Monday, 21 February 2011

Like an idea? Take it. You're welcome.

I have to get this off my chest. Recently I've been reading the type of blog post which begins, I'm miserable! Someone stole my idea...

Sometimes I don't know what the writer's complaining about. Do they mean someone copied a photo or a form of words and put their name to it?

Then yeah, I sympathise, to a point. Passing off. It's illegal in business. I can't take someone else's product and slap my name to it. Seeing your precise form of words or your picture of the dog passed off under someone else's name is probably just as irritating and just as illegal.

But you do have recourse. In blogland, you have a date-stamped entry; so do they. Display the product side by side and present the case before your jury of readers.

Sometimes, I get the feeling this is not what the blog author is complaining about.

Sometimes, a blog writer seems to be complaining that someone lifted an idea. Like, blog writer A stitched a stegosaurus on a knitted dishcloth. Three days later blog writer B did the same, but with a brontosaurus. When blog writer B posts up their work, Blog writer A feels cheated! Blog writer B never credited them with thank you or even a link!

Well, big deal.

Hey, reader of grit's day, if you like an idea here, take it. You're welcome. Take it and make it your own. No need to say thank you. No need to link.

I'm not making a moral point. I'm making a point about learning.

Taking ideas from each other, bringing them into our own worlds, laying over an acquired idea with a new frame of reference, stitching our own experience onto the ideas of others, that's what we do because we are human.

When we start on that process, we call it learning. From kids it's close enough to call copying, but we don't pass moral judgement on it. Shark was aged about two when she repeated instructions I gave, word for word, over several weeks. It might have pissed off Squirrel to hear mama straight from the mouth of a same-age sister, but I didn't squeal plagiarism. I understood how she was taking what she was hearing and listening to the sound of it from her own mouth. Slowly I heard my words and phrases echo back at me in different contexts, with new intent.

Here's another example. Last week, I walked into an art class where Tiger was working with the designs of some artist. (Don't ask me who; he looked Matisse influenced to me.) Tiger was reproducing his ideas in her own way, but fairly closely. In the classroom, this copying is called taking inspiration. I don't expect her to write him a note, saying Hi! Just re-used your ideas! Thanks for the input! Hope to see you over at my forum!

Educationally speaking, people take ideas from each other in order to grow themselves. Students rewrite, reformulate, reuse words and phrases, take whole ideas, lift entire arguments. This is how we learn. Copying each other's ideas is how people develop their own ideas. Close copying from adults might reflect a lack of confidence, but my assumption is, that soon comes.

To me, this process is okay. Just to stick my neck out further, when it happens at university level, what exactly is the point of the moral panic? There seems to be a fear of 'academic misconduct'* which goes well beyond passing off. Now apparently it's plagiarism if students drop in words and phrases from their reading material.

Of course the students are going to reformulate the words of others. They're going to rewrite stuff they found in the subject area you're asking them to learn about. They've been learning to do it this way for years. What else do you expect them to do for goodness sake? Original theories don't just pop from someone's head. People first inhabit the thoughts of others as a means of finding a place of their own. In fact, I think that progression is a healthy and normal part of intellectual life.

I don't know why the plagiarism debate at university level gets so up itself. Except sometimes I think it's people looking to protect a hierarchy of power and a sphere of influence.

Well, that's how I reckon the academic world works. It's about policing ideas as much as sharing them; keeping some people out alongside letting others in. I can see that if the ideas of one person in that world are extensively quoted and used as the basis for other work, then it shows that someone's risen to a position of influence. Having people who call on those ideas then signals deference, empowers the original speaker and writer, and creates a culture whereby someone is elevated in their profession. Then power to influence is what they're trying to protect. What are you trying to do exactly with all that plagiarism software? Except trying to protect words as if words are foot soldiers in building an empire.

Academic courses on fishyfin science, or blogs, it's all the same to me. People who whine about having an idea taken from their blog, maybe they're trying to build empires too; collect groupies, create a centre of power on their terms. They don't want the centre of influence moving elsewhere, or someone else taking the glory.

But blogland is a public place. Ideas are out here, loose and free-roaming. When this post is laying cold, hard and flat across your screen, the ideas here are available for anyone to read, reuse, rehash, take for themselves. I'm okay with that.

If you want to keep your idea about a knitted dinosaur dishcloth for yourself, then don't put it out in the world. If you want everyone to have it, and you want it to make money for you, make sure that when your idea goes out into the world, it goes with a contract that pays you up front.

