I steal from every movie. I steal from every single movie ever made. I love it. If my work has anything it’s that I’m taking this from this and that from that and mixing them together and if people don’t like them then tough titty, don’t go and see it, alright? I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do hommages.
As a writer, you’re always something of a vandal. You’re a tomb raider. You’re gonna go in there and take the things that already exist - drag ‘em out again, and dress them up differently. There is a sense in which you are a thief. It’s no wonder that writers are ruled by Mercury, god of thieves and liars, and Mercury of the double tongue. There is the sense in which you will always steal, and take for yourself, the things that you need. But then you also bring them back into the light. You dust them down, and then you put them out again for people to find in a different way. The whole thing about myths is that they need to stay fluid, they need to keep moving, and they need to be dynamic. And that’s why we can go on retelling them, so that, what is valuable is passed on from generation to generation, across time, through cultures.
Language, says Pagel, was instrumental in enabling social learning — our ability to acquire evolutionarily beneficial new behaviors by watching and imitating others, which in turn accelerated our species on a trajectory of what anthropologists call “cumulative cultural evolution,” a bustling of ideas successively building and improving on others. (How’s that for bio-anthropological evidence that everything is indeed a remix?) It enabled what Pagel calls “visual theft” — the practice of stealing the best ideas of others without having to invest the energy and time they did in developing those.
Later on she says:
“Steal like an artist” might then become “Steal like an early Homo sapiens,” and, as Pagel suggests, it is precisely this “theft” that enabled the origination of art itself.
Maria, btw, is now curating a new Tumblr called Explore. Follow her!
I’m not adapting these characters. I’m not doing an adaptation of Dracula or King Solomon’s Mines. What I am doing is stealing them. There is a difference between doing an adaptation, which is evil, and actually stealing the characters, which, as long as everybody’s dead or you don’t mention the names, is perfectly alright by me. I’m not trying to be glib here, I genuinely do feel that in literature you’ve got a tradition that goes back to Jason And The Argonauts of combining literary characters […] It’s just irresistible to do these fictional mash-ups. They’ve been going on for hundreds of years and I feel I’m a part of a proud literary tradition in doing that. With taking comic characters that have been created by cheated old men, I feel that that is different […] And that’s my take on the subject.
Stop stealing crap. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against stealing. I’m against the quality of junk you’re stealing. Design is the collective knowledge of all the design that has been done before. So take advantage of how others have solved a particular problem. Learn from what they did and see if you can take it to the next evolutionary step. Do I mean that you should literally steal their code or drop their screenshots into your own work? No. I’m telling you to be aware of and take advantage of the learning that came before you. Be aware of yourself in that timeline. And become the person who next generations will steal from. Don’t be afraid to steal, just steal the right stuff.
“No doubt about it, there has been some borrowing going on,” said Walter Brian Cisco, who wrote a 2004 biography of Timrod, when shown Mr. Dylan’s lyrics. Mr. Cisco said he could find at least six other phrases from Timrod’s poetry that appeared in Mr. Dylan’s songs. But Mr. Cisco didn’t seem particularly bothered by that. “I’m glad Timrod is getting some recognition,” he said.
To Mr. Warmuth, who found 10 phrases echoing Timrod’s poetry on “Modern Times,” Mr. Dylan’s work is still original. “You could give the collected works of Henry Timrod to a bunch of people, but none of them are going to come up with Bob Dylan songs…
And just because it’s legal, that doesn’t stop “fans” from being outraged:
Because Timrod is long dead and his work has fallen out of copyright — you can find his collected poems on the Internet — there is no legal claim that could be made against Mr. Dylan. But some fans are bothered by the ethics of Mr. Dylan’s borrowing ways. “Bob really is a thieving little swine,” wrote one poster on Dylan Pool, a chat room where Mr. Warmuth posted his findings. “If it was anyone else we’d be stringing them up by their neck, but no, it’s Bobby Dee, and ‘the folk process.’
Ultimately it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things in to what you’re doing. I mean Picasso had a saying he said good artists copy great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.
“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”
(Footnote: I’ve never been able to verify that Picasso quote, but I know for a fact that T.S. Eliot said it: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”)
Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data, or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim, whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.