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Get Inspired (Without Copying)

How to Avoid the Gray Line

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Get Inspired Without Copying

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton

As creatives, we often look for inspiration before we start our work. We browse others’ websites, we read their work and we listen to them on podcasts. From these ideas, we feel inspired.

To design.

To create.

To write.

However, when we take that inspiration a bit too far, we blur the line between inspiration and imitation…And that can get us in trouble.

There’s a fine distinction between copying and inspiration, and you need to be certain that the work you create is authentically yours—and not a one-off of your competition’s.

From Learning to Originality

You learned your craft from a teacher, whether a college degree, a mentor, YouTube videos or a certification course that you took. Chances are, you learned from someone outside of you; borrowing from their ideas, imitating their style. Just like a baby learns to talk and walk, you crawled through your lessons and learned from them.

In your first years of business, you also likely followed others who were a few steps ahead. But there comes a point when it’s time to draw that inspiration from somewhere else.

While it’s perfectly normal to follow leaders in your industry (after all, you need to be in the know about new trends and tech), it’s better to turn a blind eye to others who are in your immediate world. Although unintentional, focusing on the techniques of others, may create too much “inspiration” and come a little too close to their style for comfort when you create your work. That can breach intellectual property laws, including trademark and copyright.

If you’re in fashion, it’s hard to get inspired to design a new pair of jeans using your competitor’s for inspiration. So where else can you look?

  • The mood board developed by a branding expert
  • The curved lines in the newest high-end vehicle
  • The exhibit at the art gallery
  • The sound and feel of your environment

Because you’re a creative, you can think outside the box. You can draw inspiration from virtually anywhere. Move yourself outside your traditional creative boundaries and look for inspiration in unusual places. Not only will you steer clear of any copyright issues, you’ll be the go-to person for innovation and creativity in your field.

To read more about taking inspiration from pre-existing work see our post: Blurry Line Between Inspiration and IP Infringement. Intellectual property rights can be confusing. When in doubt about whether your idea takes too much inspiration from another, consult a lawyer for expert advice specific to your situation.

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