Great Artists Steal

In his 2007 essay, ‘The Ecstasy of Influence’, prominent US writer Jonathan Lethem wrote about the essentially shared nature of art and why copyright laws are a betrayal of the spirit of literature. He demonstrated the point by compiling the bulk of the text by stealing lines and sentences from other texts. “Contemporary copyright, trademark, and patent law is presently corrupted,” he wrote. “The case for perpetual copyright is a denial of the essential gift-aspect of the creative act.”

It’s a point his compatriot David Shields took a step further in his 2010 book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, in which he argued against the concept of originality and authenticity in a text that was completely lifted from a multitude of other sources. (Here’s a review.)

We cite these works because there’s been an ongoing debate in art and IT communities for some years about the negative impacts of intellectual property, especially in its online applications. The online intellectual property debate will shape not just how we consume art and entertainment but also the future of the web itself. The Protect IP/Stop Online Piracy Acts are bills currently before Congress that, if passed, will have major impacts on free expression on the web. Activist bloggers are calling the bills a meal ticket for IP lawyers, an internet border around the US, and a potential political blacklist tool. Learn more by reading this article and watching this video.

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