But if you feel you're going to become morally outraged, violated, and that someone is going to steal your wisdoms, then don't put anything in any public forum at all, not a photo, bit of copy, not a blind bit of anything.

Anyway, Dig is fed up with listening me complain about people complaining on blogs. I'm told, push off and whine to Bakhtin instead. So I'm reusing this from Wikipedia because I can't speak Russian. 'To make an utterance means to "appropriate the words of others and populate them with one's own intention".'

Yeah. So if you reproduce me word for word as git's day, then I'll be pissed off with your passing off. I'll hunt you down and deal with you. But if you see an idea in grit's day that you fancy, then take it. You're welcome.

*Ha! Source deliberately not acknowledged!


Melanie said...

I love the way you think...quite the revolutionary!!

Me? I'm here feeling like a total dunce because I realize I have ZERO original thought. You've reminded me that most of us mortals just rehash already digested ideas.

Phew! I'm not alone in my dunce-ness!

Pete Darby said...

1. Welcome to actual post-modernism as she is practised in the wild. Levi-Strauss FTW.

2. IN script writing circles there's a motto: "Ideas are nothing. Execution is everything.". Plagiarism is the copying of the execution of an idea, is easy and helps no-one. Creativity is the personal execution of an idea, regardless of its source.

ladybirdcook said...

point 1)citing sources at an academic level should be done so that people can see who you're stealing off, who is inspiring you, so you can follow the root and path of an argument and, perhaps, present your own counterargument based on your own reading of the same sources. That's how knowledge grows and broadens.
point 2)two of my children are on the autisic spectrum, I encourage them to copy 'normal' people, so that they can learn to fit in enough to make friends and not be picked on - whilst remaining their own unique selves, of course.
point 3) I once borrowed a whole passage of one of your blog posts because I liked the way you'd built up the argument (about home ed, what else), I changed the context so it made sense for my subject (political activism) and then I fired it off in an email to someone I was trying to convince. Now that person hates me and refuses to work with me. Which I find utterly hilarious :-))

kelly said...

I think taking photos is wrong/ creepy but ideas?

That's odd.

With regards to blogs, there is every chance that some one, some where has had the exact same idea as some one else before, without even knowing it.

Thanks for can you tell me what to do with my kids next week because I am all out of ideas whilst husband is away on a jaunt.


MadameSmokinGun said...

Inspiration is very rarely a totally unique never-thought-of-before idea that just pops out of a genius' head - it's always going to be a new-to-that-person's remix of already soaked-up stuff that suddenly makes some sense to them - and then they can splurge that freshly-made salad of previously separate things as a 'new idea' and see who gets cross. That's how the world works.

Funnily enough, the other day Mr Roving Blade and I were talking about milk/milks available to try and how flavours differ from animal to animal and what animal's milk would be the closest to human milk in taste etc (ie definitely not cow so how come 'we' pour that stuff down 'our' kids' throats so manically) and lo and behold someone has marketed an ice-cream made from human breast milk - so fab and funny.

We like to call it collective consciousness. That nice little term has stopped us from useless moaning many a time.

Grit said...

i'm going to wave flags, melanie!

hi pete, well i like the sound of wild practice. and with all that post structuralism, i am so very zeitgeist, am i not? i mean, i am only about 50 years out of date there. (i had to look up FTW, too)

i think i might have to fingerjab some more about why it is so very praiseworthy for students to reproduce and then when they reach the age of 18 suddenly it is very bad if they so much as rephrase theories without citation. disapproving brows must be knitted.

it tells me there is a mis-match of training and expectation which is not serving students well, and not surprisingly some of them find the transition difficult. if schools stop the copying and universities eased back on the threats about even reformulating or paraphrasing theories, then maybe students could apply their brains in both directions: submitting what's honourable and expected, but being able to tackle material with flair and originality. yeah, yeah, sorted.

hi ladybirdcook! i burst out laughing at number 3. i feel truly honoured and wickedly gleeful that i got up someone's nose without even being there.

hi kelly, no problem about the week! sometimes i say to my children 'we're all going to catch the gas man' then we think up as many different ways as we can to set traps for him. i may make it difficult by including problems, like he keeps a wild boar for a pet, or he hides a viper under his hat. then they have to become even more ingenious to get round it!

ahem. it keeps us busy, anyway.

that is the best way of seeing it mme sg, and i am heartened. i shall use that collective consciousness phrase as if it was my very own.