If I Was a Master Thief, Perhaps I’d Rob Them: Bob Dylan, Plagiarism, Freshman Composition, and the “Cult of Originality”

21 May

They’re Planting Stories in the Press

After spending many years among the has-beens, a once renowned performer releases a series of well-received albums. Before long, amid the new rave reviews, reports surface that some lines from these new albums have been stolen from an obscure nineteenth century poet, a Japanese gangster novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, old films, and a number of blues songs. Talk of plagiarism emerges. The guy may have written some strikingly original songs back in the day, people say, but now, clearly, the well has run dry. Sadly, he must rely on the work of others to produce much of anything.

Yet to others, this is no surprise.

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Plagiarism? I’ve heard that one before – Telegraph

20 Jan

More on one of our favorite topics from Christopher Howse in The Telegraph (found at Expectingrain):

So Bob Dylan stood out from his contemporaries as a song-writer because he stole more boldly and with more imagination. He had hardly heard someone sing Scarborough Fair when he cannibalised it for Girl from the North Country, apparently mistaking the word fair for an adjective. As a privateer of song, no wonder Captain Kidd the pirate was his hero. They both spotted other people’s treasure and brought it home as their own.

That’s the faculty teenagers lack when they copy over chunks of the internet into their homework. The crime is lack of discrimination.

via Plagiarism? I’ve heard that one before – Telegraph.

More on this topic here.

Teaching Remix

14 Jul

from Brent Staples in the New York Times:

If we look closely at plagiarism as practiced by youngsters, we can see that they have a different relationship to the printed word than did the generations before them. When many young people think of writing, they don’t think of fashioning original sentences into a sustained thought. They think of making something like a collage of found passages and ideas from the Internet.

They become like rap musicians who construct what they describe as new works by “sampling” (which is to say, cutting and pasting) beats and refrains from the works of others.

The editorial raises issues dear to our heart here at Imaginary Boundaries. We agree that something needs to be done about the plagiarism and cutting and pasting that is common in college and high school classrooms. As shown in Part III of the If I Was a Master Thief Series, the burden is on teachers to come up with better, more innovative, plagiarism-proof assignments instead of relying on the old standbys (which are often just copies of textbook or other teachers’ assignments themselves, all based upon the same old readings from the same old anthologies, or, if the teacher is more innovative, cut and paste remixes of such assignments). And we agree with Jason Johnson who was quoted in that piece that some of these remix skills students exhibit are useful and can be incorporated into teaching methods and in assignment reinvention.

Here is Lawrence Lessig on the value of remix as a skill and as a prompt for learning (which we wrote about for an upcoming article in Montague Street):

It takes extraordinary knowledge about a culture to remix it well. The artist or student training to do it well learns far more about his past than one committed to this (in my view hopelessly naïve) view about “original creativity.” And perhaps more important, the audience is constantly looking for more as the audience reads what the remixer has written. Knowing that the song is a mix that could draw upon all that went before, each second is an invitation to understand the links that were drawn––their meaning, the reason they were included. The form makes demands on the audience; they return the demands in kind.

Lessig shows that remix is far more complex than mere copying and can be a tremendous tool for learning that requires a high level of innovation from teachers and from students. First, we need to stop bemoaning the fact that things just aren’t the way they used to be. Then we can take advantage of these new and exciting opportunities for teaching and learning. Yes, a high incidence of cheating is a kind of canary in the coal mine, but people may be misreading the warnings. In our view, if there is a lot of plagiarism and cheating in the classroom, then it’s the teaching that deserves higher scrutiny. It’s possible to make cheating rare to nearly impossible, and there are many teachers who have accomplished this not with detection software or surveillance, but through innovative teaching methods and with creative assignment design.

Full editorial: “Cutting and Pasting: A Senior Thesis by (Insert Name)”

Inspiration or Plagiarism?

8 Jul

by Spencer Leigh at the Independent (via Expecting Rain):

Far safer, perhaps, to plagiarise the classics as so much is out of copyright – and look at the success of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Bach), “I Should Be So Lucky” (Pachelbel) and “You Spin Me Round” (Wagner). Myleene Klass, once in Hear’Say, says, “A lot of rock music plagiarises classical music, but those classical musicians often took things from each other anyway. It used to be a compliment to write variations on a theme.”

In 2002 John Cage’s publishers claimed that his silent piece from 1952, “4’33”, had been plagiarised by Mike Batt on his album Classical Graffiti. Batt maintained that his silence was not the same as Cage’s, but nevertheless paid £100,000 to his publishers.

