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Jonathan Lethem On Plagiarism 186

tmalone writes "This month's Harper's Magazine includes an excellent essay by the novelist Jonathan Lethem titled 'The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism,' in which he discusses the public commons of ideas and the absurdity of restricting other peoples' right of second use. 'Artists and their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every possible second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of exalting and enshrining their work.' Taking issue with the idea that any work is 'untainted' by others' ideas, he declares, 'Any text is woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony.' Later on he argues that 'Contemporary copyright, trademark, and patent law is presently corrupted. The case for perpetual copyright is a denial of the essential gift-aspect of the creative act.' Lethem finishes up with simple request: 'Don't pirate my editions; do plunder my visions.' The best part of the essay is at the end when he provides a key to all of the sources he stole his ideas from."
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Jonathan Lethem On Plagiarism

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  • well (Score:5, Funny)

    by macadamia_harold ( 947445 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @06:31AM (#17970966) Homepage
    All I have to say is, Artists and their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every possible second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of exalting and enshrining their work.
    • I'd like to see what happens if that article is translated to Chinese then back to English, using folks who usually translate stereo manuals for the American market. :)
  • The guy isn't talking about plagiarism; he calls the essay "a plagiarism" with (IMO) tongue planted in cheek. It's not correct to say that it's about plagiarism specifically, because to say that sounds like he's defending plagiarism specifically, when the issues covered in the essay itself are far more broad.

    The essay is "on" creative influence, not plagiarism.
    • by truckaxle ( 883149 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @06:52AM (#17971054) Homepage
      One man's "creative influence" could very well be one lawyer's "plagiarism". It is all a matter of degree.
      • by NetSettler ( 460623 ) * <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Sunday February 11, 2007 @08:14AM (#17971346) Homepage Journal

        One man's "creative influence" could very well be one lawyer's "plagiarism". It is all a matter of degree.

        There are surely gray areas, but your remark suggests there is nothing but gray areas, and I don't think that's true. Under the law, copyright protects the form of a work, not an idea [cornell.edu]. It comes right out and says that plainly, in a way that law doesn't always do. Just to make sure there is no confusion. As such, "creative influence" insofar as it is an "idea" is generally protected.

        The author of the article seemed to speak at times as if he were arguing against things that are in fact not in play. It is considered fair use [stanford.edu] to quote one another in the course of public dialog. (The right of fair use happens to be implementationally threatened by coercive DRM [wikipedia.org] attempting to conform to the DMCA [wikipedia.org], but that's a slightly different problem. I have argued (but so far have not managed to convince any actual lawyers) that the legal concept of an easement [wikipedia.org] (from Real Estate law) needs to be injected into Intellectual Property law in order to address the present state of affairs in that regard. For rights to be meaningful, having some way to enforce them seems useful. There are a number of mechanisms for addressing infringement, but there needs to be a counterbalancing force to address fair use. That the US Government Copyright FAQ [copyright.gov] does not even mention "fair use" in the set of questions is perhaps telling in and of itself.)

        It is trivially true that as you morph an idea from a single source, there is a point in which the idea is still so much the original that the new form carries with it no serious value and cannot legitimately be called its own work. So in this regard, your remark is technically correct.

        However, another way of interpreting copyright might be not to regard it as a right of use, but a standard we hold ourselves to before we call something a contribution. That is, if I take a play you wrote, change a word or two, and then offer it back to the public, odds are the public will say "this wasn't a material contribution". Forget copyright issues, my obligation to say I have contributed something is higher. If I'm a writer, even a good one, and call a press conference every time I type a period or comma, eventually people will get tired. It's not a novel, or even a chapter, until a chunkier contribution has been made. And copyright just enforces that same notion, but between people instead of internally within them.

        So maybe it is just a matter of degree after all. But maybe degree matters. Maybe the whole point is, as in Aristotle's Virtue Ethics [wikipedia.org] that at either end of the spectrum is an "unreasonable extreme", and that there really is no well-defined, uniquely determined midpoint, but that the goal is to seek a balance in spite of that fact, so that one doesn't slide to one of the endpoints. To say that any contribution, no matter how trivial, that includes another's work is ok is to create spam. To say that any contribution, no matter how large, that includes another's work, is infringing is to create a society that doesn't grow through interaction.

        • by zotz ( 3951 )
          "However, another way of interpreting copyright might be not to regard it as a right of use, but a standard we hold ourselves to before we call something a contribution."

          I did not want to quote your whole post, but this comment applies in general to it.

