Plagiarism has been around for centuries upon centuries, even if it has not always been defined or dealt with in the ways of today’s western judicial procedures. In some cases, sadly, the practice has developed into a common place niche of its own (entire services dedicated to forging college essays, just a few clicks and one will be sent to you for a fee.) and its perpetuation and persistent existence is often found to be thought of as distasteful and even if legal technicalities are able to protect some works that dance questionably on the line of uniquely acceptable or not, still, at the very least, a bad ignorance of unspoken etiquette.
A recurring example of this “line dance” routine is seen the in artist Shepard Fairey, recognized in recent years for his “Hope” poster that features President Obama, which generated a notable amount of publicized copyright controversy. Interestingly, Fairey continues to be a subject that fuels vacillating views toward art and legality because during this past August, he is interviewed by the Gothamist discussing a “more legal” work of street art and the non-black and white reasoning behind his art design and location motivations.
Identity theft is another practice frowned upon, yet unlike the a debate about possibly plagiarized art or work in which the copyright has been infringed, identity thievery exists pretty much without any leeway for legal leniency should it be shown to have happened. (In other words, you can’t claim “public commentary” or “fair use” for taking someone’s credit card number and going on an impromptu trip to the Maldives.) Despite being something that causes great hardship on those unfortunate enough to be caught up in an identity loss, it is interesting that, here in the US at least, (copyright and other marks of legal protection vary from nation to nation and can include broader forms of exclusion to an artist’s benefit) we have these similar but different situations that can all be traced back to a form of stealing but are treated with vastly different shades of acceptance.
Why bring up these three delinquent behaviors? Well, what if copyright and plagiarism became “acceptable” –not just in a “too big to take down,” black market, kind of way but, in a way that uses the very threat of one’s original work getting lost in a mis-credited shuffle, toencourage newer original thinking and design? Would that be considered a positive service to the overall evolution of art or just a technically protected but otherwise crooked endeavor, parading the idea practically stealing will be a means to a good end?
Such a platform that prompts these contemplations is Pro-Folio, a, “hoax project created by Sures Kumar as a part of a Scientific Hoax project at the Royal College of Art, London,” as explained on the website’s homepage.
This “service” itself would be one entirely functioning on the actions of falsification, theft, infringement and impersonation but, the combined disclaimer, intended purpose and use of open sources for the art works aggregated to Pro-Folio’s fictional online portfolios keeps it well in the legal clear. Still, the thought of a few quick keystrokes leading to the creation of an entire assembly of an online identity that places you at the center of a body of work collectively not you own but made to appear completely to the contrary…this is not a scenario any creative wants to embrace. Kumar explains his idea of where human creativity and AI personality advancement intersection is headed:
Given the availability of information online, ranging from open source names to college databases, computers can construct a believable identity in no time. All it takes is to carefully lay the facts in a logical sequence, which can be coded as an algorithm. If this is possible, can computer programs create all sorts of human identities in future? And what will be the motivation to do so? Will it be just populating identities and adding noise to our already overloaded Internet or will it give birth to interesting, engaging, avant-garde, mysterious identities and art works? Pro-Folio questions the nominal authenticity of works, which constructs artist’s and designers online identity (i.e. Name, Education, Work, etc). As an outcome, a website, www.pro-folio.org, was built which creates fictional identities of artists and designers. The algorithm also adds random work as their bona-fide portfolio. This happens dynamically (in real-time) when the user is browsing the portfolio.
The Pro-folio project might be just an entity intent upon fueling the very kind of discussion I have breached here but that does not mean that the supposition put forth on the future of art and identity imagined by Kumar does not have the potential to result in more and more sites that operate like Pro-Folio that do not exist for evaluative purposes.
Music obviously differs from visual art in how one tests for possible similarities, due to how one experiences the medium but absent a person’s voice to connect them to a work, this idea of identity generation places many creative mediums in this tenuous hypothetical space. Since music is already under so much siege for illegal dissemination, sampling and other rampant forms of questionable use, could the idea of embracing a future of blurred (online) identities be more helpful than not to music specifically? If the current model of formal, proper credit and adequate compensation are constantly being challenged, even with all the new start-ups emerging in the music industry, a total reversal in view and direction might be the shift it needs?
Or are we jumping the gun prematurely and or unnecessarily? Why rush any quicker toward a future where more confusion will befall art, even if in the large scale of things, such a future brings forth some unknown evolution that in hindsight everyone will come to appreciate?
In some ways that mentality almost feels like a cop-out of saying, “All’s well that (eventually will) end well, right?” If an arsonist sets your record store on fire and results in you getting enough insurance money to be able do a complete overhaul, which then turns your store into the new place to be and profits hit a new high after you re-open, should you thank the arsonist because an intentional bad thing turned out to be good for you in the big picture?
Usually, collective, ongoing shifts of thinking in culture around large topics eventually lead to changes in things like laws or at least the general level of social acceptance. (See the unfolding of marijuana’s legality.) Could Kumar’s thoughts suggested scenario on identity and creativity lead to a modification in how we see, define and or react to, (whether more or less strictly,) things like copyright, fair use, plagiarism and identity theft, say in 10, 20 or 30 years?