Can We All Just Stop Complaining About “Stolen Work” Already?

stolen work

“They stole my idea.”

Oh, honey, sure they did.

Ok, bearing in mind that we all tend to get a little defensive when we think of something brilliant and then aren’t given credit for it, yes, getting your idea stolen sucks. We artists use our art to make a living, and in the world of social media getting your work stolen is a truly dangerous issue. 

But there’s a difference between stealing and being unintentionally derivative, and we need to talk about the two. 

Your Ideas Are Not As Unique As You Think They Are

I remember the first time I saw an image similar to mine. One of my Facebook followers left this comment on my photo on the left, “American Beauty”, on my Facebook page: “Reminds me a lot of this image” with a link to the image on the right (belonging to Mandy Rosen). As innocent as it seems, I was crushed. I genuinely thought I had created something that hadn’t been done before. I put in so much work, so much blood, sweat and tears, only to find my whole world blown apart. 

stolen work

Now come on, these look pretty damn similar. Granted, her dress is made of butterflies and mine is made of rose petals, but look at the bigger picture. The colors (red standing apart from a muted, brown palate), the horizon line, even the arm positioning. If I were Mandy perusing the internet at 3:14 am, with maybe a small bottle of tequila, I might have a bone to pick.

And here’s the weird thing – even though I hadn’t even slightly copied, I felt like I had. I felt like even though I’d had a brilliant idea and spent countless hours bringing it to fruition, I was too late in executing it. All that work I had put in was wasted because someone else had already posted something similar.

It’s the same feeling I got when I wanted to show one of my friends my “Dreaming in Key” photo – so I Googled the phrase “floating above a piano”, thinking it would come right up. But instead, I found hundreds of other images, like this one by Anka Zhuravleva, and was again, crushed. My image wasn’t even on the first page, that’s how many of these photos already existed. You mean someone else thought of this idea first? I wasn’t as brilliant and creative as I thought I was? I had been so proud of myself…

stolen work

Here’s another example. My image, “Rough Drafts” is on the left and Von Wong’s is on the right.

stolen work

The most frustrating thing in this case is this photo wasn’t even the image I wanted to create. I was going to be standing on the beach with the typewriter floating in the air in front of me. I didn’t want to be sitting on the ground typing; I figured it would be too easy. After hauling it down to the beach though, it became very apparent; that typewriter was heavy as fuck, and there was no way I was going to be able to hold it in any kind of realistic position in front of me. The light was disappearing fast, so I said screw it and sat it on the ground in front of me instead. This whole photo was the result of a botched idea. An entirely new idea was concocted in just enough time to get something done as the light was running out.

And whadaya know, it had already been done. 

At this point, my ego was taking a hit. I began to doubt everything.  How was this happening? How was I coming up with things that had already been done? Was I even an artist at all?

Then, I went to an event called Fotofest

At Fotofest, you can sign up for sessions where you show your portfolio to gallery curators and publishers. It’s a fantastic event. My portfolio reviews went…okay. 

Not that I got negative feedback, everyone just looked…bored. I kept getting the question, “You never attended art school, did you?” When I shook my head no, they’d say, “Yeah, I can tell.” 

Finally, I was fed up, and asked one of the judges what the hell she meant by that. So what if I hadn’t gone to art school, what’s so wrong with that? Why is that so bad? And she told me I had fallen into a trap of many new artists. I was “unintentionally derivative.” 

What the hell is “unintentionally derivative?”

She explained to me that if you don’t actively study the art that came before you, you’re damned to produce the same thing. You’re not copying, you’re just making the mistake of thinking you’re more brilliant and creative than you actually are. She pointed to one of my images and said she’s seen it before. She wrote down a name of a Czech photographer, and later when I googled him (for the life of me I cannot find the scrap of paper this was written on), I saw he was a photographer in the early 1930’s who had produced an incredibly similar image to mine. On film. And it was a lot better. 

I was crushed, and she told me not to worry, to just keep shooting. “Get it out of your system,” she said. “The good stuff comes later.” 

She was right. Within a few years the issue had slowly faded away, and I found myself on the opposite end of the spectrum. People reproducing work that looked similar to mine, instead of the other way around. 