          We need to keep the concepts of plagarism and copyright seperate in our thinking.

          I have been going back and forth with Dabido in this thread:

          http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=221042&cid =17920100 [slashdot.org]

          and this has come up.

          If someone tries to pass their wo
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by NetSettler ( 460623 ) *

            We need to keep the concepts of plagarism and copyright seperate in our thinking.

            Under normal circumstances, I'd agree. However, the article (and I admit I read about half of it in detail and then barely skimmed the rest) didn't seem to me to be about plagiarism, which is (I assume) why the subject line upthread is "The /. headline is typically bad." It really seems to be an article about information-sharing, not about plagiarism. He cites numerous well-known authors with apparent (but seemingly ill

        • One man's "creative influence" could very well be one lawyer's "plagiarism". It is all a matter of degree.
          There are surely gray areas, but your remark suggests there is nothing but gray areas
          His remark does nothing of the sort. "One car could very well be a green car." in no way suggests that all cars are green. It merely states that it is possible that there exists at least one car which is green.
          • One man's "creative influence" could very well be one lawyer's "plagiarism". It is all a matter of degree.

            There are surely gray areas, but your remark suggests there is nothing but gray areas

            His remark does nothing of the sort. "One car could very well be a green car." in no way suggests that all cars are green. It merely states that it is possible that there exists at least one car which is green.

            It would seem appropriate in the context of a discussion of citation and intellectual property

        • by stubear ( 130454 )
          "It is trivially true that as you morph an idea from a single source, there is a point in which the idea is still so much the original that the new form carries with it no serious value and cannot legitimately be called its own work. So in this regard, your remark is technically correct."

          One major problem with your hypothesis. Copyright does NOT protect the idea, it protects the expression of the idea. I am free to create a cartoon mouse but if I call him Mickey and substantialyl copy the look of the Disn
          • Copyright does NOT protect the idea, it protects the expression of the idea. I am free to create a cartoon mouse but if I call him Mickey and substantialyl copy the look of the Disney creation then I've crossed the boundaries of influence and inspiration to outright infringement.

            Define "substantially".

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by k_187 ( 61692 )
              "The question, therefore, is whether defendant took from plaintiff's works so much of what is pleasing to the ears of lay listeners, who comprise the audience for whom such popular music is composed, that defendant wrongfully appropriated something which belongs to the plaintiff." 905 F.2d 731 at 734

              Thus, if the intended audience's "untutored judgment" (328 F.3d 848 at 856) would confuse the two, the works are substantially similar.
              • by tepples ( 727027 )

                Thus, if the intended audience's "untutored judgment" (328 F.3d 848 at 856) would confuse the two, the works are substantially similar.

                "The two works"? What happens in a case where the copying is subconscious, where the author of the allegedly infringing work had forgotten the existence of the other work? Take Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music, 420 F. Supp. 177 (S.D.N.Y. 1976) [columbia.edu]. If you were in Harrison's position, in what way would you have handled it differently?

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by k_187 ( 61692 )
                  Well, as your link states, Harrison was boned. While copyright allows for independent creation, access + substantial similarity == infringement. Intention to copy has nothing to do with it.
        • Under the law, copyright protects the form of a work, not an idea.

          In the case of music, for instance, where is the line between idea and form [wikipedia.org]? George Harrison got sued and lost for subconsciously copying two motifs totaling 9 notes from "He's So Fine" by Ronald Mack into his own "My Sweet Lord" and adding different lyrics.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by NetSettler ( 460623 ) *

            Under the law, copyright protects the form of a work, not an idea.

            In the case of music, for instance, where is the line between idea and form? George Harrison got sued and lost for subconsciously copying two motifs totaling 9 notes from "He's So Fine" by Ronald Mack into his own "My Sweet Lord" and adding different lyrics.

            This is a fair example to raise for discussion, and I'm happy to engage it.

            Here is how I break down that situation:

            First, there are certainly always "edge issues" for anythin

    • by jacobw ( 975909 )

      The guy isn't talking about plagiarism; he calls the essay "a plagiarism" with (IMO) tongue planted in cheek. It's not correct to say that it's about plagiarism specifically, because to say that sounds like he's defending plagiarism specifically, when the issues covered in the essay itself are far more broad.

      That's an interesting point. However, I'd argue that the guy isn't talking about plagiarism; he calls the essay "a plagiarism" with (IMO) tongue planted in cheek. It's not correct to say that it's ab

    • What everyone seems to be missing is that this essay is pretty much all "plagiarized" . The section titled "KEY: I IS ANOTHER" lists his sources and discusses his methodology.


