One famous quote of Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig claims that “[t]here is no art that doesn’t re-use.” In research, this principle is called “standing on the shoulders of giants” and meant to acknowledge that even the most original article largely builds upon previous achievements by numerous predecessors; a fact evidenced by an ever growing number of citations in current journal articles.
But what holds for the most pedantic researcher, namely that it is impossible to accurately give credit to all intellectual influences leading to an article, is even more true for novelists and musicians. In case of the former this regularly leads to heated debates about whether “borrowing” ideas or even passages from other books is mere plagiarism or some form of “intertextuality“. In Europe, for example, the Independent recapitulates at length the recent discussion whether the debut novel by German writer Helene Hegemann was plagiarism or “intertextual mixing“; in the second edition of her novel “Axolotl Roadkill”, Hegemann responded to critics by listing all her sources in an appendix.
Could it be that giving credit becomes more important when obviously building upon others’ works becomes both more common and more explicit? Developed particularly to allow mash-ups and remixing, all the different Creative Commons licenses, for instance, include the “attribution”-clause, which requires to give credit. In the realm of music, hip hop is probably best known for re-using – “sampling” – portions of existing sound recordings in creating new works. And again, giving credit is an essential part of hip hop culture, as was demonstrated by Eminem in his 2003 Grammy Award speech:
“I made me a little list of MCs that I wanted to name off that inspired me to, to bring me where I am today – cause honestly, I wouldn’t be here without them. So the list goes like this, and it’s not in this order, but the list is this: Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Dr. Dre, all of N.W.A., KRS-One, Treach from Naughty by Nature, Nas, 2Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z. Thank you, ’cause I learned from all of you. Thank you.”
Let me conclude with a stunning example of an extremely creative and original piece of work that exclusively builds upon existing works. In a way, it is intertextual plagiarism in form of an original remix. In the video below, the comment function of YouTube is used to credit the works it re-uses. Enjoy!