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Rethinking Plagiarism

Is it possible to plagiarize a photograph?

That’s the intriguing question posed at a site called Techdirt as part of an ongoing discussion of the shifting nature of what’s considered plagiarism.

In theory, having all the settings that are stored in the meta data of a digital photograph should allow someone to record a duplicate that the average person wouldn’t be able to tell from the original.

So, if I duplicate some picture post card shots of monuments around Washington and sell my own souvenirs, am I liable for plagiarism?

The same post links to another story about how an article by Malcolm Gladwell was incorporated into a Broadway play.

At first he was upset about the “theft”. On reflection, however, he realized the playwright had not copied his work but had extended it into a new form, giving it a new life.

Gladwell’s experience led to another article for The New Yorker in which he explores how artists have been borrowing the musical and literary themes of others to build on for their own works for many years.

Along the way, he also discovers that there’s a rather murky line between creatively using the work of others and plagiarism.

The irony is that in the digital age, when we can quickly analyze material to detect copying, it’s also so much easier to “sample” works to serve as the foundation for new ones.

Ones and zeros just make everything more complicated, don’t they?

plagiarism, photograph, malcolm gladwell

1 Comment

  1. kelly

    this question has been on my mind this week, since last week, I took a photograph of a photograph, and I’ve posted it on flickr, and although I explained the source, it still feels like a bit of a cheat… the photograph was one of many very large ones hung on the walls at the archaeology museum here in Istanbul, showing details of the artifacts, gorgeously lit… I like the photographs better than most of the sculptures, and I saw the sculptures differently because of the photographs… so I took the picture in order to remember the exhibit and to show others why I liked it… but I do feel I’m at least one foot across a line by photographing a photograph in this way.

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