The process of copying is a key cultural technique of modernity

Jussi Parikka 1

the act of creation is surrounded by a fog of myths. myths that creativity comes via inspiration, that original creations break the mold, that they are the products of geniuses, and appear as quickly as electricity can heat a filament. But creativity isn’t magic. it happens by applying ordinary tools of thought to existing materials, and the soil from which we grow our creations is something we scorn and misunderstand even though it gives us so much, and that’s copying.

Kirby Ferguson 2

the myth of originality

"Start copying what you love. Copying, copying, copying. And at the end of the copy, you will find yourself."(Yohji Yamamoto) Copying is how we learn. "Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself." 3 For example, while working for Time Magazine, Hunter S. Thompson used a typewriter to copy F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms in order to learn about the writing styles of the authors.

the genius

"[In] ancient greece and ancient rome people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings [...], people believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant unknowable source for some distant and unknowable reasons. the Greeks famously called these divine and attendant spirits daemons [..] the Romans had the same idea but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. which is great [because] the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual they believed that a genious was this sort of magical divine entity which was believed to literally live in the walls of the artist studios [...] who would come out and invisibly assist the artist with their would and would shape the outcome of that work. [...] and this is how people thought of creativity in the west for a really long time, and then the Renaissance came and everything changed, and we had this big idea [...] let's put the individual human being at the center of the universe, above all gods and mysteries, and there’s no more room for mystical creatures who take dictation from the divine, and it's the beginning of rational humanism, and people started to believe that creativity came completely from the self of the individual, and for the first time in history you start to hear people referring to this or that artist as being a genius rather than having a genius, and I gotta tell you I think that was a huge error." 4

Alan Lomax interviews Muddy Waters

John Coltrane interview

’Authorship’ – in the sense we know it today, individual intellectual effort related to the book as an economic commodity – was practically unknown before the advent of print technology [...] the invention of printing did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property. Mechanical multiples of the same text created a public – a reading public [...] the idea of copywrite [...]was born

Marshall McLuhan 5

a quick note on copyright

the notion that copyright is a natural right transcribed into law in the interest of protecting cultural producers is empirically false, it is not now, nor has it ever been, centered on creators. Intellectual property was an idea invented in the late 16th century during the English Reformation, a product of England’s ruptures with the Catholic Church, the rise of common law, the invention of the printing press and the subsequent printing industry. All of this amidst the enlightenment’s bent towards individualism. Today the invention of intellectual property is justified as a necessary ( though embarrassing ) compromise: in the interest of sustaining a rich public domain ( from which society benefits immeasurably ) the state incentivises cultural producers by granting them limited time monopoly of use, after which point the work enters the public domain. But to believe copyright is about “protection” is to miss the point. Copyright is, and has always been, about control. 6


"Does it ring a bell? The first-person narrator, a cultivated man of middle age, looks back on the story of an amour fou. It all starts when, traveling abroad, he takes a room as a lodger. The moment he sees the daughter of the house, he is lost. She is a pre-teen, whose charms instantly enslave him. Heedless of her age, he becomes intimate with her. In the end she dies, and the narrator marked by her forever remains alone. The name of the girl supplies the title of the story ..." 7

Multiple Discovery && Undiscovered Public Knowledge

the truth about innovation

So was what Jobs took from Xerox the idea of the mouse? Not quite, because Xerox never owned the idea of the mouse. The parc researchers got it from the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart, at Stanford Research Institute [...] His mouse was a bulky, rectangular affair, with what looked like steel roller-skate wheels. If you lined up Engelbart’s mouse, Xerox’s mouse, and Apple’s mouse, you would not see the serial reproduction of an object. You would see the evolution of a concept. 8

I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work... progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable.

Henry Ford 2

Copyright: System Failure

New Media Contexts

In digital software culture “copy” is used in two different ways (1) in the context of file-management and as a new phase of cultural reproduction and (2) as part of copy / paste a cultural technique and aesthetic principle. The two lineages constantly overlap in the modern history of media technologies, where copying, the verb, designates a shift in the cultural techniques of reproduction from humans to machines, and copy, as a noun, presents itself as the key mode of becoming object of digital culture—as easily reproducible and distributed packages of cultural memory.

Jussi Parikka 1

consider the omnipresent cut and paste. The algorithm to select a word in a text document is different from the algorithm to select a curve in a vector drawing, or the algorithm to select a part of a continuous tone (ie. raster) image. In other words, “cut and paste” is a general concept that is implemented differently in different media software depending on which data type this software is designed to handle. (In larry Tesler’s original implementation of the universal commands concept done at PARC in 1974-5, it only worked for text editing.) Although cut, copy, paste and a number of similar “universal commands” are available in all contemporary GUI applications for desktop computers (but not necessarily in mobile phone apps), what they actually do and how they do it is different from application to application.

Lev Manovich 9

open source

from system failure to open source

beyond cmd+C

workshop links

downloading websites

downloading streaming videos

ripping sound/music

screen recording

copying code


complete the github tutorial at try.github.io
optional: check out the npm intro


  1. Parikka, Jussi. Copy. Software Studies: A Lexicon. 2008.
  2. Ferguson, Kirby. Everything is a Remix. 2011.
  3. Hyde, Lewis. the Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. Vintage. 1983.
  4. Gilbert, Elizabeth. Your Elusive Creative Genius. TED. 2009.
  5. McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Gingko Press. 1967.
  6. Jones, Adrian. Piracy: the Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates. University of Chicago Press. 2009.
  7. Maar, Michael, Perry Anderson. The Two Lolitas. Verso. 2005.
  8. Gladwell, Malcolm. Creation Myth. Xerox PARC, Apple and the truth about innovation. the New Yorker. 2011.
  9. Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. Bloomsbury Publishing. 2013.