Choosing Collaboration Over Appropriation in the Creative Community

Choosing Collaboration Over Appropriation in the Creative Community

I have been a part of the creative community for over 40 years, contributing as a maker, graphic designer, photographer, writer, teacher, event producer, among other roles. During that time I have become accustomed to seeing a lot of my work used without permission, whether it be my writing, graphics, photos, designs, or amazingly even my entire website (that happened twice). First and foremost, such actions are neither legal nor ethical. However, I’d like to focus on the emotional impact and the reflection it casts on those who resort to theft.

I am not referring to being inspired by another artist and using that inspiration to craft your own distinctive creations. Inspiration is wonderful. I am specifically addressing the act of taking someone else’s work and falsely claiming it as your own.

The experience of seeing someone else take your work and claim it as their own is profoundly disappointing. At times, it’s maddening, but more frequently for me, it just evokes an overwhelmingly deep sense of sadness. To invest time and effort into creating something only for it to be appropriated and claimed by someone else is disheartening. Often, when attempting to address the issue with the perpetrators—giving them the benefit of the doubt that they might be unaware of their wrongdoing—they respond by blocking communication. This reaction merely demonstrates their awareness of their actions and their acknowledgment of wrongdoing—they simply believed they would get away with it.

It’s important to distinguish between simply sharing someone’s work—with proper credit and without altering or removing the creator’s name, URL, or logo—and the act of deliberately erasing or hiding these elements to present the work as one’s own. The latter is an indicator of theft, premeditated and executed with dishonest intent. This deceit is reprehensible, yet often goes unchecked and unchallenged, which is wrong.

There’s a prevailing, misguided notion that victims of such theft should remain silent in the name of politeness – to not cause a scene. This is absurd. There’s nothing polite about stealing and claiming another’s hard work as one’s own. Perpetrators need to be held accountable. Those who knowingly steal are not who I want in my maker community.

For clarity, let me reiterate: my comments are directed at individuals who intentionally take work that isn’t theirs and then proceed to hide or replace the author’s name or other identifying marks.

On the other hand, sharing another’s work while preserving the attribution exemplifies collaboration. Supporting fellow creators is a hallmark of true artistry. These are the individuals I value in my creative community—the collaborators, those who recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats. They understand that we don’t need to suppress others to achieve our own success.

When we lift each other up, we all win. Be a collaborator. Give credit where due.

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