23 August 2011

Defending Plagiarism

How can one possibly defend plagiarism? After all, isn't plagiarism that thing we learn all throughout school is the most horrible thing someone can possibly do? I point to history for its defense. For 99 percent of human history what we now call "plagiarism" was not only permitted, it was expected.

The Other Wiki says:

"The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal, emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement. For centuries before, not only literature was considered "publica materies," a common property from which anybody could borrow at will, but the encouragement for authors and artists was actually to "copy the masters as closely as possible," for which the closer the copy the finer was considered the work. This was the same in literature, music, painting and sculpture. In some cases, for a writer to invent their own plots was reproached as presumptuous. This stood at the time of Shakespeare too, when it was common to appreciate more the similarity with an admired classical work, and the ideal was to avoid "unnecessary invention.""

It then goes on to say how the Romantics fucked this up, like they did with virtually everything.

The first newspapers were all plagiarised. One paper reported a story and all the others copied it. Ben Franklin, one of the greatest and most popular founding fathers (also one of the most important, as he secured the backing of France, without whose help America would never have won independence) was an unapologetic plagiarist.

A lot of the greatest writers in all of history were plaigarists. Homer certainly didn't come up with the Illiad and Odyssey, he was just the best at retelling them. Plato took most of his early works from his teacher Socrates. All the fairie tales and other oral stories passed down from deep antiquity were plagiarised by people like the Brothers Grimm. A good portion of the Declaration of Independence was plagiarised. My own work Black Listed is a parody of Scott Adams' book The Religion War that borrows heavily from the original (with the addition of singing).

Advances in science and technology have largely come from people copying something someone else invented. The Indians took Chinese bamboo rockets and encased them in iron, turning a novelty into a deadly weapon. The Arabs took the Indian Wootz steel and used it to conquer a vast empire under the name "Damascus Steel." The composite bow and the sabre came from Turkic peoples in the Altai region and were adapted by cultures around the world. Russia and the US took rocket technology from the Germans and China took it from Russia. Similarly, Russia took the atom bomb from the US and China took it from Russia (the communist Chinese are not capable of much original thought, having divorced themselves from 2000 years of their illustrious history).

Music? Most of the popular songs throughout history have been plagiarised. The Star-Spangled Banner was a plagiarised British drinking song and it became the national anthem, yet 200 years later The Verve take a lot less of some shitty Rolling Stones song (which was agreed they could!) to make something brilliant and that's a crime! Taking a whole song was fine in 1814 while taking part of a song is illegal in 1997? And the US Government not only SAYS it was fine in 1814, they adopt what today would be called a stolen song and make it the national anthem! Music became what it is today largely by sampling, which is plagiarism. You wouldn't have your rock and R&B without plagiarising the blues and Nergo spirituals. You wouldn't have rap, hip-hop, dance, funk, or a whole lot else without plagiarism.

I will go as far as to say that plagiarism built the world we have today as much as virtually anything else you can think of (capitalism, Christianity, the Enlightenment). To paraphrase Gordon Gecko, "plagiarism is good." Plagiarism is one of the best things to ever happen in human history and I proudly defend it.

PS - Steal this. Adapt this. Take this and use it as a tool to make your own contributions to human culture.