Just a couple weeks ago I was browsing Instagram when I came across this image, belonging to Brei Olivier. Mine is on the left, hers is on the right.

stolen work

This is freaky – this could literally be the same model in each photo! And if I had run across this earlier in my career, I would’ve freaked the hell out. I still would’ve been so arrogant in my creativity, so sure of myself, I would’ve declared there was simply no possible way anyone else on the planet could’ve possibly come up with a similar concept all on their own. She absolutely had to have copied. 

So I contacted her, and it turns out, this image came about from the exact same thought process I used when putting mine together. She was stuck inside and wanted to practice dropping in a background. In my case, I was locked inside doing literally the exact same thing. Who was I to judge her?

So many artists feel paralyzed because they come up with an idea, see it already done and then scrap their own concept. They’re so afraid of being accused of copying, they stop producing work entirely. Is this what we want? How the hell does that facilitate growth in the art community?

I’m glad there are so many ideas already out there. Not only does it force us to be even more creative, but it forces us to develop our own specific style. Plus, it helps us discover other artists that are similar to ourselves. I have met an amazing community of fine art photographers, and I never would’ve met any of them if we didn’t all start out with somewhat similar images. We actually laugh about the fact that so many of us have similar images in the beginning of our careers:

stolen work

Yup, two of those are mine (the other two belong to Tara Denny and Two Creative Birds). What’s really funny, is the one on the bottom left is a stock image. That means there are enough images on the internet of people floating through windows that it’s become a stock image. Does that mean people are all copying each other? I highly doubt it. More I think someone somewhere learns they can make themselves float using photoshop, looks over to a window and thinks to themselves, “How cool would it be to make a photo where I’m floating out that window?” 

Copying another artist’s work is a douche move. Copying their concept is a douche move. Being so arrogant to think everything you’ve created was the first time it’s ever been done, and then attacking every another artist you see who has reproduced a similar idea? Also a douche move. 

Here’s another example: a few years ago, I thought of a book that I wanted to write. I wanted to interview various photographers about the best photo they haven’t taken. What was the photo? Why didn’t they take it? Maybe they didn’t have their camera, or maybe the situation was one that warranted no pictures, but I wanted to write an entire book where photographers had to describe the most amazing photo they missed. I would call it “Photographs Never Taken.” And it would be awesome.

Then, while buying some photo gear on Amazon, the little, “Other people that bought this also bought…” tag came up, and look at what was right there, staring me in the face:

stolen work

A book, with almost the identical title, full of photographers talking about the photo they missed. 

My first thought was that this was my idea. Someone else had “stolen” it. But no, they didn’t. I only told maybe 5 people about this idea before. Surely Will Steacy wasn’t hiding in the bushes the day I decided to tell one of my friends about it. And honestly, I may even still write the book I have in my head, but this book, already being published, doesn’t take away from my own creativity. He had the same idea, with the means and resources to execute it.

And I’m glad he did, because my second thought was, “Damn…I really want that book.”

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75 Comments

  1. Reply

    Melony Stevens Photography

    August 9, 2014

    When I see people griping about this very thing, I too have had, amazingly enough, the same ideas as you about it all. (without all the curse words though..haha.) Good to see I’m not the only one that thinks this way. 🙂 HEY, did you steal my thoughts and put them down before I could??? 😉 Keep up the beautiful work!

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Haha thank you Melony! And yup, that’s the great thing about us artists – we’re all on the same awesome brainwave, and there’s nothing wrong with that! 🙂

  2. Reply

    dustandbones

    August 9, 2014

    I see the point you are trying to make – I agree that IDEAS cannot be copyrighted, and therefore cannot be stolen. But the heading of this speaks to an entirely different issue, and anyone skimming the title is going to assume something completely separate. The stealing of others’ copyrighted material IS a huge problem right now in the photography industry.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Yup, that was kind of the point – I wanted people to look at the title, disagree, then have to read it. I 100% agree with you though – stealing of actual work, as in taking a picture I have already created and claiming it as your own – that’s a problem. That’s a problem I’ve actually run into in one of my galleries, and the only reason I was able to prove I was the author so quickly was because it was a self-portrait; they couldn’t really argue with that.

      I wrote this article though, because people are acting like their ideas are what’s copyright. It’s the product that’s copyright though, not the idea. And stealing credit for the end product is most definitely wrong! 🙂

    • Reply

      citron

      July 15, 2017

      Using what someone else publishes and claiming that it’s your work isn’t copying, it’s fraud. I really don’t like it when people bring the topic of fraud or plagiarism into a conversation about copying an idea.

