What will happen when I blatantly plagiarize Kafka's The Trial?
November 9, 2011 6:48 AM   Subscribe

What will happen when I blatantly plagiarize Kafka's The Trial?

The intention is to do it as an art project. Still not sure on the particulars, and might change them based on the advice / warnings that you give me.

But here's the basic idea:

1) Get the e-text from somewhere, delete all author references and replace them with my own (real life) name. If there is a lengthy publisher's introduction, translation notes, etc., I'd just delete them or replace them with my own bullshit story. This text would then be distributed as widely as possible on torrent sites, for free download on my website, etc.

2) Buy a bulk order of the physical book, and with x-acto knife, glue, etc. remove Kafka's name on the cover, title pages, etc. and replace it with mine. Cut out any introductory material relating to Kafka, publisher's dates, etc. This book would be distributed and promoted through my website, for free.

3) On the website (plagiarisingfranzkafka.org) I would lay out the various justifications, rationalisations, excuses, artistic statements, etc., for the project. I would also document the process of physically modifying the hard copy books. I would urge people to begin to refer to The Trial as written by me, to modify any physical copies of the book they have access to, and to spread disinformation as to the real author of the book on the Internet.

What will happen to me when I do this?
posted by Meatbomb to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Make sure you don't do this to a translation which is still protected by copyright.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:53 AM on November 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


Many people will think you're a pretentious asshole.

Also, IANAL, but depending on your wording, I suspect that inciting people to deface physical copies of the book might land you in trouble if (or when) someone does it to books he or she doesn't own.
posted by lydhre at 6:53 AM on November 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Marchel Duchamp did something sort of similar once.

Anyway, the Trial is in the public domain, as far as I am aware. The problem would come with whatever rights the company has to the physical book.
posted by griphus at 6:54 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, duh, and whether the translation is under copyright.
posted by griphus at 6:55 AM on November 9, 2011


It's tranformational use, and thus protected by Fair Use. It's not the most original thing ever, but that's not the question.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:07 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify, the idea is not really so much to be an "artist" as to make a genuine attempt, however quixotic, to edit history and create ambiguity. I quite like the book and would like to claim it as my own work.

Yeah, boring art, hack, I absolutely agree, have no qualms about this being called "art" and not art... but we can't all be stunningly original, right?
posted by Meatbomb at 7:09 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


[Some comments deleted. Hey, folks, you can answer the actual question here, and send your personal opinions via MeMail, or just pass on to the next question.]
posted by taz (staff) at 7:09 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]




Just something to think about. Maybe you could incorporate Borges' work into yours?
posted by clockzero at 7:17 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, you can do whatever you want with the text, so long as you're using a public-domain translation. If you use a still-copyright-protected translation you could be sued for copyright infringement; I'm not sure your work is sufficiently transformational to cover fair use of the entire text (though IANAL).

The publisher of the book may hold some intellectual property rights to the physical book (or its design), too, but I would think in that case you'd be protected by right of first sale (i.e. you can re-sell books after you've bought them once, at least in the US), so long as you're not making additional copies of the book based on the print copy of the book. It would be like making straightforward book art, I would think.

No one but your professional/academic peers cares if you plagiarize; if you can convince them this is art, then you're fine on that front.
posted by mskyle at 7:22 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]




Whether or not the book is public domain is going to depend on where you live. Generally the rules are fairly straightforward and I've had good luck just googling around, although if legal action could threaten your professional standing it would be worth it to talk to a lawyer.
posted by muddgirl at 7:26 AM on November 9, 2011


I think you'll be in for a general ignoral, and you'll get comprehensively sick of pissing about with your x-acto knife.

The good news is, you will not turn into a giant beetle. Probably.
posted by Segundus at 7:28 AM on November 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


This text would then be distributed as widely as possible on torrent sites.

Note that with most torrent sites it's actually relatively difficult to widely distribute fake content because of the self-policing aspect and the fact that most people will download from the version with more seeds. If you upload it to an e-book specific tracker it will almost certainly be deleted, on a larger general purpose tracker you could probably get it up under the radar but there will probably be more popular torrents of the actual Kafka version that people will download instead of your's.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:59 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kind of an aside, this is not so much plagiarizing Kafka, as pirating Kafka.

If you were copying someone else who had done a similar art project with another book or art object, now that might be considered plagiarizing, especially if this is being done for any kind if credit.
posted by carter at 8:21 AM on November 9, 2011


Read A History of Appropriative Writing, in which you will find many poets and artists who have engaged in similar projects and lived to tell the tale.
posted by aparrish at 8:25 AM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Kind of an aside, this is not so much plagiarizing Kafka, as pirating Kafka."

As described it is both, make sure you don't have any present or potential future academic affiliations that this could fuck with. I certainly wouldn't want to be that guy trying to explain artistic merit to an academic misconduct board.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:01 AM on November 9, 2011


Nothing's going to happen to you. If you use a copy of the text in the public domain, absolutely nothing is going to happen to you. If you did something like strip the (required in the terms of use) translation copyright notice from the publicly available Project Gutenberg text, or otherwise violated the copyright of a legally copyrighted work, you might get sued but probably nothing would happen or your ISP would get hassled or whatever. It isn't like there aren't a billion unambiguously pirated modern works floating around the internet.

As far as this: I would urge people to begin to refer to The Trial as written by me, to modify any physical copies of the book they have access to, and to spread disinformation as to the real author of the book on the Internet. My prediction is that nothing much will happen. Almost everyone will decline to assist in this pointless act. The Trial is an extremely well known work and its provenance is established and deeply embedded in the culture and the internet. Any action you could drum up will be a drop in the bucket of the work's established identity.

At the same time this sort of wholesale appropriation as a statement of whatever is not particularly original as you acknowledge. People will see it as a stunt, it is a stunt, it will not be taken very seriously, it will fade quickly from any relevance.
posted by nanojath at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


If the text is in the public domain, it is not pirating to distribute the work under anyone's authorship.
posted by muddgirl at 11:25 AM on November 9, 2011


Fair use analysis (relevant for translations) is HARD. Just FYI. No easy way to say "this is fair use/this isn't fair use."

(Anyway, I agree with nanojath, what will practically happen is that you'll just be ignored.)
posted by paultopia at 4:23 PM on November 9, 2011


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