You know that scene where Shrek tells Donkey that ogres are like onions? Well in many ways, Instagram accounts are too. With each update rolled out, there’s a layer that goes deeper into that individual’s personality. I can’t help but think of that maze in Westworld and that Facebook (who owns IG) may be up to something a little sinister – or maybe I’m slightly biased as I think that most of these changes are completely unnecessary. Anyway, if you can’t judge someone’s character by their photos, you can gauge it by their captions and comments, and get a little context to their lifestyle via Stories. You’ll get a whole dose of reality with Live. With the new slideshow function – I don’t know exactly how that brings about a more personable element to a very curated feed but let’s not dwell on that.
What sparked the idea for this post was that a friend I made from Instagram, during my trip to Asia, remarked that she knew we would get along because she could tell from my captions. I put almost as much effort into most of these than I do with editing my photos, I have to express how I feel at the moment and hope that it fits with the image or it’s a sterile, standard accompaniment that doesn’t connect to my followers. With my images, they are all retouched the same way (no filter) and its basically autopilot.
When I first noticed that my images were being used on other accounts without credit or permission, I was shocked but not in that flattered way that people claim you should be because for me that’s unrealistic – I’m clearly not that good of a person. What I felt was a mixture of mild disgust, confusion and eventually, resignation. I realised that it was going to happen at some point and from what I’ve gathered, others have had it way worse. Try a tacky dating company stealing your images for a digital campaign kind of worse. Or a stalker reposting your photos with ‘loving’ captions to go alongside them. Yeah, so maybe I didn’t have it that bad but that’s not to say my experience was at all something to be ‘okay’ with.
There are clearly shades of grey when it comes to plagiarism. At the bottom of the pyramid is probably an unknowing follower reposting a photo with no credit without considering how much work you put into it. This can often be written off as long as that person doesn’t claim to own the image. A few leaps above that is a brand stealing your photo, which I view as worse than an individual because in some indirect way, they’re making money off your idea, your intellectual property and your face without consent.
I don’t intend to name or shame personal accounts here but an example of a brand that has done this is @lyla_and_bo who were following me for some time before they decided to steal a photo that I reposted (w/credit of course) of my friend’s photography. After messaging them and commenting, I received no response. I looked at the rest of their images and realised that their moodboard and inspiration type page wasn’t made up of random Pinterest type shots that float around the internet unclaimed. Have you ever noticed that a lot of feature accounts have these kinds of beautiful and inspirational lifestyle shots? Have you ever asked yourself who they belong to?
That’s when I realised that these pictures are likely to be people’s work, sweat and time. The worst kind of brand is one that simply sees Instagrammers as a pure marketing tool and their hard work goes entirely unnoticed. The social media team at Lyla and Bo are representing their brand as the kind of trawler that doesn’t care to credit creatives that are trying to build opportunities for themselves. And at risk of sounding angry on a blog that I try to keep passionate at its worst and positive at its best, Lyla and Bo actually unfollowed me rather than respond to my request to credit or remove the said image.
The second and most grating example was when an Instagrammer that I’ve met in real life stole my caption. So this may not seem as bad as stealing an image but trust me, the caption was incredibly niche – so hell yes I noticed when her version appeared on my feed with almost the same photo to go with it! Strangely, even though she wasn’t promoting anything via that picture/ there were no commercial implications, I was way more affected by this incident than I had been previously. My words as writer and a blogger are my means of communicating my personality to friends and followers. You’ll rarely ever see me quoting song lyrics or philosophical sayings. It was also so bizarre to me that someone that has looked me in the eye, held a conversation and regularly likes my content would think to do something so low.
Another incident involving a ‘big’ Instagrammer was a lot more convoluted. As far as I know, we had never had interactions online before, yet she blocked me. It was because of someone’s private message that I was notified that she had stolen from me and was claiming credit for it. And worse, it contained an illustration of mine. This was like, double theft, if there even is such a thing. So thank you Instagram, for not allowing me to stand up for myself when someone steals my pictures and blocks me as I’m unable to search for their account or see their feed! Interestingly, when I told my friends about this, they asked me,”how many followers does she have?”
Relevant? Yes. Would it make it better if she didn’t have tens of thousands? No. When some friends commented on that photo of mine on her feed, urging her to credit, she simply disabled the comments and didn’t respond. Later, others pointed out that she had done the same thing on a couple other pictures, speculatively because she may have stolen them too.
If you came here to find out how to deal with plagiarism, this is a lot more about emotional support and to say that I sympathise with you. There are measures you can take but they go from politely asking for credit/ a photo removed to a full on battle with Instagram where it seems like you’re the problem more than the solution (you have to prove its your intellectual property and fill out a legal form to claim it). Whilst I’m not as forgiving as some of my friends who just brush it off, I also don’t let it affect what I post.
If I strongly suspect that someone may take an image of mine, based on the kind of things that have been taken in the past, I’ll add a discreet watermark. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is concentrate on building your aesthetic and adding as much of your heart into it as possible so that if someone recognises that it is in fact your image, your words and your art – they’ll stand up for you. Not just based on principle but because they know how much work you’ve put into it and they want it to be recognised on your behalf.
Have you ever had an experience where someone you know/ a brand/ a stranger stole your images and claimed them as their own? How did you deal with it? You can email me via my contact form or drop me a message/ comment on my Instagram.
Photos by Hollie Buxton
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