November 16th, 2010

Bruce, Caroline

My Introduction to Plagiarism

Let no one else's work evade your eyes!
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes!
Do don't shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize!
But remember to call it always, please, "research".--Tom Lehrer, "Lobachevski"

I am not a deliberate plagiarist now, but that has not always been the case. As a young child, I practised it regularly, and what's more, I got away with it. There are two reasons for this. My parents didn't know I was plagiarizing, and so, not knowing, they weren't able to tell me that what I was doing was wrong. Ignorance is bliss, particularly when it's someone else's.

It all started very early on, when I was asked to make up a song for competition in the local music festival. I didn't know what to do, I was maybe seven or eight. So I took a song I'd heard as background music to a TV commercial advertising the River Ruge touring boat. I supplemented this with a very-slightly-modified version of The Syncopated Clock, which I'd heard on our local farm report and elevator music station. In honor of the River Rouge commercial, I called the whole thing the Boat Song. Clearly, nobody in my family paid attention to the background music for TV commercials, and I guess the radio station was mental filler for them, because nobody noticed that the entirety of this "made-up" song was stolen. The adjudicator at the festival commended me on a creative medly, and then promptly took me out of the running ... And rightly so. My parents weren't quite sure what had just happened, and I was kind of disappointed that festival adjudicators paid attention to the background of TV commercials. When my parents found out what I had done, they weren't sure whether to be amused or angry. They decided to be amuzed. This was probably a mistake, because I pulled the same stunt a short time later, only this time it was for a song I "made up" that was supposed to be published in some species of teacher's journal. Only a snippet of that song was stolen, this time from a Bugs Bunny cartoon's background music, so it was probably a classical piece of some sort. A portion of this song, not the part I had stolen, can be heard when I play it on the organ in my Sesame Street appearance.

As I grew up, I did quickly learn that plagiarism is morally and legally unacceptable. I have also realized that the reason I plagiarized in the first place is that I am utterly incapable of writing music, so I stick to parodies, where the words are mine and the music is someone else's, only this time everyone knows that the music is someone else's and I make no effort to claim it as my own. I wonder if I could convince anyone that Beethoven stole his famous Fifth Symphony from me?