      He's making his point by putting together other people's words (and ideas) to craft his message. Very clever, in a meta sort of way, IMO.

  • by justthinkit ( 954982 ) <floyd@just-think-it.com> on Sunday February 11, 2007 @06:56AM (#17971070) Homepage Journal
    The problem:
    Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week. - George Bernard Shaw

    Leading to this accepting attitude adjustment:
    I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation. - GBS [quotationspage.com]
  • take on intellectual property. Try to publish a cartoon featuring a mermaid or a
    bunch of talking mice and their _ligitation_ department _will_ open fire on you.
    Plunder my vision.. indeed.
  • by 88NoSoup4U88 ( 721233 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @08:07AM (#17971328)
    Whereas it's not usual around here ;) I read the article, and I think he makes some excellent points.
    The Slashdot headline is a bit misleading as it isn't only about plagiarism, but more about the influence of external factors/one's environment on the output of an artist:

    Whereas the author cites a few real cases of famous writers of the past literally copying other people's work, he makes a good case that most of that has unknowingly been used: The author's quote :

    ...Most artists are converted to art by art itself

    seems to be very true.

    From my personal experience I can say that the previous quote, and the article's explanation of how one gets influenced by his/her environment to produce an artwork, is very true (in my case, that is).
    For me my big inspirations were architecture and games, which both formed me into my hobby/work I do nowadays (leveldesigner).

    Other influences (of particular my gaming-past) only became apparent when the other day, I finished a gamedesign document (of a GPL-ed game I am working on) and showed it to some co-developers, who almost immedeately recognised and pointed out the various game elements/style from my most beloved games of the past, which I'd unknowingly woven into the total design. (to name a few; Lazy Jones, Jumpman, various NES/SNES classics)
    Whereas I didn't anticipate on creating clones of those games, I'd somehow formed my idea around it (and -enhanced- it), by the external imprints of the past.

    It's a shame that nowadays people/companies are becoming overeager to try to squash any sort of infringement on their work (I'm not talking about blatant copyright infringements), whereas most of the times the artists only builds on the existing intellectual property, thus imo enhancing it for people who are interested in views from third-parties (one could compare it to Mods for games).
    To point out the computer-art bit some more; I'd like to think that the GPL is a prime example of how proper 'plagiarism' can take place, and create several new/enhanced products, as GPL-ed code is still attributing the initial authors/source, and on top of that there is the obligation to release the source too; Making the whole art-foodchain bigger and better.

    Now if only the big media conglomerates would start to see that, for example, Dangermouse's "Grey"-album (which mixed the Jay-Z's "open-sourced" beats of his "Black"-album, with the Beatle's "White"-album) was an excellent example of how different age-groups can get exposed to the oldies: Thus, in the end, making more sales.
    • Hmm. Your post convinced me to start this off even though I don't think I am ready to.

      I have been thinking lately about "copyright pollution" where the copyrighted works of others gets in our heads and pollutes them to to point where what then comes out of us is "tainted" as it were.

      Now this should not really be that much of an issue in a sensible legal environment, but I think we may not be in such an environment now and I also think that those forces causing that environment to deteriorate for a good whil
      • I have been thinking lately about "copyright pollution" where the copyrighted works of others gets in our heads and pollutes them to to point where what then comes out of us is "tainted" as it were.
        You're not the only one. George Harrison and Michael Bolton got burned by this too. Look up Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music and Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton.
        • by zotz ( 3951 )

          I have been thinking lately about "copyright pollution" where the copyrighted works of others gets in our heads and pollutes them to to point where what then comes out of us is "tainted" as it were.

          You're not the only one. George Harrison and Michael Bolton got burned by this too. Look up Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music and Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton.

          Yes, well, I knew about George but not about Michael. Thanks for the info.

          all the best,

          drew

      • I have been thinking lately about "copyright pollution" where the copyrighted works of others gets in our heads and pollutes them to to point where what then comes out of us is "tainted" as it were.

