Copy Paste Culture

In today’s culture, scissors and glue not only represent our childhood memories, but are a symbol for our postmodern culture: the Cope Paste Culture. The democratization of technologic means has made it possible for anyone to resume or remix somebody else’s work. All you have to do is watch a video on Youtube to be presented with the best and worst examples. Also professionally, with the arrival of open design or art, copying has deep-rooted itself into culture.

Even though copying is widely used in culture, it is still seen as the opposite of culture. The title of the symposium which Premsela, platform for fashion and design, organised two weeks ago is characteristic: Copy/Culture. Copying is perceived as something negative, something non-creative. Contradictory, in the Copy Paste Culture, copyright still firmly reigns, with it’s verdict: ‘copy is wrong’.

This paradox can be explained by analysing our ideas on creating. Turns out, we link creation to authenticity and originality. Our minds still tend to drift back to 1935, the time in which Walter Benjamin famously wrote that even the most perfect copy misses one crucial thing, aura, which he defines as authenticity and originality. Authenticity seems to be the holy grail of postmodern culture and the copy the thing which prevents us from obtaining it. Copying disorientates our treasure hunt for authenticity. In a copy paste culture, where remix is part and parcel, a copy eventually only refers to other copies. In this way we do not reach our desired authenticity but end up in a completely different reality: a so-called simulacrum in the words of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, in which there are only copies without origin.

But isn’t it strange that these ‘old’ ideas about creation still dominate in an age in which the openness and connectivity of the internet stimulates our brains on a everyday basis? Furthermore: is there really something like an original, authentic idea? In his 2010 TEDtalk Steven Johnson argues a different vision on creation. He states that there is no such thing as an original idea, or Eureka moment. There is only a network full of inspirations and ideas which can be transformed into something new: creation apparently requires influence. There’s no need for protection of an idea, because every idea is a connection in itself.


Viewed in this way, it’s not about creation but about creating. The process is more important than the final product. A process in which copying can play an important part, because it allows us to stand on the shoulders of giants and to create something beyond your own capacities. It’s time for a new evaluation of copying and to give it the same value as an ‘authentic’ idea, because essentially they are the same. It’s time for a new treasure map, on which we aren’t looking for an origin or past, but which is a map for the future and innovation. Better still, throw away the map and copy/paste or remix all you want, add your own inspiration, and free ideas to create evolution and growth.

This blogpost is also published on TedxAmsterdam

Further reading:

Biography of Steven Johnson on TED

The TEDtalk of Matt Ridley – When ideas have sex

Good copy, bad copy (2007), an interesting documentary about the current state of copyright and culture

The ‘Everything is a remix project‘ for examples of copying in culture


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