As a published author and inbound content consultant, I've always been interested in intellectual property and rights. Lately, I have been wondering when inspiration becomes imitation, and how the line between them can be blurred.
According to Merriam-Webster.com:
": something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone
": a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something
": a good idea"
": the act of copying or imitating someone or something
When you look at art, you can see how an artist inspires others. One example is the Impressionist movement, where great artists inspired each other to create an entirely new style of art. While one Impressionist's style may be reminiscent of another's, there are differences that make each artist's work unique to him or her.
Imitation, on the other hand, is copying. Art forgery is a good example as is plagiarism. These are obvious examples of imitations; however, there are some not-so-obvious examples.
Contrary to the quote, Imitation is not the sincerest [form] of flattery. It is insulting and the mark of a cheat. In my opinion, it is no better than someone copying an answer from someone else's test paper during an exam or taking credit for another's ideas at work.
While software can search for and find outright plagiarism, the kind of imitation I'm talking about can be more subtle. Imitators are taking language and ideas from other's, tweaking it slightly, and presenting as their own. However, the final product retains too much of the original creator's work and has too little from the imitator. There are enough differences to avoid the plagiarism charge, but not enough to make it sufficiently different from the original to stand alone. It is an imitation.
The Internet has blurred inspiration and imitation. Imitation abounds, and sometimes it's hard to track down the original inspiration or creator. There are many imitators in the World Wide Web, presenting themselves as experts.
So how can we tell the difference?
I'm not sure we can.