Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Plagiarist Beginnings: In League with Clay's Court, and Other Extraordinary Gentlemen


These are the Confessions of a literary 'one hit' wonder man.

Originally uploaded at Memorial Univerity 

On July 7, 2007, I was fortunate enough to be bored with proceedings at the Carnivore Grounds, sometime between 1 and 2 am. Come to think of it, it was actually 8th July. I have a thing for dates, and the general correlation of numbers to situations.

Why I remember the date, perhaps? Because it was Saba Saba (7-7), a date immortalized by the number of times it inspired dread in my childhood owing to the magnanimous fimbo ya nyayo that clamped down on dissent annually on the date due to its significance in Multi-party politics? I can recall the many times I scaled walls as a kid to escape the onslaught of General Service Unit (GSU) policemen unleashed by Moi's hounds. Ok, that one's a lie. I wasn't scaling walls to escape them, but rather to watch them manhandle women and children - and a few potato sacks - from within the confines of my gated community, aka the ¼ acre plot we shared with 15 other tenants under Lord Landlady's eagle eyes.

But that ain't it. That's not why I recall 7th July 2007 so vividly. It's a less nationalistic reason, that being that my birthday falls on 8th August, aka Nane Nane (8-8) – not really – and the chicita I was wooing then was celebrating her birthday on that day. 7th July. It made for a quite interesting – in my mind – opener to the said woo conversation.

“Your birthday's 7th July? Mine's 8th August! We're meant to be together! [sick]”

Anyway, as I said earlier, I was fortunately – in retrospect – sufficiently bored sometime between 1 and 2am at Carni. Which is how I found myself gravitating away from the chicita, who'd been filling my eardrums to percussive inefficiency with the drole humdrum drones of how her soon-to-be ex was such a pig. Somewhat fortuitously, I escaped to the Dormans stall for a mug of coffee, and happened to end up engaging with one of the few chaps I found grabbing a caffeine fix himself. While the details of how or why this conversation began escape me - despite my being a teetotaler then - it would end up serving as quite the encounter.

We got a-talking about the legal profession with my new-found curious amigo amicus curiae, given he was venturing towards legal study, as was I at the time. After quite the exchange of ideas, banter and whatnots, he would then go on to ask me if I read blogs, and suggest a particular one. Being as I was the archetypal young man then, prone never to ask for directions, I omitted the fact that I had no clue what a blog was, content in the knowledge that my amicus omniscientae Google knew what it was. [Ok, that's the end of the terrible amicus inventions.]

The blog he recommended that I read, was thinkersroom, when he was still on The blogger whose literary fodder was so good (still is, only less frequent) for so long that he was cited severally by International News outlets long before blogging became every [wo]man's accessory. And ignominiously, the same man whose works were subjected to a poor 'publicity stunt' by none other than Clay Muganda, who reprinted his work on his column in the Daily Nation's pages, citing it merely as 'available on the Internet.'

I was reminded of plagiary, and my own not-so-humble beginnings as I read Nyanchwani's blogpost last week, about how men should never be the good guy to women; one MMK (Media Madness Kenya, perchance?) chided and derided him publicly in the comments section about using two pieces of writing without citing themI stopped myself in my own tracks before I could even consider rising up to judge him. I think it's only fair that I not be so quick to cast stones, given my own glass house being built on its own small foundation of plagiarism.

I. Plagiarised. @Roomthinker. No point justifying it. An explanation, nay – an elaboration of how it happened – I will, however allow myself.

It began when I started, in the second week of July 2007, reading Roomthinker's posts. Boy were they good. I enjoyed them a whole lot. So much so that I started pulling down some of his posts and saving them on my laptop, just in case, for some reason, his blog were to ever go down. As a purveyor of all things literal, that possibility could not be allowed to ever mutate to reality. I was soon in my first year of campus. 2007-2008's PEV happened,and  as I proceeded to my second semester in Varsity, I had a brace of pals – making up the trio of witty, literary musketeers we were – with whom I discoursed everything, from what women know or do not know they want, to what the implications of religion and God's existence – and the lack thereof 'Him' I proposed – meant to life. It was only logical, then, that we would discuss the posts I had saved as copy-pasted word documents on me trusty lappy as well.

A rather unexpected development, however, followed said logic. The posts I had saved on my machine were the only resource I had to share with them of Thinker's work (the Internet, in Moi University Main Campus Eldoret, was a major luxury then, compared to a need for sustenance in the way of supper.) They read the pieces in silence, then congratulated ME for such an affluent degree of sense, reason and wit in equal measure.

I had an option right there. Fess up – technically I hadn't lied yet – to the fact that it was Thinker's work.  Or take the credit for Roomthinker's writings and musings.

