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Starting / Business startup

Before you worry about being copied, read this

If you’ve been in business for long enough, you’ll find yourself being copied. Before you get mad, however, I want you to consider something: were they copying you, or was something else at work?

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There’s no doubt about it, the Internet has made the world of business a far smaller place. Everyone can see what everyone is doing, all of the time. Which means that the inevitable is bound to happen: you will be copied. And you will be accused of copying.

Before we grab our pitchforks, adorn ourselves with felt feline ears and begin warbling ‘copycat!’ at the top of our lungs, however, I have something for you to ponder.

There’s no monopoly on good ideas

Us humans are pretty clever. We built the automobile, landed on the moon and figured out that if you brew small dark beans, they transform into an elixir of life (aka coffee).

But did you know that when Nobel laureates are announced, there isn’t just room for one bold inventor … but up to three of them? This phenomenon even has a name: multiple discovery. It’s when more than one person comes up with the same idea, independently of the others.

"This phenomenon even has a name: multiple discovery, where more than one person comes up with the same idea, independently of the others. "

Famous examples of multiple discovery include the invention of the crossbow, the formulation of calculus and even the discovery of oxygen, all of which were stumbled across by more than one scientist at more or less the same time in history.

Did these scientists have covert spies watching their competitors so they could pounce on their ideas? No. They just happened upon the same idea at the same time. No trickery or bad intentions. Just multiple discovery at work.

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And I know what you’re thinking: it wasn’t multiple bloody discovery! He/she/they stole my idea/design/style. I know it.

But again, before you launch yourself into a pitch-fork-supported frenzy, I want you to consider something: were you being copyied … or were they copying a trend?

A trend, by definition, is something that is endorsed, supported and exhibited by a large mass of people. Like the Rachel cut. And shoulder pads. And fanny packs.

Some trends are better (or at least less embarrassing) than others. But just because somebody has the same, or a similar, hairstyle as you, is that really enough ammunition to accuse them of copying? Could it simply be that they were inspired by the same thing you were, at around the same time?

Food for thought.

But in case you’re not convinced, here’s what to do if you still think that you are being copied.

What to do when you are being copied

Because that’s not to say that every time you’re being copied it will simply be due to a popular trend or even a matter of multiple discovery. Somebody could – and might – intentionally copy your work. However, is it really something you should stress yourself about?

I believe that unless somebody has lifted your content, words or design exactly (which is plagiarism and intellectual property theft), you should feel confident in what you are doing. It shouldn’t even matter if somebody is doing something similar.

Because you are doing you. You’re being authentic. You’re marching to the beat of your drum.

And sure, even then, people may copy you. And people may accuse you of copying them too.

But so long as you keep your eyes on your own work, remain true to what lights you up and realise that not only are there no new ideas (really!) and that there is no point caring about what other people are doing, you will be fine.

It’s a waste of time and a waste of your precious energy to worry about what everyone else is up to.

Trends happen and people follow them. Multiple discovery happens. It’s not copying. It’s life.

Go forth and create!

Have you ever been accused of copying when it was, in fact, a case of multiple discovery?

Anna Dower

is a designer, mentor and Chief Boss-Lady at Design With Style. She's also the co-founder and art director of digital magazine, ROOOAR.

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