I have learned a ton about how to better run my own business in this past year. One being in the realm of copying. Copying is such a gray area and especially in the art arena. It’s a constant check and re-check and re-adjust especially when it comes to networking, collaborating with friends, keeping good relationships, and being inspired.

This is a really sensitive topic for young small business owners… and any business owner for that matter. Apple keeps their new releases a top secret, others have official non competitor agreements, etc. But lately, in my small community of artistic friends i have seen some real broken hearts over this issue. And i have even seen online personalities publicly call attention to others personal copycat failures.  And i too almost got sucked into a bitter thought process. But that is not how I want to live my life or run my business. But, that is what inspired this blog post.

I have to be honest and say that I have definitely had my moments as an artist where I was a little too inspired by a particular idea, photo, or design. And I have also had those moments where I got this great idea… And realized it DID seem a little too familiar once I rendered it out… “Oh YA… that’s where I saw that…dang it!!” And then there has been many circumstances where I have seen my ideas/designs copied and I thought to myself “wow, that just doesn’t look very good”, or “hmm… there is something missing to that”.

Now, I totally understand that sometimes copying can be a good thing and help in the learning process. As an art student I had plenty of assignments where I would have to copy a famous painting technique, color scheme, or exact drawing. And I DID learn a ton in that process. But in the professional competitive business world it cheapens your brand.

The book, Rework, that I have shared with you before sheds some light on this topic, and why copycat projects turn out to be failures. Here is a little snippet of what I thought was really interesting and helped me view copying in a different way.

The problem with this sort of copying is it skips the understanding- and understanding is how you grow. You have to understand why something works or why something is the way it is. When you just copy and paste, you miss that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath.

So much of the work an original creator puts into something is invisible. Its buried beneath the surface. The copycat doesn’t really know why something looks the way it looks or feels the way it feels or reads the way it reads. The copy cat is a faux finish. It delivers no substance, no understanding, and nothing to base future decisions on.

Plus, if you are a copycat you can never keep up. You never lead; you always follow. You give birth to something thats already behind the times- just a knock off, an inferior version of the original. Thats no way to live. How do you know if you are copying someone? If someone else is doing a bulk of the work, you’re copying. Be influenced but don’t steal.

When the book talks about missing the “understanding”… I feel like that is the magic behind a photograph, piece of art, or design project. The magic is the invisible, the element that is Uncopyable. Therefore the original really captures and holds onto the magic that makes the project glow. You know what i mean? Have you seen that before?

So that is all i have to share today. I hope that this in someway encouraged you to keep doing what you are doing and not get caught up with what others are doing, or by the way they are doing it. I would love to hear any thoughts you all would have on this topic.

[DISCLAIMER] This blog post is not aimed at ANYONE!! And definitely not intended to bring out confessions (I have gotten some already today). You are all very sweet, but being inspired by others is part of the creative process too. My intention in this post is to encourage YOU to keep being yourselves and not get bogged down and discouraged by others copying you. Because in all reality, no one can BE YOU, you are truly unique. It is my deepest passion to see people inspired, freed, and truly liberated to create and make a living doing what they LOVE. PERIOD! So if anything I have said in this blog post makes you think differently… I would really like to take it down. Like you do… I too spend a lot of time in emails helping people, and encouraging others businesses. And I want to continue to do that. It is my passion.

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  1. Jennifer

    It’s interesting that you bring that up. I’ve been so conflicted in my job lately. My boss is ALL ABOUT copying other people’s ideas. I hardly have any creative freedom and it’s really hurt my imagination and creative juices. It really breaks my heart because when it comes to doing something on my own or for freelance, I have absolutely no idea where to start or where to go.

    So difficult! But this was good insight, thanks so much!

  2. Shurrley

    Hi Promise! That’s a great topic on copy cats. As a person who just started in photography, I’ve always wondered what’s best for my work. Because there’s a lot of similar works out there and I thought it would be difficult for me to come up with my own. Nonetheless, thanks for your thoughts on this. I’m already inspired :)

  3. MissySue Hanson

    A great post! I have dealt with this topic in both areas….one instance where my pics had been used and claimed as someone else’s and one instance where I was actually asked if I had copied another photographer’s text from their price list. Thank goodness, the issue was resolved without any animosity, and in fact, that other photog and I are good friends to this day.

    I believe there is a very fine line between being inspired by other artist’s work and copying. It is very easy to get “sucked” into trends and become that proverbial lamb that follows what everyone else is doing, and the sad fact is that when that happens copying can happen without someone even being aware their doing it. The most important lesson an artist must learn and remember as is that the work has to be yours……if it isn’t there really isn’t any point, is there? I know many photographers and artists who will not browse other’s work or websites for this very reason – they don’t want to be influenced. Thank you for this post!

    love + luck + bliss,
    missysue xox

  4. Christy

    You said this so wonderfully!

    We all look at different works to get inspiration, nothing wrong with that. But… we are to take the inspiration and make our own mark with it. I think our society is so caught up with keepin’ up with whoever that most people don’t want to put forth the effort to create their own path.

  5. carissa

    promise- i found your words really refreshingly humble. it blessed me to read that type of perspective on an issue that can be rather frustrating.

  6. Lilies For Lily

    Am just starting out with my wedding accessories business on etsy and after working on a wedding for a friend, I actually encountered a copy cat! I was pretty surprised because I wasn’t even fully happy with my work yet.

    What’s worse is that the copy cat was someone I know!

    But after reading your post, I realised that this was a good reminder to search myself first for
    any similar transgressions and to remember how it felt to have my work copied the way it was.

