Sunday, September 9, 2012

Internet Etiquette, aka How Not To Be A Jerk

Hi all.  For those of you who have met me in person, this won't come as a surprise.  For those of you who may just be getting to know me online, you may want to sit down.  My name is Katie, and I say what everyone else is thinking.  I'm "That Friend."  You know, the one where your other friends say, "If you want to here things the way they really are, ask Katie."  I don't sugarcoat things, and I will always tell you the truth.  I honestly am not trying to be mean, and I always avoid being cruel as much as possible.  However, sometimes the truth hurts, and if you want to know how things really stand, feel free to ask.

That being said, one thing I absolutely do not consider myself is a prolific or popular blogger.  I'm not a big name in reenacting or costuming; I just kind of do my own thing and post pretty pictures when I have them.  That's cool.  I'm fine with that.  What I have been, though, is involved in internet communities in many different forms for almost fifteen years now.  I currently moderate a community of fiction writers, and have been part of many different TV and movie fandoms in varying genres, from anime to sci-fi.  I plopped myself into the costuming community about ten years ago, and in the past few years have transitioned more into reenacting--but reenacting vs. costuming is a totally different post, so we'll just leave that there for now.

One thing I have seen as a constant in every internet community that I have ever been a part of is this, though:  Copying is Not Okay.

I'm not talking about copyright infringement, intellectual property rights, or anything like that.  I'm talking about something much more amorphous and personal.  You know that saying "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?"  That's what I mean.  And pretty much across the board, it's a bunch of bullshit.

The plain fact is, pretty much nobody likes being copied.  Especially in a community like this, where the people who are big names do a hell of a lot of work to produce original content with documentation and high-end craftsmanship.

And you know, I understand--I really do.  I started out at age teen-something and looked up to a lot of people in the hobby.  I bookmarked their websites (back then blogging was not a Thing) and visited them often for inspiration.  The urge to be just like your heroes is a strong one.  And to a certain extent, that's a good way to dip your toes into a new hobby.  But when you find yourself thinking, "Oh, that [insert project here] is gorgeous--I want one just like it..."

Stop.

Think.

Think hard about your life choices.

Because in my experience, no matter how nice that person is when you post pictures of your own copycat project, inside they probably feel a little dead.

This is an outstandingly kind and welcoming community.  Costumers and reenactors are pretty much always glad to share their information and enthusiastic about it when someone else wants to join in the fun.  If you show up to the Oscars wearing the same dress, so to speak, the veteran costumer is most likely going to be very nice about it.  But you know what?  That's never a good feeling.  You watch someone else walking around in a copy of a garment that you spent hours researching and crafting to the best of your ability, and you kind of want to vomit a little bit.

Now admittedly, things get trickier when it comes to inspiration.  A lot of people do this thing where they find an example of something really cool in a museum and then go reproduce it.  And when something is really fantastic, sometimes more than one person wants to recreate it.  However, a lot of times, the way people find stuff on museum sites is by trawling through other blogs, stumbling across someone's entry linking to that museum object, and then they decide that the thing in question is so cool they have to have it.

In cases like that, the best thing to do is to be honest about how you found your inspiration.  Nobody's going to be mad at you for looking at their blog.  What they will get mad about is if you take credit for doing the work that they actually did.  Museum websites are no picnic--it can take patience and perseverance to find good information there, because often the sites are confusing or hard to navigate.  So, if you weren't the one that spent four hours combing through online collections to find that one outstanding picture, tell the truth.  Link back to the original researcher's blog. Maybe even email them personally.  In this case, is is not better to ask forgiveness than permission.  By the time you're asking forgiveness, you've already put a bad taste in that person's mouth.

The bald truth is that nobody enjoys feeling like they've been ripped off.  If you're going to use part or any of someone else's documentation, crediting them is vital.  The better practice, though, is to take what you've learned from that original person's work and build on it to do something of your own--something different, so that nobody feels like their toes are being squished.

For the most part, people on the internet are overwhelmingly generous about sharing their experiences, information, and research.  However, just because it's out there doesn't mean it's free for the taking.  Research, sourcing of materials, and experimentation with techniques are all hard work as well as a time investment, and it's important to everyone who does that sort of thing that their hard work be recognized and appreciated.  It's a double-edged sword--the internet lets us share our lives with so many great people, but it also makes it easy for less-than-great people to hurt us.  All it takes is one person peeing in the pool to ruin it for everyone.  Don't be that person.  Give credit where it's due, don't copy someone else's work, and don't be rude.  Really, that's the number one rule of any community, online or off.  Don't be rude, and we can all keep having fun together.

15 comments:

  1. So true! I've locked down my research on recreating a garment because someone was being disingenous. I'm not the first to recreate it, but I was up front with the only other people I know who'd recreated or were working on it once I'd used my google-fu, and I became fans of their other work too.

