Or: The Longest Post Ever.
I think my initial reaction to this situation was a little cynical because I’ve seen this happen before: a popular blogger or online journaller gets his or her material ganked by someone with a half-assed site and a default template; the theft is discovered and readers cry outrage. Shit flies; a pile-on ensues, and the offender slinks away, either quietly or with maybe a couple of bitchy, ineffectual retorts.
It was because Bryan Lamb has been so amazingly and stupidly belligerent and truly worthy of outrage that I kept paying attention, and in between having a great time calling him a zoophiliac bastard who deserves every dick cyst that he gets and reading other people’s thoughts on the subject, I’ve been thinking about why this happens and what it means.
The other day I said I wasn’t sure whether rallying about talent and creativity and artistic expression was ultimately the point here, because it’s not like those things have ever been underappreciated on the internet (misrecognized, maybe, but that’s for another day). The way I saw it, this was a problem limited to the occasional pathetic and severely judgement-impaired freak stuck in his or her own bizarro universe. Bryan Lamb seemed like he could be an anomaly: The Boy in The Moron Bubble, breathing purified dumbass, making faces at us through the plexiglass until he dies of a chutzpah infection. Or chokes to death, or something.
Whatever the case, the consensus has been that the guy is sick somehow but maybe we’ve all been so grossed out by his actions we haven’t wanted to get close enough to see what his disease is.
We keep saying why would someone do that–take whole passages of text from someone else’s weblog; sometimes we think we shouldn’t go visit his weblogs, because “he shouldn’t get the attention.” Screw that, let’s pay attention, because maybe in his own retarded, sneering way Bryan Lamb is trying to tell us all something about what it means to have a weblog. Because when you look at his sites and witness his reaction to the widespread smackdown, you just might get a faint whiff of his own fucked-up logic, of what the hell he was thinking when he copied and pasted from Julia and others. He did it because he thought he could.
Bryan Lamb has three Blogspot sites. It probably took less than a half hour to set each one up. They all have nice, readable Blogger templates that might look pretty generic to the more design-experienced among us, but to someone fairly new to blogs they’re often more than acceptable. You use a Blogger template for much the same reasons that you buy furniture at IKEA: it looks fine, it’s not too much trouble and you don’t mind that it’s not unique. It’s a fair enough system where nobody faults you for having–or even wanting–things that look just like what lots of other people have.
What if that’s what Bryan Lamb was buying into when he set up a Blogspot account? I highly doubt it’s what turned his little heart to dessicated shit, but what if his whole mini empire of plagiarism started as simply as that? When something gets offered on a mass scale, there’s always a risk that the high concept behind it–good modern design, independent online publishing, whatever–will be so overshadowed by its snazzy convenience or ease of use or low price or cool-as-fuck-ness that the principle gets completely lost on some people: people like Bryan Lamb, who set up his sites and then emailed his buddies saying, hey dudes, check out what I’ve got now, because all he seemed to fully understand about a weblog is that it’s simply something you can get, and I’m thinking that at some point he decided the same logic applied to the blog content as well.
I hope I can say all this without sounding like I’m saying something else–that there’s something fundamentally wrong with Blogger templates or anything crass about the people who use them because there’s not. None of this is intended to be critical of blogs in general or make what Bryan Lamb did seem credible–only point out the conditions under which it happened. The internet has made two things infinitely, miraculously easier: 1.) the creative process and 2.) getting stuff. So when we come across a specimen like Bryan Lamb, who seems to think that the thrill of acquiring and the creative process are the same fucking thing, we need to pay attention.
When something like this happens we spend a lot of time talking about what it means to call oneself a writer, and then those of us who do celebrate that we can, and doesn’t it feel great. But maybe we also need to consider what it means when someone very pointedly denies that he’s a writer even while he posts on a site he’s created to “log some of his writings” and to “spark a fire” within himself–and to what extent having a weblog makes that have-it-both ways bullshit possible. If having a weblog enables some people to pursue their dreams as writers, we need to also understand how some people–sometimes the very same people–use blogs to completely trash those ambitions when the writing dream, for whatever reason, suddenly strikes them as impossible and stupid and pointless and fucking pretentious and as absolutely remote as another planet.
Whether or not their blogs are full of their own writing no longer matters when they disown writing; they decide writing is just some typed shit that’s interchangeable from one writer to another and totally disposable and a weblog is the cheap bag they throw it out in. They donï¿½t know why we’re making such a big deal, because God, it’s just a blog.
I really didn’t want to think this before, but the way things are going, it’s inevitable that there will be more Bryan Lambs. Maybe some of them will be easy to chase off, but some are going to try and reason that they’re really hurting anyone; they’re not making money, they’re not going to get it except really, they sort of do; they kind of know what you’re talking about when you talk about the feeling of having something taken away, and they’ve arranged things so that they don’t have to feel it anymore. No worries, man!
Now here’s some points that I think need more attention than just Bryan Lamb himself:
1. Hosting services like Blogspot, Typepad, LiveJournal and Diaryland need to make their copyright policies clear and accessible so that pigfucks like Bryan Lamb don’t think they’re entitled to copy and paste. It would be really nice if Blogger, who hosts Lamb’s sites as well as Julia’s, posted something pertinent to this in their “What’s up” section along with all the self-congratulatory shit about Bloggies and book deals. Julia mentioned that it was hard to find the information on filing a copyright violation report on Blogger’s site, and I sure as hell couldn’t find it in their knowledge base. That needs to change.
2. Plagiarists and copy-pasters should be shut down ASAP. Since they’re likely to be hosted by the kinds of blog/journal subdomains mentioned above, it should be possible to prove a case of plagiarism (there are time and date stamps for Christ’s sake) and suspend the offending site.
3. Everyone needs to know more about what constitutes plagiarism. Bloggers need to know this stuff of course, but readers do too, so that there isn’t a goddamn mob scene when someone strings the same five words together as someone else. (Of course, if the things in Items 1 and 2 become more of a reality, we won’t have to have so much vigilante justice, as fun as it is.)
4. “Original” and “brilliant” don’t always mean the same thing. Sometimes that first term is simply objective, and when it is, it’s the single most important thing about a weblog that’s been plagiarized. It’s easy to blur these distinctions when very good writers like Julia are getting their material ripped off, but a word-for-word theft from a so-so or little-known weblog is techinically no different than one from a beloved site. Love a weblog whenever you want; support a weblog on principle when necessary.
5. Memo to Bryan Lamb: Fighting leukemia is a great cause and despite all I’ve said about your genitalia, I’d like to assume your Team in Training efforts are as legitimate and well-intentioned as anyone else’s. However, when your triathalon training and fundraising blog doen’t link to any direct fundraising page –i,e. one like this–and presents, as the only evidence that you’re a “stand up-guy :)” a link to your other weblog where you rip off someone else’s stuff, well, it might not be helping much. Just a thought.
6. It’s never just a blog.