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“Originally, feathers evolved to retain heat; later, they were repurposed for a means of flight. No one ever accuses the descendants of ancient birds of plagiarism for taking heat-retaining feathers and modifying them into wings for flight. In our current system, the original feathers would be copyrighted, and upstart birds would get sued for stealing the feathers for a different use. Almost all famous discoveries (by Edison, Darwin, Einstein, et al.) were not lightning-bolt epiphanies but were built slowly over time and heavily dependent on the intellectual superstructure of what had come before them. The commonplace book was popular among English intellectuals in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. These notebooks were a depository for thoughts and quotes and were usually categorized by topic. Enquire Within Upon Everything was a commercially successful take-off on the commonplace book in London in 1890. There’s no such thing as originality. Invention and innovation grow out of rich networks of people and ideas. All life on earth (and by extension, technology) is built upon appropriation and reuse of the preexisting.”

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source: “Life Is Short; Art is Shorter,” Los Angeles Review of Books, May 2, 2011.

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medium: Nonfiction

“‘Authorship’—in the sense we know it today, individual intellectual effort related to the book as an economic commodity—was practically unknown before the advent of print technology. Medieval scholars were indifferent to the precise identity of the ‘books’ they studied. In turn, they rarely signed even what was clearly their own work. They were a humble service organization. Procuring texts was often a very tedious and time-consuming task. Many small texts were transmitted into volumes of miscellaneous content, very much like ‘jottings’ in a scrapbook, and, in this transmission, authorship was often lost.”


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source: The Medium is the Massage (New York: Touchstone, 1967), 122.

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medium: Nonfiction

notes: Marshall McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore co-created this book and Jerome Agel “produced” it. More info about the publishing arrangement here

“Who owns the words? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do—all of us—though not all of us know it yet. Reality cannot be copyrighted.”

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source: Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 209.

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medium: nonfiction

notes: This is a rephrasing of remarks written by the cyberpunk author William Gibson in “God's Little Toys: Confessions of a Cut and Paste Artist,” Wired, Issue 13.07, July 2005. Gibson's words: “‘Who owns the words?’ asked a disembodied but very persistent voice throughout much of Burroughs’ work. Who does own them now? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us. Though not all of us know it - yet.”

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