Category Archives: Journalism

Is Everything Really Just A Remix: Plagiarism vs. Inspiration


Last week I wrote a post about recent revelations that longtime journalist Chris Hedges has, for some time now, been lifting other writers’ words and passing them off as his own. The whole matter seemed pretty cut and dry. Plagiarism is an ill born of some unknowable combination of laziness, ignorance, and hubris. But then I stumbled upon an interesting (and very well-made) video series called Everything Is A Remix, and I’m curious about where we draw the line between stealing someone else’s work and, well, using previous work as a springboard for (suspiciously identical) inspiration.

I’ve only seen the first two videos in the series so far, but from what I can tell the premise is quite compelling: What do we do when we realize that all art is, in fact, derivative? For instance, fans of Led Zeppelin (myself included) shouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of the band’s most celebrated songs—including “Stairway To Heaven” and  “Dazed and Confused”—are pretty much direct, unattributed ripoffs of songs that came before them. Ever heard of this guy?

A bit more startling was to watch some of the uncanny instances where George Lucas used shots and conceits from several other films in making Star Wars: Episode IV. And he isn’t the only one. As Remix narrator and filmmaker Kirby Ferguson points out, Hollywood (and the music industry, for that matter) has made billions by way of recycling old material, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

To be sure, Everything Is A Remix does not set itself up as a defense of plagiarism—and neither does this blog post. But I think it’s worth exploring some of the nuances between purloining the intellectual property of others and using that property in an interesting (fair?) way to go on and make newer iterations.

What’s more, I’m left wondering how to feel about the issue when I’m confronted with instances wherein artists I love and admire seem to be lifting material quite unapologetically for their own purposes. Consider, for instance, the insanely obvious parallels between Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Ryan Adams’ “Hotel Chelsea Nights.” I mean, shit. It’s like Adams was writing the exact same song with different words.

Or consider this 2012 LA Times article that looks at the many instances where, throughout his career, Bob Dylan has been accused of plagiarizing the songs and lyrics of those who came before him. In response, Dylan made some interesting declarations about the organic and muddied nature of the issue. Like this:

Dylan added: “I’m working within my art form. It’s that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it.”

This issue will never go away. In fact, in the internet age—where so much material is so easily shared and repurposed—I have a suspicion that the conversation will only grow fiercer and more challenging. In the meantime, check out the first two parts of Everything Is A Remix below (and visit the site for more—it’s worth it). I’d love to get your thoughts.

A Taste of Recent Writing: A Nick DiUlio Aggregation

In the fall and spring I teach a handful of journalism courses at Rowan University, including an intro to magazine writing. At the end of each semester I spend a day dedicated to the ins and outs of freelance writing (lord knows I could probably dedicate an entire course to the subject). One of my first pieces of advice is that every one of my students should set up a blog. Not only does it allow one to write about subjects he isn’t otherwise getting paid to write but enjoys nonetheless (for example, see some of my music reviews here), it’s also an ideal and easy way to curate a portfolio. After all, that’s why I  got involved in this blogging business in the first place. And since Twenty Pounds Of Headlines has collected some serious dust over the past few months (oh who am I kidding…past few years) I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight some recent writing of which I’m particularly proud. So grab yourself a cup’a and let the words wash over you.

PhantasyJob_0_0  Phantasy Job: A profile I wrote for Market Street magazine about Tom Burgoyne, the man inside the famous Phillie Phanatic.

wildwood2  Wild About The Wildwoods: A New Jersey Monthly feature about the endearingly quirky, kitschy shore town once called “The Vegas of the East Coast.”

boats1  Just Add Oars: A New Jersey Monthly profile of Tom Van Duyne, whose family has been building legendary surf boats for the Jersey Shore for more than half a century. This guy’s the real deal.

NJ-2013-Just-the-Fact-Maam-Sinins-Kahn-large  Just the Facts, Ma’am: A profile of New Jersey lawyers Eric Kahn and Rubin Sinins, who were instrumental in a fascinating aspect of the tragic suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi.

content_Don-Guardian-1  Changing of the Guardian: A Philadelphia Style magazine profile of Atlantic City’s dynamic (and very unlikely) mayor Donald Guardian.

becky-blanton  Living in Storage: An inspiring profile about a woman who spent half a year living inside a storage unit. This one came out of nowhere…in the best way possible.

njm-web-Marine_Matt_3  Escape From Darkness: One New Jersey Marine’s intense struggle with PTSD after coming home from years of war. This piece won second place for profile writing in the 2014 New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism contest. And it’s the most moving profile I’ve ever reported on.