Copying vs. stealing

Another person copies Caitlin.

It hurts me too.

She and I spent days creating a set of core values which drive the copy that she puts on her website. There are many compromises and issues that come with creating your own company, and without a moral compass, it becomes easy to make bad decisions that might not be evident why they are wrong until it is too late.

Believe it or not, those three paragraphs the person copied have all four of her core values in it.

When I was trying to put what was wrong into words, I suggested the quote that she eventually used. I first heard it from a movie:

“Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”
—Pablo Picasso

It made me think about the meaning behind that quote. What does it mean to “copy”? What does it mean to “steal”? Why are the two often confused?1 Did the moviemakers put much thought into the quote? I know I didn’t until recently.

Why does “stealing” sound so much worse than “copying”? I guess because when you steal, you take the very being of something and own it. But when you copy, you do not. When Picasso said this statement, he meant that in a good way or a humble way. To take something great, to understand it, to make it your own, to create it anew.

Or, to use an oft-“copied” phrase:

“Pigmaei gigantum humeris impositi plusquam ipsi gigantes vident.” (Dwarves, placed upon the shoulder of giants, see further than the giants themselves.)
—Bernard of Chartres, 12th century philosopher

1 Caitlin joked that had I wrote her article, I’d digress into how the music industry equates copying with stealing. And look, I just did!

5 thoughts on “Copying vs. stealing

  1. actually the phrase Pigmaei gigantium humeris impositi plusquam ipsi gigantes vident comes from newton’s interpretation of the original “nanos gigantium humeris insidentes”

  2. Actually, why don’t you show us where that actually appears in Newton’s letter. The exact phrase you cite (commonplace at the time) may be found in Latin Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, in a footnote referring to a Spanish theologian; His English translation differs from what we normally see in Newton’s letter.

    I find no Latin versions of Newton’s letter to justify your claim, or a version that has this Latin phrase in it. I’ll be delighted to learn that Newton wrote to Hooke in Latin (show me the text), or that this phrase in the letter is in Latin, but that still won’t explain why Newton’s wording exactly matches Burton’s quotation of the Spanish theologian’s original.

    All of this is to say, I’m more inclined to think Newton got the Latin from Burton.

    1. Hmm the phrase I cited was referenced the original known source Bernard of Chartres via Wikipedia, not to Newton.

      Where the Newton citation comes from (also according to Wikipedia): Letter from Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke, 5 February 1676, as transcribed in Jean-Pierre Maury (1992) Newton: Understanding the Cosmos, New Horizons.

      Which leads me to believe it might have been written in English, not Latin, but I don’t have access to that transcription or book. There seems to be some dispute of what Newton said and why, but that’s orthogonal to my quotation. 🙂

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