Copyright, Copyleft and the Creative Anti-Commons
A Genealogy of Authors’ Property Rights
por Anna Nimus
Artistic creation is not born ex nihilo from the brains of individuals as a private language ; it has always been a social practice. Ideas are not original, they are built upon layers of knowledge accumulated throughout history. Out of these common layers, artists create works that have their unmistakable specificities and innovations. All creative works reassemble ideas, words and images from history and their contemporary context. Before the 18th century, poets quoted their ancestors and sources of inspiration without formal acknowledgement, and playwrights freely borrowed plots and dialogue from previous sources without attribution. Homer based the Iliad and the Odyssey on oral traditions that dated back centuries. Virgil’s Aeneid is lifted heavily from Homer. Shakespeare borrowed many of his narrative plots and dialogue from Holinshed. This is not to say that the idea of plagiarism didn’t exist before the 18th century, but its definition shifted radically. The term plagiarist (literally, kidnapper) was first used by Martial in the 1st century to describe someone who kidnapped his poems by copying them whole and circulating them under the copier’s name. Plagiarism was a false assumption of someone else’s work. But the fact that a new work had similar passages or identical expressions to an earlier one was not considered plagiarism as long as the new work had its own aesthetic merits. After the invention of the creative genius, practices of collaboration, appropriation and transmission were actively forgotten. When Coleridge, Stendhall, Wilde and T.S. Eliot were accused of plagiarism for including expressions from their predecessors in their works, this reflected a redefinition of plagiarism in accordance with the modern sense of possessive authorship and exclusive property. Their so-called "theft" is precisely what all previous writers had regarded as natural.
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