In Praise of Copying

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In Praise of Copying (dt. Praise of copying ) is a book of Canadian Anglisten Marcus Boon . It was published by Harvard University Press in 2010 and is under the Creative Commons license by-nc-sa (attribution, non-commercial, distribution under alike). Boon is philosophically based on the nature of the copy . Based on deconstructionism and Mahayana - Buddhism , he develops a point of view of the Western distinction between original makes and copy invalid. Copies are omnipresent and an integral part of human existence, every original is also a copy, every copy is also an original.

Reviewers praise the richness of the material that Boon walks through and the broad expanse of philosophy. Despite the complex subject, the book is easy to read. On the other hand, it is strange that a book that focuses so much on everyday practices is apparently only addressed to a small academic elite in one style and content. His deductions are often very extensive, the book is not very helpful for assessing specific situations in today's copyright wars.


Boon dealt with copies, plagiarism and the concept of the original in his book . Based on the observation that copying is a universally widespread, but often punishable and restricted practice, he developed a point of view that considers the distinction between copy and original to be artificial. Boon argues in the book that everything that exists in the universe is already a copy, just as everything is an original. Therefore it is also impossible to write an ethic of copying, since it is impossible not to copy. The distinction between originality and copy creates an artificial boundary that does not really exist. Copies are the way the universe manifests, even at the molecular level all things are made of other things. You cannot learn yourself without copying others.

Boon explicitly does not want to have a legal debate about copyrights because they ignored the important points. He notes that the structure of the legal system obscures this fundamental fact and that philosophical concepts such as subject , object , difference and the other have to be rethought in order to understand the nature of the copy. In doing so, he consults both the Platonic ontology of law and the Buddhist idea of nonexistence , magic and deconstructivism.

As a vivid example of original copy confusion in the globalized economy, he describes the emergence of Louis Vuitton bags, which come as originals from a Chinese factory during the day and as fakes at night, made by the same workers using the same machines. Other examples he uses are sampling practices in hip-hop and the practice of John Cage . He deals with unlicensed expansions of the Harry Potter universe, such as those created by fan fiction and professional additional volumes such as Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon or the Belarusian hero Porri Gatter . but also Shakespeare's free interaction with the works of others or the painting workshops of the Renaissance . The suggestion goes back to Boone's teacher in Tibetan Buddhism to visit Space Mountain to reflect on the distinction between the original and the copy.

For Boon, however, this view of copies includes the admission that the world is in constant change and transformation. Since the human psyche demands secure anchor points, it invented the distinction between copy and original in order to create an unchangeable basis with the original. Here he sees a culture of control manifested as opposed to a culture of abundance such as can create copies.

According to Boon, the distinction between (legitimate) original and (illegitimate) copy developed from the special development of Western Europe. It goes back to the philosophical concepts that Plato and Aristotle created. In particular, Boon sees Plato's nominalism at work here, who introduced the idea of ​​an immutable and unattainable original into Western philosophy. The distinction between original and copy in its modern form through copyright law is a development of industrial capitalism . This distinction threatens to overlap the culture of the world and thus to marginalize other systems of reproduction. Boon uses examples from non-European cultures, especially from Buddhism, to question the existence of an original. Boon uses Mahayana Buddhism and its handling of duality in order to find what he thinks is a more constructive way of dealing with the distinction between original and copy.

Boon suggests removing the distinction between copy and original. Current conflicts over intellectual property rights would indicate the change in the worldview. It would be appropriate to view copying as a natural practice rather than a moral deficit.


While a number of publications for the wider audience such as The New Yorker , The New Republic , CBC or Taipei Times reported on the book, Margaret Schilt of the Law Library Journal states that this is not a book for the general person interested in copyright issues, but very good suitable for experts and scientists. While Boon brings endless fascinating thoughts and examples, his conclusions are weak. He completely ignores the economic reality in the copyright disputes and hardly shows how his intended goal can be achieved.

For Amy Ione in Leonardo Online , the inclusion of Buddhism as a philosophical pivot about copyright and copying is particularly original, and the book is characterized by a legible overview of large amounts of material. However, he often forgets the larger social context through individual examples; his examples themselves come almost exclusively from art and literature and would largely ignore areas of plagiarism conflict such as science and teaching . A criticism that Jess Row shares in The New Republic : the book contains nothing for teachers and others who are faced with the daily challenge of when copying is ethically justifiable. He is also astonished that a book that goes so much into folk practices and everyday life is only recommended so much for a small academic elite due to the numerous references to postmodern philosophy.

Mark Fisher in The Wire praises the understandable language and is amazed at the breadth of the material and the overview, but criticizes the fact that almost all of the examples made are already known and researched, while less known episodes only received a superficial examination. Postmodern Culture also praises the extensive walk through cultural history, which he alternates with insightful reading of the most serious philosophy.

Web links


  1. a b c d e Amy Ione: Review: In Praise of Copying , Leonardo Online, April 1, 2011
  2. Tim Bartlett: Play It Again, Professor , The Chronicle of Higher Educatio, Oct. 17, 2010
  3. ^ A b Jenny Hendricks: Ideas We Like: Books Without Walls , The New Yorker, October 15, 2010
  4. a b Mark Fisher: In Praise of Copying , The Wire # 325
  5. Nathalie Atkinson: Is designer duplication is a fashion statement?
  6. a b c d e f Margaret Schilt: Review: In Praise of Copyring Law Library Journal Spring 2011 pp. 298-299
  7. a b Bradley Winterton: The sincerest form of flattery , Taipei Times January 16, 2011
  8. James Williams: So Fake It's Beyond Real: 'In Praise of Copying' , PopMatters January 12, 2011
  9. a b c David Banash: From Copyright to Copia: Marcus Boon's Buddhist Ontology of Copying , Postmodern Culture Volume 20, Number 2, January 2010
  10. Jess Row: Reproductive Rights , The New Republic May 23, 2011