Whose line is it anyway? When does ‘borrowing’ become plagiarism?
Roger Horberry, Alp Associates
“It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to”. Thus spake Jean-Luc Godard. Seems about right to me.
People often justify blatant plagiarism by arguing there’s no such thing as ‘originality’, which I always think is like a shoplifter being caught red-handed and arguing that there’s no such thing as ‘property’. It’s an interesting philosophical argument, but doesn’t change the fact that you’re nicked.
Jim Davies, totalcontent
We’re all at it, all the time – consciously or subconsciously. The way I see it, there’s nothing wrong with pinching an idea, so long as you can improve on it. Just ask Shakespeare.
When you’re found out? Plagiarism must have quite a narrow definition as a deliberate attempt to pass someone else’s intellectual goods off as your own*. Any wider, and much of modern, and principally post-modern, art is implicated in the charge. Homage, pastiche, allusion – it’s a fine line the artist treads when he or she wants to enrich art with reference but without the dry-as-dust machinery of scholarly acknowledgement. We borrow unconsciously all the time. There are only so many ideas, only so much soul and google searching you can do to ensure that line that tripped light fantastically into your brain, and now appears so right, doesn’t ‘belong’ to another or another before that. If we worried too much about such things day to day, we’d never write a line. It didn’t bother the ancients, and it didn’t bother the likes of T.S. Eliot. What is The Waste Land, other than a collage of literary ‘borrowings’ (not all of them attributed)? Which is particularly galling, as the Eliot estate is ferociously grasping in charging people to quote from ‘his’ poems. Allusion is the English national vice, as I think someone once said. It’s a bold lawyer who calls much of this plagiarism. *Please note, I pulled that vague definition out of the air, and not from Wikipedia, which I did not consult once in the framing of this response.
Everyone borrows from everyone. It’s what you do with it that makes the creative process so exhilarating.
Borrowing becomes plagiarism when you get paid for it.
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