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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

COPYCAT, DIRTY RAT

On Monday, I wrote a post about my holiday to Zakynthos and received this accusation by an anonymous reader:

"Why call yourself an Australian in Athens when clearly you are Greek? My opinion is you are copying someone else who has a popular website. So sad."

At first it perplexed me as I had included my own personal photos and viewpoints that I believed to be original. Then I began to wonder about the entire concept of "copying". It isn’t always as evident as the obvious word-for-word plagiarism that of course we all condone. Sometimes it creeps into your writing insidiously. And then before you know it you become a doppelblogger*.

CASE 1: The concept

Looking at my last post, after the anonymous commentor squelched it with one foul swoop, I began to wonder if anything about it looked vaguely familiar. Evidently the words weren’t stolen, but it reminded me of CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE and of course, practically all the posts This American Tourist writes. So I guess the format was pilfered even though this was unconscious rather than deliberate. Is this plagiarism? Though it is hard to tell in such cases who is copying who...
CASE 2: The idea

On my recent vacation, my husband, whose finances are failing, kept saying, “Let’s just enjoy this cause next year, who knows?” This is a sentiment echoed by most Greek families and local news bulletins. Chances are I probably wouldn’t have linked the “Grasshopper and the Ant” analogy in reference to my need to keep the "perfect holiday myth" alive had I not read an article in a morning newspaper (don’t even remember which one, but came with a front-page plug) on a 10 percent drop in local Greek tourism and the differences in holidays from previous years plus a Greek blog post (if you read Greek, SEE HERE, titled "End of Eternal Greek Holidays"). I had neither of the pieces in mind when I wrote my post, but both - read on the same day - had affected me enough to change the ending of the post I had sketched out in my mind before falling asleep the night before. Is this plagiarism?

CASE 3: The influence

Brilliant writing moves me (and I guess that is the whole point of literature). Sometimes friends ask me what I am reading as I may be in a Dostoyevsky mood or a little analytical like Irvin Yalom. When I was reading Jonathan Coe, I wrote THIS. When I was reading Nabokov’s “Lolita”, I wrote THIS. Do you see similarities in the tone in which I refer to my bicycle and Nabokov's opening paragraph? (‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita’) Is this experimentation with styles (in life as well as writing) a form of plagiarism in disguise?

CASE 4: The self

The poem on loneliness CLICK HERE may be mine but I had already published it a year ago on my FB page. A couple of times I have slipped sentences onto my blog from published research I have myself written. It is mine, but is this recycling a form of plagiarism nonetheless?

CASE 5: The admiration

My concept behind Sunday Bests is to pay tribute to great and wondrous posts that I reprint and feature on my blog while giving credit. I do inform those I am publishing, but is this not also plagiarism? CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE. How would you feel if I included one of your posts in this context?

CASE 6: Photographs

One reason I don’t publish photographs of myself and my children – beyond keeping my anonymity safe - is because I feel that they can easily be swiped by anyone. Do you “borrow” photographs from other sites? Of course, common sense prevents me from repasting photos of someone's family. But is even this "harmless borrowing" of photographs (eg cartoons embellishing this very post) plagiarism?

That’s it for starters. I am sure I could come up with more possible "copyright infringements" if I really nit-picked. I won’t tire you, but you get the gist.

We are living in the age of information and are constantly bombarded by influences so that sometimes we aren't even aware that our words/ideas/style may not be original...it's called cryptomnesia. I sometimes wonder if there is anything new to think beyond cliches. Are ALL views - even original ones - just networks being built on pre-existing conceptual schemes or are most of us just content with borrowing other people's outlooks and cluttering the internet and our lives with tired, regurgitated perceptions. (It was your post today Robin on "Your Daily Dose" that made me think of that one - just to give credit to where credit is due though if I were to really do that I'd have to stop and thank someone at the end of every sentence).

Is anything really original? Even my beloved Nietzche was accused by Jung of plagiarism in his masterpiece, "Thus Spake Zarathustra", that includes an almost copied account of an incident included in a book published half a century earlier. Or consider the resemblance between Lord Byron's "Manfred" to Goethe's "Faustus". Didn't Shakespeare rip off so many already existing works and breathe new life into them? And aren't we glad he did? So is plagiarism acceptable when the copy surpasses the quality of the original? Furthermore, imagine Robert Louis Stevenson's embarrasment years after he wrote "Treasure Island" when it dawned on him that Long John Silver's parrot came from Robinson Crusoe and the skeleton was conveyed from Poe!

