Twain on Writing Ecologies (err, Plagiarism)

I stumbled upon this today over at Letters of Note, a letter from Mark Twain to Helen Keller after he learned she had been accused of plagiarism.

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Leahy and I have been finishing revisions on a piece that focuses on using technology to teach writing as an ecological, community practice. This resonates.


Kevin Smith on Digital Economics

So I just discovered Reddit's series of interviews, IAMA. There's one with Kevin Smith, in which he responds to a question on digital copyright. His response reminds me of the argument forwarded by Lessig years ago in Remix:

Here's my approach...

I try to give away as much as possible. At SModcast.com, we've got thousands of hours of my best work, as well as the funniest shit you'll ever hear: My true life's work. And we give it away free.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the First Birthday of S.I.R. - SModCo Internet Radio. http://smodcast.com To celebrate, we'll be launching S.I.T. on YouTube - SModCo Internet Television. All of it is free.

So when I do present my audience with something that requires payment? I try to make it more special. That's why I toured with Red State, rather than simply stick the movie out there in theaters alone. Anyone can access any movie digitally once it's in theaters; I accept that. But they can't digitally access me unless they're in the room.

Instead of trying to fight change, I like to adapt and figure out how to thrive in an ever-changing global economy. And as much as I like to head where the puck is going, you sometimes have to play the ball where it lays.