Reflections on the Amen Break

A Continued History, an Unsettled Ethics

Authored by: Nate Harrison

The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  November  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415716253
eBook ISBN: 9781315879994
Adobe ISBN: 9781134748747


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It is not uncommon, when engaged in a conversation about copying, appropriation, and remixing, that I hear the terms “copyright infringement” and “plagiarism” used interchangeably. This happens especially in educational settings, though any context is perhaps understandable given that, despite artists’ increased awareness of intellectual property issues over the last decade, “plagiarism” as an idea still seems hazy—simultaneously bygone yet ever-present. 1 Its “old school” connotation has somehow been replaced by copyright’s digital “tech now.” And although related, copyright infringement and plagiarism are significantly different concepts. Simply put, while copyright infringement is a legal violation, plagiarism is better understood in terms of ethical misconduct. One can plagiarize without necessarily infringing a copyright. For instance, assume a scheming dramatist copies a Shakespeare play, hoping to pass it off as an original work. As all of Shakespeare’s plays reside in the public domain, no copyrights will be infringed, yet most would regard this appropriation disparagingly as unoriginal and unethical thievery—the secondary user taking something creative and attempting to take credit for it without the due effort or responsibility to its historical significance. Conversely, cartoonists the Air Pirates were found liable for infringing Disney’s copyrights in 1978, though clearly the adult comic books in question parodied rather than plagiarized Mickey and Minnie Mouse’s perceived wholesomeness. 2

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