Academic (Print) Essay: Author as Owner

Today's "college essay" went through a long process of development through which conventions and expectations mostly developed in around the "page interface," or as Lev Manovich describes it, "a rectangular surface containing a limited amount of information, designed to accessed in some order, and having a particular relationship to other pages" (74). This interface of the page no longer needs to rule the compositions that college writers create. One benefit of thinking "outside the page" is a new understanding of authorship as something other than a producer or property owner.

In dealing with source material for a college essay, writers know who the author is because it is the person who owns the text. Writers know who owns the text (who has authority over it) because most printed texts have a title page. In turn, writers learn that plagiarism defies that authority, as it is marked by an author-owner's name.

However, many contemporary articulations of plagiarism abide by the same concept of a single, unified author-as-owner that arose in the 15th century with printing conventions and then solidified in the 18th century when William Wordsworth and other Romantics argued for the author-as-solitary-genius. In The Spirit of the Age (1825), William Hazlitt reflects back on the authorial figure of Wordsworth, identifying him as an influential figure and as representative of the genius-author whose writing is "exclusive, self-willed, egotistical, and reflects the author more than the subject looked upon" (qtd. in Wu 285).

Most college writers intuitively think outside of these 18th-century notions of authorship, exclusivity, and originality. Yet, the threat of plagiarism corrals their creativty. The traditional author concept ensures that creative work continues to be seen as the product of individuals when this is rarely true. Digital technologies (such as video editors and wikis) open pathways to realizing a new version authorship through media-specific practices (including remix and sampling). Now it becomes hard work to protect the 18th-century author as an individual with a right to own his or her knowledge, as though that knowledge were a material item produced by a unified subject. "Information wants to be free." This is the slogan of open web and net neutrality activists. Despite what information might or might not want, information is the commodity at stake in contemporary struggles to maintain authority and control.

"We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the 'message' of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centres of culture" (Barthes 86).

The form an idea takes.

Fair Use laws in the United States declare that an author cannot copyright an idea - only the form an idea takes.
But in digital spaces, forms are immaterial and shifting.

Nick Carbone on the college writer's struggle to acclimate to the academic discourse community: "Students begin by defining themselves as those who must guess at and follow rules they do not understand, rules often presented and cloaked with great portent and conequence, rules that present plagiarism - the misappropriation of another's words and ideas, as the greatest taboo, the sin most grievous and punishable" (236).


Steal. Cheat. Lie. Take. Pirate. Claim. Swipe. Lift. Pass off. Intentional or not.

Whose values are these? What century do they come from?

Recycle .

Remediate .

Remix .