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Monday, February 18, 2013

Plagarism and Memory

A couple of years ago I was asked if I would be willing to write up a little story about copyright for our guild newsletter. Because I work in an academic Library and deal with copyright questions on a regular basis the person asking felt I knew a bit on the topic. I did a fair amount of online research, reading lots of rather repetitive articles, after all, just how much can you say about copyright and quilts. I wrote up a quick story and fired it off to the newsletter editor of the day.  This woman promptly fired back an accusation of plagiarism. WHAT! Are you kidding me? I was in total disbelieve, how could this be - I know enough about copyright, I've written lots of essays in my time, how could it have possibly happen to me ? Did it happen to me? I was totally stunned, incensed and of course feeling completely innocent denied all, but promptly rewrote the entire article.
It has bothered me ever since, and I have been unable to look at or speak to the woman since. Well, approximately a year later this very same woman published an "original" pattern in a national quilting mag. Funny thing though, only a few short months later I saw the exact same pattern  in an international quilting catalogue attributed to someone else. Hmmmmmm, so who was the original?
 Recently, at our local quilt stores I ran across a kit for what Clover calls clam shells. I call them Thimble Holders and did an online  tutorial for it a couple of years ago. I was taught the technique from a lady in the guild, who learned it from a friend in Florida, who learned it at her trailer park, etc etc etc. I honestly thought it was in the public domain, but maybe not?

So what's my point? Well, last week while reading my favourite website Arts & Letters I ran across a very interesting article about  Oliver Sacks most recent book.  For those unfamiliar, Oliver is a world famous, best-selling author, and professor of Neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. The movie "Awakenings" is the true story about his work with encephalitis victims. Robin Williams played the role of Oliver Sacks. One of his books, a favourite of mine, is The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. But I digress.  In this  New York Times Review of Books article about the book  Speak, Memory, we are informed that Oliver discusses the interesting phenomena of false memories and "appropriation from someone else’s experience" . He goes on to talk about cryptomnesia which he defines as "unconscious plagiarism". Hmmmmmm. After reading Oliver's theory I feel vindicated and my conscience is relieved. Thank You Oliver!. Has this ever happened to you? 



regan said...

I think that woman has some nerve! There are only so many ways to write a factual, legal statement. If you were writing of copyright laws, of course you would be using the same language as the law dictates. You were trying to convey an act of law, not write a fictional story! Sheesh! THEN, for her to try and pass off a pattern as her own! Wow! That's some nerve!

And I still have that tutorial you gave for the thimble keeps.....I'm still collecting the plastic tops for our little group to do it together. I probably have enough, but I'm waiting for them to all show some enthusiasm for a project! lol I'm getting a little tired of being the only one thinking FUN at the meetings!

But, as with the Clamshells, I think so much of what quilters do is a combination of things we saw before, liked, stored away in our brains, and then somehow made it 'our own'. I've seen so many so-called designers in magazines doing 9-patch quilts, with a different border, and calling it theirs! Really? Sheesh! I know the 9-patch doesn't belong to anyone, but to call themselves designers, just irks me!

Idle hands, empty brain ... said...

Thanks Regan! That's how I felt at the time. Sometimes a little knowledge empowers some people into thinking they are experts.
I agree with you, many so-called quilt designers merely use public domain quilt patterns and call it their own "design" just because they add their personal colour choice!