Archive for July 15th, 2009

Plagiarism Symposium Part IV: Words Ain’t Got No Owners, Only Users

Here’s a word, Josh, that I find intrinsically cringeworthy: plagiarism, from plagium, “kidnapping.” What I detest about plagiarism is the insinuation that words and ideas can be “kidnapped,” and the succeeding one that they can be owned with some exclusivity.

I, it would seem, come at this issue from an idiosyncratic angle—much of my career having been spent in what some would deem ideological plagiarism. These “some”—the ones who denounce my ongoing quest to write Don Quixote word-for-word as Cervantes did—are ignorant of the process of artistic development. Let me, for the sake of the ignorant, parse down my astronomically lofty goal to a simple question: Is it more impressive for Miguel de Cervantes—a 17th-century Spaniard, a Catholic, a man with a rich military history—to write Don Quixote than it is for Pierre Menard—a 20th-century Frenchman who does not speak Spanish, who does not practice Catholicism, and who has no military history, let alone a rich one—to do so?

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Plagiarism Symposium Part III: Which Words Are Your Own?

Josh, first of all I agree that there is a wide spectrum between unoriginality and theft; perhaps I was a little too Manichean in my wording.

With that said, though, I think intent is often hard, if not impossible to determine. Take the Mencia/Lopez examples. The jokes in question are pretty standard “Mexican-culture-is-funny” jokes. I think Josh will agree that neither of them “owns” or has propriety over this genre of jokes.

Within this genre there are obviously a wide variety of jokes, but they often overlap to a very large extent, without any obvious malice or dishonesty. When jokes are obvious or unoriginal, they often sound the same without any ill intent. Take, for example, this video:

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Plagiarism Symposium Part II: My Own Words?

Through the lens of Infinite Jest (on a moderately-related note: I, along with co-blogger Tim, have officially begun our infinite summers… maybe this should have been a footnote), John S digs into some really interesting issues surrounding plagiarism in creative endeavors.

John admits uncertainty on why David Foster Wallace’s possible plagiarism makes him feel betrayed. In his process of understanding what is causing this feeling of betrayal, he first looks at music and comedy. Let’s examine comedy more closely: John rightly implies that Carlos Mencia’s jokes sound an awful lot like George Lopez’s (and many other comedians). John’s conclusion is that: “The real ‘crime’ in situations like this is unoriginality or parallel thinking, not theft.” I have to respectfully disagree. Isn’t there something between unoriginality and theft?
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