        I have same fealing about laws in general in so called "modern free-market driven democracies": I think it is alredy a fact that growing up in such a country to the age of 18 means you are for sure a criminal - breaking multiple laws in the past 18 years thus beaing under constant threat of being jailed (if not

  • Getting paid (Score:4, Interesting)

    by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @08:16AM (#17971356) Homepage
    I don't mind people copying all the docs I've written.. Most are GPL anyway. But I remember one particular guy... One day he writes me and asks all sorts of questions about printing in Linux. He asks for examples, he asks me to explain how the print system works. At first I started answering him then I just point him to my online docs. I don't hear from him again. Months later I'm browsing another site and find an article about Linux printing. It sounds vaguely familiar. Sure enough, the bastard had pretty much taken my emails and the structure of my docs and submitted it for pay as his own to an online documentation site. Not a single reference to my docs, even though he cut/pasted whole sentences. Bastard.
    • "I don't mind people copying all the docs I've written. ... Bastard."

      Thought you didn't mind?
      • I don't mind them copying my docs and putting them up on their site with proper credit. I do mind people taking my words and claiming credit for them.
        • I don't mind them copying my docs and putting them up on their site with proper credit. I do mind people taking my words and claiming credit for them.
          But how do people know whether the words that they write are original, that they have never been published before? See Cryptomnesia on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].
      • by zotz ( 3951 )

        "I don't mind people copying all the docs I've written. ... Bastard."

        Thought you didn't mind?
        I think his problem might have been one of minding plagiarism and not copying.

        Copyright wise, couldn't you take a Shakespeare sonnet and claim it as your own and sell copies?

        all the best,

        drew
    • Think about it in a different way, who ever paid for it got suckered. Had they done their research they would have found your documents and used it as allowed under the GPL. You were doing it for free anyway. I know that's not the point but I'm trying to be positive here about it.
  • The article (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Konster ( 252488 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @08:36AM (#17971422)
    The article itself is a massively wordy orgy of bullshit and bananas, written by a person that's clearly trying way too fucking hard to write. The writer violates a basic concept of writing, and writing well; get your point across with as few words as possible.

    Language as art is a wonderful thing; trying to couch it as something that it isn't in a really wordy...wordy...wordy...essay isn't art, and you lose the point of your essay in the process, which is another way of saying you talk too much without saying anything new or interesting or anything of value.

    Really, this article applies to writing doctorates (snicker) and people overseeing those efforts. The rest of the world won't care...or worse yet, hope a well written version of the bullshit will appear in Reader's Digest.
    • The writer violates a basic concept of writing, and writing well; get your point across with as few words as possible.

      You could have shortened your post to "This article sux0rz!!!oneeleven!!"
    • by smoker2 ( 750216 )
      Yeah, JRR Tolkien was the worst offender !
  • by rubberpaw ( 202337 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @08:51AM (#17971470) Homepage Journal
    As has been pointed out, this essay isn't particularly unique. It's just stating the rather obvious point that lots of people are inspired by other people, and that when we make things, we often reshuffle bits of stuff we like. This practice is so common that it's not too interesting to point out. The article is clever, interesting, perhaps, but I wouldn't mod it insightful. The idea of creative reuse is the very basis of formal study of literature, music, and art-- why else spend hours, weeks, months reading, viewing, sampling, and arguing about the greats if not to enjoy them and learn how they work?

    The Harper's article really isn't that much about plagiarism, and it also doesn't really address the questions of copyright very thoroughly-- he dismisses it as "rapacious" and makes some aside references to Jefferson.

    A few years ago, in "Something Borrowed [gladwell.com]", Malcolm Gladwell looks at the personal story of a psychiatrist whose personal memoir is "plagiarized" by a playwright who writes a semi-successful play about the psychiatrist and her clients-- without consulting the psychiatrist or clients. Gladwell looks into issues about copyright, intellectual property, and the creative commons, but he also looks at the public and emotional effects in the lives of the psychiatrist (who feels "violated" by this appropriation of her life), and the playwright (who feels heartbroken, confused--devastated by the stigma and bad press). It's an awesome article.
  • by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @09:54AM (#17971812)
    ...the author was still alive when the copyright was allowed to then extend for another 14 years.

    Then came the 'corporate authors', publishers if you will, and Disney has lots of money to spread around to PACs and other politically influencial uses such that they simply purchased a change in U.S. law allowing them to "keep" something they were not entitled to have at the time various copyrighted items were created.

    That was changing the law 'after the fact'. But the political monies were acceptable as we have established proper procedures for use in Washington D.C. when we need to go to get laws changed, so it is no longer a crime, as long as we "follow the laws".

    The laws don't allow bribes to be given directly to lawmakers, so we give them to ex-lawmakers who are now middlemen who accept the monies (& their former staff who often seem to move with them), who then go to 'seek favor' from the current lawmakers which will in turn some day become ex-lawmaker/lobbyists.

