Saturday, September 18, 2010

we are all plagiarists

When I worked at a newspaper, we were routinely dispatched to "match" a story from the Times: to do a new version of someone else's idea. But had we "matched" any of the Times's words, the most banal of phrases, could have been a firing offense. The ethics of plagiarism have turned into the narcissism of minor differences: because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence. Trial by Google.

The evolution of copyright law has effectively stunted the development of sampling, thereby protecting the creative property of artists but obstructing the natural evolution of human creativity, which has always possessed cannibalistic tendencies. With copyright laws making the sampling of popular music virtually impossible, a new technique has evolved in which recordings are made that mimic the recordings that the artists would like to sample. These mimic recordings--not nearly as satisfying as sampling the original record--then sampled and looped in the same way that the original would have been. We don't want a mimic of a piece of music, though; we want the actual piece of music presented through a new lens. Replication isn't reproduction. The copy transcends the original. The original is nothing but a collection of previous cultural movements. All of culture is an appropriation game.

A great man quotes bravely and will not draw on his invention when his memory serves him with a word as good. What he quotes, he fills with his own voice and humor, and the whole cyclopedia of his table talk is presently believed to be his own.

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