You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

What I Learned From Being an Accidental Copycat Did Melania plagiarize Michelle (and, if so, why her instead of Pat Nixon or Nancy Reagan?) or are we all just recycling and reusing good lines?

By Adina Grigore

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

ALEX WONG | Getty Images

The mini-furor and speculation that Melania Trump lifted lines from a well-regarded Michelle Obama speech brought to mind this article from last year on the dilemma of realizing your good idea was, at least in part, somebody else's good idea first. - Editor.

Last week, I read a blog post about being plagiarized and how terrible it is. I immediately messaged the author to praise her and commiserate over how hard it's been on me. I felt so dignified in my rage (don't we always?). Being plagiarized or copied in any way feels horrible; I've had it ruin entire days.

In fact, I can't count how many times in the course of my business I've been convinced I was being ripped off. I'm not kidding: I have some sort of meltdown about it at least once a week. Once a week! That's a lot of time and energy that I spend completely certain that someone looked at my brand and then decided to do something just like it. And I get really angry and feel really justified in that anger.

After I sent this message, not a full day later, a question came through our website about a special bag we had created, asking if it was made by another company. Essentially, this customer was calling us out for making something too similar to another product.

Related: How to Maintain Your First-to-Market Position in a Copycat World

She was right; it was similar. But it gets worse. The hard truth of the matter is I had sent the exact bag she was referring to in an email to our designers with the words, "I love this bag let's make something like this." So while the print and end design felt totally original to me, the bag itself clearly wasn't. My intent was not malicious. But that doesn't matter, I felt called out and embarrassed (and yes, we are discontinuing the bag now).

But there I was doing the exact thing I judge so harshly. I could walk you through all of the reasons I thought it was OK when I did it, but the important fact is that I'm not different. Maybe I'm justifying my behavior, but I don't think any of us are innocent. And ultimately I got a lot out of this realization.

Don't let it happen again.

It sucks. It feels terrible to be caught doing it, and it probably gives you bad karma. So let's not let ourselves off the hook for it. I try as hard as possible to be original and not use ideas that I've seen elsewhere (even if I think I had them "first"). Clearly I don't always try hard enough but this experience reinvigorated my resolve.

Related: How to Avoid Trademark Infringement

Get over it.

I need to stop obsessing over my copycats. The truth is lots of people are thinking of the same ideas that I am. And if they did happen to come across what I'm doing at some point and it's influenced them somehow, they might not even realize it. We don't live in a vacuum, and while I'm not going to make some insulting allusion to flattery, I will say I'm trying to embrace that we all have an effect on each other and that's unavoidable.

It just doesn't matter.

Take it from me, I've ranted to many trademark lawyers. Often, no patent, law or court can protect you. Sure, you have the right to protect your ideas and should maybe communicate with people you believe to be infringers but at least in our economy, tweaks of old ideas make up the basis for most new ones. Examples are everywhere -- from Hellman's to Coke and Pepsi and the bakery that launched the Cronut.

It's not that I've forgiven myself for my bad copycat behavior or for my now unjustified rage at other people, rather, it's that I I've learned my lesson and decided to move on. I'm not sure it won't always at least aggravate me. I do truly believe we should protect and support each other's ideas and at least try our best to be original. But I feel a new commitment to quieting my judgements, scrutinizing the integrity of my own ideas and then doing my best personal work.

Related: Inside the Success of Second-to-Market Companies

Adina Grigore

founder of S.W. Basics

Adina Grigore is the founder of S.W. Basics, a Brooklyn-based natural products company that makes an all-natural and sustainable skincare line. The idea for S.W. Basics came to her after she finished her education in holistic nutrition in 2007 and founded a grassroots health information company at the age of 23. Today, she’s never been so happy to have been blessed with sensitive skin -- and a zeal for entrepreneurship.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Side Hustle

He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: 'Sweet, Sweet Irony'

When Scott Goodfriend moved from Los Angeles to New York City, he became "obsessed" with the city's culinary offerings — and saw a business opportunity.

Personal Finance

How to Get a Lifetime of Investing Experience in Only One Year

Plus, how day traders can learn a lesson from pilots.


94% of Customers Say a Bad Review Made Them Avoid Buying From a Brand. Try These 4 Techniques to Protect Your Brand Reputation.

Maintaining a good reputation is key for any business today. With so many people's lives and shopping happening online, what is said about a company on the internet can greatly influence its success.


Save on Business Travel with Matt's Flight's Premium, Only $80 for Life

This premium plan features customized flight deal alerts and one-on-one planning with Matt himself.

Science & Technology

Here's One Reason Urban Transportation Won't Look the Same in a Decade

Micro-EVs may very well be the future of city driving. Here's why, and how investors can get ahead of it.


I Got Over 225,000 Views in Just 3 Months With Short-Form Video — Here's Why It's the New Era of Marketing

Thanks to our new short-form video content strategy, we've amassed over 225,000 video views in just three months. Learn how to increase brand awareness through short-form video content.