Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is it a Phoenix or an "Obama?"

I've never met Robin E*****, the so-called self-titled (not to mention self-appointed) "Emerson Avenger," and frankly I hope never to have the pleasure. I know him by reputation, of course, as I suspect so many other bloggers do here in the UU blogosphere, but since I generally find his posts kind of abrasive and unpleasant, mostly I just try to ignore him in the hope that our paths through cyberspace will cross as little as possible.

Yet lately for some reason he has chosen to take a shine to me again, this time even going so far as accusing me of plagiarism because he apparently ALSO saw the image of the Demographic Map of the United States of America plotting the outcome of the last election in shades of Blue and Red based on the percentage of the popular vote, and "normalized" geographically for population density I wrote about in a previous post, and it also reminded him of a Phoenix.

But before we go too far together down THAT road Brother E******, let me offer you a basic tutorial in communications law for working writers.

Plagiarism is essentially defined as "the purloining of literary work." [Gotta LOVE THAT definition! -- it pretty much just says it all...] Simply having a similar idea based on a similar response to a shared source of inspiration is in no way, shape or form ANYTHING resembling actual plagiarism; it is simply a demonstration that not only do great minds think alike, but sometimes even great minds and not-so-great minds can have similar thoughts...the difference being that a Truly Great Mind recognizes that there is simply "something in the air," while the not-so-great mind foolishly (and some might say narcissistically) mistakes the obvious for their own unique and original thought.

But to bring this back to the topic at hand, writers cannot copyright "ideas" -- they may only copyright a unique and original expression of an idea -- in other words, actual and specific language and phrasing which embody and express a unique perspective of a shared (or private) inspiration, which in turn could then be plagiarized by someone else who saw that unique expression, "purloined" (i.e. stole or copied) it, and then attempted to pass it off (obviously without attribution) as their own work. An even more basic point is that in almost ALL cases an actual plagiarist has to have actually SEEN the original work in order to "steal" it. You can't really copy something you've never even read.

As both an academic and a clergyman I tend to take allegations of plagiarism fairly seriously, since in many ways it strikes at the core of everything I believe about integrity and creativity and their importance to the human soul. On the other hand, I also tend to take a fairly broad and "liberal" view of "fair use;" we are, after all, called upon to Proclaim the Good News, not to copyright it. Yet to palm off someone's original work as your own, when tools like the internet make it so easy these days to find and attribute almost anything, is truly shameful. But if you look back at what I've actually written, you'll notice right away that I've done nothing of the sort.

Quickly now - if you look at MY original post, you'll notice that not only do I compare this image to a Phoenix, I also compare it to the Holy Spirit (in the form of a Dove, as in Luke's Gospel), and make several other references to other aspects of our shared cultural mythology, before finally getting around to making the one statement that might indeed be potentially copyrightable, and name this bird a "Barack." Again, not a particularly obscure idea; it could have occurred to anyone. But it just so happened to occur to me -- and it is unique, and it is original, and as far as I'm concerned, folks can copy it as much as they like (although a little honest attribution is always welcome....)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So does he admit to plagarizing the whole "asterisks look like assholes" bit from Kurt Vonnegut?
What about ripping off his "Day of Conscience" from Yom Kippur?

He certainly doesn't have any room to talk.