Copied from Class Guides

Since we're here discussing plagiary, we can all guess how that option went down.

It doesn't end there though; oh, how I wish.

In 2008, my old lady went to 'rest with the angels' (ironic, that, coming from a professed atheist, no? I tend towards the view that because she believed that's where she'd go, that's where – to her – she is.) My first ever Facebook note was my own lamentation of her passing, and soon I was publishing regularly on Facebook.

I proceeded to post this article lifted off Thinker's blog to my notes, without expressly stipulating that it was 'written by Roomthinker,' or, since I wouldn't actually have known to call him that then, 'initially posted on by owner.' Immediately, I get a host of comments, especially from womenfolk who liked my writing, telling me how “THIS IS AWESOME!” and I was the “Greatest writer I know!”

Sema conundrum! Especially since the chap who 'introduced me to Thinker,' so to speak, was perhaps the second Facebook friend I added back in 07. Meaning he could read my notes. Cue the cover-up. Edit note settings; exclude @Archermishale from viewing this note!

It was all downhill from there. I did not once say that I wrote the piece, but I did not once correct those who very eloquently thought I had either. At the time, I was writing a lot of Facebook notes, and soon we had moved on to the next good (not “Greatest that ever lived!”) post I actually wrote.

I was also one of a clique of writers, one that has so far produced such success stories as @wagaodongo, @midegaodero and @yenyewe, that was known as Plus254. We had (and still have, somewhat) Facebook groups and pages, campus magazines and at one point even a website, that worked towards building our literary skills collectively. The same piece would go on to be published on our website under one of my past aliases; again, not one word. Having come this far, I figured I might as well be outed by anyone else. I certainly wasn't ready to do it myself.

But unlike Nyanchwani's blogpost, my indiscretions went unnoticed, or at the very least those who noticed weren't as savvy or brazen as the guy who blasted Nyanchwani. Or maybe it was too early in Blogger's days for there to have been an audience big enough to notice, a luxury Clay Muganda's post was not afforded. Neither was Barrack Obama, nor his Deputy Joe Biden, 20 years before him. I like to think that having battled such bigwigs (detest, absolutely, this word and how it's used on Twitter) Thinker had no time to slug it out with juvies.

Today I do not copy anyone's work, and when I base mine extensively on any piece, I am quick to link back to their original work. Thinker included :)

By the time I started out blogging, I'd done academic writing, learnt how to cite works read in writing my journal articles, and basically, matured. I did, however, put up @itsnowrc's post about Nairobi's ChipsFungaz on my blog, a popular post – judging from the close to 7000 hits it's had since. It was well credited, linking back to his site, and I made a point of contacting him randomly on Facebook, informing him that I'd used his piece on my blog. Had he had any reservations, it woulda been pulled down instantly, but as it turns out, he was easy, and I made a new friend to boot.

Why the big effort at elaborating my plagiarism? Well, for a moment as I was writing the piece I did on Mutula's life and death recently, I paralleled the if-by-Mutula fallacy to my own fault start as a writer. Questioned the questionable beginnings based on plagiarism, linking them to Mutula's dark ages, and the rather self-styled writer I now am to his proposed post-Moi renaissance

That thought disappeared as fast as it had shown up; after all, my plagiarist foundations did not defend a despot and legally jargonize the rigging of an election, making billions while at it. It only made me seem better than I was at the time; and I got not one cent out of it! At least Clay Muganda got a couple geez outta Thinker's work, though he did go on to lose his column for a while. The Daily Nation's management, including Charles Onyango-Obbo, handled the matter rather diligently, I might add.

So, to the beginners out there. It's easy to fall into the trap of using other people's ideas and claiming them to be your own. In fact, many creatives out there are afraid to let their work be seen, on the off chance that someone will like and copy it. To the first, I say do the easier and ethical thing, and simply credit your sources. Ignoring the misplaced energies spent trying to cover up your theft, it could save you a cereal bowl full of blushes at best; at worst, you could find yourself in a legal conundrum, what with copyright, trademark and patent laws slowly strengthening in Kenya thanks to institutions such as KECOBO, the Kenya Copyright Board, and KIPI, the Kenya Industrial Property Institute.

To the second, I say learn to put yourself out there as an artist. Sure your work may get copied, stolen, reprinted and whatnots. But you know what I do? I take copycats as a compliment. Copycat killers often are big fans of the original killers' work. It's the same here, only that amidst all the copying, stealing and reprinting, someone out there takes notice of what you're doing. 

And you get the call. 

Meanwhile, the copycat has no idea worth selling, and gets tangled up in his own web of lies eventually. 

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