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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Intelectual Ownership

The concept of plagiarism is based upon the assumption that the individual is of primacy and that they act alone. There are of course many individuals that are denoted as having come up with great ideas and 'theories'. But, each one of these individuals is only singularly set within one interdependent, yet whole, social system. People don't create work on their own and aren't the originators of these ideas that are attributed to them. Ideas are in fact universal collections that are only communicated through that one individual. They are not ‘their’s’, but ‘ours’. Our history’s, our culture’s, our society’s, our civilization’s, etc. Collective knowledge has evolved throughout time and cannot be credited to one singular place or individual. How is it that one person can claim intellectual property rights to the historical accumulation of thought? What one person was taught in school and seems commonsensical to them today but may have been revolutionary 2000, 500, or maybe even 100 years ago. Thus someone else’s ideas are in fact our collective community’s ideas, not mine for my own intellectual profit.

'Plagiarism' as a term maybe 'a crime' in today's perception of reality, but a crime 'against intelligence, honesty and authorship'? I would argue with this notion and say it is more of the opposite. It think it is dishonest to claim my ideas for myself knowing full well that I am just a conduit for information - an interpreter of social existence - and a socially constructed interpreter at that. Perhaps we can start arguing structure v. agency now, but I don't think it can be argued that our information comes from anywhere within ourselves, or that as academics we tend to keep it for ourselves. We 'need' to publish or we will perish as the old moniker goes. The real question is, do we claim lordship over our thoughts and seek to profit from these ideas (financially, status-wise, professionally, or egotistically), or do we recognize them for what they are - simple ideas based on a common history. Try to take a step outside the world as we are taught it is, and assess things on separate terms.

Now obviously, the principle of plagiarism is the foundation of modern academia and if you want to be a part of it you are required to follow the principles outlawing 'plagiarism' in order to graduate, publish, have a job, etc. But this does not make the principle 'right'. I think it should be our jobs as academic minded individuals to assess all of the principles that we view the world with as well as what we see within it. And the individualistic idea that my ideas are somehow my own property, based on singular experiences, and should be recourse to some form of individual profit is one that I strongly disagree with.

Obviously though, if you want to 'succeed' in academia, I am probably not your best model to follow ;) but it is worth thinking about exactly where you believe your ideas come from, where those ideas in fact came from, and exactly who's property they really are - if anyone's at all. If you come to the conclusion that they do in-fact come from your social surroundings, your experiences within society, and that these ideas are ultimately for the benefit of society, then why would you ever claim them to be your own?

We are simply momentary caretakers of those ideas. They are not mine, his, hers, or those two's; but they are ours, all of ours, and it is a sad state of the only recently dominant 'self-interested' world that we all claim something as simple and arbitrary as 'a thought' to be our own property.

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