unethical to do this. And it's certainly illegal to infringe on someone's copyright. It's also blurry because in order to prove you had the original idea you, it must be a unique idea. Say if you wrote about black pumps on Monday, and someone else wrote about black pumps on Tuesday… that's just a trend. But if you wrote about how black pumps enabled women to break the glass ceiling and provided data to prove it on Monday, and then someone else wrote the same thing on Tuesday, you might have a problem and have to contact professionals.

I've seen firsthand how internet laws can impact daily life. When I fell victim to cyber harassment, it was knowledge of a very good internet lawyer that helped me regain control. Their expertise in internet law helped me understand my rights and how to effectively use them. To anyone facing similar situations, I would highly recommend the expert internet crime defense.

Ug, Content Scrapers

Content Scrapers take content off other sites for their SEO or spamming value. Battling them is about as fun as battling spam. It really depends on how much you want to protect your content from these scrapers. Most people put watermarks in their images and sign off each post with an “Originally posted on orignalblog.com” but you can go deeper by contacting the registrar through the WHOIS database, but more often than not you'll have to resort to more elaborate tactics to get scraper sites taken down. Luckily there are tools like ScrapeShield and the DCMA protection plugin to help identify when your content has been copied. ScrapeShield also has tools that disable the right click copy and paste and image save from your blog.

When to take action against copycats

There will come a time or a place when you do have to take action. First of all, before you take any action at all, ask yourself if the copying is important enough to you to see it to the end. Is the copying costing you money? Is it hurting your business? Is it damaging your reputation? Once my father (who is an attorney) said to me, “How much money is this problem worth to you?” because all courts can do is tell people to stop behaving badly, and fine them money. If you have to take legal action, that will cost money, if you have to get a site taken down, unless you are willing to put hours of work into finding out how to do it, will cost you money to have taken down by someone else. If the cost of  taking action is greater than what the work is worth, then you have to decide if it's a worthy investment.

If you decide to take action, and you have an attorney, speak with them before doing anything. It may benefit to talk with them about your concerns, and before you approach someone about stealing content or ideas, make sure you have legal grounds for your suspicions.

First send a friendly note to let the other party about your concerns with the copied content. Do not accuse them of doing anything wrong. Just stick to the facts. See if there is a way to solve the problem. If they do not cooperate, then speak to your attorney about further steps.

There are services that take down content the DMCA has a service you can subscribe to, or if it's particularly bad, they can do it for about $199.

Either way, copying can be annoying but try to not let it get in the way of creating new and amazing things!

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18 Responses

  1. Ana

    Jennine- I am glad that you are using your large platform to reach a wide audience about a problem that is often discussed in hushed tones and eye-rolls in the fashion blogging community. I’m sure there are many more people who can come up with very concrete examples of bloggers copying those who are more original or creative.
    The biggest problem I have is with those of us who aren’t copying or being copied and yet sit by and no only do not speak up about the problem, but continue to leave comments and visiting the offending blogger. I know we are all about being friendly and especially “nice,” but guess what? Bloggers who are blatantly copying and plagiarizing content that belongs to others are not being “nice,” either! In fact, profiting from another’s creativity (through increased traffic, affiliate networking and sponsorships) and failing to respond to emails and comments advising them of their “oversight” is the opposite of “nice.” It is lazy, hurtful and just plain mean.
    Do NOT support bloggers who delete your comments, block your IP address and respond with passive aggressive behavior just for pointing out that their content looks awfully similar to someone else’s. Especially if they aren’t crediting their “inspiration.”

    • Jennine Jacob

      It’s strange, over the years a lot of bloggers have come to me saying that they’ve been copied, but when asked to provide links, they have never actually provided them. I think a lot of people are afraid to “rattle the cage” also there are liable issues if it were not in fact actual copying which goes into a lot of grey areas.

      My hopes are that people know when they see an imitation and do not support them. Not everyone is aware, and not everyone cares sad to say. Perhaps it boils down to the original author taking action when it does starts to become a recurrent problem.

