Is Imitation the Sincerest Form of Flattery?

A Few Thoughts On Plagiarism

There’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere lately about what constitutes plagiarism and how important proper attribution is. Just yesterday over on FriendFeed, Louis Gray pointed out an article of particular interest on a really intriguing blog called Plagiarism Today.

Nobody is defending plagiarism. It is true that often ideas for a post are inspired by something someone else has written – or an item that they saw first and were quicker to write about because they had more time to write that particular day. You may take see their piece and take idea off on your own particular tangent, but attributing their piece is more than a polite gesture- it’s a necessity. You need to honour the time and effort that someone else put into their work. (And you also need not to just copy their ideas and slap your name on it. That’s despicable.)

This is something else. Something different.

What Is This Something Different?

I have a story that could be labeled a cautionary tale-it’s a little bit odder and not at all about the lifting of content. Rather, it’s more of a textual version of Single White Female.

I’m going to keep the names anonymous to protect the innocent and guilty alike. (That’s also why I am not linking to these blogs- you’ll see why in a minute. Be patient.)

The Cautionary Tale

A dear friend of mine made an acquaintance in the wilds of the world wide web. (I’m going to call them X and Y because I’ve been listening to that Coldplay CD lately. If you’re a Bond fan you could call them M and Q or you could take the first two letters of the alphabet and designate them that way. Whatever makes you happy.)

X got to know Y slightly. Read Y’s blog occasionally and liked it. It was a good blog with some interesting ideas and good things to say, though it lacked a strongly distinctive voice. X saw that Y was reading X’s blog. A lot in fact. X saw that Y’s URL was coming up in the blog log many, many, many times in a day over a period of weeks. One day, X went back to Y’s blog and discovered that Y’s blog now had a very distinctive voice: X’s down to the phrasing, the tone of how Y answered comments and in fact the way post titles were punctuated. (So much so that some people who read both had been e-mailing X and commenting upon the similarities and how weird this situation was.)

What Would You Do About This?

My question is this: What would you call this? It isn’t plagiarism because there was no theft of content. It isn’t identity theft because Y never claimed to be X- just copied many of X’s best practices.

Has anyone else ever come across an example like this where someone else has appropriated another person’s voice? And if so, what did you do about it? What would you recommend X do about it?


2 comments so far

  1. Ironic on

    It’s laziness. If a person writes, but cannot find his or her own voice, it’s sheer laziness and desperation for entitlement. I’m just as good…see?
    Of course imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…right?
    I have seen this. There have been a number of “FAKE” blogs. One person pretends to be another and attempts to write for that person.
    Think ghost writing, which might be similar if the ghost writer goes on to publish his or her own stuff.
    As for this X and Y stuff. All this noise and all this sound…all these places I have found will do no good.
    If this is about…oh let’s say…a class setting, then someone just wants an easy way out. And if Person A is getting a good grade and is told in front of everyone, “This is how it SHOULD BE,” then guess what all the kids wanting that easy “A” start doing?
    B,C and even silent Q will crib.
    Of course I work with children who try to figure out my opinion and copy it, so I could be wrong.

  2. abbymartin on

    Hey Ironic.

    Thanks for chiming in with your opinion!

    Are there really blog ghost writers? This is the first I have heard of that- please tell me more!

    All this noise and all this sound indeed…..

    But I think you’re rather astute.

    So what would you do to resolve the situation?


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