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Damien Hirst and plagiarism

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Today we live in a copy and paste world where it's acceptable to take someone else's idea and use it for our own benefit.  Some say it's not plagiarism, it's a homage, a way of paying respect to the greats who came before. Others say it's just lazy. The fact is creative people have been steeling, taking, ripping off, copying and cut and pasting other people's ideas for years. But when does it go too far?


Christopher Paolini is a writer who has been accused of copying from other fantasy stories.  He uses character names and attributes from Tolkien and plot lines from StarWars. And he is certainly not the only author out there to be accused of under hand dealings. Even Shakespeare has been accused of plagiarism.

In the music world, George Harrison was found guilty of '˜subconscious plagiarism' for the song 'My Sweet Lord' A judgment of $587,000.00 was filed against him of which the full amount was paid and the judgment dismissed in 1981.

Advertising has also been busy ripping-off ideas from other creative industries. In 2003 two directors, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, claimed that the famous Honda chain reaction ad, called Cog, was a copy of their 30-minute short film Der Lauf Der Dinge (The Way Things Go).

The word plagiarism has its origins in latin. It means '˜kidnapped'. Today one very well known, and very wealthy artist is accused of regularly abducting other artists' ideas and his name is Damien Hirst.

You can't help but notice that Hirst's medicine cabinets closely reflect Joseph Cornell's medicine cabinets. His spot paintings echo the work of John Armleder and the grids of Gerhard Richter. And artist John LeKay first thought of nailing a lamb's carcass to a cross in 1987, only to see it reproduced by Hirst's In the Name of the Father a few years later.

In fact, it emerged in 2000 that Hirst agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to head off legal action for breach of copyright by the designer and makers of a £14.99 toy which bore a resemblance to his celebrated 20ft bronze sculpture, Hymn.

Needless to say, the whole thing has caused a bit of a furore in the art world.

But is it such a big deal? Does anyone care that Damien Hirst has been looking around in other artists' portfolios to stimulate his own thinking?

Should we mind if he takes another artists diamond incrusted skull and creates his own version?

Personally, I can't see the problem. In fact, I'd say good luck to him. I found this quote from movie maker Jim Jarmusch and it pretty well sums up how I feel about the kind of plagiarism that Hirst is accused of, 'Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.'

John Fountain is a freelance copywriter. Follow @fountainjohn

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