      • Reply

        jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

        July 15, 2017

        Talking about fraud in a conversation about copying an idea is absolutely relevant. That’s what the article is about: fraud and having the same idea as someone else are two completely different things. Fraud is horrid of course, having the same idea as someone else is perfectly innocent. People need to understand the two.

  3. Reply

    tigerlilly1003

    August 9, 2014

    I actually have a young photographer follower that copies everything I do…for example I took pics of a peacock feather with water droplets so the next day he posted his version…it was like every idea I had he tried to copy! He actually asked me if I had any more ideas he could use…it drove me crazy for the longest time but in the end I decided that I should be flattered that he likes my ideas so much lol 😛

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Wow, that would be pretty frustrating! That’s even more copying than I what I’m talking about here! I applaud you for being the bigger person and looking at it in a way that says, “Hey, I’m pretty freakin’ awesome if this guy wants all my ideas.” Then go on creating more badass shit ;).

      • Reply

        tigerlilly1003

        August 9, 2014

        Yea it was incredibly irritating at first but then I just was like well I guess I am just that awesome that he wants my ideas lol 😛

  4. Reply

    bluefoxartnphotoLydia Martin

    August 9, 2014

    haha…love this post!!! My other pet peeve is people still complaining about their reach on fb. It’s not gonna change…page owners have to change….well, its a big world and a small world on the web!

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      OH MY GOD Yes. The “my business is suffering because of Facebook’s new rules” complaint. I never thought about it but wow, that one’s pretty damn used up too, isn’t it?!

  5. Reply

    Christie

    August 9, 2014

    That I know of, this has only happened to me a couple of times. It’s frustrating at first, but, really, what am I going to do about it? Besides, we should move on to our next idea, challenge ourselves to be so creative that no one could possibly have the same image. Great post, Jenna.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Absolutely Christie! Crying about it doesn’t get us anywhere, especially when the guilty party didn’t actually mean to steal anything 🙂

  6. Reply

    Stef

    August 9, 2014

    I loved this article from the get go but when I read “heavy as fuck” I almost cried – HAPPY TEARS! It’s like you took a look inside of my soul. There’s no need to always sugar coat for all the drama mamas. Just like you said, a real artist gets inspired by someone’s work and turns it into their own. People need to stop whining about how others “destroy” them by copying them when in all reality they “copied” it from someone else, sort of. Quit ya bitching and move on. The end.

    Thank you for this post!

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Haha I love how you put that Stef! Quit ya bitching is right! 😀

  7. Reply

    Dani

    August 9, 2014

    So interesting I used to be in radio.. And while coming up with new ideas the producer said to me, you know there really are no original ideas? My mouth dropped.. I’m thinking what is he talking about.. Then he started to elaborate and it all made sense to me.. Everything we see everything we know gets stored into our brains.. Sometimes its easily recalled other times its a subliminal message you receive and then becomes and idea. Now I am not saying that an original idea cannot come to two different people. I’m just saying that a lot of ideas are things we have experienced and then come to life.. ..

    I have also had a few ideas I thought were completely original I do not ever recall seeing them anywhere. However after my idea came to life and became art later I saw something so similar it looked as if I had copied..I felt horrible robbed, but quickly came to my senses and realized that obviously the above is true there really are no original ideas and moved on.. I no longer try to be original or worry about it at all, I just try to be creative it will always be my own original creation that probably somewhere resembles someone else,s work.. But guess what no matter how similar someone else’s work is its still not mine!

    I have never been a fan of Copyrights when it comes to art. Be it music , photography painting or whatever. Actually even when it comes to science. It seems we live in a society that wants to believe that every idea they come up with is ours and ours alone.. Leaving us with very limited space to create. I can imagine there are cures to incurable diseases such as cancer or aids. Someone is holding an idea they created to cure it that is only half the cure, and another has created an addition to that idea and now we have no cure for cancer because someone is holding that idea to some stupid copyright .

    Its all insane to me really. So many great music artists have remade songs that honestly are better than the originals. Or Disc jockeys who like to remix many different songs to create one. In many places in the world that is illegal. I call that art.. Nothing we can create can be 100% original We cant invent loneliness and what that feels like..It may feel like being locked in a dark closet with the the door cracked open a bit to many different people. How many people have looked up at the clouds and said that looks like an angel ..

