Don’t Hate the Copy Cat

I’ve struggled over the years with artists who steal from other artists and purport to call their work original. I will never endorse people who steal ideas from other people and turn a profit. The age of piracy and duplication concerns me.

As the original author of a piece of work, you feel robbed. And you should. But that’s the glass half empty view. If people are copying you, that means you’re worth copying. Take pride in that. Many of my wisest mentors always carried a delicate smile when they declared piracy of their IP because it affirmed that people care. If your work is being stolen, find a way to take advantage of that. Other people are marketing your work for you. That’s a good thing. Use it.

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Want Your Art to Be Timeless?

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a romant...

Then avoid referencing contemporary pop culture in your work. Lady Gaga. Transformers. Charlie Sheen. Rickrolling. Twilight. Chewbacca. Bieber. Game of Thrones. Clay Aiken. Metal Gear Solid. Parachute Pants. Stop! Just don’t. I’m sorry, did I distract you from my post?

If possible, avoid referentiality altogether. References divert audience attention away from you and toward the things you reference. Heaven forbid the viewer is not familiar with your reference, or he or she will be alienated further. Drawing attention to anything outside your movie, book, painting, game, etc. does little (or absolutely nothing) to help you connect with audiences and tell your own story.

Want to be timeless? Stay within the world of your story. Do not risk incorporating or drawing attention to a pop culture trend that may fade tomorrow. The teenies of today do not remember musical group Hanson – and that was hardly a decade ago. Do you? If you need to draw attention to something beyond the immediate world of your story, then mention something that has matured and continues to survive public memory. Timepieces like war films are at an advantage in that they can reference authentic trends that continue to stand the public awareness test of time. Steven Spielberg can get away with a James Bond reference in Catch Me If You Can through a scene set in 1963 because three generations now have connected with the character and the 007 phenomenon exists in the world of the character’s story. No inside jokes, just straight history.

Do not let your jokes, characters, or narrative depend on other works that future generations may not understand.