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February 24, 2007 3:19 PM   Subscribe

The Ecstasy of Influence, A Plagiarism
posted by Captaintripps (20 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
thanks for posting this. This is a subject I pondered during my arts degree where of course I wondered how to use texts that already stated beautifully what I wanted to say... (um, that is plagiarism!). I love that he follows up on quotes from movies as well. 'In the Bedroom' introduced me to Longfellow and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' reacqainted me with Alexander Pope. So much of what we say, think, hear is a quote from someone else.
posted by gnomesb at 4:17 PM on February 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


The secret of great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done neatly.

—Honore de Balzac
posted by stbalbach at 4:38 PM on February 24, 2007


This article was really interesting, and more elegantly written than most essays on the topic. I hope that media_itoku considers it as an answer to this AskMe question.
posted by janell at 4:50 PM on February 24, 2007


(copied from my slashdot comment awhile back)

This essay is just stating the rather obvious point that lots of people are inspired by other people, and that when we make things, we often reshuffle bits of stuff we like. This practice is so common that it's not too interesting to point out. The article is clever, interesting, perhaps, but I wouldn't mod it insightful. The idea of creative reuse is the very basis of formal study of literature, music, and art-- why else spend hours, weeks, months reading, viewing, sampling, and arguing about the greats if not to enjoy them and learn how they work?

The Harper's article really isn't that much about plagiarism, and it also doesn't really address the questions of copyright very thoroughly-- he dismisses it as "rapacious" and makes some aside references to Jefferson. The substantial analysis is the standard Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessing arguments.

A few years ago, in "Something Borrowed", Malcolm Gladwell looks at the personal story of a psychiatrist whose personal memoir is "plagiarized" by a playwright who writes a semi-successful play about the psychiatrist and her clients-- without consulting the psychiatrist or clients. Gladwell looks into issues about copyright, intellectual property, and the creative commons, but he also looks at the public and emotional effects in the lives of the psychiatrist (who feels "violated" by this appropriation of her life), and the playwright (who feels heartbroken, confused--devastated by the stigma and bad press). It's an awesome article.
posted by honest knave at 4:53 PM on February 24, 2007


Today, when we can eat Tex-Mex with chopsticks while listening to reggae and watching a YouTube rebroadcast of the Berlin Wall's fall—i.e., when damn near everything presents itself as familiar—it's not a surprise that some of today's most ambitious art is going about trying to make the familiar strange."
I so often experience this feeling of authorial (or quotorial?) familiarity that I am continually reorienting with myself to understand the content as "familiar" as they seem to be with the creator/quoter. In fact, MetaFilter has me doing this constantly. From the InJokes I had to learn, to the "big deal" old posts, and so on.

Of course, eveyone who has learned to understand language has done that but it is interesting to see it described like it has been done here.
posted by jmhodges at 5:21 PM on February 24, 2007


I really like Malcolm Gladwell's writing (a lot), but I really like Jonathan Lethem's article too. Go figure.
posted by blucevalo at 5:30 PM on February 24, 2007


This may be part of why I felt more comfortable exercising creativity in engineering instead of art and literature. When we did something new, it really and truly was new and there wasn't any question of it. We even got formal acknowledgement that it was new from a government authority (the patent office).
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:52 PM on February 24, 2007


A few years ago, the Film Society of Lincoln Center announced a retrospective of the works of Dariush Mehrjui, then a fresh enthusiasm of mine. Mehrjui is one of Iran's finest filmmakers, and the only one whose subject was personal relationships among the upper-middle-class intelligentsia. Needless to say, opportunities to view his films were—and remain—rare indeed. I headed uptown for one, an adaptation of J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, titled Pari, only to discover at the door of the Walter Reade Theater that the screening had been canceled: its announcement had brought threat of a lawsuit down on the Film Society. True, these were Salinger's rights under the law. Yet why would he care that some obscure Iranian filmmaker had paid him homage with a meditation on his heroine? Would it have damaged his book or robbed him of some crucial remuneration had the screening been permitted? The fertile spirit of stray connection—one stretching across what is presently seen as the direst of international breaches—had in this case been snuffed out.

Fortunately, I had already seen the movie at another festival. It's damn good.
posted by languagehat at 5:53 PM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]



My problem with this piece is that it doesn't address how with the fluidity of intellectual property, artists and writers can actually make a living.

It's all well and good to talk about a gift economy when you are getting $2 or so a word from Harper's and can thus afford to write for free elsewhere. But magazines and newspapers and books are all under threat from the net to some degree-- and writing for online sites never pays anything close to that, and yet relies on content that takes the same amount of time, effort and talent to do well.

People have argued that writers and artists can manage to make a living from concerts and consulting and speaking and should give away the rest-- but this only supports a very few stars and does not support anything like the kind of newsgathering done by newspapers and serious magazines and can present serious conflicts of interest.
posted by Maias at 7:40 PM on February 24, 2007


Maias: welcome to the Economic principle of "supply and demand".