    I feel as if our creativity has been stifled by our society. I dream of a day where we just enjoy each others art, Build upon it and create the most magnificent masterpiece! Some of our greatest masterpieces have taken hundreds maybe even thousands of years to build. Like the pyramids , Could you imagine if someone held the copyright on those?

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Absolutely Dani! That’s so true – when we find something else similar to what we’ve created, we feel robbed. Or worse yet, we feel like we’ve robbed someone else! And that absolutely stifles our creativity! Such awesome points you make, thanks for commenting! 😀

  8. Reply

    kate

    August 9, 2014

    I think you said it very well. The only thing I would add is take it as a compliment to the work you do.

  9. Reply

    Kimberly

    August 9, 2014

    Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I have seen some say people stole their ideas and their hard work. All the while it is not something physical nor is it even identical. I really enjoyed this article. <3

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Thank you Kimberly :). I’m glad there are others out there that agree!

  10. Reply

    Gemma

    August 9, 2014

    I am a victim of cyber bullying because I create something similar to someone else. I have lost business and reputation because I make something from my own mind similar to that person. Arrogance is the right word in this article so thank you fir showing me I’m not losing my mind!

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Absolutely Gemma! I’m so sorry you had to go through something like that! Keep your head up and keep creating, there are others out there that understand 🙂

      • Reply

        poiap

        August 9, 2014

        Thank you. I have anxiety about posting any work online due to that now, and sadly it’s still continuing. I Honestly can say my work has been inspired by people. Everything is especially in the crafting world. I don’t really believe there is an idea that wasn’t inspired by something or someone they have seen before, whether it be months, weeks or years!

        • Reply

          jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

          August 9, 2014

          Totally agree :). Whether directly or indirectly, we are all influenced by what is around us. That’s what art is, and there’s nothing wrong with that :).

      • Reply

        Hannah Lamitina

        August 9, 2014

        I was in the same boat Gemma! I was bashed, bulled, harassed, etc; all because another photographer thought that I was trying to copy her! I know how you feel and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!!!

  11. Reply

    Lulu

    August 9, 2014

    I have to say that I’ve been on both sides of this matter. I’ve been the unintentional ‘copier’ and the slightly paranoid ‘copied’.

    The first happened with a friend of mine whose photography was completely exploding at the time. She was easily one of the most popular people on Flickr (she still is) and I posted a picture, within a couple of weeks of hers, that resembled her concept and even her body language. The problem was, I hadn’t seen her picture at all. It was brought to my attention in a message, and I felt my blood go cold when I saw hers and how similar it was to mine — and ultimately, it made me take a decision that I still regret, today: I spent almost a year avoiding any kind of photographic work. I wouldn’t see, comment or favorite any of my friends’ work, because I didn’t want to run the risk of seeing someone’s art, assimilating it and somehow, without realizing, copying it. Thank goodness, I’ve snapped out of it and learned to enjoy the work of my peers again.

    The second happened with a slightly stalkery creature that entered my life a few years ago, who would pretty much copy any of my pictures (aside from interfering with my personal life in a pretty drastic way). At the time, and seeing that she was pretty popular as well and that it was a worthless war to fight, I chose not to start a drama and to simply ignore it — and I don’t regret the decision. But it still stings a little, when I think about it.

    So I kind of understand both sides. I understand that it’s impossible, especially these days, not to be influenced by what you see around you and on social media, even if it happens unconsciously. It’s inevitable that two, three, four, a hundred people will have the same idea at some point — even if they go about it differently. There’s not much anyone can do about it. But at the same time, I do understand the frustration, especially when it’s cases like some that were mentioned in the comments, where it’s a personal thing. I think one has to find a balance, between understanding that it’s impossible to be completely original, and knowing that even when it’s personal and your feelings are valid, there’s not much that can (or should) be done about it. It’s just how art works.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Wow, that’s some pretty amazing insight! It’s amazing what an effect it has to see work simian to your own. That panic is a very real feeling, and I don’t think people understand how much it can hurt someone to accuse them of stealing when they actually did nothing wrong. I’m glad you’re shooting again! And I hope this kind of thing doesn’t get to you again :).

