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Monday, February 15, 2010

Cultural Shift? Plagiarism vs. Remixing

Here is an interesting story about a 17-year-old uber-author in Germany who is successful while withstanding a charge of plagiarism...but she calls it mixing.

Some background: (re)mixing has many contexts. In music, it is the mixing of sound tracts into an alternative form of the work. In literature, the most obvious meaning is that used in the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license, in which others may "remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms." A publisher of one of Yours Truly's stories used the non-commercial form of this license for their anthology.

According to this NYT story, 17-year-old German author Helene Hegemann has a staged play and a script for a theatrically distributed movie to her credit, and now a well-selling novel (5th in Spiegel's best-seller list). However, someone pointed out that pieces of her novel, sometimes page-length) were lifted with little change from other works. Naturally a controversy arose. But even an important literary prize staff has overlooked this problem with her work and are still considering it. They apparently felt that the story was new and important enough, even with the copied passages, to justify continued consideration. The author says she did not plagiarize. She mixed. This is what people do now in the world of the always-connected Internet.

Is she right? Has the standard of plagiarism irrevocably changed or shifted?

For more on this story, see the NYT article, entitled, "Author, 17, Says It's 'Mixing,' Not Plagiarism."

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