Blogging, copying & copyright: A discussion of copy-cats good & bad and how this all relates to Pinterest

I've had this thought in my mind here and there, and then I dismiss it (like we often do).  But then other things crop up that make me think of it again so now I feel like it's worth discussing.

My thought is this - Is blogging sometimes copying?

I think there are two answers to this question: yes and no.

I am new to the blogging world so maybe I am totally off-base.  That said, I think some things are purely based on principal (and just plain old good manners), so I feel strongly enough about my thoughts here to write them down for all of you to read.

When I ask Is blogging sometimes copying?  And my answer is yes and no.  What I mean is, there is "good" copying and "bad copying".

Good Copying - Think of the adage "Give credit where credit is due".  You find a recipe or something you like on another blog, you write a post about it and (most importantly) you link back to it.  This is one of the things I most love about blogging - the sharing.  Sharing of things other people are doing, making, seeing, trying, exploring and giving them the proper credit by linking back.  It's like advertising for the blogosphere.  I do it for stuff I like and I hope other people share my stuff that they like.  In fact, maybe instead of "good copying" I should be calling it "good sharing".  Either way, a great example of this is Gaby's post on Slutty Brownies made by The Londoner.  Good copying also goes for sharing of photos.  Give a link back and make it clear if it isn't yours.

Now, that said, I suppose there could be a situation where someone shares something that they think sucks.  I have never seen a blogger do this.  I personally choose to not use my blogspace for negative critique and I think this is a common theme among bloggers.  However, my personal opinion is that in blogging, we are putting our opinions, thoughts, likes, feelings (everything) out there - if somebody else thinks it sucks and wants to write about it, they are allowed to do that.  If that person is being responsible, they will also express their feelings to the writer ("hey I tried your recipe and I think it bites") giving you the option to respond; and, if they still feel the need to write about it on their own blog saying why they think it sucks, they should still link back so that their readers can form their own opinion.

Bad Copying - Think of just straight up copying someone else's post or idea and putting it up as your own.  I have seen very little obvious and/or subtle examples of this but either way, I see it happening sometimes, which is a bummer.

fat mum slim who hosts the "photoaday" round ups that I have been participating in, was very obviously copied recently and discusses it here.  I think her post (and attitude) about it is great and I totally agree with what she is saying - especially this part: "...don't steal and create a mediocre version. If you're going to steal, make a hot-diggity, brand spankin' new version with your flavour on it. Make it better. Make it bigger. Be proud of what you create."

That's totally true.  If you see someone doing something cool and you want to use that idea with your own flavor, go for it (personally, I still like to give credit to who I got the idea from too).  But here is a point I'd like to clarify, I don't think that "hot-diggity, brand spankin' new version with your flavor in it" counts if you change one minor, tiny, eentsy little thing....which brings me to example #2.

There is a cake I made and featured on this blog.  I am purposely not being direct in pointing out this copying, but if you really want to, you could find it.  Anyway, I got the cake recipe from a blog and linked back.  But later, I made the cake again, and I found it on a different blog - this blogger was who originally posted about it based on the dates.  The only difference between the recipes was that blogger #2 essentially quadrupled the amount of frosting.  The recipes were identical as was the recipe title and description. 

To me, that is just lame.  If you double something or change 1/4 tsp. to 1/8 tsp., that is not your recipe!!  Granted, it's probably impossible not to sometimes accidentally "copy" someone else's recipe (look what happened to me with the Pumpkin Cookie Caper), especially considering all baked & cooked things that are similar are going to come down to similar ingredients.  BUT, I think there is a clear difference between someone's creation being similar by mistake and someone's copying being just plain obvious.

Anyway, with all of this good copying and bad copying swirling around in my head, I then heard an NPR story about the potential copyright issues of Pinterest.  They interview a blogger named Kristen Kowalski (a lawyer) who wrote a post about just that.  And, wouldn't you know it, I had "Updated Pinterest Terms" in my e-mail the next morning.

