How to cope with copycats… (or, a lesson in why ethical communication is so important)

How to cope with copycats… (or, a lesson in why ethical communication is so important)

As we all continue to work hard to spread awareness of the climate crisis and important ethical issues – it’s essential that we do so in an ethical way that respects the work of our fellow changemakers.

Otherwise we undermine our entire message.

Sadly, not everyone in the space agrees…

We’ve long had to battle the big fast fashion brands ripping off designs from indie designers, but this copycat behaviour is spreading to our space as well.

It’s most noticeably happening on Instagram, with people stealing each other’s images and words.

Sharing is caring…but only when it’s done with the right credit.

If you use someone’s image, you should always tag the account it originally came from.

And the same applies to all, or even part of, their caption too.

Even when you’ve been inspired by someone else’s post, it doesn’t harm you to tag them and thank them – it spreads the message and it helps us all to thrive.

We all know how time consuming it can be to put together a quality post, and when you see someone expressing a cause or issue better than you feel you could, there’s nothing wrong with sharing their message instead of creating your own – as long as you credit them appropriately.

Sadly I’ve seen several people rip off images and words from my clients and friends recently with no credit at all.

I’ve even had it happen to me.

Twice now I’ve written detailed, emotional posts from the heart, about my personal feelings towards sustainable issues, which have gone viral…

And then been stolen by other people, in the ethical space, without credit.

As a writer, it breaks my heart to have my words, which I’ve poured my heart and soul into, stolen and used for other’s commercial gain. 

Nothing brings me more joy than seeing people respond to my work, sharing the message and resonating with what I’ve written. It’s such a thrill to see my words go viral! 

But that doesn’t mean others can take them and pass them off as their own. 

It’s not fair and it’s certainly not ethical.

I’ll be honest, I’ve shared images in the past without knowing who to credit – but as soon as they’ve reached out to me I’ve added the appropriate tags and acknowledgement – because people deserve to know, like and follow the original source of the work they admire.

But when it comes to stealing words, you can’t claim ignorance, that’s something done on purpose.

If it happens to you, firstly I’m sorry you have to go through it, because it’s really upsetting.

Don’t let it put you off though – the world needs your unique, brilliant voice and vision, so keep creating!

The brilliant Dr Michelle Mazur, in her book The 3 Word Rebellion, says:

“A leader is a steward of the change that she wants to bring forth into the world”

Our message, and the change we’re here to create, is bigger than we are. 

We are the stewards of our message, here to bring it into the world.

But we need to do that collaboratively – or find our own unique, original words to do so.

(To those struggling to find their own words, and therefore stealing from others, with empathy I urge you to buy, read, complete and use 3 Word Rebellion* – I hope it will help you find your own path, so you can collaborate effectively going forward and bring your own message to the world).

Collaborations only work when we build on a foundation of shared values.

Actions speak louder than words, so someone might call themselves ethical, but if they’re stealing posts then their actions suggest otherwise.

We can’t let copycats get away with it. 

Imitation is not the highest form of flattery…

It’s copyright infringement, and it’s against the law.

And if our messages of ethics, compassion and creating change are spread in this way, it will undermine them, and we will struggle to get taken seriously.

So as changemakers we must communicate ethically, and hold others to these standards too.

Thankfully Instagram are pretty hot on image theft and there is a process you can follow.

If you have your work stolen you can either reach out to the thief first and ask them to add credit. If it’s an innocent mistake they’ll be happy to correct it and you can both benefit from the extended reach of your work. Great!

But if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, or you try and get no response, report the post to Instagram using the copyright infringement form. (Facebook has one too). It only takes a few minutes and they’re pretty hot on taking stolen posts down.

You’ll just need the link to where you posted the image first, and the image where the thief has posted it without credit.

Sadly, they’re not as hot on caption theft.

Recently I had one of my most heartfelt posts stolen, word for word, but to avoid copyright detection the thief added in their own facts and stats.

Over 60% of their post replicated mine directly, but when I reported it to Instagram my appeal was rejected.

It sounds like a minor thing, especially when we spend our lives dealing with global problems, but your creative expression is highly personal. 

When you’ve poured your heart, soul, energy and precious time into creating a post, it’s heartbreaking to have that stolen without credit, and it leaves you feeling powerless and drained when that isn’t recognised.

At that point, all you can do is move on.

Continue creating your work, which the world so desperately needs, and leave the rest to karma. Try to rest easy remembering that copycats don’t last long.

And don’t be afraid to block those that steal your work. 

Collaboration over competition is a really important value in the changemaker space, but it only works when we’re all following the same values.

And lovely followers, I know I don’t need to tell you this, but please don’t steal other people’s work without giving them credit.

I’ve been in this game long enough to spot an ideas thief a mile off, but it’s always just as heartbreaking when it happens – and it causes unnecessary energy drain and admin that us busy changemakers don’t need to be dealing with.

Let’s work together to create change!



*This is an affiliate link, which means I get paid a small amount if you purchase, as a thank you for recommending it. It doesn’t cost you extra!

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