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Re: http://stopstealingphotos.tumblr.com/post/62349882928/jasmine-star

I have mixed feelings about this.  The blog kindly highlighted the common words, including two words together in an otherwise different sentence.  Years ago on the Bob Newheart show there was a skit, his character was accused of plagiarism because he wrote a book about plumbing and some other guy who also wrote a book about plumbing wanted to cash in.  Newheart’s character’s book had very flowery prose and the other book used very basic language.  Eventually the text converged with a phrase something like “put the screwdriver in the slot and turn it left”.  Newheart’s character said something like “Well, there are only so many ways to say that!”  The case was thrown out.  OK, TV is fantasy land …

More recently I was reading an article dealing with a photo contest.  The situation was that two contestants had submitted similar photos taken of the same place/thing, in similar light.  One photo had been previously published and the taker of that photo was claiming the second photo was plagiarism since his photo was published and the other photographer was obviously copying it.  The waters become muddier when a third photo surfaces which is extremely similar to the other two.  This third photo had been taken a couple of years before the photo that was published.  That photographer said it was likely there were other very similar photos taken before his.

So, here we are, in the last thousand words, or so, I used “Re:”  which was part of all the legal documents and letters on Mom’s desk.  I referenced a TV show, though I don’t have a clue what the episode was called or the year it was aired.  And, recounted the gist of an article I read in a magazine.  I’m not going to spend a couple of hours trying to find references so I can quote them for you.

I think it was 1982 when the IBM PC was introduced and the “killer app” was Lotus Development Corp’s spreadsheet program, Lotus 1-2-3, released in 1983.  Through the rest of the ’80s and some of the ’90s, Lotus endeared themselves to no one by taking all the other spreadsheet developers to court claiming the other products infringed on Lotus’ “look and feel”.  Except, they couldn’t take Sorcim to court because SuperCalc had been shipped with my Osborne 1 computer in 1980, before Lotus was even formed, in 1982.  Lotus was eventually purchased by IBM in 1995.  Of course, accountants had been using paper spreadsheets before computers were in common use!  The whole “look and feel” action was a huge disservice to the computer industry.

While I’m not condoning copying someone else’s photo and claiming it is yours, or swiping several paragraphs, verbatim, I don’t see anything wrong with taking a similar photo, or even the same photo, if you use your own camera to shoot the same scene, and I wonder where to draw the line with text.    Certainly “To achieve” and “the sun must be behind the”, are not long enough stings for me to consider their use as being plagiarism.  Even something like “Depending on how much light you’re working with, it’s easy to let too much light into your sensor and overexpose the image.”  doesn’t pass the sniff test.  Talking with friends back in the ’70s, I’m sure something like “Depending on how much light you’ve got, it’s easy to let in too much light and over expose the film.” was said.  Did that preclude all future photographers from using a similar phrase?  I doubt it.  It was just passing on information which had undoubtedly been phrased in a similar fashion by thousands of people during the first fifty years of photography.  I have lots of photography books that are older than either Star or O’Donnell, and I’m pretty sure they discuss back lighting and the golden hour, small/thin items burning out with strong back light, and so on.  Nothing in either blog was a surprise and I don’t really expect them to provide a bibliography reference for every few words they write.