The Internet is the world’s biggest copy machine. All it takes is a right click to replicate someone else’s work. As long as you give credit to the source you’re in the clear.
But copying someone’s idea and personalizing it is a different kind of copying, the one that enables you to get started.
The reason I started the weekly reading recommendations is because I saw the format on Om Malik’s blog. The reason I started my music blog Silem Davis was because I liked Maria Popova’s “Literary Jukebox” concept. The reason I used the Paper Fifty Three Tumblr blog template was because I liked the way it displayed art. One of the reasons I blog daily and in short succinct paragraphs is to ape the style of Seth Godin. These are just some of the more recent examples where I copied a concept to express my own work.
There’s literal copying in the form of plagiarism and then there’s inspirational copying where you see a concept or idea and emulate it your own format, words, and discoveries. There’s no harm in the latter.
Copying is the process of learning and combining ideas that fit your style. The baton of influence just keeps getting passed on to inspire others to create their own work. After all, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”