image sourced from Book by its Cover [link]
An interesting but sad story of plagiarism in the world of fine arts. Over at Book by its Cover, they have made mention of an example of blatant professional plagiarism by a graduate student, Samantha Beeston [who consequentially went on to win a major prize]. The student, adapted her work from the illustrator/artist Lauren Nassef, by tracing images presumably found on her website. I won’t go over the details of the story, as you can read it via the link, but it is a concerning thing that someone can think they can seriously get away with something like this, whether consciously or not, in a sphere which is so open and visible. Our world is set up now in such a way that allows it to happen more readily. It is obviously pretty omnipresent in the commercial sphere with product knock-offs, bootlegging, and downloading and discussion behind this usually centres on wrongful financial gain. In the design / art world though its necessarily the most important argument to be following. Rather what about the mindset of thought behind it, which sees it as ok to claim original creative thought and output as your on?
In the case of my job as a design teacher, this sort of stuff happens far too often and despite all efforts, there seems to be a lacking concern of plagarim by some students in the creation process. In a recent exam essay question I marked on visual appropriation students repeatedly stated that appropriation was only a professional level concern and although students should be aware of it, its not a serious issue for them. But why not? Where does this mindset come from, it ain’t come from me? University-level penalties do exist and can be quite severe [especially on repeated infringement which unfortunately do happen – I can name 2 incidents in recent history just in our department]. Usually it only clicks to them that it is wrong once they have been caught and understand that the University is susceptible to ‘real world’ concerns and well not a protective cloak. You would hope though it would never happens in the first place. For me, the only thing I can put this down to is simply laziness. In students struggle to hand something in at the last minute they selectively copy and paste from another source because its an easy fix. This is symptom of a reluctance or interest to engage with in the first place the material or sense to want to be honestly original and creative [I heartily disregard here the pat argument that nothing is original anymore]. There also is a multi-faceted lack of respect – for the original work, the creative environment and the process [that it’s so easy to do, to slip something by as your own, that we could never pick it up]. There are of course different levels of plagiarism, textural vs visual /conceptual and guiding principle of transcendence / fair-use which help define the boundaries but even still as a blanket issue, it’s serious and one which is damning for any creative person. To be accused of it, it not only puts your current and future work in question but also your character.
Anyway this recent example brings up also a number other questions about showcasing work online and how conscious are people about protecting their own work via watermarking, coded preventions processes for website copies, creative commons + understanding copyright, trademarking, fair use, and doing works of homage. What are your thoughts on this topic, I’m interested?
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UPDATE – the plot thickens … Since the original post on Books by its Cover, there has been an additional response in light of some readers comments which make the case even worse. As well as ripping off Lauren Nassef, it has also been shown that the same student also took off Jez Burrows and Lizzy Stewart. Interesting how the creative community has come to the fold in defense of the value of original work. Some of the comments are pretty damning and harsh. Further to this the situation has also been profiled on You thought we wouldn’t notice whose sole aim usually is highlight example of adaption / plagiarism like this. Unfortunately, I think this girl is going to have to change her name if she is ever going to get any cred in the art world.
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