Be Inspired; Don’t Copy


Last week’s court decision that ordered the artists who created the 2013 hit song Blurred Lines (Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams) to pay $7M+ to the heirs of Marvin Gaye has reignited talk of plagiarism and copying the works of others. It is certainly a golden era for intellectual property attorneys.

If an artist says his/her work is “inspired” by that of another artist, is he/she necessarily ripping off the original artist? And what inspired Marvin Gaye to compose Got To Give It Up with its memorable bass line? Did Gaye hear something in another song that inspired him? Did the bass player on the session offer any input?

Any examination of popular art (radio, TV, music, movies, books, etc.) during the last century reveals works that were influenced by what came before. An obvious example is the spate of performance competition TV shows that have followed in the wake of American Idol’s success. But remember, performance competitions were popular in the early days of TV and radio and go back, at least, to the days of Vaudeville stage shows.

If you have been inspired by a presentation you attended, an interview you watched, a book you read, a blog post or podcast you accessed online, feel free to talk and write about it. If you quote, attribute. If you share an idea that’s similar or parallel to what you’ve consumed, tweak it enough to make it your own. That’s okay. But blatantly stealing is not okay.

Numerous bloggers, journalists and authors have complained of their best work being stolen by those who have taken advantage of digital technology. In 2015 it is easy to copy and paste content and claim it as your own. But it is also easy to monitor the net and other sources and spot the thievery.

Each of us is inspired and influenced by all the media output that has flowed into our brains during our lifetimes. Sometimes the content you or I deliver may have a familiar ring. But as long as we dish it out in our own words (or music or graphics, etc.), without directly copying, the work we produce can be fresh and compelling. And it may even inspire others.

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