This weekend I was the victim of blatant intellectual property theft. The most brazen example of copyright infringement I've personally had the "pleasure" of dealing with. My weekend was spent contacting lawyers, collecting evidence, and researching copyright laws.

If you know me personally, or have any sort of online relationship with me, you know one thing to be true. I GIVE. I give of my time. I give of my knowledge. I give of my heart. I GIVE. I can't tell you how many emails I get weekly from all over the country, heck even internationally... asking for advice: Is this a good camera? This lens is on sale, should I buy it? What gear do you use? What were your settings in this photo? How did you get started? What advice to do have for someone starting out? Do you offer mentoring sessions? I personally meet for coffee dates with local photographers to build relationships, and strengthen our community of creatives. I get questions that aren't even about photography. I take the time to answer late night texts about my clients and their breastfeeding journey. Why is he crying after he nurses? Is this normal, is that normal? What did you do when your baby _____?  I often take several minutes looking for links or helpful information that I can pass on to them. Or I just give of my time and listen, and pray with them. I answer their calls and cries while they navigate the trenches of new parenthood.

Now think of the HOURS I spend GIVING myself to others. Unpaid. And I LOVE doing it. It's what gives me pleasure. It's what the Lord has called me to do. To fully love and give of myself to others. To love others wholly. And I do. And I will continue to. Nothing will stop that, and there's nothing any individual can do to jade my heart into being selfish with my giving. The Lord has fully given to me, and blessed my life beyond measure. Therefore I will fully give of myself, and praise His name for these blessings. 

But I will tell you this. Because I do all of the above, if someone steals from me, I simply will not sit idly by and do nothing. It is ILLEGAL. 

Nicola Tesla, said it perfectly: " I don't care that they stole my idea, I care that they didn't have any of their own".

We can argue that there is no originality left in this world, which in some ways is true. We are constantly taking in life's experiences and interpreting them through our own mind's eye. Something you see triggers a chain reaction of thought and emotion, and on the other side you create. You output those experiences, into words, into art, into music, into how you live your life. Or at least that's how it should be. You don't take the lazy way of either stealing or doing what someone else did because it was successful for them. What is successful for me, may not be what is successful for you. I can promise you this, you find what YOU are passionate about. You look inside YOUR heart and ask how you can interpret that passion into art... there is where you will find your success. You keep chasing someone else's coat tails, and the only thing you can consume from that vantage point are their leftover crumbs. 

I've had more "coincidentally" "inspired" photographers walking a fine line between inspiration and theft come into my life in the last 4 months than I care to mention. I've had friends tell me: "Don't worry, their clients aren't your clients." Or, "Replication is the finest form of flattery." Or "Yeah, but their work isn't as good as yours". And while the rational side of my brain agrees with them. The artist in me wants to simultaneously scream and cry at the same time. Scream out of sheer frustration. And cry because I wish they could truly find their passion. As an artist, I want that for others. To be as happy as I am in my career. And as someone who has been doing this way longer than them, tell them will full honesty and grace, that they won't find that happiness as long as they're chasing someone else's success. 

I've had someone steal WORD FOR WORD, memories I wrote of the birth of my own children and tried to pass those memories off as their own. Can you imagine my heart, seeing those words on someone else's website?! I've had someone steal my entire business model, literally shoot for shoot/session for session. I've had people steal my watermark. I could go on an on. 

99.9% of the time I see these things, and I let them roll off my back and move on. Because in order to be successful you can't let these futile frustrations drag you down. But I say this as a cautionary tale to anyone reading this, nationally, internationally, or local. If you steal, most of the time you will be caught. TRUE artists are looking out for each other, they have your back, and they want to protect the industry. Heck, I had two photographer friends in different parts of the country contact me about the lady who copied my pricing and birth content off of my website. She removed it, but only after my lawyer sent her a cease and desist accompanied by a demand letter with an invoice for the use of my words she used for over 6 months.

I give grace. I give understanding. I give patience. I give leniency. I GIVE. But I won't tolerate stealing. And I will pursue legal action when needed. And I encourage other artists to do the same. This is our livelihood. This is how we provide for our families. How we feed our children, put clothes on their backs, and send them to school. This job at least for me, is about honoring the gifts the Lord has given me and try to use this platform as a mini-ministry. This job, at least for me, is a way to show my children they can be successful if they work hard. This job is a way to show my daughter she can be a wife, a mother, and have a career too. This job pays for my children to go to school. I do this NOT to make money to buy fancy things. I do this NOT to support spending habits. I do this to honor the Lord and my family. I do this because it's my passion and I would do it for free. 

Find YOUR passion. Find YOUR path. Put in the TIME... lasting success doesn't happen quickly. I've been at this for over 7 years (and that by other's standards is still in it's infancy). Do those things and you will find YOUR success.

And if you feel inspired by someone, reach out and let them know. Taking the time with such a simple gesture will bless their day more than you can imagine. 

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