  2. Concerned

    There’s being inspired…and then there’s complete copying. For example:


    • Jennine Jacob

      From the images it looks pretty compelling, I will have to do more research on this.

      • SW

        Excellent — well said. This truly captures the pervasiveness of the plagiarism and issues. It’s almost too crazy to be true.

  3. Nasreen

    people definitely need to do something if they’re material is taken and not being credited!! It’s unfair :/


    • Jennine Jacob

      It’s completely unfair! But it happens, and it’s just as important to know when to take action and when to let it go… otherwise in this business you’d lose a lot of sleep when you can be creating new (and harder to copy) content.

  4. boo

    Please look into Stylish Petite copying Extra Petite! It’s crazy. Even the name was copied. There’s a whole thread on it at GOMI (Get Off My Internets). Even though the blogger tried contacting the copy cat, she just ignored her emails. When the blogger (Extra Petite’s Jean) tweeted about it– the copycat/stalker even asked Extra Petite to delete those tweets. The copying by Stylish Petite/Annie still goes on today. She’ll never blog with integrity. If she’s not copying Jean, she will surely find someone else. Sadly, the blogger Extra Petite is blogging less and less now while Stylish Petite continues to SCHEDULE her posts because she is constantly blogging old outfits of Jean.

  5. Daniel

    News websites copy, fashion bloggers innovate. At least that’s how it should be. Copying content directly, in most cases, shows laziness, especially if you don’t even have the courtesy to credit the source. I’m all for quoting and referencing, but when it comes to outright copying, I really lose interest in a blog or website. Attempting to build a blog with a large readership is no fun if it’s not your own work. You have nothing to be proud of. Rather than looking back and thinking, “I done that”, you will look back and think, “damn, I’m great at using ctrl + c and ctrl + v!”

    • Daniel

      I meant “I did that”, not “I done that”. Curse my own laziness for not reading over the comment before hitting that “submit comment” button!

  6. Shevon Miller

    I had this problem the other day. I did a stacked arm post and i found some actually copy and past my whole pose and took credit for it! -_-

  7. Make the World a Prettier Place

    The thing that annoys me the most and that is more common than blatant plagiarism is bloggers not crediting the source of their “amazing” idea. For example, I blogged about a designer collection and made a cool layout with the photos. A blogger commented on this post and how she liked it. The next day, she posted about this designer collection, used my layout but never mentionned that she got the idea from my website. I think it’s common courtesy to write a simple via.. at the end of the post.
    – Marie

  8. Aily

    This is a very sad fact that you can almost not be prevented. For all the ones that had to go through something like this I always say: “you can copy someone’s idea/work, but you can never copy their creativity and passion.”

  9. Jenny

    Jennine this is a good article with some interesting discussion from readers and bloggers.

    In my opinion, there is absolutely no excuse for plagiarism if you want to succeed as a blogger. People read blogs for original content and individuality, what’s the point of following a different person expressing the same things as another blogger? Fortunately, aside from the one well-known case already stated, I haven’t noticed too many blogs with constant vapid posts that obviously draws from other bloggers.

    I’m sorry to those that have experienced this (Shevon, sorry to hear about your stacked arm post! Did you contact the other blogger? And if so, what was the outcome? Marie, shameful that the other blogger took your layout without crediting, did you contact them about it?). As a blogger, I hope I am never faced with such a problem because I wouldn’t know how to react.

  10. Lauren - Slowburn Fastburn

    I can’t even think of a situation where I would want to directly copy another blogger. That takes everything out of the purpose of blogging! Excellent article.


  11. Ivana C

    I was wondering what you have to say about images? If I see a dress on a website and want to write about it, can I use the image or a copy of it? A reference to it? What is fair usage? If I want to write something nice I don’t think the site would mind, but what if I want to criticize it?

    I’d appreciate your thoughts,


  12. Ankit

    Thnx for the excellent post. One of my blog codemink.com content is getting copied the day I post any thing and I was just helpless.. Now I have some hope I can deal with it..