Recently, Sam Smith, a young UK crooner had to pay royalties from his hit “Stay with Me” to Tom Petty, due to similarities in the chorus to “Won’t Back Down”. This isn’t the first instance where Tom Petty, his lawyers or his fans have insisted that the rock legend was being copied by a younger musician or band. And while when listening to the songs in question, you can’t help but hear the similarities, it’s hard to find many songs that don’t copy the simplistic melodies and fairly predictable progressions.
What does this have to do with blogging? Just this.
No one is copying you, Tom Petty, emphasis on the Petty.
Tom Petty is a great musician. I cannot deny it. I love his songs, his lyrics and his crusty, worn-in voice. And I am sure you are a great blogger! Or marketer, or content marketer, or analyst or whatever. I see many of my friends and colleagues, whose writing I respect and read and whose advice I seek, complaining about being copied, new bloggers stealing their ideas and changing a few words around. And while in SOME cases this might be true, chances are you are not being copied. Here’s why:
1) You are not a special snowflake.
If you once upon a time realized that recruiting and marketing are similar or got struck in the face with the idea that ATS are broken or suddenly ascertained that it’s the candidate experience that’s truly important, that is GREAT. Those are all important observations. They are also face-smackingly obvious and everyone under the sun has written about them. If you’re a marketer, you might think that your words about video interviewing, big data, social recruiting et al are unique and compelling. They probably ARE but also there are only so many ways to write about those things. The same goes double for analysts, who must stick to a much tighter set of parameters when describing new products and services (even when those bear a striking resemblance to products and services that already exist). If you thought of it, chances are someone thought of it before and tried to put those thoughts into words. Someone may also come along and get those same realizations after you do and try to put THOSE into words but it doesn’t mean they are copying you. It means it’s time to dig deeper. See the quote from Adam Raguesa below (emphasis mine):
“I think there’s a reason this keeps happening to Petty in particular: His music is so simple that a song can hardly play with the building blocks of rock ‘n’ roll without evoking a Petty hit.
To be clear, I am a lifelong Petty fan, and I think the virtues of simplicity in any art form far outweigh the downsides. My dispute is with artists who claim ownership over the very paints that everyone else has on their own palettes. You can’t use Prussian blue man, that’s Bob Ross’ jam!”
2) Your writing is “melodically simple”
Look, I am pretty sure we all went to the same blogging school. Use bulleted lists! Bold your subheads! 700-1250 words is the ideal length! Write in a conversational tone! Use verbs instead of adverbs! These are the tenets of good, informational, easily read blog posts. In the case of Tom Petty, if you’ve ever sung solfege, which breaks musical scales down into components, you will understand why it’s slightly laughable that Petty’s song sound-alikes are considered copyright infringement. Then chord/note progression in question is simple enough to be a building block, as are many of the blogging components and ideas I’ve discussed here. It’s okay to have simplicity in your writing, in fact, it’s something to aspire to, but don’t assume you’re being copied outright when another writer finally steps up to that plane.
3) No masterpiece is completely original
Let’s pretend that you cringe when I say marketer, shudder at the word analyst and consider the term blogger to be an insult. You, are an artist, a writer, pure and simple. Just because you happen to get paid for the distinction makes no difference, you….are an artiste! It’s the principle of the thing Maren! People cannot simply take the work of others, change a few sentences and slap their names on it.
You’re right. If we are talking about similarities that a college professor could spot while grading freshman papers, you are right. On the other hand, real writers copy all the time.
“Steven Pressfield, when he was first starting out, typed out pages and pages of Hemingway just to get a sense of his pacing, his storytelling, and his voice. He copied Hemingway to get into his head and understand how he constructed sentences, and how each sentence related to the ones around it.”
Shakespeare, the ultimate copycat was even rumored to have copied Romeo and Juliet from another author. Stephen King did it, Picasso did it, Gary Halbert, “arguably the greatest copywriter of all time” did it. You can’t write well without reading. You can’t play well without practicing. If you believe that writing is a craft, this is a necessary phase of that craft. (I know it gets your pants in a bunch that you’re being copied potentially for profit).
Still annoyed? Don’t think any of these things apply to you? Then try writing exactly what you think, without “good blogging” parameters, editing of curse words, linking to other bloggers to prove your point, or stats. Write something completely and utterly infused with YOU without caring if it will be retweeted or read at all.
And see if anyone copies it.
They won’t because it will be too hard to edit the personality out of it. The downside is that you likely won’t be able to sell it either. At least not for awhile. In the meantime, chill out Petty.
Ed note: I have been blogging since 2006-7 specifically in the HR and Recruiting Technology Space. I have edited 20-30 posts daily. I have ghostwritten for CEOs, I have written daily emails to communities of hundreds of thousands of people. My firm produces 40-60 pieces of content a month on every conceivable HCM product, service, vertical there is. I work with startups and Fortune 500 companies and write for them too. I have trained a team of writers (amazing ones) who do the same here in Omaha, Nebraska for companies ALL over the globe. I have written marketing copy, blog posts, white papers, articles, web copy, sales and presentation scripts, ebooks, analyst articles, technical manuals, user experience prompts for software, SEO guides, employee manuals and conference descriptions. You name it, I’ve written it in this space. This sounds arrogant but what I am trying to say, is that if I haven’t been copied, chances are, neither have you. On the other hand, I HAVE seen people repost entire blog posts elsewhere and slap another name (or no name at all) on it, that blows. You can get mad at that.