Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flattery, Rip Off Or Both?

You know when you were at school and someone tried to copy your work? No, nor do I, though I must confess I sort of nicked that line from DQ.

But I know lots about being the kid at school who was trying to peer over the shoulder of the boffin type chap who knew all the answers. I know all about taking someone's idea, trying to improve on it and then taking it forward. It's kind of what I, maybe most of us, do in life.

My Company was built on an idea that someone else had, my music these days is all covers; playing other people's songs, but the biggest expression of my copycat nature is the indisputable and unforgivable fact that I don't make my own clothes. No, I exclusively wear clothes that have been designed and made by other people.

Yet I'm a believer in the power of creativity. Edward de Bono believes that we spend too much time and effort concentrating on critical thinking and not enough on the creative side. He says, or has said, that it's wrong that we teach our kids to look at things, to analyse and criticise the (critical thinking) much more than we teach them how to come up with new ideas, thoughts and concepts (creative thinking).

K (the 12 yr old) had been put on this programme at her school for "gifted and talented" kids. It's something that hasn't surprised anyone who knows her, it probably doesn't surprise you if you believe everything you may have read about her. Part of this programme is a section called critical thinking, on which they assess, analyse and criticise things. I remain dubious of the value of this.

Well I'm with De Bono on the matter. I'm a fan of his and have read many of his books. Some might say it's unfair that he doesn't read my blog. Some might say that, had he read the posts on my blog about K, he'd think differently anyhow. I prefer to take the abundant approach and not be angry, or even critical of the esteemed thinker.

My view is that the effect of creating, the force of positive thought and ideas is massive and powerful. That's why I bleat on so much about positivity and get Darwin frustrated sometimes. Fundamentally I think it's much easier to take someone's idea and to critique it to death than it is to come up with the thing in the first place.

People who criticise the fuck out of things just piss me off. Then I get all confused. That Maharajah fellow is a prime example, though I'm unsure if he or she is still around. I genuinely thought he/she was very funny and very clever with words and humour. I also genuinely thought he/she has taken the easy option by merely mocking the people with the creativity. A dichotomy that seems to occur all too often in my mind.

My rambling introduction takes me, in a rambling way, to my point, which true to form, is more of a string hopper shaped point than a needle sharp one.

You see I've recently come across a few blogging related things that appear to me to be "influenced" by things I've done. One of them is an idea I had, though I didn't really have it, more adapted it. The other is a blog on which the blogger seems to be copying my writing style. This is a major issue for me as I never even thought I had a writing style until I caught myself reading the blog and wondering who it reminded me of.

I find myself torn between mindsets in this.

On the one mind I know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I was so shocked and surprised when I read Indi's post about the top 100 clicks on Kottu that I let out a couple of little involuntary clouds of flavour from the bottle opener area. But, one of the nice things about getting some readers is that some people may be a little bit influenced by my blog. I really, really don't want to sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet here at all, largely because drums are my thing.

I read the Blackers (both of them), the Indicas, the Javas and the T's of the Sri Lankan blogging world and pick up tips from their writing and their styles. In music I think and I hope that my drumming comes through as a mixture of the great drummers whom I've been influenced by over the years. I wouldn't want to sound like just one drummer, though there are thousands of great drummers whose ability and talent I'd give my left arm for. (You'll notice how I've resisted the urge to chuck in a Def Leppard joke here)

I guess anything I write on my blog is a development of everything I've ever read in my life and is influenced by all that has gone before me. So I should, and I am, flattered if I see someone that looks as if they've been influenced by something I've done.

Then, on the other mind I get a bit Colonel Sanders over things and feel protective over my recipe. This other mind thinks things about the fact that I actually put in a lot of effort to my little chunk of the blogosphere, that being this funny is something I take very seriously and it's a bit out of order when someone blatantly copies something I've done.

The big question for me is the one that has the big answers;

Where does one draw the line between flattering imitation and plain old rip off copying?

Thoughts on this would be most welcome.


Anonymous said...

If it is "great" it cannot be properly copied. There can be imitations but not the real thing. Blink by Gladwell sort of has a story of an imitation and how everyone who looked at instinctivly knew that it was not the real thing. One can always spot the fakes.

Gypsy said...

Difficult question.