The article gives many examples of “inspirations.” For instance, can you hear Paul McCartney’s “All My Loving” in Dave Brubeck’s “Kathy’s Waltz”?

(The Brubeck song was recorded first.)

Once again, all of this is more fodder for the If I Was a Master Thief, Perhaps I’d Rob Them series.

Read the article

Hear “All My Loving” after the jump:

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Something Borrowed, Something New

1 Jun

From poet and classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz of UMass-Boston on Fresh Air :

For more than 50 years Pierre Boulez has been at the forefront of classical music as a composer, conductor and radical thinker. He turned 85 years old in March and shows little sign of slowing down, with a continuing flow of CDs and DVDs to his credit.

One of the newest, a CD of music by Igor Stravinsky is one of Boulez’s best.

* * * *

The disc also includes Stravinsky’s complete Pulcinella, not just the abbreviated Suite, which leaves out the charming, sexy songs. Stravinsky composed this scintillating commedia dell’arte ballet for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Stravinsky himself regarded Pulcinella as his first neo-classical work, both his discovery of the past, and his transformation of it. He boldly borrowed themes he thought were all by the 18th-century Italian composer Pergolesi, though it turned out some of them were actually by a number of other minor composers. But even though the tunes themselves aren’t by Stravinsky, his syncopated rhythms and dazzling, even hilarious combinations of instruments make Pulcinella one of his most original, most modern, most ‘Stravinskyan’ scores. And in the hands of Boulez and the Chicago Symphony, one of his most sparkling.

On a new DVD, Inheriting the Future of Music, you can watch Boulez working on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with young conductors and players at the Lucerne Festival Academy in Switzerland. They adore him because he doesn’t condescend to them. And not a note escapes his attention.

Listen here.

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Johanna Blakley: Lessons from fashion’s free culture

25 May

The culture of copying: “What is the kind of ownership model in a digital world that’s gonna lead to the most innovation?”

from the talk:

The Virtues of Copying

Democratization of Fashion

Faster Establishment of Global Trends

Induced Obsolescence

Acceleration in Creative Innovation

For more, see readytoshare.org

This has been a big issue on Imaginary Boundaries, starting with Bob Dylan and plagiarism plus related posts.

After the jump, Lawrence Lessig on “laws that choke creativity”:

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A Master Among Master Thieves

13 Oct

In the Times Online, there is a piece about plagiarism detection software “proving” that Shakespeare didn’t write The Reign of King Edward III by himself:

What about the tomcat’s meow an’ milk cow’s moo?

What about the tomcat’s meow an’ milk cow’s moo?

The Shakespeare matches came from four scenes, about 40 per cent of the play. The remaining scenes had about 200 matches with works by Kyd, best known for The Spanish Tragedy, a play known to have influenced Shakespeare, indicating that he wrote the other 60 per cent of the play.

This is fascinating to me for a number of reasons. Imagine the nerve of using the kind of tool usually employed to detect lowly student thefts on The Bard himself! What messages are people getting from this? That, alas, Shakespeare was a common thief (et tu, Billy?) and somehow a lesser writer? Or that perhaps we should stop making criminals of students for doing what “the greats” do themselves? Should we instead study the uses of influence along with our students in order to show them how to employ these methods appropriately instead of just banning them outright? Shall we encourage collaboration and imitation as an early and necessary stage in their development as writers?

These issues were explored in the Master Thief series about Bob Dylan and plagiarism.

Here are a few words from Shakespeare himself (I think) on thievery:

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More Master Thieves: Mozart, Shakespeare, and Arthur Laurents

16 Sep

Romeo, he said to Juliet, “You got a poor complexion.

It doesn’t give your appearance a very youthful touch!”

Juliet said back to Romeo, “Why don’t you just shove off

If it bothers you so much.”

Bob Dylan

When this blog began, we looked at plagiarism issues in the three part series If I Was a Master Thief Perhaps I’d Rob Them, which explored Bob Dylan and the role of appropriation in the creative process (and which also explored what this might teach us about writing and teaching writing). Here is some more on the issue, beginning with the “stolen” West Side Story:

First we have some interesting thoughts on plagiarism from Matthew Yglesias who is responding to Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto:

To me, and I think to most people, it’s a good thing that the authors of West Side Story were able to put their work together without constantly looking over their shoulder at whether or not things were getting too close to Romeo & Juliet or needing to somehow deny that that’s what they were doing. The fact that the work is more-or-less explicitly a retelling of an already classic cultural landmark gives it a kind of additional resonance.

And here’s kos expanding on what Yglesias said while responding to a Helprin quote.

Helprin: Continue reading

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