    So bribery is not a crime once you institutionalize it by giving it a new name "lobbying", but plagarism is still plagarism and you can get kicked out of school or a job because of it?

    Jonathan Lethem's Harper article "'The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism" was thought provoking in many ways.
  • Et tu, Slashdot? Stop using RIAA's language. That makes your brain buy into the worldview. Lethem is absolutely right that creation is a gift. Yeah, you gotta get paid because you gotta eat, but creativity is priceless. You could never really be paid what it's worth. Academics deal in nothing but ideas, and they've worked out ways of handling this. YOU CITE YOUR SOURCES. And once you've done that, you're not stealing anything. As a matter of fact, you're boosting the citee (assuming you're not just
    • Academics deal in nothing but ideas, and they've worked out ways of handling this. YOU CITE YOUR SOURCES.
      If I'm writing an instrumental song, then how do I know what my sources are?
      • You acknowledge them to the extent that you know them. And you make whatever effort you need to, to remember where you got things, which is probably the same thing you'd hope other people would do for you. If it's so minor, or so pervasive that you can't identify it, well, isn't that the whole point to creativity being a social value?

        All I was trying to say was that it might be an idea for the rest of the world, and I include RIAA and MPAA even though they think they're a different order of being, to se

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          You acknowledge them to the extent that you know them. And you make whatever effort you need to, to remember where you got things, which is probably the same thing you'd hope other people would do for you.

          Unless "other people" happen to include the counsel representing the publisher of the one source that you could not remember. This is how George Harrison got burned: look up Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music. Is there a way to write music and prevent another "My Sweet Lord" case from happening to me?

  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @10:44AM (#17972166)
    An idea is not a possession. But, a book is. Or, whatever. It's impossible to claim ownership of or rights to an idea -- it's literally impossible to own the unownable -- so all the arguments about copyright and ideas are off the point at best, and FUD at worst.

    However, it's obvious we can claim ownership of books, or any other object that records language, whether that language is spoken, sung, mathematical, algorithmic, or musical. In every instance, someone will possess the very first, original, version of such a work. That person -- barring prior legal arrangements -- owns that work and possess all rights inherent in it. That means no one has the right to copy any portion of it without permission, and that permission comes from the work's creator. (Fair use, etc., are elements of the prior legal arrangement that the creator must accept by virture of living in a country with copyright laws.)

    If the work's creator sells a publisher the right to make copies in return for royalties, then anyone who purchases a copy from the publisher only acquires those rights sold to him by the work's creator via the publisher.

    None of this is to argue that a work's creator has any ownership of or rights to the ideas in his or her work. A work is specifically intended to create and manipulate the thoughts and emotions of others.

    Nor is it an argument to support the current abuses of copyright. The effective way to deal with abuse of an equitable law is to constrain the abusers and eliminate the abuse, not to challenge them with another kind of abuse. (Two can always play at that game, so success today mght be replaced by defeat tomorrow.) If you don't think the copyright law is equitable (assuming you've read it) then it's fair game for change, too.

    But, let's try to keep things grounded appropriately. Copyright law isn't there to keep you from stealing ideas. It's there to keep you from stealing and misusing actual physical things. And, no one would deny that all creative, academic, scientific, journalistic, etc., draws on the ideas and effortrs of others. That's called culture. But, copying chunks of something that you did not create and claiming them as your own is always that particular kind of theft called plagiarism.
    • by zotz ( 3951 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @11:52AM (#17972698) Homepage Journal
      "In every instance, someone will possess the very first, original, version of such a work. That person -- barring prior legal arrangements -- owns that work and possess all rights inherent in it."

      OK, and this is so as long as they keep it private or secret as it were.

      I think your theory breaks down when you get to publishing as we do it today.

      Now, if at every step in the chain, transfers were made with negotiated contracts, the original author might be able to retain those rights except as released via contract. Sort of like trade secrets are handled these days perhaps.

      Other than that, once published and in the hands of the public, while the author might still have control over that original physical copy, the work itself is now out in the public domain in the absence of copyright law.

      Copyright law is the government stepping into the free market and granting monopolies to the authors. I think this is thought to make the market better as it takes away the need to have a contract with every person you sell a book to for instance.

      Now, to go back to your views and ask a question:

      If it shouldn't be like I write but should be like you write, wouldn't that mean that something like the joke police at the office water cooler would be warranted? That people would have no legal right to tell jokes they heard on the radio last night? (Or are jokes one of those things that we do not grant copyright monopolies on?)

      all the best,

      drew

      http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=zotzbr o&search=Search [youtube.com]
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by reallocate ( 142797 )
        >>" at every step in the chain, transfers were made with negotiated contracts.."