  12. Reply

    yanweitan

    August 9, 2014

    i can relate to this 100%!!! sometimes i feel like i’m limited due to what others may think. I’d come up with an idea, and before i can execute it someone already has. Not wanting to be accused of stealing their ideas, i let the idea pass. Love this article, i think most of us conceptual photographers can relate. They are obviously going to be a LOT of overlapping ideas.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      Absolutely! So many if us stop creating out of he fear of what others will think if our concept is accidentally too close to someone else’s. Keep shooting! We need more of work like yours!

  13. Reply

    Elizabeth

    August 9, 2014

    How would you feel if someone honored your efforts by creating a photo that went viral and/or brought in actual dollars? What if it if meant you lost money and possibly, new clients? I think photographers spend way too much time looking at the work of others, rather than focusing on discovering who they are visually and what they want to create, rather than aping what’s popular. I knew I had reached a new level in my growth as an artist when I spent less time looking at the work of other photographers and more time on my own craft.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 9, 2014

      That’s very true, Elizabeth. I agree it’s a good idea not to focus on others’ work. But in the off chance something you create gets called out for copying (when you totally didn’t) I hope you know you’ve got a whole crowd of people supporting you!

  14. Reply

    Jason

    August 9, 2014

    Great article!! Just to explore how crazy the idea of “someone stole my idea” really is, someone, somewhere was the very first person to come up with a woman floating in the air. This person thinks, executes, prints and or post it before anyone in the world can, now how many great images and different story’s would not exist today if making a woman (or anything for that matter) float in the air was stealing that first person’s idea? It would be a very dull world in my eyes if that were the case.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 10, 2014

      So true! Just imagine how far behind we’d all be! Awesome point 🙂

  15. Reply

    Ren

    August 10, 2014

    I have had the unfortunate experience of brainstorming several ideas for subjects that I had thought up all on my own, spent months researching and preparing, and then some other person has gone ahead and done what I was planning to do myself. Totally independently of me. So now I get stuck. Do I continue? Do I stop? Why should I stop when I put so much work into the idea? People have said “well, do it DIFFERENT!” and my answer is “WHY?! Why should I do it different when I’ve planned it the way I have for reasons?” It’s so frustrating because the last thing I want is to be accused of copying and I refuse to say I was inspired by something when I had not seen anything similar to my idea before or during my planning process.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 10, 2014

      Exactly! There is no reason for you to take the backseat when your idea came to you just as organically as theirs! Thanks for your comment Ren!

  16. Reply

    Armani

    August 10, 2014

    Hello Jenna, Thank you for such a thought-provoking article! I shared this on FB and it has had quite the lively discussion going on, many sides, many takes (thankfully, we’re friends so no bashing each other). It’s a great topic and I think one that was worth delving into.
    🙂
    Armani

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 10, 2014

      That’s fantastic Armani! Thank you for sharing and I’m glad it’s gotten people talking! 😀

  17. Reply

    Analisa

    August 11, 2014

    This is a great post! I see this a lot among jewelry makers. The immediate reaction of many jewelers seeing similar work is to assume someone copied.

    I think we all need to realize we aren’t the super special snowflakes we think we are and just keep creating, stop getting bogged down in these kind of rants. It hinders our future work to keep one eye on the constant lookout for these so-called thieves.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 11, 2014

      Exactly Analisa! People have been upset that I’ve been promoting the idea of actually stealing work – I’m not, I’m saying we’re not all as creative as we think we are, and when our egos get in the way it causes problems. I thought I was so unique at the beginning of my career – now I know I really wasn’t, and have had to push myself much farther then just thinking a dress made out of flowers was such a unique idea. And thank god, because since then my work has improved drastically! Sometimes, the best thing to do is really just get over ourselves, and step up our game a bit 🙂

  18. Reply

    Chandra Achberger

    August 11, 2014

    “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” ~Mark Twain

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 11, 2014

      Exactly Chandra. Perfect 🙂

  19. Reply

    Michael

    August 11, 2014

    Yeah, I’ve seen images uncannily familiar to mine, and I did absolutely nothing about it BECAUSE YOU CAN’T COPYRIGHT AN __IDEA__, only the EXECUTION of that idea. If you steal my image, I’m prepared to sue for infringement, but unless a jury (and I) can’t tell the difference between yours and mine, I know I have no case and no cause to kvetch. And kvetch is exactly the right word here; it is a Yiddish word meaning pointless whining about nothing.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 11, 2014

      Exactly Michael! And I wish I had known that word earlier so I could’ve put it into post, because that is a perfect way to describe it :).

