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In Praise of Copying

On WID's Bookshelf: In Praise of Copying.

In Praise of Copying

Written by Marcus Boon

Reviewed by Anne Strainchamps, Distinguished Scholar and co-founder and an interviewer with To the Best of Our Knowledge

I interviewed Marcus Boon, author of In Praise of Copying, a book I suspect I’ll be thinking about for quite awhile. Boon (York University, Toronto) starts with a deceptively simple proposition: ‘…that copying is an essential part of being human, that the ability to copy is worthy of celebration, and that, without recognizing how integral copying is to being human, we cannot understand ourselves or the world we live in.’

In an argument that ranges from Plato to 3-D printers, Tibetan Buddhism, hip hop, Baudrillard, intellectual property laws and Louis Vuitton, he dissects the fear and fascination with which Western culture approaches the concept of copying. Boon made me realize that just about everything I eat, drink, drive, consume, think, make and aspire to is, to a greater or lesser degree, a copy. I also realized living in a culture which glorifies originality and stigmatizes copying is both exhausting and anxiety-laden. The book isn’t all existential musing — there are questions of pirated DVDs, mashed-up music and plagiarized student papers to consider — and Boon acknowledges that there are political stakes to renegotiating our attitudes toward copying. He does pose an intriguing question, though: ‘What would — or will — the world look like when everyone can copy everything freely, when there are enough copies for everyone?’

Personally, my reaction to Boon’s book is a little complicated. As a radio producer, it’s more than a bit unnerving to think that most of what I do every day is copy and repackage other people’s ideas. Journalists pride themselves on originality: We don’t copy, we advance the story — or so we like to believe. But here I sit in front of my Pro Tools editing suite, literally copying and pasting words and breath. Perhaps I’m nothing more than a copy machine made of meat. That’s a lowering thought, but there’s something liberating about it as well: a vision of myself as a small particle in a swirling stream of culture, copying and reproducing itself ceaselessly into the future.

In keeping with his argument, Boon convinced his publisher (Harvard University Press) to make In Praise of Copying available as a free PDF online.

So go ahead, take a copy.”



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