Monday, February 23, 2009
Visual Plagiarism: The Strange Case of Rosie Hardy
Last week on Flickr the floodgates opened when one of its most popular photographeress' Rosie Hardy was accused of plagiarism in a number of her photos. A person, know only as "Harry", brought it to light, posting RH's pictures on his/her own stream next to the DeviantArt and Flickr photographs that she was accused of plagarising (his Flickr account has been removed three times, but he's continuing on his blog)..he also mass posted comments in other peoples photostreams to make them aware of Rosie's crime....
What ensued was the opening of a gigantic can o' worms. Rosie mostly ignored "Harry", deleting his comments, "Harry" became more determined and rallied his troupes, discussion threads were started both on Flickr Central and the very popular Female Self-Portrait Artists' Support Group (entrance only to members) and soon contained hundreds and hundreds of postings veering from disappointment at Ms Hardy and calls for an apology, to sane discussion as to what merits visual plagiarism, to more stalker-type aggressive behavious towards the artist in question. And in return accusations of "natzism" and "bullying" hurled back by RH's supporters. The leading ladies of the FSPASG have produced (and I would like to add here rather fantastic) photographs in support of "Harry" with "I Love Harry" written across their naked chests (see Quizz... , :anna: kezzaroo ). Hardygate was born and things got kind of crazy. RH publically apologised with a suicidal type photograph and is now "taking a break" from Flickr.
Now, rather than sit on either side of the fence I put my anthropologist hat on, take a step back and look at it through my specs and say "that's interesting, I wonder why they are behaving like that" (I know, I'm so annoying). On a personal note I've been following Ms Hardy's stream for a while, and after seeing the similarities between some of the photos I have to say I am a bit disappointed, it would have been respectful to credit. I find this Harry person kind of strange, he seems to hold a personal vendetta here, and some of the posters in the forums clearly like to shout a lot (quite easily spurred on by Rosie's rather nauseating online relationship with Aaron). But what most interests me is the ferocity around this topic, akin to some kind of hysterical smear campaign that goes on and on and on....What is evident is that RH has become a bit of a scapegoat for something that has been bubbling around Flickr for a while...fear of having personal creativity or 'ideas' stolen. When does inspiration become plagiarism, where is the line drawn? And can it be drawn in cyberspace, a place that spans countries and cultures? For instance it is a misconception that plagiarism is a universal understanding. In many cultures it is regarded as a form of flattery and even encouraged. And are we now post-originality? Anyone who has any background in literary theory or postmodernism will understand the phrases 'everything is a tissue of quotations' and 'nothing is original'....In the age of the Internet is it possible to control plagiarism, is it time to move away from owning ideas to who can express it better? I'm mean...I saw a clone picture once, then I made one myself. I just searched clowns on Flickr and found some akin to my clown picture (you know people in make up and wigs).....shit!!! Am I in trouble???? Sure, I see in the case of RH there are obvious heavy influences that should have been credited, but some of the comparisons people have found are simply clutching at straws, like the paparazzi looking for anything to bring her down. Look hard enough and you will find something you could claim to be 'too' similar.
She's 18 years old, about to embark on A'level exams with hundreds of people calling for her withdrawal from a major part of her life, if I was her I'd be rock bottom, and her apologetic posting on flickr shows just that. Is it all a hoax....is it all a publicity stunt (Harry IS Aaron???) as some of her adversaries are claiming. I can't say for sure but I doubt it. It's just a kid who got it wrong in a very public way, but what do you expect if you make yourself a Flickr celebrity when plagiarism amongst artists is still seen as the ultimate crime...you are going to be sussed eventually. What has it achieved at the micro-level, they taught a young girl a hard lesson, made her cry, at a macro-level, it raises some pretty big questions.
So Harry....do I love you? In a sick way I love the chaos you have caused....am I about to take my top off for you.....no way honey.
I would like to credit absolutely everybody in and not in my life for every photo I have ever taken...