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    1. I had a discussion along these lines on facebook regarding this--I think the internet makes for great opportunities to meet people and expand your horizons, like you did. You contact people who make similar things, and as long as everyone's cool with it, the more the merrier! But when someone's not polite about it, it can really ruin your whole day.

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  2. There's a good point in this post. After all, the historical costuming (online) society is quite small and people are very quick to notice if you've copied someone. There's always someone who knows this other person made the same thing you did. Specially, when the original creator of a costume didn't make a copy of a museum garment but designed his/her own outfit and you go and copy it, it's definitely not ok not to give credit the one who made the costume first. Of course, in the world of clothing in general it's not a crime to copy other people's works but nobody will respect you for doing it, specially if you don't give credit to the designer, be it a famous one or a "nobody".

    Sounds like you've had an unpleasant experience of someone copying your work lately. Am I right?

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    1. This entry has actually been a long time in coming. Nobody's ever really copied a garment of mine or anything, but I've seen it happen to a lot of my good friends in costuming, fandom, and artist communities. I don't consider myself particularly worthy of being copied, but even someone "scooping" a technique or piece of information you've dug up can be hurtful.

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  3. *thumbs up* You deserve a full box of cookies and a giant big hug for writing this ! Well said.

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    1. Oooh cookies! Hugs are lovely too, thank you! ;)

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  4. maybe I'm old fashioned, or maybe I camae late to bloggin as I was re enacting for 20 years before I got on the net, but I do all my reseach from books and museums, I don't quite trust online research.

    It does piss me off when I see other re-enactors doing bad copies of stuf I've researched and done well though

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    1. That's a good point, Tanya. I think sometimes what happens is that someone like you may go into a museum collection, or dive into some heavy-duty book research, and then perhaps publish information online...and then someone comes along and just sort of "scalps" the information of the 'net and does their own thing with it, neglecting to credit and maybe not even realizing the depth of the research that the original person did.

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  5. Hi Katie! I want to commend you for this post! In fact, I think we were totally on the same wavelength, because before I was directed here, I wrote up my own post on this exact topic, just yesterday... http://www.modehistorique.com/blog/?p=1249

    I'm glad there's more of us out there who are willing to speak up about copying and plagiarism in the online blogging world. This is a small community, and even if you think your blog is going unnoticed, it's more than likely on all of the community's radars. I think it's part laziness, part "this isn't school, this is my hobby, so I don't have to cite my sources" mentality, and part obliviousness to how hurtful and demoralizing this sort of behavior can be.

    For a long time I felt like I was the only one who cared about this problem. Then I started talking about it with my costuming friends and realized that I wasn't the only one, and that this is a huge deal for those of us with blogs and websites, whose labor of love is to make this info available FOR FREE. All we ever wanted was some kind of acknowledgement, and that seems to be the hardest thing to actually get.

    Anyway, enough of my rambling. Fight the good fight!

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    1. I just commented on your post, but I wanted to say thanks here as well. I really appreciate knowing other people are on the same page!

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  6. I'm new to the blogging and costuming world myself. I try to carefully link everything that I find on the internet so my 4 readers know exactly where I got my information from. I kind of feel that if I put my photos and my research out on the net, I'm giving permission for people to be inspired by them. I sure hope that if someone copies my stuff they at least link back to me. If for no other reason than the people reading the copier's material will be able to figure out if the copier's source (ie me) is reliable. As for copying costumes, well, I use photographs of museum dresses as 1 part inspiration and 1 part guidence on what was common for a certain era. But I'm not gifted enough/patient enough/rich enough to produce anything more than a nod in the direction of the original dress. I doubt anyone will be jumping to copy my dresses. I'm not sure how I would feel about having one of my dresses copied. I guess the difference between me and your other commenters is there is no real costuming group where I live. My friend and I are trying to start one...we haven't started copying each others work yet! Thanks for your post. It is good for me to be reminded of how important giving credit where credit is due.

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    1. Well, I think all of us have copied or taken inspiration from an extant garment at one time or another! That's not really what I'm getting at here. When you see someone online who's made something you love and then set out to recreate it, that's where things get a little muddy. Also, common courtesy is to credit image sources. Putting things on the internet doesn't make them public domain; I know personally I'm more than fine with people using images that I publish in their own research, but because of the time and effort I went to in putting them up to begin with, I'm going to feel a bit put out if there's no link back to my blog, flickr, or even a mention of my name.

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  7. I agree that giving credit where credit is due is basic human ethics! I have discovered how to put names and links on photos using paint. It is a bit time consuming but I think it will keep me from forgetting where I got the photo in the first place so I can credit the source if I use it on pintrest or my blog.

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  8. It's weird that people copy... did I show you this?? http://www.acparadise.com/acp/picview.php?p=s4515_668481&s=2184

    That right there is weird. Why? Down to the sparkly apple. I just can't even fathom it.

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    1. I saw that! So weird...and just rude.

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