    Thanks for the reminder to deal with things like this in a positive way.

  7. Jay Hughes

    Great article – I just noticed that you don’t have share / tweet buttons on your site. Can you add them? I would love to share this. Thanks!
    Jay H

  8. Eileen

    Thank you Promise! Even though I am very creative and love be unique, I have some confessing to do!

  9. Sarah Pring

    Promise! I need to keep up with your blog because I’m in love with everything you do : )

    Anywho, remember the photoshoot you did of nick and I last year where I sent you a photoshoot that I loved? I always tell people you are SO awesome because you took what I loved from that shoot and you Promified it. You are a one of a kind inspiration.

  10. Amy

    Love this post Promise! I’m not in the art world, and I still get bummed when I see “copy cats!” (they are probably copies of your stuff, b/c you – and a few others photogs, I’m super loyal to!)
    I love the part in Rework where he talks about how if your copying, your not a leader, therefore, your not growing. That is so true in so many other parts of life too.
    You’re a great lady Promise. Love you so much!!
    (PS Chip hung the NYC posters up in his office at work! AMAZING!)

  11. Rachel

    So true! Thank you for sharing! I’m still fairly new to the business of photography & have already had trouble with other photographers copying. Especially difficult in a small town competitive setting! I just keep reminding myself they will always be one step behind…giving me more time to be creative :)
    Wishing you the best! Thank you for your encouragement today!

  12. aimee grover

    REALLY well said Promise! So proud of all you do and all the ways you inspire :)

  13. Tabitha

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love this post and it is a blessing to me right now! I have been struggling for a while now with the fact that someone I know has started their own photography biz within months of me telling them about me starting mine. The worse part, is that I was trying to be a friend and help her start hers.

    But thanks to a lot of time talking to God and asking His guidance, I have let go of the grudge I was holding and moved on to making my biz more of a reflection of me.

    I think that everyone has struggled with this very thing at one time in their lives or another

    Thank you again!

  14. Avatar of Promise Tangeman Promise Tangeman

    aww thanks Aimee. :) love you

  15. Jen h

    Thank you Promise.

  16. Becka

    BRAVO. We’ve been dealing with this a lot this year and it’s definitely something that needs to be talked about in the art community. :) Especially with the internet making drag and drop so darn easy. ;)

  17. missie

    great post! Thanks so much for this….

  18. Juliet

    I like your take on this topic. I also have read other online personalities who have fought back to the copy cats. Your view on the subject seems a lot healthier!

  19. Amy

    Promise this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m going to be launching my own online business in the next week or 2 and in the back of my mind I am always in fear of people copying me & my design work. I pride myself on originality and I know that somewhere down the road someone will probably copy me and this post will help me take the higher road with dealing with them. You truly are an original!

  20. Amma // Beyond Beyond

    The watch words I try and live by are ‘copy the inspiration, not the outcome’. I honestly believe that there is nothing new under the sun, if something moves you creatively – the goal should always be to elevate the work to a new level – not to copy directly.

  21. Char

    You know what stood out to me the most with this post? What a sweetheart you truly are…love your perspective!

  22. Renee

    I had someone rip of my ENTIRE site this week. I was mad. I mean mad. I poured my heart and soul into my brand/website; it’s a tribute to my late grandmother, no less. I thought, “How can anyone be so cold or think it’s okay to steal a site or copy a brand?” It put me in a bad funk. I thought, “I’m too nice for this business.” Then, randomly, I had the exact same exact thought you wrote above: “Keep doing what you are doing and not get caught up with what others are doing.” And right then and there I decided I wasn’t going to let this guy get in my head. This post is valuable lesson for everyone on ANY level. Awesome post!

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  24. Jennifer

    I loved your post. I used to be a little too naive about the fact that if you have a successful idea people will copy it. After some unpleasant personal experiences, I have grown to learn that it really doesn’t matter if people copy you. The original will always stand out among the copies because, just as you said, the “magic” is missing. It has taken a while, but now when my art is copied I view it more as like a compliment. So instead of focusing on the people copying me, I just try to focus on stretching my creative toward new ideas and making sure that i don’t ever make someone feel that i copied them. I feel like I could go on all day, but basically I loved what you had to say, it is so true!

  25. bailey

    Awesome! I have been dealing with this issue for the last few weeks. I have been feeling horrible about one person totally copying everything I do. Now I have a new perspective. Thanks Promise!

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  27. claudia

    i just got the book. im SOOO excited about reading it!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Jessica Turner

    Thank you for what you said here, Promise. I am in the learning process and doing a lot of reading and researching. A few months ago I was worried that I might steal someone else’s style because I was looking at so many other people’s work. I felt the same way when I was planning my wedding at the beginning of the year. I looked in several magazines and I would find ideas that I liked and want to use them. There were so many things I wanted to do that I started to feel overwhelmed and I knew they weren’t really my ideas even if they suited my style in some way. I finally stopped looking at the magazines so much and started creating from my own imagination. Once I did that I was a lot happier. I’m realizing the same thing now and starting to think on my own for my business as well and it makes life a lot simpler and I’m a lot less stressed!

  29. rosealina

    really great post!

    a good reminder too…I just started college and its good to be reminded to always be thinking of new ideas and being inspired by others not simply copying them. I think this post applies in so many other situations…especially in writing and school.

    thanks again!

  30. Steenie

    ;) thank you for encouraging people (and me!) to be who we are suppose to be- although i realize this is mostly about art and product I think it goes deeper. “Be yourself. An original is always worth more than a copy” (Unknown- at least to my knowlege)

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