Are you a copycat? How to tell and how to stop

Are you a copycat? How to tell and how to stop

I get it.

The line between inspiration and copying is exceedingly fine.

And we all know that, of course, very few ideas are genuinely new.

We all have to learn from somewhere.


I also know that legal copyright is super difficult to prove: change a few lines and it’s no longer deemed a copy.

And yes, I’ve written about how to deal with copycats before, I even wrote (part of a) book about it.

I could name and shame a dozen people who’ve copied my content word for word onto their websites

Or downloaded my templates, only to change the font, swap out an adjective and sell them on their stores.

A friend of mine has recently had her ENTIRE website copied, not once, but twice.

Fun, huh?

And occasionally it still irks me.

But rather than getting angry and naming and shaming, I wanted to think about it from the person’s perspective.

Because I really believe that most people don’t know they’re doing it.

And also from my perspective, I wanted to see if there was a way to tell when you’re copycatting.

A way to firm up that exceedingly fine line.

In this post I’m going to tell you how I guide myself when it comes to creating content.

Of course this applies to everything from making hedgehog socks to gingerbread cookies, but I’ll focus on content in this example.


Before I start 

I’m sure many will read this as a bitter little rant. ‘Turn the finger back on yourself Toon!’ they’ll shriek.

You’re not original or a special little squirrel.

And they’d be right. I’m not.

I’ve trodden dangerously close to the edge on more than one occasion. Especially when I started out.

But I’m aware of that, and working on it.

I believe we all can.

Copycatting on a sliding scale

Here are five questions you can ask yourself:

1. Is the thing you’re creating based on personal experience?

Yes? Okay, fine. You’re good to go.

If you’re talking about something that’s personally happened to you and what you’ve learned, it’s yours to talk about – even if 100 people have written about it before.
Of course later down the track you may realise that it’s not a new topic, or the thing you’ve created is not as unique as you thought.

But that’s okay. You started with clear and good intentions.

2. Have you read or seen something similar before?

So perhaps you’ve been on a course and loved the learnings and now want to write a blog about your interpretation.

I think it’s still fine to go ahead, but perhaps you should reference where you learned what you learned? Just as a thank you to your teacher.

(Can you tell I’m speaking from experience here?)

If it’s an amalgamation of zillions of books, courses and ideas and you feel it’s impossible to credit them all, that’s fine.

Just do your best.

3. Do you own a similar template, book, product already (whether free or paid)?

Yes? Hmm, getting dangerously close to copying now.

Think about when you last looked at it, how fresh is it in your mind?

If you can remember it word for word then perhaps it’s not a good idea.

4. Do you have the original thing open as you’re creating your own thing?

Yes? Then this a ‘nope.’

No matter how you reformat it on the page or in your mind, you’re no longer being inspired, you’re hurtling down the cliff towards the ocean of copycat.

If the thing exists, if you own the thing. Perhaps ask yourself if the world needs another version of the thing.

Yes yours may be pink when theirs was blue.

But why not put your efforts into creating something new?

5. Have you cut and pasted the content of the thing into your thing?

Stop, you’re copying.

You think you’re putting your own spin on it.
You changed the font.
You moved that sentence at the end to the start.

But you’re literally moulding someone else’s words into your own.

And that’s not a good look.


The justifications you give yourself


1. But they’ll never know

I no longer keep track of my competitors, it’s exhausting and a waste of time.

But people send me things.

Time and time again, I’m sent templates by internet helpers with notes like ‘this looks exactly like what I downloaded from you.’

Often something they PAID to download from me, given away by someone else for free.

The internet is a small place. Smaller than you think.

They will know.


2. But I did try to make it different

If you feel like you worked hard to make it different then you have to admit that your source point was the original. Why not just credit the original?


3. But it’s just an internet trend

In some cases this is absolutely true. Just be sure you’re being true to yourself when you say this.


4. But I’m a good person

Even good people do dumb things.

I’m not sure what the answer is

These days, when someone sends me a copycat, I don’t get angry.

Sometimes I’ll contact the person to find out what happened – especially if they’ve done my course or are a member of my community.

Sometimes they’ll admit their mistake and remove the ‘thing’.

Sometimes they don’t give a flying fig.

I have strict terms and conditions on my products and courses and am legally fine to kick them from my memberships and take legal action.

Maybe I will one day.

But I’d much prefer they just stop doing it.

And I hope this post helps.

Over to you

How do you measure whether your idea is original or a copy? I’d love to know – share your thoughts below.

Did you like this post?

You might like my book ‘Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur | How to succeed despite yourself’ – buy it online here.


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