Plagiarism, Imitation & Authenticity

Some would say academics and artists' oldest nemesis is plagiarism. It hides in allegations of un-originality; it peers from behind a thin veil in accusations of imitation. Even defenses based on intent can't entirely excuse the offender, for the official definition of plagiarism includes the unintentional infraction -- it may just be an accident or sloppy scholarship, but it's still a crime. Much like involuntary manslaughter versus first degree murder.

But, in the ever-morphing digital age, things might be changing for the long-vilified plagiarism. A New York Times article titled "Lines on Plagiarism Blur for Students in Digital Age" talks about how students' perceptions of plagiarism and intellectual property, as well as authorship and originality, are being affected by the internet. Endless amounts of information are available at all times in a fluid, constantly changing environment. Text, images, ideas are no longer physical but always shifting. Here today, impossible to find tomorrow.

One "defense" of plagiarism in the digital age likens it to sampling in music. But, at least in literature, there are already names for that type of "borrowing": echoes, epigraphs, allusions, and so on.

It appears always to come back to one thing: authorship. If you're passing off someone else's idea or words as your own, you're falsely claiming authorship. But some scholars believe even seeing this action as a grave misdeed is changing:

In an interview, [anthropologist Susan A. Blum] said the idea of an author whose singular effort creates an original work is rooted in Enlightenment ideas of the individual. It is buttressed by the Western concept of intellectual property rights as secured by copyright law. But both traditions are being challenged.

“Our notion of authorship and originality was born, it flourished, and it may be waning,” Ms. Blum said.

Is the resulting pastiche just one more step toward homogeneity? If all we have left is imitation, where do we find the authentic?

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1 comment:

  1. Everytime I fear that originality is gone and imitation is all that remains (especially in the field of music) something new comes around that eases my mind a little. With that said, I do fear that the shift is well underway to homogeniety especially with the help of the internet.


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