        The transfer to a publisher is a matter of contract. The publisher cannot transfer to you any rights it did not acquire from the work's creator. That means a purchaser does not have the right, for example, to make and distribute multiple copies of a work unless the work's creator transferred those rights, via the publisher.

        There is no place for anyone to acquire those rights other than by transfer from the work's creator.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by zotz ( 3951 )
          "The transfer to a publisher is a matter of contract."

          Yes.

          "The publisher cannot transfer to you any rights it did not acquire from the work's creator."

          In the absence of copyright law, it is not the publisher who would grant me any rights exactly. It is the act of publishing. And since you gave him the right to publish...

          If you didn;t like that outcome, you would be free to insist that a printer get a signed contract with each book transfer that would bind the purchaser or some such.

          "The purpose of copyright
          • >>"And since you gave him the right to publish..."

            Nope. I sold him -- not you -- limited rights to publish and market the book. You don't acquire that right when you buy the book.

            >>"It is not a grant of monoploy."

            The law can't grant what already exists.

            >>"It's a recognition of, and protection of, the existence of rights that occur naturally when we create something."

            This is not so and most of human history bears this out."

            I can't imagine how you could dispute my statement. How is it poss
            • by zotz ( 3951 )
              Here we go...

              "Nope. I sold him -- not you -- limited rights to publish and market the book. You don't acquire that right when you buy the book."

              Sorry, you are right, you sold him the right to publish, you did not give him the right to publish. But please, let's try not to nitpick if it is obvious we are in agreement and speaking loosely. Asking to tighten up on the language is not a problem.

              However, you are wrong in the next part. In the absence of copyright law, if you publish your own work, the pubic has
              • >>"In the absence of copyright law, if you publish your own work, the pubic has just these rights to copy it and make derivatives..."

                1. No. I'm saying that copyright law has nothing to do with the creation of rights. All rights in a work emanate from the work's creator. Whatever rights anyone else has regarding that work must come from the work's creator. No other source exists. The rights do not exist until the work is created.

                2. In other words, a monopoly -- posession of all rights inherent in a
                • by zotz ( 3951 )
                  I find your position a bit over the top and certainly not in keeping with history as I mentioned.

                  You also argue against my points about how things would work in the absence of copyright by sometimes explaining how they work with copyright.

                  I appreciate your responses though and perhaps we will finally come to some better understanding if we keep going.

                  "1. No. I'm saying that copyright law has nothing to do with the creation of rights. All rights in a work emanate from the work's creator."

                  No, this is not so.
                  • I'm in fundamental disagreeement. I see no way for anyone else to acquire any rights to any created work unless those rights pass to them from the work's creator. If we could acquire rights in some other way, we'd need to identify another source of those rights. That doesn't exist. Individual members of society do not have some kind of a priori right to do as they wish with a work created by someone else simply because they have access to it or a copy. (It's specious to tak about the rights of "society" o
                    • by zotz ( 3951 )
                      "I'm in fundamental disagreeement."

                      We are indeed in fundamental disagreement.

                      I find your position very radical and over the top. I imagine you might feel the same way with respect to what I have written.

                      "I see no way for anyone else to acquire any rights to any created work unless those rights pass to them from the work's creator."

                      How do you imagine a person has the right to control what another does with information that is in his memory no matter how it came to be there>

                      "That doesn't exist. Individual
                    • >>"How do you imagine a person has the right to control what another does with information that is in his memory no matter how it came to be there."

                      I don't imagine that. Information -- or ideas in someone's head -- is, as I've said several times, impossible to copy. So, the entire discussion centered on copying ideas is moot, because it is talking about something that cannot be done. Ideas are completely free, always.

                      I've been addressing something else: Who has rights to the physical property creat
                    • Information -- or ideas in someone's head -- is, as I've said several times, impossible to copy. So, the entire discussion centered on copying ideas is moot, because it is talking about something that cannot be done. Ideas are completely free, always. I've been addressing something else: Who has rights to the physical property created when someone encodes a representation of ideas on something?

                      First, physical property usually isn't created by encoding (representations of) ideas into it. All the physical

                    • >>"...physical property usually isn't created by encoding (representations of) ideas into it. All the physical ingredient involved in creating the final product are typically already owned. So who owned the physical property before it was encoded with a representation of these ideas? (Hint: Probably not the author/artist..."

