Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage

For Johndan Johnson-Eilola, writing in digital space is a nontraditional form of writing that struggles with the definition of originality. It is nontraditional in that it brings together different aspects of traditional writing and production, but also involves the aggregation of other material. Writing in a digital space struggles with originality in that it is not necessarily possible to produce original content today because most content echoes its inspiration. Johnson-Eilola argues that striving for the impossible “original” ideal furthers the problem and drives people to plagiarize in the attempt to appear unique in their thoughts and claims.

Johnson-Eilola argues that copyright law is and is not in step with new digital reforms. While copyright laws have been put in place to prevent the illegal copying of another’s work without credit, the Internet has made it increasingly difficult to enforce copyright and increasingly easier to repurpose information.  The nontraditional digital writing space, for Johnson-Eilola, does have the ability to separate sourced materials’ legal requirements. The law is not in alignment with new digital reforms, though, as much of today’s produced work still relies on more traditional forms of citation through in-text citations, footnotes, endnotes, paraphrasing, and the like.

Originality will continue to be a topic of debate for compositionists as we produce work in specific contexts. In my opinion, we can respect our sources by giving credit where credit is due. When someone works off of another’s work for inspiration, that person deserves credit, even if the person goes on to create a “new” work through experimentation. Different techniques can be used to make sure that credit is given, such as citing who gave the courtesy photo or using  Document Cloud  to store primary documents (in pdf form) for viewers’ consultation. Proper citation, through these forms, will always add validity to one’s work.

I encountered a type of copyright issue when assembling my Untold History of McKeesport. While the Historical Society did not have the proper licenses to allow me to reproduce different images that they have, I was able to record myself flipping through a book of images (with credit given later) so that I was not purely representing the work as my own ownership or creation. Taking this approach was a way to get around the licensing issues, considering that I still had permission from my source.  The remainder of the images and the audio I have collected myself and given credit to the people who speak within my pieces, because it is still important to credit people for their thoughts and ideas.

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