Some of the greatest creatives of all time started out by stealing.

Not by stealing objects, but by stealing ideas.

And far from it being a crime, I actively encourage you to go out and start stealing as well.

Art is Theft – Pablo Picasso

In his short but enjoyable book Steal like an Artist, Austin Kleon suggests that all great artists started off by copying others, and then slowly learning their crafts through repetition before finally developing their own style.

And this is the natural way for skills to be developed.

We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practising scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces.

However, there is a fine line between good copying and plagiarising.

Good copying is taking inspiration from lots of different artists. For example, someone who loves rap music may learn the lyrics to songs by Jay-Z, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Run DMC and Ice Cube, and perform these for other people. You are stealing ideas from several sources, but if you are open about where you got these ideas then usually the creative community support this (as they will have grown up doing similar things).

After all, you cannot protect ideas. You can only protect what you yourself do with those ideas, like how you perform or publish them. If someone else is inspired by them and wants to interpret the idea in their own way, you cannot stop them trying.

Every creative idea is based on something which came before.

Eventually, after building up skills by copying others, all real creatives begin to transform these previous ideas and turn them into their own.

If you just copy from one source, you may end up stuck as a “cover band”. This is a person or group who can only perform someone else’s work, and don’t get credit for the creation. They may well have a lot of skill and people can enjoy the performances, resulting in a potential career.

However, plagiarism would be stealing ideas from one source, and passing them off as your own. This is where the original artists can have issues, and may even get lawyers involved to protect their intellectual property.

What you also often hear once artists begin producing their own creative work is the variety of places they draw inspiration from, and ideas they steal, transform and turn into something original.

Bad artists plagiarise.

But good artists steal from all over the place.

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.