On copyright, plagiarism, appropriation, borrowing, and distortion. Context and intent are the key, and the ethics behind an ‘action’ pivotal. for example, in a poem like ‘Area 51’ in Visitants, there’s a conscious play with cult disinformation as proliferated through the net – with the texts of back-engineering and conspiracy that both lurk and glow. By replaying lifted text back against itself, creating harmonics and resonances that ironise the terms of production, one is making an ethical statement. The referencing, the citing of source become irrelevant in the poem’s undoing of the fanaticism behind the original posting. As with Genre and its conscious play re availability – the anarchist’s rejection of copyright and the ownership of words and ideas – ‘borrowed texts’ become something else as they are re-presented in a specific highlighted environment. The signals of appropriation are there. The reader (should) know what is going on.

The same applies to the hermetic poetries of the post-structuralist, language, post-language, linguistically innovative etc avant-gardes. References abound but are mostly unqualified. They exist as references in themselves. Investigation and reading are expected. Decontextualisation of the original changes meaning; intent highlights disjunction in presentation. Poetry has always worked on the subliminal, the suggested, the referential, but whole poetics are constructed out of language and idea ‘feeding’ over the last century. But then again, look at Villon – one can’t appreciate TheTestament in all its sordid glory without historical research, without its political, social, and personal particulars. So, we’re talking about something else here and not plagiarism. At best we’re talking about destabilisation of authority, of distortion of authenticity, at worst about an anxiety of textual influence – of a canonical, nationalistic, identity-ridden angst of poetic creation. The author looking for a web to operate in. It’s not coincidental that poetry scores one of the highest ‘hit’ rates after sex on the net. It’s an intertextual cross-referencing growth environment that suits its uncertainties, its labile shifts.

Poetry has always lacked confidence. The self invests so much in expression, in signposting sensitivity, no matter how removed from the “I” the poetics and politics are. The language of expression is mediated through personal experience. The alternatives – with which the net helps beautifully – are cut and paste and hyper-movement, integration, borrowings, machine talk, visual montage – a breakdown of poetic authority and identity. The collaborative voice becomes manifest, the self is provided with a refuge in a place of vast prospect. This refuge allows for indulgence in a pathology of anonymity and participation, but also for a ‘social’ construct, a sense of community and the group to move in.

Take poetry email discussion lists! We know most of the participants, even if it’s by their constructed identities (hidden behind hotmail and yahoo-type addresses: brandname as multiple personality poetry factotum), yet they remain removed and vague in reality. Their biographies are read and ‘surfed’ – they are almost incidental to ‘feeling’. In such a context, in such a scare-quoted environment, plagiarism is an irrelevancy – it’s constructed out of notions of appropriation. Theft is the legitimate movement, the flow – because that’s the game.

Of course, newcomers get extremely upset because in the real world this isn’t on – naturally. The problem with, say, students jumping on the net to plagiarise an existing essay, to hand it in to their institution under their own names, is that they’ve crossed territories without any of the ethics necessary to make the journey, rather than destabilise their institution, to make a political statement, they are trying to get ahead, to get the benefits of institutional certainty – to share in its power base. That is real plagiarism. It is a purely dishonest act without any hypermodernist overtones. Craig Loney, on the other hand, handing a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince (Penguin edition) – with the cover torn off and replaced by his own carrying his name as author, into his first-year lit. theory unit at murdoch in 1982 was a stroke of genius. It was ethical, not working by subterfuge. If he’d written an essay and cut and pasted The Prince with his own (androgynous) meanderings, it would also rate as ‘art’, as politics, as cultural and social commentary – not as plagiarism – whether or not he cited the source. Why? The play with the text shows irony, that someone reading a lit. theory essay at university would be unfamiliar with The Prince is humorous.

The same rules apply to copyright. A recent discussion on poetryetc had people firmly defending copyright on the grounds that it feeds starving artists. Copyright operates on many levels, the least being, certainly with poets, the protection of one’s means of making a living. I find the idea that poetry should be the preserve of legalities repulsive; it goes against the spirit of everything I believe. I have, on a number of occasions, found whole lines, even stanzas of mine rewritten in people’s poems. The vain side of me takes it as a compliment, the intellectual side of me takes it as a literary criticism. Either way, they’re words and they’re up for grabs. Once written the language changes -distorts – with reception anyway and is no longer purely the author’s. It becomes part of something else. Imagine if the psalms were copyright!!