Let me start by saying thank you for pooping on our Pinterest party Kristen.  I'm not going to get into all of the legal mumbo-jumbo because that is well, boring.  Instead I'm just going to give you my opinion.  Simply, I think it would be ridiculous for someone to sue a Pinterest user for copyright infringement.  The amount of potential free advertising and/or traffic you could get from people seeing that pin would seem to far out-weigh any benefit you might get by suing.

BUT! (you were expecting that right?).  Pinterest users need to get way better at noting where the pin came from.  One of the biggest bummers for me on Pinterest is when I see something I like and I have to go through some giant chain of pins to figure out where it came from.  Personally I have taken to linking the items I pin right back to the source.  I think the "pinmarklet" is supposed to do this for you, but I don't know that it always works.  I copy/paste the web address right into the comments section of the pin.  DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A LAWYER.  Just in case you were wondering.  And, I don't know if the way I use Pinterest will avoid any copyright violations.  I'm just saying what I think, which could be wrong or right.

In the interview, NPR brought up a good question essentially asking - "have the copyright laws kept up with technology?"  Kind of not, it seems....and I wonder, is it even possible when you can simply right click on something and save or post it wherever?

Which brings me to the end.  Just be polite people.  Treat others how you would want to be treated.  Treat others stuff how you would want your stuff treated.  Bad copying is no bueno and in the end, it just makes you look bad.  Even though the blogosphere is huge, it is also kind of small.  Someone, somewhere will notice.  Give credit where credit is due.  Have fun, keep sharing and relax.  Let's enjoy the blogosphere together.

Rant end.

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  1. Hi Sarah,

    This is such a great post! Well done.

    As an alternative cook posting recipes, I always give credit back to my inspiration, even if the dish is completely different but one of the ingredients inspired me. And if I honestly create something from my own brain, only to find a recipe a few days, week or months later that is similar to mine (that was posted long before mine) I feel okay knowing that it was my own creation and there was no foul play. But it's hard in my world because everyone uses the same ingredients and often bloggers will post nearly identical recipes. Or you'll be working on a recipe and someone will post a nearly identical recipe a day before yours. It happens. BUT if you establish yourself as an honest blogger with a history of supporting other bloggers and giving credit where due, then a few similar recipes aren't a big deal, but you do need this history and record of being an honest and authentic person/blogger.

    I definitely blog with integrity. Not everyone does this, but I like to believe that people who aren't honest and respectful will be ostracized for breaking rules of ethical standards.

    Humans have a nice way of putting assholes in line, no? We like to call it out (just like in that fat mum slim post). Folks don't put up with that kind of crap, because it's WRONG and let's be honest, humans can be pretty stupid, but we know the fundamental difference between right and wrong...and we love it when people are wrong, and we love to make people feel stupid when they are being stupid, because they deserve it and we know this, and it makes us feel good to do something right when it's about something wrong! (don't make me say that again).

    Anyway, great post Sarah. I don't understand the Pinterest thing? Whenever I pin something it automatically creates a link at the bottom of the picture. So I'm lost on this issue. But I just joined Pinterest and I'm crazy addicted. Why the hell didn't we think of this idea Sarah? It's like DUH, yeah, so simple. So awesome.

    Okay, catcha on the flip side lady.


  2. Thanks Amber! I totally agree, with cooking we will definitely run into this. Recipes can be tweaked but will be similar no matter what we do. As long as we give credit we are golden. Sharing and giving kudos is my favorite parts of blogging. There are so many creative and talented people out there, it is fun to celebrate them!

  3. Oops. Re Pinterest - sometimes I notice that the link takes me through ALL of the pins before I can get to the original source....that's why I've taken to posting the link in the description too. I am totally hooked on Pinterest too!!!!

  4. Excellent post! You bring up some very important points and have addressed them really well!


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