Accountability. Responsibility. Integrity. Why yes, this is a bit like the ABC After School Special edition of If Emily Posted.

FACT: Copyright online is copyright offline. Content creators own their work unless stated otherwise. It is their call as to who, what, when, where, why and how their work is reproduced.

Forgive the screeching vinyl of this broken record, but I urge everyone to write it on their heart, or a Sharpie on their hand, or a post it on their desktop: Giving credit isn’t getting permission.

NOT A FACT: If you put it on the internet you should expect people to take it.

If there weren’t laws that said something to the contrary, I’d say that this was simply my opinion. But it’s not. It’s the law. You should not expect things to be taken. The world can’t function that way.

Here’s my concern. I watch as bloggers work hard to create clever, engaging, informative content. I also watch as marketers and social media gurus teach people how to build their audience, reminding them that they need to be placing content on all platforms, all the time. Posting and pinning and updating with new visuals that create conversations on their Facebook Pages or gather Pinterest followers, and ultimately, lead to click throughs to their sites.

Who are people willing to hurt to get those clicks? Who are you willing to hurt by sharing content you don’t have the right to use?

We need a Slow Internet Movement. We need to slow down the speed at which we are sharing. If we aren’t considering who we might be hurting for the sake of a few clicks, this blogosphere is going to fold in on itself. We need new content and new ideas in order to grow. And yes, those take a bit of time to create.

I was talking to Charlie and Andy, the duo over at How To Be A Dad. They’ve been dealing with a lot of IP theft this week. They work hard to create their content. High quality, witty and smart stuff. And you may have seen it, even if you’ve never heard of their site. Because you could like a TV show like GUYS WITH KIDS, who posted one of Charlie and Andy’s pieces on their Facebook Page sans attribution. (They have since added a link, but that’s beside the point really. See that whole credit isn’t permission business.) Or you’ve been to, where both they and Type-A Mom, Kelby Carr, have been dealing with what I can only describe as content integrity issues.  In the case of Charlie and Andy, has a cartoon that is incredibly similar to one of their own. With Kelby, they’re using her very widely known brand in a parody. Amy writes more about it, here. (I’ve reached out to for their side. I’ve yet to hear back, but will let you know.)

As Charlie says, “We rely on sharing and attribution to build our audience and social following. It’s the only way that we have a chance in hell to possibly eek out a living doing what we love. Sites like failblog, funnyjunk and others slap their own logo on the bottom of a photo or infographic, often covering up an author’s signature. That’s tantamount to taking a painting and slapping a sticker on the the artist’s name. Why shouldn’t an author or creative get credit?”

When I wrote about Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Good. Period., it meant that searching an image for an original source should be a given before placing it on a social sharing site. It takes seconds to do. When creating content, all sites, but especially those connected to brands, need to do their homework. Charlie and Andy would have been happy to work with They have the same audience. It would have been a great business move for both of them. is seeing now that it is far better to engage rather than enrage your audience.

RULE: If you aren’t creating original content, you must ask permission before using someone else’s.

I saw this on Charlie and Andy’s Facebook Page.

Look at how many LIKES this post got. This cyber village has its own neighborhood watch. I can’t tell you how many the people have told me they learned about the misuse of their content not via Google Alerts or searching but because someone else told them.

This community can only succeed when we stand together and call out this behavior. People work hard to create their content. And unless we put the brakes on here, people will not stop stealing. Because the business model is now one that says you can only succeed if you keep feeding the beast, and yet, it’s one impossible to satisfy. No one is capable of moving at the speed of social media. This model is broken.

Imitation as flattery no longer applies in the 21st century. Imitation has become a desperate attempt to keep up. And at what cost?

We need to slow down.


15 thoughts on “Imitation is Not Flattery: On Copyright, Bloggers and Accountability

  1. kellywhalen818

    I find myself nodding along in agreement. As a content producer and someone who shares others’ content I am very, very conscious of where and who created work. I’m that person that painstakingly follows a pin to its’ true source, or triple checks an image before sharing it. It’s time consuming–yes, but integrity isn’t always easy.

    A call for slowing down is essential. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. alexandra Post author

      Will there come a time where we don’t have to follow a pin to its source? I doubt it. But I think that it’s no different than editing and checking sources. If we want to use the info, we need to make sure it’s ours to share. But it would be nice if the checking a pin or an image did not involve running the gauntlet. And on that note, I wish Pinterest was doing more to monitor their site. The amount of blatant theft I see every day – much of it should not require a DMCA request. I mean, if it has a watermark across it that says GETTY IMAGES, take it down.

  2. Vicky

    Agree about a thousand percent. I’ve tried to comfort myself with ‘Well, imitation is a form of flattery’ when my work has been stolen, but it just never quite does the trick. Content theft is *everywhere* and it’s really frustrating.

    1. alexandra Post author

      It’s rampant and I think that the success of traffic drivers like Pinterest make people more apt to take without consideration. Talking about Pinterest at BlogHer, I wanted people to understand it is a good tool if used well. All of these tools need to be used mindfully.

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  4. Nancy M. Dickinson

    I had a crash course in all of this starting this past Sunday. A major broadcasting company is using an image of mine w/o giving me credit for it. Seems the cost of copyrighting an image is negligible, $35, and can be done in less than a half hour at

    Major corporations are the worst offenders but were *I* to steal an image of theirs w/o permission or knowledge, they’d be on me like a spider monkey.

    My stance is, a stolen image is a stolen image, no matter how much traffic a site gets or how innocent the act might seem. If even one theft is permitted to slide, it sets a dangerous precedent and chips away at the rights of others.

    1. alexandra Post author

      I am so sorry you had to deal with that. True, copyrighting an image gives you a lot, but for most bloggers, that cost could be a couple hundred dollars per week. Maybe more. Like you, I agree that we need to speak up about theft whether we’ve registered the copyright or not. Companies need to be aware that people are watching, and they need to make sure their social media managers are on top of that, too.

    2. mainlinemom

      Here’s the thing though…you don’t HAVE to register a copyright for your work to be copyrighted! It already is. The only difference is the dollar amount of damages you would be able to collect should you sue someone. You can get a LOT more if you pay to register stuff, but you can still collect even if you don’t. Granted, it will barely even cover the lawyers fees, but it’s the principal. Also that $35 fee is good for an entire DVD worth of work. Not per image or per post. Everything you can fit on a DVD in thumbnail size, as long as it’s recognizable. For a photographer like me that means thousands of images. That is worth doing for me.

      This really is a great post, thank you!

      1. alexandra Post author

        You’re right, it is cost effective when you make the copyright registration in bulk. But from what I understand (and I will double check and get back to you), unless the image(s) are registered before infringed upon, you face a harder fight. And with the speed of social media, most people would not want to wait until they had a substantial amount of work before registering. I suppose it depends on the way one blogs and creates the blog content. As an example, I often create my blog photos/graphics within 24 hours of posting. If I were to wait to register them in a cost effective way, it would come long after the posts had received the largest views in the first days after they are posted. I think that is different than my photo work.

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  9. Amy in MN

    I am a photographer. Not by profession per se but by training and as a hobby. I use FB, Twitter, Flickr, and Snapfish to share my images with friends and family. At a recent trip to a doctor’s office imagine my surprise when I saw one of my images on a product advertised in the pages of a medical products catalog. It wasn’t even a “professional” image. It was an image of my aunt and uncle on the day of their 40th wedding anniversary party. I am still mad about this but have not done anything about it because the company is HUGE and I am just little ole me. And most likely they bought the image from a stock photo company who stole it from me off Flickr even though my content is NOT fair use. These kinds of things make me furious.


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