                      If I create a manuscript on a stack of paper that I own, then I own the manuscript and exclusively possess all rights to that manuscript. Unless you propose that other individuals
                    • If I create a manuscript on a stack of paper that I own, then I own the manuscript and exclusively possess all rights to that manuscript.

                      (Obviously.)

                      When I decide to publish that manuscript, I transfer certain limited rights to the publishers, who in turn transfers certain limited rights to the purchaser. If, for example, I do no stipulate that retail buyers will have the right to make and distribute multiple copies of the book they buy, they do not have that right. To argue that they do is to propose

                    • >>"What are you transferring rights in? "

                      Whatever I decide. I hae the exclusive right to decide what anyone can do with that manuscript or with any copies that I may authorize. If you buy my book, you have only those rights I say you do, plus those outlined in copyright law. E.g., unless I say you have the right to make multiple copies, or republish the book with your name as author, you don't.

                      >>"The right to merely observe the manuscript is implicit in both publication and purchase, and suffic
                    • by zotz ( 3951 )
                      "But as you've already stated that you don't own the ideas in other people's minds, specifically including the case where these ideas were created based on reading your manuscript, it would appear that you're attempting to say that "(unowned ideas, or ideas owned by A) + (property owned by A) --> (property owned by B)", which doesn't correspond to any theory of natural rights that I'm aware of. On what basis are you making such an extraordinary claim?"

                      If I get his right, I think he is saying that if he p
        • Repeating or reciting something you've read is not copying the physical object on which language encoding that joke was originally placed.
          Tell that to George Harrison [wikipedia.org].
          • Harrison did more that stand up in a room and sing a song. He made, distributed and sold a record -- a physical thing -- that sounded pretty much like another song. If all Harrison did was recite song lyrics, I doubt he'd have been sued.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dun Malg ( 230075 )

          The purpose of copyright law is to encourage the production of creative works by guaranteeing that a work's creator has a chance to derive financial benefit from his work, and to protect that work from alteration and distortion. ... It's a recognition of, and protection of, the existence of rights that occur naturally when we create something.

          I love to hear your substantiation of the assertion that there is a natural right to control one's intellectual creations. Before copyright, the very idea would have been considered ridiculous. Imagine a tribe of stone-age folks: Thag tells a story around the campfire about the moon god. He mostly just makes it up as he goes along. It's a good story. A couple weeks later, Grod is delivering obsidian arrow heads to the tribe in the next valley and stays overnight. At the campfire, Grod tells Thag's moon god

          • I'm not talking about " something as insubstantial as a story." As I've said, ideas cannot be possessed.

            If Thag carves his story on a boulder, then Thag owns that physcial representation of his story. Not the story. If Grod starts making duplicate boulders without Thag's permission, Thag has the right to bop him on the head with a big stick. Thag doesn't need copyright law to understand that.
            • by Danse ( 1026 )

              If Thag carves his story on a boulder, then Thag owns that physcial representation of his story. Not the story. If Grod starts making duplicate boulders without Thag's permission, Thag has the right to bop him on the head with a big stick. Thag doesn't need copyright law to understand that.

              You're intermingling copyright and plagiarism. If Thag carves his story on the rock, and it is seen by Grod, and then Grod starts carving it on other boulders, then no, Thag has no rights whatsoever to stop him in the ab

              • If I make something and you copy it without my permission, that's wrong. Copyright has nothing to do with it.

                Getting away from silly rock analogies, if I write a book, publish it, and you buy it, you have those rights I transferred to you via the publisher plus whatever rights copyright law says you have. No more. This is not hard to understand.
                • by Danse ( 1026 )

                  If I make something and you copy it without my permission, that's wrong. Copyright has nothing to do with it.

                  Then we have an astoundingly different idea of right and wrong regarding ideas made public. In fact, you seem to disagree with the founders of the US who created copyright law. They didn't believe there was any natural law granting anyone ownership of their ideas or the expressions of those ideas. They thought that such a right, granted for a limited time, would serve the public interest, and so c

                  • >>"Then we have an astoundingly different idea of right and wrong regarding ideas made public."

                    No, we don't. I'm not talking about ideas.
                    • by Danse ( 1026 )

                      No, we don't. I'm not talking about ideas.

                      Yes, you are. Just because you write an idea down, it doesn't suddenly become something more than an idea. Only copyright law gives it any greater status.
                    • Symbols on a page, bits in a file, etc., are not ideas. Neither is the page or the file.