  20. Reply

    Ella Ruth

    August 12, 2014

    So well said and I have to say I completely agree with you!

    I’ve had a similar experience. Very early on in my photography career I came up with an idea which I fell instantly in love with. It was a concept I hadn’t seen before, it stood out as something people might want to look at, it seemed miles away from what my current skill set was capable of, but I had become so strongly attached to the idea of this image that I pushed myself to create it anyway. The concept itself I had drawn out, but the details of image – the pose, the composition, the clothing – were purely improvised. I surprised myself with the creation of that image – it impressed me more than any of my other work had. I felt like I’d just taken a huge step forwards as an artist and I posted the image online, feeling very proud of my creation and hoping others would like it too. Sure enough, the feedback was wonderful and the image was one of the most popular in my gallery.
    Then one day, a comment appeared: “Inspired by this…?” with a link to another image. A shockingly similar image. They were virtually identical – not only the concepts were the same, but also were the wardrobe, the pose, the hair, the composition, even the details of the wallpaper were alike! I felt sick. The other artist’s image had been posted months before mine and hers was amazing. Really, truly amazing. I began to question whether I could have seen her image and subconsciously copied. My pride in my image was torn down. I could no longer see it as a milestone for me – it was now merely a bad copy of someone else’s hard work. Eventually I removed the image from the internet, cringing over the similarity and feeling guilty at the possibility that an artist I had grown to admire might have thought me a thief.

    Looking back, I’m shocked at how silly it all was. Sure, her image was AMAZING. Sure, it was posted first. But that didn’t mean that mine wasn’t an important piece of art. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that – as you said – my creative process was not somehow diminished by the fact that a concept had been nurtured by someone else in the past. I’ve since seen the same concept hundreds of times over, some similar to mine and others very different.

    What you said really struck a chord with me. Thank you for sharing and for putting into words what a lot of us have struggled with! <3

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 12, 2014

      Perfectl example Ella, glad I could help! 🙂

  21. Reply

    Corey Williams

    August 12, 2014

    If we truly believe in our artistry, then we will relax and let go. In the Renaissance, art was produced by a community, workshops that focused on an apprenticing model. Art students still attempt to copy the works of masters as an excercise. As photographers, when we truly embrace our role as artists, we can participate in a narrative that is part of the story of art as a whole. Doubtless image stealing is theft. But ideas need to react and iterate through our group narrative. They grow and develop into something new as a result. So my vote is that’ve begin to really see ourselves as artists, not image peddlers, but creative, dynamic players in the creation of something new and beautiful in our world. And rejoice when we see our ideas in different iterations and permutations- whether they preceded or follow us.

  22. Reply

    Grace Adams

    August 12, 2014

    Every artist in all media should feel proud and honored that there are others who love their work. At the end of the day, the final product showcase the skills of the individual and no two artwork are exactly the same. Just like handmade craft-work.

  23. Reply

    davidmillerphotoworks

    August 12, 2014

    I have been sent a couple images that were clear appropriations of things I’d done. Down to the “cut and pasted” tearline from my original piece. The execution was really poor though, didn’t have a subject of remotely the same quality, the fact that he did “sampled” a bit of my image from a low res internet copy made it just look bad and cheap. You kind of expect cheap knockoffs from whatever you do if you are putting your creations out in the world and they are of a certain quality. It happens to EVERYBODY from musicians to film makers to writers. And everyone of quality also steals/ borrows from everyone else, it’s how creativity works. Every single great artist we can name took inspiration from some other great artists’ technique, subject, lighting, concept, you name it, sometimes the influence is obvious and sometimes it isn’t.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 12, 2014

      It does happen to everyone David! Fantastic point; musicians, writers, interior designers, all of us!

  24. Reply

    asukayoung

    September 28, 2016

    I was trying to come up with an idea for my art project, then I discussed it with my friend because I was interested in what they think. Then they really wanted me to go with their ideas- they were very goid ideas. But I feel guilty as if I shouldn’t be doing it because they’re not MY ideas. What should I do?

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      December 2, 2016

      Be true to yourself – that guilt? It’ll stick with you. Got to at least compromise and go with some of your ideas. Good luck!

