After watching the TED Talk by Ausitn Kleon, Steal Like An Artist I felt like he did a great job of presenting the issues that accompany authorship. Near the end of his talk he presents two slides that I think really exemplify the most important ideas when thinking about what we take from others work and incorporate into our own work.
When we take an idea and transform and apply it in new ways we are creating something new and expanding the body of knowledge and understanding that currently exists. I think this is what he meant when he said that “transformation is flattery” and in an ethical framework, transformation is ethical. Imitation on the other hand does not create anything new or expand any body of knowledge or understanding. Imitation is not only not flattery, but it is also not ethical.
Is there really such a thing as a completely unique idea? I think the answer is probably not. Everything that we create is influenced by other peoples ideas. This is just part of the human condition. The important thing is that instead of presenting ideas as completely unique, we give credit to the people and their ideas that influenced us. One of the challenges with this that I find interesting is when we have an idea that we came to on our own, but has been presented before or has some obvious influences that we are not aware of. Although we came to the idea on our own, it is still our responsibility to look at what other people have done and still give them credit when appropriate. In academic settings this is part of the literature review process. We should seek out as much information on particular research as possible. Understanding what has already been done not only allows us to avoid ethical dilemmas, but also provides the maximum amount of material for transforming ideas into new creations.