Art by Adam on 2008-08-08 01:47

Plagiarism is a serious accusation. We’re taught this from an early age - copying an encyclopedia entry for your report on Zimbabwe, for example, is about as grave a crime as a 3rd grader can commit. Cultural episodes like the Milli Vanilli scandal reinforce this at an adult level: that using some part of someone else’s creative work in your own is so vile an act that it might drive someone to suicide.

But like many seemingly black-and-white moral issues, advances in technology reveal gray areas. An age of highly fluid and editable media has produced the phenomenon of the creative remix. Where is the line drawn between creative remixing and plagiarism?

Is Weezer’s video, which is mostly made up of footage from various YouTube videos, a creative remix or plagiarism? How about all those Google Maps mashups, most of which get all their content from Google Maps? What about a DJ, who usually plays nearly 100% music written by other people?

One of my recent posts was copied in its entirety and reposted to what appears to be some sort of accounting-oriented linkspam site. They do provide a link back to the original article, though my name appears nowhere on the page. Is this plagiarism? By most conventional definitions, I’d say yes.

But I’m not upset. My personal feeling is that plagiarism is not the big deal that most people make out of it. I’ve had my creative material copied without being asked my permission or being given attribution on the resulting work a few times in the past, usually music. For some reason it just doesn’t bother me. If anything, I feel flattered that they find my work worthy of copying.

But, there is always a moment of disorientation and slight discomfort when I stumble across it. It’s like looking at a distorted image that looks strangely familiar, and moments later realizing that it is your own face being reflected back from a funhouse mirror. I can see how some, in that moment, might escalate that feeling into hurt, betrayal, and anger.

One comment per 'Plagiarism'

  1. Sterling "Chip" Camden says:

    When copiers provide a link, I’m not bothered. Chances are, they’ll drive a few new readers my way. But when they provide no attribution at all, that gets under my waistband.

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