  25. Reply

    Maria Glenn

    May 29, 2017

    Hi. This article is as fresh today as it was when you wrote it. My son has been accused of stealing art today. He is devastated. He’s autistic and this particular woman has publicly shamed him for something he hasn’t done. I know he didnt steal anything. I wish more folks could be as open minded about where ideas come from. The hatred he has experienced today has ruined his confidence. Thankyou for this article. It made me feel better.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 3, 2017

      Oh I’m sorry to hear that Maria! People can be so awful about that. I’m glad this article helped. Don’t let him feel bad for one second, tell him I said to keep creating!!

  26. Reply

    Michelle

    July 9, 2017

    Great article. This reminds me of a picture I composed and shot in my backyard for a little project. I was so proud of it, both of the idea of it and the creative process. It was also a personal project. Then a few weeks after I shared it with my photo group, I saw an image created by Brooke Shaden. It was very similar to mine. Of course, I felt instantly bad and feared I would be accused of stealing Brooke’s idea and image. After all, Brooke is very well known and I am not. I was defending myself even though I knew I had not seen or heard of the same concept. But you are right, as artists, we ARE on the same wavelength. And it is inevitable that two artists may end up with similar concepts but rarely the exact same process and end result.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      We ARE on the same wavelength! It’s sad that you would feel so defensive when you never did anything wrong. I hope you are able to finish some of those concepts!

  27. Reply

    Julie

    July 9, 2017

    I am so thankful to stumble upon this tonight!!! I couldn’t love this post more than I already do. All great points and relatable topics! Thank you!!!!!! I was accused of “copying” someone’s “About Me” even. How do you copy an about me…..when it’s ABOUT ME!!!! Haha and once I read that one part it’s like you stole the idea right from my head (pun intended!) ….we might just get along! I want you to know that I needed this article. Local togs (according to them 7+ talk and say “not to associate with me” rolls eyes!) Tried to tear me down…and not having the right words to stick up for myself put me in a depression. I never gave up, but it wasn’t till I read this did I realize that this must be more common….err more catty…..than I thought….and it helped me get through it! Thank you for your bravery and well said words….you have helped me! 🙂

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      Exactly! How do you steal an “About Me” section? Because the format is similar? You can’t claim to be the ONLY person to ever do an “About Me” section in a certain format?

      I’m glad you found my post! Thank you so much for stopping by! 🙂

  28. Reply

    Fine Lines Calligraphy

    July 12, 2017

    If you haven’t already, read Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She addresses this exact concept with a unique perspective of her own. It’s a book that has stuck with me.

    Gorgeous work. I have always felt someone who worries about being copied is letting a little of their insecurities show. If someone else is creating it, the competition should only raise the bar for everyone.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      Very true, and I love Elizabeth Gilbert! Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  29. Reply

    Mason Jar Revolution

    July 12, 2017

    I’m no photographer, but I know that the things I post about on my blog are most likely things that other people have talked about before. I’m not breaking new ground all the time, but I can try to put my spin on it. As with your photos, the idea may be the same, but execution counts for a lot. Even with the same idea, your final product most likely won’t look exactly like my finished product. There is still a lot of room for creativity.

    On the flip side, when I was in high school I had written a poem for English class. I did a lot of writing then, poems and stories. My English teacher pulled me aside to not only show me a published poem by someone else that had a very similar theme and look to the poem that I had just written (and was a bit proud of actually), but also to accuse me of copying it. She was off on the whole “educating me about plagiarism” path without listening to me say that I had never seen this other poem before. Given the similarities, to her that just wasn’t possible. I never wrote poetry again because I never wanted to go through an experience like that again.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      What a perfect example. That’s the kind of stuff that KILLS creativity. I’m sorry you gave up writing poetry after that instance! It makes me ache to think of all the amazing artists out there that gave up because they were accused of copying someone else. Of course their work is derivative in the beginning. That’s part of being an amateur artist. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  30. Reply

    Kathy Dixon

    July 13, 2017

    Just came across your post, and what a fantastic read! I totally agree with everything you have said. Just the other day I came across someone’s idea, which almost stopped me from wanting to create my own. Then I thought, as similar as it is to mine, my plan of execution is totally different. I’m so happy to have read this, and hope that it helps others as well in flourishing their creativity. So, thank you!

