The Clever Art Of Stealing

Illustration for article titled The Clever Art Of Stealing

The quote "Good artists borrow, great artists steal" is often attributed to Pablo Picasso. There doesn't seem to be solid evidence that he actually said it, but the quote is often misinterpreted anyway.

Advertisement

It's not that stealing is okay, but rather, stealing implies taking something and making it your own. What's more, not every artist is Pablo Picasso.

Throughout pop culture, borrowing and stealing run rampant. Earlier this week, Japanese netizens were quick to point out the similarities between the box art for Wii game Pandora's Tower and art for Final Fantasy games like FFXIII and Final Fantasy Versus XIII.

Advertisement

However, the actual Pandora's Tower game trailer looks unlike a Final Fantasy game. It's far edgier, far more unsettling than the grand, sweeping vistas players are used to from Final Fantasy.

Thus, even though Pandora's Tower is ripping the heck out of FF's visual style, it appears to be incorporating these lifted motifs in a very different way. In the past, however, Square Enix has been aggressive about those who rip off Final Fantasy.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled The Clever Art Of Stealing

Back in 2007, South Korean popstar Ivy totally ripped off Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children frame-for-frame for her Sonata of Temptation music video. At the time, the director said the video was a "parody" and he wanted to get in touch with Square Enix, but couldn't find their contact info. Parody or not, Square Enix was not amused and sued the video's maker.

Advertisement

This video was less "stealing" and more "borrowing" in the sense that Ivy never made the images hers, because they weren't incorporated or synthesized in an engaging or interesting way. It feels clumsy, and there's no art to it, such as voice actress Aya Hirano's alleged rip-off of the cover art for an album by fellow voice actress Nana Mizuki.

Advertisement

While still in college, I spent my summers working for Quentin Tarantino, who was and still is a master thief. One of the things that always impressed me was how he could takes things and make them his own. When you watch Pulp Fiction, one of the most memorable scenes is when John Travolta and Uma Thurman dance - a scene he lifted (and reworked) from Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders. Or even the infamous glowing briefcase, which was lifted (and reworked) from Kiss Me Deadly.

Illustration for article titled The Clever Art Of Stealing
Advertisement

Heck, the entire plot from Reservoir Dogs was famously fingered from Ringo Lam's City on Fire, mashed with the structure from The Killing.

In Tarantino's movies, character names, dialogue and even whole sequences were stolen, not borrowed, from Sam Fuller, Howard Hawks, Jack Hill, Brian DePalma, Sergio Leone or some crazy Hong Kong flick. He never really distinguished between high art and low art, between smut and class. Tarantino synthesized and made those things his own. He wasn't and still isn't borrowing anything, he's stealing.

Advertisement

The thing that I like about Pandora's Tower is that the game has the gall to wrap itself in a very pedestrian, tired Final Fantasy-type wrapping. But if that latest trailer is any indication, peeling away the wrapping reveals something very different underneath. The game might be a total dog, but at least it seems interesting.

Good artists borrow, sure, but great artist steal. And steal well.

Illustration for article titled The Clever Art Of Stealing
Advertisement

CULTURE SMASH

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome - game related and beyond.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

The whole IP canard of "theft" is misguided for 2 reasons.

1) It presumes the the original "stolen" party actually came up with the "original" by his own (or his teams) effort alone. This is plainly ridiculous. Each and every idea/pattern/what have you inevitably has a long history behind it for the simple reason that men do not live in a vacuum, they are absorbing every influence around them and acting/reacting in some fashion to it. This makes the entire notion of some standard of originality in IP as a meaningless concept due to the immense range of arbitrariness that can be logically applied to try and define a standard. It is impossible to create some unbiased standard of originality, therefore it is a meaningless exercise to try and make it into something outside of individual opinion. This can be seen in the law itself; why for example is the copyright length the life of the author plus 70 years? That is easy to answer: the disney corporation did not wish to lose their state monopoly on the likeness of mickey mouse and so lobbied to have it extended to that length. There is absolutely no logical reason why it should be this long, it is a completely arbitrary (from any standpoint but self interest on the part of disney) for it to last this long.

2) Theft implies that property was misappropriated by one person from another. Property implies scarcity, because if the good in question were super abundant (it was just there or you could conjure it by snapping your finger or is infinitely reproducible) then there would be no need to ascribe property rights to it. Property rights are not an end unto themselves, they exist to fulfill the human need of dealing with scarcity in the real world (see Hoppe's "Theory of Socialism and Capitalism" for a more thorough explanation of why this is). You cannot "steal" a style anymore than you can "steal" a mathematical equation from a text book. Once they exist, they are there for as long as people can physically make copies of it. There is no loss to the "original" owner of the "stolen" good.

Theft is an extremely poor way of describing the phenomena shown above. Aping, copying, remixing, altering are all much more accurate and do not ascribe some sort of stigma for not fitting in with someone's arbitrary notion of originality.