A plagiary on both your houses

It’s been a bad week for people who don’t believe in the concept of copyright.

Here in the UK the wounds of IndyRef have been ripped open all over again by what I suppose we should abbreviate to Lardogate, whilst in the US everyone’s favourite toe-tapping rape apologist’s charter has failed even to be sufficiently original.

There’s a colossal discussion to be had around both the magnitude of ‘theft’ in both cases and indeed about whether artistic ideas can even be owned. For now though, I’m just going to offer a thought as to why the writers of each are, to some extent or another, in the wrong:

The law of theft is entertainingly complex, far beyond that of simply taking someone else’s stuff without asking. One facet of this is that theft can just happen without anyone necessarily realising, like when the milk unexpectedly turns, or several playwrights move house at the same time.

If you agree to give me your lawn mower for a week (let’s say it’s a strange magical land where two normal people own gardens), but then I either through malice or uselessness fail to return it to you, then technically my continued possession of the lawn mower – and denial of your ability to use it – amounts to me having stolen it.

Similarly:

If you create some art, you are giving the ideas and aesthetic therein to society. Inevitably (you hope), some element of it will inspire me to create some art of my own. It’s obviously neither practical or desirable to monetise this relationship, but it would seem like a matter of honour to acknowledge the inspiration. If, either through malice or uselessness, I either refuse to acknowledge it, or outright deny that the inspiration has even happened, then I’m asserting my sole possession of the idea and arguably denying you the ability to use it. This may not be illegal in the same sense, but I feel it’s a level of disrespect that ought not to be shown from one artist to another, and it’s what the writers in both cases above are guilty of.

Obviously in any individual case there can be nuances – Wayne Coyne showed a great attitude in a comparable situation, contesting the philosophical principle, but also taking ownership of his mistake.

Basically, just be transparent, eh? The human race has been around too long for anyone to have any truly original ideas, so there’s really nothing to be gained from trying to look like a divinely gifted genius. Transparency could probably do a lot to create a genuinely strong culture of creative sharing, and if you don’t like the sound of that, then you’re probably a bit of a jerk.

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