Stealing vs Inspiration – I

08Jun10

This article has been written taking a hint from a facebook post on which a friend added some important points and perspective in the comments. So as per her wish, here’s the abusiveviews’ take on it. This article is also heavily influenced and limited to works of art mostly.

Both imply Unoriginality

Stealing and inspiration both are causes of unoriginal work. Whether its the former or latter depends on :-

  • whether the original (or mostly preceding in originality chain) artist is aware and acknowledged for the work and agrees that that is fine enough
  • whether the person obtaining the work is dishonest or secretive about the original source and to add the proverbial salt to the proverbial wound, even markets the work better and earns quite a profit.

It would be clear to you that the first point indicates inspiration while the second indicates stealing. However there are conditions that often make the logic a bit complicated. Its ultimately upto your conscience to tell you how much guilty you really are. Of course, big labels often use scare tactics to such extremes that your conscience pisses its pants too soon. Constraints for legal usage are getting so stricter for commercial artwork that stealing is much more easier than you can help yourself avoid.

Inspiration is Accepting Unoriginality

Inspiration is often a buzzword for artists looking for (hollow) fame that automatically brings an (assumed) aura of humility. Inspiration does bring humility when you can be completely honest where your works are sourced from. Of course, as you can read in the fb thread, we are not always consciously aware of what really inspired us. Memories get embedded in the subconscious mind and they have this amazing way of finding their way out when you need to complete a missing part of your art (aisa sirf filmon mein hi nahin hota hai). We may or (worse) may not realise what our influences are way after we create a piece of art. In such a case, its our own modesty that helps give our audience the impression that most artwork is inspired or influenced from some previous work of art. If an artist recalls the source. Good. If an artist proactively seeks out the source. Better. What really matters and would be the icing on the top would be to acknowledge the source openly to all (incl. the source). At this point, the source might have a way to legally prohibit the ‘inspired’ work, but the fact that you acknowledge the source and maintain your humbleness than be too quick to make your claim to fame might just work out something in your favor as well.

Stealing is Unaccepting Unoriginality

Stealing is being totally conscious about where you are picking/xeroxing your influences from and not accepting it. Denying the evidences vehemently. You might get away with stealing if :-

  • The original artist does not know about it
  • No one who knows you knows the original artist or has experienced the original work and vice versa
  • The original artist is aware but can’t afford to spend time and money going after you with a legal case
  • You find a loophole in the laws of the land to get away with other person’s work

In all of the above cases, in spirit, you are a stealing low-life. On top of this, if you try to market yourself as the original creator of the artwork and basically blow your trumpet of greatness so that no one bothers digging deeper…they will. People are always interested in finding dirt in the works and lives of people who claim to be great. The internet makes the world more connected and hence aware about more sources of original works. Best thing you can atleast do is to ask the copyright holder of the original work if you could work out a deal. If not affordable, don’t worry. You’ll learn later there are far more generous and affordable sources as well. Usually honesty and humbleness are the reasonable price to pay.

Usually Stealing than Inspiration

To us Indians with our ‘famous’ copy-artistes, Inspiration has been abused to describe stealing or ‘ripping off’ original works, of artists who are not aware of these rips, to such extent that we use the word inspiration as a sarcastic term to mean stealing itself. Inspiration in spirit denotes a very positive quality. It leads to really awesome works of art. People appreciate such art because its done by a honest person. However now the word is screwed by creative-rapists.

Part II of this article would cover the role of technology and open licenses among other things. Stay tuned.

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