Copying, imitation and plagiarism

So the other day I listened to a Jon Courson podcast where he was talking about Timothy. He talked of how Paul wanted him to copy everything he had taught him and teach others and also encourage them to do the same. I had been a bit miffed about some guy who stole a post I had done and tried to pass it off as his own. This podcast helped put things in perspective for me.

1. There is nothing new under the sun

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV) declares

9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

One cannot argue with the scriptures. We all have at one point or another been excited about something considering it life-changingly new only to find that it has been done before by others, or even if not, perhaps in a different way. The method may be different but generally, almost all has either been done or considered before. In an interestingly named publication called the Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce put it in a ‘new’ perspective

There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
US author & satirist (1842 – 1914)

So next time you experience, see or hear something and you find it new, well maybe it is just new to you.

2. Some copying is necessary

If you have gone through the Kenyan education system, I am sure you remember spending many sleepless nights cramming text books that we were given so that we learn things we were being taught in exactly the way we were supposed to learn them. The teachers were also just teaching these things the way they had been taught to teach. In fact, a lot of exams were passed by just copying the texts you were given, memorizing them as they were. I remember really struggling especially in English Literature, where we were required to think and come up with our own opinions. This was, for many of us, unfamiliar territory.

Whether it is okay or not, we have to admit that there are situations where if you do not comply, you will find yourself in trouble.

3. You cannot copy all the stuff all the time

I think in the blogosphere it is important that we apply our individuality and uniqueness in our posts. If all my posts are copy pasted from other bloggers, what is the point? We are all unique human beings with unique attributes that cannot be wholly copied all the time. They may copy all your text but they will never be able to copy all your attitudes, thoughts, motivation, context or ideas. Ideas are a very interesting thing, there is hardly a shortage of them. They seem to lead to others. Richard Weaver’s book in 1948 is titled “Ideas have consequences”. You cannot have an idea and remain the way you were without thinking about it and finding a treasure of other ideas when you begin to. We all act according to our beliefs. We cannot act differently from our beliefs for very long. After a while, we will change our beliefs. Then again, this is the internet, copying stuff from the internet and putting it back on the internet does not seem to be a useful activity. No? Maybe it’s just me…

4. It is good manners to acknowledge your sources.

There are times you just have to copy something. The good thing about the internet is that instead of copying, you can just put a link to the content you are referring to. I have done this for a long time especially with pictures, cartoons and YouTube videos. That way, your post is just a link pointing people to the source of your content and thereby you acknowledge your sources. It is actually a double-edged sword of sorts since you will both acknowledge your source but also be able to pass the responsibility to them if it turns out they were lying!

5. Some copying is unforgivable

When I first heard Hardstone singing ‘Uhiki’, I was kinda impressed, but it did not take long before I realised that though he had put his own lyrics, the music was basically Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’. Since then, I have generally frowned upon such shameless plagiarism. There is a local ‘hit’ that sounds so close to Brenda Fassie’s ‘Vulindlela’ that I have been completely unable to enjoy or appreciate it. I am sure you can all think of such situations. Copycats should be exposed when they seem to want to pass off copied stuff as their own. You can copy things for fun, a bit like the way Eric Omondi does for some music Kajairo style, corrupting lyrics and such. But if you want to be considered a ‘real’ artist and not just a joker or comedian, you need to style up. What do you think?

Tuendelee kuongea


3 responses to “Copying, imitation and plagiarism

  1. I like the number one… didn’t know it was a verse in the Bible!

    I agree with you.. it’s okay to copy up to a point, and to acknowledge the source of your inspiration.

  2. I agree there’s really nothing new but we can do things in a new way. as for musicians sampling is not quite the same as plagiarism if the lyrics are original.
    have you noticed movies are also copying old TV shows, movies and ‘rebooting’ for a new audience e.g Conan

  3. thanks for the reminder that we need to acknowledge our sources. this seems to be a slowly dying out belief not just a complete lack of manners.

    glad you’ve been able to rise above the blog stealer. not sure I would have been able to do it this side of christmas.

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