It all depends on your reaction, I guess, R. If you read something and you *feel* flattered, then it's a good thing. If you feel a little violated or cheated, then you know that Whoeveritis has crossed that invisible line.

Sorry I couldn't be more specific. But I guess you just have to go with the old gut on these things.

Indyana said...

It's probably just that you have found your long lost blog brother!

T said...

well i think rip off copying would be exactly that, just word for word, or style for style, copying. if its a blogger, then its obviously someone who doesn't really love to write or has no sense of personal style. it would be the equivalent of copying something someone's wearing rather than adopting an aspect of it and making it your own.

i always find that my own writing (or thinking, since i dont always write what i think) changes after i read a book; it kind of incorporates some of the writing style of the author. a little known fact is that i read a lot of nora roberts, but only because after reading the textbooks of verbose anthropologists, its such a relief to read something easy and familiar, and i find that much of how i write is influenced by her style. not my daily blogging, but the more flowery stuff, much of which i never publish.

on an aside, i find it takes a lot of effort to write something really well, along the likes of Java or Gypsy. i have an ocd about each sentence sounding juuust right in my head. its much easier to write something off the top of your head, in regular-speak style. is that just me?

also, i feel like i need to defend the maharajah here. sometimes we take ourselves far too seriously, especially when we blog, and his criticism was always well presented and hilarious, and more to the point, true. if we can't laugh at ourselves, whats the point?

sorry, that was long winded.

Anonymous said...

It is sad and let the person know that you do not like what he or she does. Flattery may be! but blatant copy of your post is a no no!
If the person does not answer, start letting others know what this person does. Dinidu had this problem when I joined the SL blogsphere and he handled it nicely.
PS, you can let Google know of the deeds of the bugger and they will remove or stop indexing the sorry souls site.

Gehan said...

i think dinidu wrote an interesting post along these lines as well - click here to check it out if u havent already...

about the 'idea' that you had, i can definitely understand you feeling a bit cheesed off about it, but when it comes to writing style, i spose the lines are rather blurry..

if its any consolation, im sure the entire blogosphere will testify that ur blog is rather unique in its content and delivery.. i myself have not come across another blog that mimics yours... :)

JP said...

Well RD , I am not sure of where I stand , but understand what you mean.

I for one do read yours and Java's and the other great ones and do take tips , hints and inspirations from all.

In fact, I do make a note of a nice twist of a sentence or a new word used. But I do not want to see a tight jean wearing RD, or a split personality of JJ when I look into the literary mirror (of sorts). So hopefully it ain't me.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Anon - I think that's very true, but it's also often the case that the copy turns out to be better than the original.

Gypsy - Yes, my problem here is I can't figure out what my gut feeling actually is.

Indyana - Maybe, twins separated at birth or something

T - It's not rip off copying in a word for word sense, more ideas (one specifically) and another kind of writing in a very similar way.

I think the way you get influenced by your lst book is entirely normal, as I said I have the same thing from blogs, books, drummers etc, but it's the boundary between influence and something cheaper that befuddles me.

KS - It's not that big a deal, nor is is that obvious a rip off, and I think I'm more flattered than piseed off about it.

Gehan - Thank you for the comment, I think my previous answers apply to you too.

JP - Thank you too, that's nice healthy stuff, like celery!

David Blacker said...

I don't think you can feel anything but amused and possibly flattered at someone copying your style. However, I guess when someone copies your AWARD PROGRAMME (yup, I noticed), it must be a bit annoying. I also thought it was a bit sad that the person couldn't come up with something new.

As for criticizing, I find that it's intrinsic to blogging -- most blogs are written to be critical of something -- the government, the Tigers, the foreigners, the boy/girlfriend, etc.

I think laughing at yourself's cool, but if you're gonna laugh at others (like the Maharaja), I'd demand talent -- like Leno or Jon Stewart or Seinfeld -- and I feel the Maharaja just doesn't come close.

hijinx said...

I think that unlike say a phrase or actual words, style isn't that easy to copy consciously because most of us adapt what we read to our own world-view. If someone actually manages to get all the nuances of someone else's style down on purpose, I sort of feel that he/she deserves some kind of credit for stepping outside themselves. Of course, passing it off as their own would probably annoy the other person. :) I think you and the others already mentioned the unconscious osmosis bit, so I won't go there.

hijinx said...

