Thursday, June 3, 2010

Theft, Inspiration and Muses

The moon, a statuette, a loved one, sudden surge of hope, adrenaline rush, sunlight pattering on leaves, dappling, the sunset, fire.

Music. Amusing. Musings...there are doubtless more.

The fun bit in muses is half the effect they have here, now. Then the effect that work has. The Muses themselves inspire words, and the idea of them continues to inspire--is this the Muse yet speaking, or her echoes? Does it matter?

And there is that other piece, where it is no the work inspired that acts a a muse, a font of inspiration, not directly. Think of how often the sunrise or sunset has been described as fire. Who was the first? Who knows? But now it permeates, and describing it as another requires another step in thinking. The sun is fire, far away; the sun at the horizon is fire and fiery.

Some muse, some cue in our collective consciousness says that now. The sky is air; blue is water. Brown is earth, as surely as that warm, damp life with a sprig of green is. Wind whips through our hair, fire warms. Fire kills. Water refreshes; drowns. Earth is home, or have we moved past that?

That gives the tumbling, whirling, downright weird world of Muses, muses, inspiration. What would we be without them? We don't know. We can't, our language relies so thoroughly on being present in this culture that has had them for millenia, at least. Were there someone who could tell us, how would we even begin to communicate? Where did that idea come from?

And we're running into this issue, especially with the advent of the internet. Stealing another person's idea is wrong. But what constitutes stealing? For instance, we can no longer say that saying the sunset is like fire is stealing, because there is no one to steal the idea from. If anyone living tries to claim the idea, then there would be too many quotes to count that anyone could come up with--internet--that predate that author's line by at least a century. It would take a while to sift through all the not-quites, but it doesn't even take a handful to make one's point.

BUt copyright solves that, right? Well...legally, yes. But morally? Trot over to DeviantArt or YouTube. Are those things copyrighted, trademarked...? Well, no (not exclusive). Is it right to take them and claim them as one's own? Well, no.

That, we can probably agree upon. Of course, it is difficult to draw the line. Copying outright is wrong, I guess. But what if you use a similar juxtaposition of scenes to a video you saw? You're not copying, and it's not like this person drew the work in the first place--of course, if the creator did, that's just a whole 'nother can of worms. So, is using a similar way of putting clips together really wrong?

Nnnnno? Or does it depend on how long? Doing it for two minutes, thirty seconds of a three-minute video is probably wrong--it really depends on how similar 'similar' is. Doing it for five seconds is probably better, but what if the 2:30 is using similar clips in a completely different fashion, and the five seconds is outright copying?

That's the difference, to me, between inspiration and thievery. Granted, it's not clear cut in practice. But I'd say it's where someone takes the complete piece and steals part of it. This naturally gets difficult in the contexts of AMVs. After all, one is taking another's work. But it is no more stealing than a karaoke night is. Using another's work for profit, that's where it turns darker gray; claiming you made it is outright theft. These people have editing, acting, drawing, whichever, as a job.

ADDENDUM: For the record, I am not trying to imply that AMV-making is not a true art by comparing it to karaoke. This is so for two reasons: 1) I think the term 'true art' is so subjective as to be useless and 2) ...Wow that's a complex question.

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