"A hooker cannot make a living in a town full of horny coeds." I heard that once. With the web full of talented amateurs who are willing, even eager, to write and post their result for free or for negligible remuneration, authors trying to make a living online are in trouble. That's true even though 99% of what the amateurs are posting is complete crap. The remaining 1% is still enough to undercut the economic position of those trying to make a living at it.

When supply outstrips demand, prices fall. In this case, it falls to the marginal cost of reproduction, which is essentially zero.

The only solution? Produce something that amateurs cannot create, so that you have no competition. But that's non-trivial.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:58 PM on February 24, 2007


There's always someone, somewhere, with a big nose who knows.
posted by ori at 8:20 PM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


SCDB - I like the "A hooker cannot make a living in a town full of horny coeds." but there's still the fugly (or those who believe themselves to be so) who still negotiate affection from ladies of the night.

Besides, slutty coeds tend to slut amongst fairly incestuous social groups; skilled and non-choosey professionals will always have clients ("think tanks," anyone?).
posted by porpoise at 9:35 PM on February 24, 2007


The only solution? Produce something that amateurs cannot create, so that you have no competition. But that's non-trivial.

I supposed I should have previewed or not-be-as-drunk or just plain read the rest of your post... aka, what SCDB said.

posted by porpoise at 9:37 PM on February 24, 2007


The only solution? Produce something that amateurs cannot create, so that you have no competition. But that's non-trivial.

Raph Koster discussed this in a post on his blog called "The future of content". Basically the same conclusion, with a couple of added points for the game industry.

The real money makers that will come from the rapid decrease in the price of content will be aggregators, those companies that help people churn through the chaff that is the result of Sturgeon's Law. You know who makes money off of blogs? Google. And without having to write a single word of it.

iTunes is in a similar position, and the recording industry despises them for it. If you market through Myspace, YouTube, and a website, and sell your music through iTunes, why the hell would you need a label anymore?

Of course, this is music and print. While both of these industries have almost zero cost for the creation of content, for other content industries, it will be a different story. I don't think the MPAA has as much to worry about as the RIAA.* Movies, and video games, require a large amount of technical, non-creative work in addition to the creative parts of the piece. Even a non-special effects movie requires extensive amounts of editors, caterers, lighting experts, foley artists, etc. Until such time that creating a movie can be done as easily as creating a song, the current power structure will stay in place.


*Yes, my link to Koster's article somewhat undermines my statement a bit. I disagree that there isn't room for either AAA movies or games.
posted by zabuni at 10:33 PM on February 24, 2007


The MPAA has a lot more to worry about than you might think. In Japan, there was an anime OVA released called (in English) "Voices of a Distant Star". It's 25 minutes long, and the video for it was created by one guy working entirely with commercial software on a Mac. (By all accounts it is superb.)

The only help he got from anyone else was in producing the sound track -- but he could have done all the recording and mixing himself too.

And though 999 out of 1000 Youtube videos utterly suck (as Metafilter FPP's have long since proved) there are still a fair number of them out there, amateur produced, which are surprisingly good.

The tools are getting cheaper, and the choices wider, and the MPAA is simply going to get eaten by the crocodile a bit later than everyone else.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:04 PM on February 24, 2007


Zabuni is right that aggregators will make money off it all. But the other big money maker is, and will be, facilitators, those that sell things that make it possible for amateurs to produce the stuff that the aggregators then resell.

Facilitators are hosting companies, makers of computer equipment, networking companies, ISPs, and companies that create specialized content-production software.

For me to blog, I had to pay Compaq for my computer, Microsoft for Frontpage, Comcast for my network connection, and Cobalt for my server. I give my content away for free, but it costs me a lot to do that.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:12 PM on February 24, 2007


I agree with the good Mr. Den Beste: it is a matter of when. The tools for creation of content, whether it be film, animation, or video games, are not at the point where deep complex items can be outputted with the frequency of their online print or music cousins. When the tools rise to the point where anyone with the talent can create a video game or movie with minimal up front costs, those industries are doomed. And the aggregators and tool makers will reap the benefits.
posted by zabuni at 12:45 AM on February 25, 2007


When we did something new, it really and truly was new and there wasn't any question of it.

You really believe this? Can you tell honestly tell me that you weren't remixing Newton, Boyle, Watt, Whitney, et al?

In this, the arts are very similar to engineering. We borrow components and ideas from others and construct them to meet our needs, throwing in innovation to fill the gaps.

I might borrow some Joyce. You might borrow some metalluragy. You read blueprints of famous designs and look at prior works with a critical eye. I read Paradise Lost. In the context of originality, we are structurally doing similar things.
posted by honest knave at 3:31 PM on February 25, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste, I would really like to see you address honest knave's point about "structural similarity." The idea doesn't sound quite right to me, but I'm not sure what's wrong with it, and I'd be pretty interested to see you say what you think about it.
posted by cgc373 at 7:57 PM on February 25, 2007


Can you tell honestly tell me that you weren't remixing Newton, Boyle, Watt, Whitney, et al?

Yeah, I can be pretty sure of it. None of them were worried about asynchronous sampling clocks in logic analyzers.

Look, if we were found to be "remixing", with nothing really new of our own, then our commercial competitors would make a "prior art" challenge our patent.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:44 AM on February 26, 2007


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