I know my last comment was a bit long-winded, but to add to that, you'd be quite right to be bothered by it if they took your idea and made something less/cheaper of it, but if it's improved (which I feel is rare), then hey, you've started off something good. :)

PseudoRandom said...

I agree with hijinx's view that it's difficult to consciously copy style - it requires the writer to be consistent with their style (or rather, the style of the writer they're copying), which is quite difficult if the style doesn't come naturally to them.

That said, if you have a unique post (e.g. type David referred to), it's quite easy to spot a clone.

I'm not a part of the whole 'kottu' scene, but I have noticed that there's a sort of a hierarchy amongst the blogs/bloggers who are...and I think if you're at the higher end of that hierarchy (which I believe you are, quite rightly - this blog is captivating!), then it's expected that at least one 'junior' blogger will try to aspire to achieving that status. I'm not justifying 'copying', I'm just saying I can understand where they're coming from.

From a constructive point of view, maybe check the earlier posts of the blog in question and see if it's just that their style has evolved with your influence (like T and Nora Roberts), or if they've suddenly morphed into a wannabe-RD after reading one (or more) of your posts.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

DB - Agree on the criticism thing. Even in our little blogs, to some extent, we stick our heads above the parapet and will get shot at occasionally. If we wanted no criticism then we shouldn't put things out in the public domain.

I'm somewhere between you and T with my opinion of the Maharajah. I think he/she is/was talented even though they chose a rather easy route to get recognition.

Hijinx - you're right, hence my mental anguish!

Pseudorandom - Yes, the style copying is harder to spot and to call. It may even be that I've got a bit up my own arse and the particular blogger is just writing without thinking consciously of my style at all. I know what you're thinking; "RD get up his own arse?"

But it has been known to happen.

Thanks for the comment.

ViceUnVersa said...

Re: K – Congrats to the proud Dad. Is it part of the UK most able students programme? Either way it’s good. It identifies where one’s best talented and then the critical thinking aspect of it allows one to explore every boundary in the subject or area you have the most talent. Personally I think it prevents one from becoming a jack-of-all-trades, identifying the right profession. Creativity is the fun aspect of ones life. If they enjoy it, it carries on to how they innovate constantly. My belief anyway.

Plagiarism – Outright copying of your ideas should be addressed directly. If someone copies your style of writing that is fantastic. For example A Clockwork Orange by Burgess, if one looks carefully it may have inspired Terry Prachett’s story telling style. Stephen King heavily influences me, the books he wrote fuelled by Coke. As your blog is able to influence so much traffic you will notice copycats. I would take it as a compliment.

Inspiration – Your blog may inspire others on a topic or what to post. To me this is the ultimate compliment. I still remember your ‘Man Bag’ post, which inspired me to arrive at the thought process for my post ‘Buy one, get one free’. Much later. Indirect associations. I find this OK. If someone goes through your blog looking for ideas to write and post on, THAT’S NOT OK.
London, Lanka and Drums. I hope when you say ‘Drums’ you talk about the one’s you play and is good at. When I mentioned the line ‘someone’s drumming inside my head, I call the beat Paradise’ in my head it is the loud Kandyan Drums. But yes, it was inspired by the name of your blog. Up to date, I envy the name of your blog. I think it’s one of the best blog names beyond the borders of Kottu. You must take a creative book-writing course. Find the time. Write a book. Title it London, Lanka and Drums, I guarantee you will have a best seller. Seriously.

I have used examples most relevant to you. Funnily plagiarism and the origin of an idea is a hotly contested topic in advertising. No one has an answer. Everyone knows the culprits. But if someone directly plagiarises you, come out with it on your blog. It’s yours.

If you inspire people as me, be proud. Keep drumming!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

DD - Damn, thank you so much for the nice words. I have already started a book you know, so far I've only written the title and it's not LLD!

You forgot to say Good Morning, but you're forgiven!

Java Jones said...

Hey RD - what's the blog?

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

There's no easy way of saying this, but it's your one Java.

Java Jones said...

Shit maan, I wondered how long it would take you to find me out! Damn!! Now I'll have to go and find me another one to crib from. Shit!!!