Imitations and Acknowledging Influence

As our remix culture matures, we’re seeing more and more creative works that are derivative of other works. This is great–imitation is an important piston in our society’s cultural engine.

However, I do think it’s important to, when and where we can, acknowledge our sources. Historically, writers could do this through a forward, footnotes or appendix. Other artists and creators didn’t have the same flexibility. Jackson Pollock can’t easily footnote his early works as influenced by Picasso.

In the era of the Web, we have far more opportunities to acknowledge from whom we borrowed. And that metadata is all the more important in the high-paced, multiphrenic Internet age. I talk about this quite often with my friends at Common Craft, whose excellent videos are routinely imitated.

Hat Tips are Welcome

Today, I discovered this You Fix the Budget interactive feature from the New York Times. It’s cool, but the Times almost certainly got the idea from the Guardian, which produced a better-looking version last month.

The right thing to do is for the Times to acknowledge the source of this project. After all, they wrote two articles about the feature. Unfortunately, that’s a professional courtesy one company isn’t like to extend to another.

Here’s another example. You’re almost certainly familiar with those fantastic Old Spice Guy ads. The Sun newspaper in the UK produced a clunky, awkward, downright awful takeoff featuring a charisma-free Page 3 girl:

That video is truly the definition of “pale imitation”.

Everybody understands the source of this video, but it’d be nice if they’d at least include a link to the Old Spice videos in the YouTube description, wouldn’t it?

More personally, I was irked when Vancouver Opera seemed to copy (our poster, their poster–note that the instructions are written verbatim) a poster campaign we were running. I’m certainly not looking for a citation on the poster but they wrote a blog post about their campaign. It would have been easy for them to recognize the source of the project. I claim no hold over the idea–I just think it’s in good form to tip your hat when you can.

Both professionally and personally, I make derivative web projects all the time. I always try to acknowledge the sources. Here, for example, is the About page for our Intranet Secrets project for ThoughtFarmer. Note the shout-out to Post Secret, the site off of which we’re riffing (wow, that was some awkward grammar).

Am I tilting at windmills? Is this thinking leftover from an analogue twentieth century?

UPDATE: Coincidentally, I noticed (via Waxy) that the musician and DJ Girl Talk has a new album, free for download, out today. Here’s an alternative link, as the main site is a little b0rked at the moment.

Girl Talk notoriously constructs his songs out of samples of other songs. The new album, All Day, allegedly has 373 samples on it. On the album’s page, there’s a note that reads “Girl Talk thanks all artists sampled. A full list will be posted in the future.” As it turns out, that problem got crowdsourced on Wikipedia.


  1. You mean, like when we link to other blog posts? When we RT or do a /via ?

    I think it’s entirely appropriate to hat tip by linking. It’s good practice, because the creators will feel good, and will likely share the imitation (flattery), thus guaranteeing wider spread for the project.

  2. Hi Darren,

    So sorry for not hat-tipping you in regards to the instructions on how to use our QR code. It absolutely should’ve been mentioned on our blogpost. I have amended our post to reflect this. Thanks for pointing that out!

    Ling Chan, Social Media Manager
    Vancouver Opera

    1. No worries–it just occurred to me in the context of this blog post, so I thought I’d mention it.

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