The older I get, the more social networking expands, the more I realize why our schools punished us harshly for plagiarism. It’s got to be the easiest time to plagiarize in human history, and yet the most dangerous simultaneously. Yes, the joyous internet points us into the direction of where the word comes from, who wrote it, how long it’s been there, etc. Yet unless you’re actually in school, every venue from business to social will be hesitant to call your bluff on it. Hell, until you’re called out, odds are good you’ll get away with it. After all, what’s there to dig up if you don’t know exactly what to look for? Don’t copy and paste the speech you found online, and you’re in the clear. Hell, it’s only now that the guy who inspired the film Rocky (according to countless interviews with Sylvester Stallone) is suing for his share, and Stallone alleges it never happened, and he never stole this story.
With comedy, I’m particularly sensitive to this. Jokes, especially as they are being worked out and the timing perfected, are a thing of beauty that is hard to claim ownership of. There are hundreds of stories of comedians ripping off one liners or whole bits. Twitter also has this in droves: Copy and pasting a tweet to make it look like your own is like taking a quote and not citing the author. Except the difference is, in a book is plagiarism. Online, the comedian can look like a sensitive asshole.
Long story short, a very distance acquaintance popped up a notification on my facebook tonight. A quote about the Olympics. A quote tweeted by comedian Rob Delaney, possibly the most popular comedian purely by the emergence and invention of Twitter. Literally cut and paste. So, even though I didn’t know this person, I decided to simply leave the evidence, a link that had the tweet. Simple as that.
Of course, in the back of my head I’m going “Man, Cliff, you’re such an asshole. That’s not even your joke. Why do you care?” And I shouldn’t, except that, much like pretending you painted or created a picture by uploading a link onto Tumblr, or copy and pasting a piece of text, this is new age plagiarism. It’s not glamorous, it’s not fun to call out. But before this even all processed, I went back to apologize, to remove it, to back down.
And yup, sure as shit, I was unfriended.
Suddenly I didn’t feel so guilty. I was even laughing at the stupidity. I refuse to unfriend anyone considering God knows I’d feel bad deep down, but this person who stole a piece of work then didn’t want to own up to it? A pretty good personification of this Brave New World.
Long story short, it’s a weird planet where you can just take something and then erase the people who called you out on it completely. A place where just a click deletes a comment, and the next click deletes the person, and suddenly you still look clever in front of your friends. It didn’t take a lot to come up with a 140 character joke, but it took even less to copy and paste it, and even less to leave the author’s name off of it. You can see why I roll my eyes at that, because I’ve seen whole pages of things like this unapologetically be ripped off. It happens every day, and you can wave it off if you like, but then you’re just ignoring the current age we’re in. If you’re creative, be that asshole. Call those people out. Make a stink. Even if they delete you, someone’s going to see it. They probably won’t do it again. And if they are, they’re probably shitty people who can’t muster an original thought to save their life.