It is silly to believe that anybody should have a monopoly on parrots and skeletons, though that doesn't excuse plagiarism of course. So thank you so much anonymous reader for your comment. Please let me know which popular website you feel I have plundered...as I said before, it may be an influence of ALL sites and books I've ever read.

As for anyone else caring to comment, please don't spare punches when striking at my counterfeit existence as a blogger or as a person so lacking in originality and so influenced by my environment that I am uncertain of who I really am let alone who I could be. Perhaps this is the human condition. Well, these are just my concerns...or at least I believe them to be mine (sorry if you've thought of them first).

(As for the first part of the comment on my claim to being Australian, I must say that I have Australian citizenship and am not a Greek national but was born in neither of the two countries. So go figure! Have put quotation mark around "Australian" though the Aussie embassy in Greece embraces me as one whereas the Greek Aliens' Residency Bureau treats me just like an outsider. CLICK HERE FOR MY VERY FIRST BLOG POST THAT MAY GIVE YOU AN IDEA!
PS. I'm not really a Purple Cow, either!)


* Doppelblogger - Comes from the German "doppel", meaning "double". A doppelblogger is someone who plagiarizes the content of another blogger for personal gain or recognition.

AFTER READING SOME OF YOUR COMMENTS I DECIDED TO ADD THIS LINK ON THE VERY NATURE OF PLAGIARISM. WHAT IS IT EXACTLY?

11 comments:

Sharon said...

An anonymous insult is an act of cowardice. So, whoever left that comment has some deep-seated issues that have absolutely nothing to do with you or your blog.

As a graphic artist whose work winds up in print, more than once I have had my original work reflected back to me in creative variations. I, in turn, know that I am influenced by graphic designer's work that I find original and beautiful.

Isn't this how we evolved as a species? Isn't this the basis of building a culture? The creative minds take the beautiful creations of the past, build on them and leave their seeds for the future. We are all influenced by each other, and for those of us who build on work that resonates - consciously or unconsciously - we are enhancing the evolution of the human race.

My only caveat is that we should always, always acknowledge a source when we consciously use another's work as inspiration. And to always remember that just because something is posted on the internet, using it without permission is stealing.

I love your blog. I love your writing style.

thisamericantourist said...

What an unusual thing for a person to say, and what a silly (read: nonsensical) accusation to make, especially when, as you point out, there are few (if any) original ideas left in the world, and we're now at the point where we're vying for the most original variation on the themes.

Don't feel ashamed of your writing style - every writer, great or small, takes inspiration and influence from the authors they admire. That's not copying, that's allusion.

And I think there's something universal to discovery. Your vacation post may read like other vacation posts, because while the location is different, the intent is always the same. That's not copying, that's theme.

(As for borrowed pictures and comics, it's not as if you're passing them off as your own work, or as if they weren't covered in watermarks by the original owners. That's not copying, that's practically cited reference!)

(And speaking as someone featured as a "Sunday Best," it's not copying. It's an honor.)

To sum up, you're no copycat. Just the victim of another jerk on the internet.

Robin said...

I really hate it when people comment anonymously with a mean-spirited comment. It is cowardly. If you are going to shoot your dart, at least send it with a nametag attached. I think your rebuttal was fascinating. As always, I am shocked when my name shows up in your blog. As usual, I have no idea what you were talking about with regard to my blog. However, I understood most of the rest! I thought the irony of that was fitting and enormously funny! I do believe that I said on Monday's blog, "People are stupid." It appears that one of them found your blog and commented. Lucky you.

Ron Cooper said...

Hi PC,

I really appreciate your thoughtful comment about my “Hunger is not pretty” column. I’m now posting three days a week on Facebook, and would love to have you as a fan. Here’s the link:

http://bit.ly/dpnsfu

Ron Cooper
www.inspiredbyron.blogspot.com

Eliza said...

I think everything we read influences us in some way, and there is very little out there that's totally original. Funnily enough I did a similar post a few days ago.

Purple Cow said...

