What would you do if, hypothetically, you once drew an original cartoon character, a smirking onion with sunglasses and the hypothetical name of “Onionhead,” and showed your entire fifth grade class the little copyright sign next to it, yet within ten minutes it was all over everyone’s papers and, to this day, the injustice gnaws at the very fabric of your soul?
Or if someone, hypothetically, read just about every post on your blog – your hypothetical blog – and hypothetically copied various parts of your writing, in regards to style and formatting and phrases?
What would you do? All this being absolutely hypothetical, of course.
Turns out if you ask anyone for advice, 99% of the time, they will respond with something along the lines of “imitation is the highest form of flattery.” Or, if the person you ask is the cranky brunette sales associate at Costco, “Who are you? Stop bothering me.”
But the 1% isn’t much help either. Below are their tips.
Tip #0: Stop caring. I’ve numbered this tip “0” because it is an idiotic tip, but feel free to try it anyway. Although, you might as well wish for a pony while you’re at it.
Tip #0.1: Be successful. Given that you can hardly control success, this tip is almost as idiotic a tip as #0. I assume the intent of this tip is to highlight how “no one can be a better you than you,” so if you just work hard at being yourself, you will succeed and leave your shadow in the dust. Only, what if that person is a better you than you? What if that person, by a stroke of luck, becomes more famous for being you? What then?
The gist: you’re supposed to be the bigger person, accept plagiarism as a compliment, and let it slide. In other words, you have to change for someone else’s transgression. That’s fine. But if you happen to be an actual human being and not a saint, these tips may be more helpful.
Tip #1: Suck. You can’t control your success, but you can certainly control how much you suck, or at least how much more you suck than usual. There is some merit to this tip, as no one will think to steal a terrible idea.
Then again, my blog has been described as “literally about nothing,” and someone still copied it. So I suppose if someone steals your terrible idea anyway, you can content yourself with the knowledge that this copycat is not too discerning and therefore vulnerable to sabotage.
Tip #2: Fix it yourself. You could just let him know that you’ve noticed his plagiarism and ask him nicely to stop. But you could also take matters into your own hands. Someone copying your website? Hack into his computer and delete his account. Someone copying your character? Track down all the imitations and light them on fire. Someone copying your wardrobe? Break into his house and replace his closet with Crocs and 80’s workout clothing.
Tip #3: Lex Talionis. Do to him what he did to you. Start copying the copycat. Follow him around for a while to familiarize yourself with his routine. Then, out of the blue, go wherever he goes, dressed and talking exactly like him. Hopefully this will confuse him for long enough so you can stuff him in a cardboard box and ship him to Peru.
Tip #4: Adjust your content slightly. One simple solution is to invent an indecipherable code to write everything in and only send the key to those you trust. That way, it’d be more work for someone to steal your idea than it would be to just come up with his own. Or, even better, to prevent the code key from leaking, make only one copy and force your friends to only read your website in your presence. They’ll understand.
Tip #5: Encourage your copycat to go all the way. This has proven to be the riskiest but most effective method of all. Instead of pushing your copycat away, embrace him. Talk enthusiastically about the topics you like, confide all your concerns to him, give him all of your homework, register him for your chores. After all, if he wants to be you so badly, he should be fine with shouldering all of your problems, too.
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In all seriousness, though, unless your material is copyrighted, you can’t legally do anything. And sometimes even that doesn’t stop them.
So while you’re waiting for that copyright and working on these tips, you could also peruse this admittedly less exciting solution, which works from the opposite direction.
Advice to Copycats
1. If you absolutely must copy, try to imitate famous or already successful people, as it probably won’t have as much an effect on them.
2. Ask. Chances are the person will say yes if he doesn’t want to seem rude.
3. Credit those you copy.
Plagiarism is only so rampant because of the “everyone’s doing it, so it must be okay” mentality. You may not have the resources to deter plagiarism by singlehandedly ruining the lives of all your imitators as suggested above, but if you abide by these rules yourself and spread the word to others, it’s at least a step in the right direction.