On the back page of the Courier Mail the
other day I spied an article by writer Rebecca Sparrow about sex, celebrity and the Internet that gave me a eerie sense of
déjà vu (The Moo Cow edition of Getamungstit – that story with the picture of Hugo Weaving kissing Orlando Bloom).
Rebecca wrote her first fan letter when
she was seven: “It was to Donny and Marie Osmond.” I felt for her as “… when I was five I sent
a fan letter to comedians Wayne and Shuster.” But when Rebecca didn’t get a reply she apparently went on a crazed
rampage, snapping the “…head off my Marie (Osmond) Doll.” Okay – slightly creepy much there
(and perhaps a warning to her Courier Mail co-workers). Fortunately I did not have to disembowel any Barbie Dolls in some
sort of bizarre satanic ritual sacrifice as I got a “… signed photograph.”
Still on the same X-Filian wavelength our
articles both go on to talk about the Internet: “… today's on-line fan sites are usually free, allowing you to
e-chat with fellow fans around the world,” says Rebecca. That paragraph was as dull as dishwater if you ask me. I prefer
mine: “… nowadays you can find out what your favourite celebrity lust object is doing and with whom they are doing
it with - generally with pictures if you use the google image function.” Much more sordid and with added kinky mental
We also both know some really sad people.
I thought I had topped the dagginess factor with the Doctor Who reference, but she beat me with the band that produced the
worst James Bond title song ever – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill).
We were so on the same wavelength it was
spooky. I am frightened that if I do some research I am going to find out Rebecca and I are actually twins who were tragically
separated at birth. What have my parents been holding back all these years?
I didn’t know whether to be flattered,
amused or slightly embarrassed. Is this how Bono feels every time he sees an MP3 player? Is he inwardly seething with the
suspicion that it’s choca full of pirated Live8 music, leaving some poor little African kiddie to starve to death?
In the words of that irritating add on
the front of my Buffy DVDs: You wouldn’t steal a bag. You wouldn’t steal a car. But it seems that in the 21st
century intellectual property is fair game. And personally I blame the Internet.
The Internet has revolutionized the way
we regard information. It gives the illusion that no one actually owns anything. But in reality nothing – from a song
to a sentence isn’t created without a bit of blood, sweat and tears.
It seems to show a lack of respect. Take
a stolen song: by respecting someone enough to pay them money for it you are allowing them to be able to eat so they can make
more songs to amuse you. Take plagiarism: all that person wants is a bit of recognition that they took the time to come up
with an idea. They don’t even want money. They just want to be acknowledged as a clever person, feel good about themselves
and then bolstered by this self confidence they will go on to have other good ideas that will contribute to the wonderfulness
of the world.
That is the human side. We don’t
think about how our actions affect real honest non-cyber living people. With the advances in technology any information that
can be transferred in the digital medium can be easily uploaded, downloaded and spread around the world in a matter of hours.
The latest Star Wars movie was available for download the day after it was released on cinemas worldwide. Do you think George
Lucas was narked? I’d say he was.
It is all so easy. There was time, when
if you wanted an unusual request the music would have to be ordered in from America and would take about six to eight weeks.
Now, if you want a song, no matter how esoteric, a file-sharing programme can provide it in seconds. You don’t even
have to get in the car and drive to the record store. Ironically on a global level this is much more environmentally friendly,
considering the price of petrol at the moment.
This attitude towards intellectual property
is having far reaching effects. Academic institutions like schools and universities have always battled plagiarism, but now
it’s getting expensive. Students are now paying up to $1000 dollars for someone else to write their assignments. Some
students see nothing wrong with this type of plagiarism. “If I pay for the assignment I own it. It is mine to do with
as I please,” said one Bond law student. “… And anyway, lots of people do it.”
There are hundreds of websites where students
can find free assignments up for grabs. I wouldn’t recommend them. An American website called School Sucks was filled
with some of the most appalling examples of essays I had ever seen. I didn’t think it was possible to miss-spell the
name Hamlet that many times (and in so many varied ways) in one assignment. Students can also buy standard assignments (compare
and contrast three different religions) or, for a hefty fee, commission made to order assignments.
These sites actually prey on peoples’
insecurities. Students plagiarize for a number of reasons – but a heavy contributing factor is a lack of faith in their
own ability: what if my interpretation of Hamlet sucks? I’ll steal this guy’s analysis. What they don’t
realize is that everyone else has the same fears and ‘this guy’ was probably just as nervous about his Hamlet
essay. As Yoda would say: trust yourself young padawan. Wise you are, even though think it not you do.
“Plagiarism is your friend,”
were the words of advice from a now very successful ex university student. However universities are responding to the growing
trend of cybercheating and cracking down on plagiarism. Suspicious assignments can be run through computer programmes designed
to pick up on unusual phrasing and mismatching grammatical style. Lecturers can also easily spot it. One minute you have a
student who considers the words ‘their’, ‘there’, and ‘they’re interchangeable and the
next they are using phrases like ‘this juxtaposition truly promulgates the cohesion of the superficiality with the underlying
metaphor’. It is bleedin obvious and a five second google search can reveal a plagiarist. But in the words of that Bond
law student: everybody does it. Studies show that nearly 80% of all students admit to plagiarizing in some form.
Apart from shamelessly ripping off a phrase
from Austin Powers for the last edition I tend to avoid plagiarism. When I was young and foolish I actually did the opposite
of plagiarism. I had a novel approach to dodgying my assignments. When I couldn’t find a quote that suited my assignment
I would just make one up and attribute it to one of Australian journalist Phillip Adams’ books.
My reasoning was based on two principles.
1. Arrogance – I’d say to myself that Phillip Adams would have written it if he had thought of it
and 2. I knew that my wanky post colonialist feminist theatre lecturer would never touch a book written by an imperialist
capitalist running dog non-female (ie, a bloke) with a barge pole. So I knew I was safe.