In Greece, we have a saying “He who has the fly, gets bothered.” Evidently the anonymous commenter bothered me because I wonder if maybe I am copying. Now about anonymity being cowardly – yes, Sharon and Robin, it is. And that doesn’t say much for me though, cowardly hiding behind my own anonymity as a “purple cow”!

Sharon – Yes, we are all influenced. I love what you say about the evolution of culture! Legally, what do you know? If you saw a blog decorated with a design and not giving you credit, what would you do? Where would you stand? Would you feel differently if the “thief” was making money from it rather than just using it for a post? And if you were to do something legally, which country’s laws would we use?

This American Tourist – I don’t think the anonymous commenter is a “jerk” – on the contrary, I enjoy criticism. I only wish the commenter could have been more specific.

Robin, you wrote about family patterns and repetitions and reliving tired schemes in our lives, right? Well, perhaps the way we live is a little like the way we write. Perhaps we should break out of the “copy” and become “original”.

Ron, I will check out the link but cannot enter from FB as I am keeping my activities as PC separate from the rest. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Eliza, I have read your post… You thought of the same things. Luckily I did not read it first or I would begin to imagine that I had “copied” you. But something else I am wondering is THIS – what if all the unoriginal, repetitive voices on the internet are drowning the voices that have something groundbreaking to offer the world. Everyone can easily start a blog and gather a following whereas in the past there were standards and there was a protocol that needed to be followed. What if all this clutter is harming what can be considered QUALITY? But then again, I guess quality is always judged in hindsight otherwise why would so many great minds be persecuted for their thoughts throughout history.

Anyway, thanks guys for considering this with me. I think your comments are all very interesting.

Misery said...

You know what, I think there's absolutely NO way to be 100% original in this world. No matter what you (not YOU, you know, right?) say or write or photograph, it's been said, written, photographed before. To be truly original one would have to, I don't know, invent some new language maybe. As for me, I haven't seen before any of these pages that you were supposedly copying, so I don't see the problem. Besides, in a website like blogger there's always the risk of looking/sounding/whatever like someone else because there's only certain amount of possibilities of layout and such. All in all, I think that even though we all write about stuff that most probably were written about before, we also add our personal touch to them, our personality and that's what making our blogs unique (although my blog isn't unique at all. Haha).

Purple Cow said...

Hello Misery! Always glad to see your comments Miss Mother-of-Unique-Herself.

Still, it is worrying me that you all like me so much that you aren't criticising plagiarism! Or maybe it is so widespread that we don't even realise or care we are doing it? And yet, mental theft is theft nonetheless, isn't it? And sometimes more violent and valuable than actual physical theft itself.

How I wish the original commenter that prompted my post had been more specific!

Sharon said...

PC, yours is a thought provoking rebuttal.
To try and clarify my previous comment, if I saw a blog decorated with my work, I would be both annoyed and flattered simultaneously. When I said that using another's original work is stealing, I meant deliberately copying another person's work verbatim and presenting as your own. An honorable person knows that behavior is devious. And, in all humility (I read your link and disagree), I have no problem classifying that as plagiarism.
Unfortunately, nothing anyone can say or do, legally or personally, makes any difference to those who feel they are operating in the public domain. But, this is just my opinion; likely based in my strict Catholic upbringing.
Thanks for the feedback. It really gave me food for thought. This is obviously not a clear cut issue for many people.

Phoenix said...

Our originality doesn't come from the way we tell stories and anecdotes and share thoughts that are completely, 100% uniquely our own because there's no such thing.

Our originality comes from our own perspective, our own voice, our own choices and the way we react to cowardly idiots who leave anonymous comments because they're too insecure and pathetic to find the time to do anything else.

This post was truly an original, as was the mature (and funny) way you handled it.

Well done, you Purple Cow Australian Greek Copy Cat. ;)

Julie said...

You are one of a kind, no matter what anyone says. We all "borrow" words and phrases, we all "borrow" pictures, we all try and be orginal but most of the time someone has already been there, done that. Who cares? Not me, I love your blog, I love your writing so up yours to that nasty person. And doing it anonymously, that's just play wrong and naughty. Ignore them, keep writing and doing all that you do. I know I'll be enjoying it for a very long time.
Take care and have a blessed evening.