                      You cannot "write an idea down". The only thing you can write are words and numbers. Those are not ideas.

                      You cannot own an idea. Nor can you share an idea. Ideas are thoughts in our heads. We can use language and other symbols in an attempt to cause other people to have similar thoughts, but no ideas pass from one person to the next (unless you believe in telepathy.)

                      Structuring an argument around notions of copying,
                  • by zotz ( 3951 )

                    Then we have an astoundingly different idea of right and wrong regarding ideas made public. In fact, you seem to disagree with the founders of the US who created copyright law.

                    While I also find him to have an astoundingly different idea of right and wrong regarding ideas made public when compared to myself, I think you may just be incorrect on the founders of the US creating copyright law.

                    However, if the two of you are both living in the Us / US citizens, the Us constitution is the governing document for you both when it comes to copyright.

                    all the best,

                    drew

                • by zotz ( 3951 )

                  If I make something and you copy it without my permission, that's wrong. Copyright has nothing to do with it.

                  Getting away from silly rock analogies, if I write a book, publish it, and you buy it, you have those rights I transferred to you via the publisher plus whatever rights copyright law says you have. No more. This is not hard to understand.

                  It is not hard to understand what you are saying. It is just hard to believe that you say it with conviction considering how wrong it is.

                  So, is it your contention that copyright laws remove rights from authors that they would otherwose have in the absence of copyright laws?

                  If so, why is it that authors are not calling for copyright law to be done away with? If they would have more rights without it that is.

                  You yourself have said that there would not be as many making works without copyright laws. How do yo

            • by zotz ( 3951 )

              I'm not talking about " something as insubstantial as a story." As I've said, ideas cannot be possessed.

              Once again, this is wild. Probably because it seems so inconsistent.

              A story is a sequence of words. Unless you have some other definition as to what a story is. Do you instead mean a plot?

              If Thag carves his story on a boulder, then Thag owns that physcial representation of his story. Not the story. If Grod starts making duplicate boulders without Thag's permission, Thag has the right to bop him on the head with a big stick. Thag doesn't need copyright law to understand that.

              Why? You cannot seem to explain this. Thag only owns his boulder with some words on it according to you. If not, what else does he own? If Thag does not own the story and if Grod makes the copies on his own boulders and not boulders to which Thag has any claim, how can Thag have any rights to Grod's boulders? You yoursel

              • This is getting tiresome.

                As I've said repeatedly, I'm talking about symbols (language, etc.) affixed to or encoded in some sort of medium. It can be gibberish for all I care. The combination of symbols and medium is property.

                Thag owns the border with the words. He also has exclusive rights in that rock. Other people acquire rights in that rock only be transfer from Thag, who is their sole original source. Whether the marks Thag put on the rock constitute a story, represent ideas, or are just idle doodling
  • For what it is worth, Jonathan Lethem is an excellent writer and well worth reading. His works range from weird science fiction ("Girl in Landscape") to the just plain weird ("Gun, with Occasional Music") to more or less straight fiction ("Fortress of Solitude").
  • Plagiarism is essentially quoting without [proper] attribution. Passing [especially] words and [sometimes] ideas off as one's own. It is perfectly acceptable, and usually highly desireable to include others' work with attribution into a new synthesis or even a survey.

    The author knows this full well (even if he can't express it), as shown by the very extensive citations!

    • ... and the links must be preserved.

  • RTFA (Score:2, Insightful)

    Judging from a lot of the comments so far... are people really incapable of seeing what the author was trying to do here? Read the thing. Do you really still need it spelled out for you? Then read on. It's an essay about the universal practice of taking uncredited quotes from previous artists... MADE UP LARGELY of quotes from previous artists. It's a literary game. An attempt to prove a point. A clever idea imperfectly executed. He is trying to literally show the reader that almost anything you see or
  • I think Lethem's article is very good, and it reminds me of Sokal's hoax on Social Text. The articles have completely different purposes and diametrically opposed philosophies, but they share a similarity - using the tools of their target to expose their target.

    With Sokal, he used the language of post-structural theory's mis-appropriation of scientific ideas in order to demonstrate how ludicrous post-structural theory's mis-appropriation of scientific ideas really is.

    Here, Lethem is using/abusing the pr

  • Mr Lethem's first novel, "Gun, with Occasional Music" will have been published for 14 years in 2008. Will Mr. Lethem release the novel into the public domain in the spirit of the original Copyright term set by Congress? In other words, will he practice what he preaches?

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