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      Thank you Kathy! And I’m glad you caught yourself and went ahead with it. Good for you! 🙂

  31. Reply

    Betsy Glass

    July 13, 2017

    In every instance you’ve depicted, I LIKE YOURS BETTER! 🙂

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      Awww! You’re such a sweetheart 🙂

  32. Reply

    Wendy

    July 13, 2017

    Well said! Thank you for saying what I have been too afraid to talk about. We are all exposed to similar art, music, trends, and pop culture. We will have similar ideas at the same time. Especially when it comes to geometric motifs found in sewing and quilting where I am most active. When sewists publicly humiliate other sewists over “stolen work” I loose interest in buying their patterns or following them on social media. This behavior stifles creativity. It’s intimidating to try and create anything new because of fear of retaliation or public humiliation over an innocent coincidence

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      That’s so crazy you are talking about sewists…I’ve gotten comments that talk about painters, photographers, songwriters, you name it – it really seems EVERY creative profession has dealt with something like this.

      And you’re absolutely right – it IS intimidating! It stifles our creativity, which is such a shame.

      Thank you for writing in!

  33. Reply

    Lissclarke

    July 13, 2017

    Amen! Was like you were taking the thoughts from my head and writing them down! almost like you….stole them?!?!?! ?

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      Ahhhh! YOU’RE ON TO ME!! ?

  34. Reply

    Dave

    July 14, 2017

    Jenna, great article! I will say, unbiased, that I do prefer your images to the others in the side-by-side comparisons you attach. You have obvious talent. I follow an English photographer, Rosie Hardy, that creates images similar to yours at times (makes you wonder if there’s some vast, human unconsciousness that photographers and other artists tap). Now I’m following you (on FB, not stalkery-type).

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      July 15, 2017

      Thank you Dave! And yup, Rosie has got some great stuff! Glad to have you following me (in the not stalker-type way of course). 😉

  35. Reply

    Kimberly Shirley

    July 15, 2017

    This is a fabulous post and resonates with me! I’m a watercolor artist and started painting tiny poppy flowers about 6 years ago. Over the years they morphed and changed and became this cute little minimalist shape of color. I was at an outdoor art fair peddling my paintings and was across from a jeweler who was from a different town than I was. She worked with enamel and metal. She had earrings and necklaces of poppies that looked exactly like my paintings. We both, over the course of several years, had come to the same exact result of a minimal representation of a poppy. It was crazy awesome. I got a pair of her earrings and she got a tiny painting.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 15, 2017

      What a perfect example!!

      It’s funny; I wrote this article from a fine art photography perspective, but I’ve received comments from all kinds of artists! Painters, sculptors, even sewists (I didn’t know there was a word for people who like to sew)! Crazy, right?

  36. Reply

    Robbin

    July 16, 2017

    So while I agree that it is arrogant to think that you at the only one to ever come up with an idea and honestly I often save bits and pieces of art, photos, sculptures, etc… as an idea for a pose, lighr, color, texture I also work hard to not copy them. I know a lot of people especially young people who do it but it helps them learn.

    A few years ago I did call a fellow artist out on something like this however as she saw something that was wildly popular as a design, wine glasses painted so the legs of the horse were together as the stem. This made huge waves as a fellow artist stumbled on the idea and it blew up fast. This woman I was online friends with started asking me about glass painting, what I used and liked. I thought she just wanted to paint on glasses with her own style which I had admired and complimented her on, how we met and became friends originally. Turns out she wanted to cash in on this other artists game and idea and was planning on painting almost exactly the same thing. I can see creating a few for your personal use but to plan to do the same thing because someone else’s idea is popular and you want to cash in on it by essentially producing kick-off. That is completely wrong. I called her out on it and said if I had known she was going to steal someone else idea I would have never shared my experience with the medium. She got incredibly nasty and defensive because she knew what she was doing was wrong decided to do it anyway and tried to compare it to a concept of painting saying that the world was copying her because she started painting on ornaments 30 years ago so no one else should be able too. Eventually I walked away from that “friendship” because of not only the fact she was copying another’s idea blatantly but also because of how she reacted when I called her out on it.

    So so.etimes yes you come to an image or process with originality and it is a fluke, but sometimes it is a blatant copy of another’s work or idea.

    • Reply

      jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

      August 15, 2017

      Exactly. And the blatant copy is definitely wrong. So sorry you had to go through that with your former friend!

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