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Taking The Piss: Conclusion

Original post here.

Long story short: Banksy didn't steal from me. He didn't plagiarize that quote on advertising. Ten years ago, he was careless, the opposite of sneaky. What's more, I was also careless.

Here's what's become clear: Around 2002-2003, Banksy included my words in Cut It Out, a self-published collection of his drawings and stencils. Banksy shortened the end paragraphs of my essay and changed it from first- to second-person perspective (for example, "they never asked for my permission" became "they never asked for your permission.") He then added Crap Hound to a list of credits in the back of the book, along with other sources and photo credits.

The problem: The pages in Cut It Out lacked page numbers, meaning the end credits were nonspecific. In the year Banksy made that decision, someone reading the passage would likely have had the book in their hand. Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook didn't exist. Quotes and jpeg memes were distributed far less often and widely.

In my original post, I said that issues of attribution aside, all this could have been avoided had Banksy simply let me know that he'd used my essay.

The reality: In 2002, Banksy mailed an explanatory letter and a copy of his book to the address printed in Crap Hound. I never received it, most likely because beginning in 2001 I spent three years moving back and forth across the US. The PO box I'd used for years was eventually closed due to new postal rules after 9-11. From 2001 to 2004, mail was sporadic and plenty was undoubtedly returned to sender or lost in transit.

My main objection in all this -- that my words were credited wrongly (much worse than appearing uncredited, in my view) -- began when some random blogger recently took the quote, added "--Banksy" (reasonably), and posted it.

Choices made in the past (Banksy's choice to not use page numbers or on-page attributions, and my choice to void the mailing address used in Crap Hound while having no website or announced email) set things up for the current confusion.

Other complications: First, viral posts can spread and fade within a week. I felt if I didn't act fast to correct the record, there'd be no point once the Internet's attention had moved on. Second, Banksy's anonymity meant I had no way to confidently contact him. You can blame this situation on Banksy, but remember he encountered a comparable situation when he'd tried to contact me a decade earlier. Third, Crap Hound is filled with copyrighted vintage commercial art, used without permission. Because of what I use and write in my zine, Banksy assumed (correctly) that more so than most people, I wouldn't object to my own work being used, altered, without explicit permission. Again: My complaints were that the quote was misattributed, not unattributed, and that I'd never been informed afterwards.

I realize "Banksy stole the quote!" is much more dramatic and satisfying than "Banksy made a poor stylistic choice in his book layout, causing confusion years later! He attempted to inform me but had the wrong address!" The man's not an imbecile. This would have been an absurdly clumsy and doomed attempt at plagiarism. I will also say that in my recent, limited contact with Banksy, he's gone out of his way to be clear, kind, and genuine, in every way the exact opposite of a twat.

I'm very grateful to everyone who wrote, posted, and tweeted about this. The quote will remain out there with Banksy's name on it, but the source is now established online (and in future reprints) for anyone who looks deeper. Likewise, no matter what your opinion of Banksy, it's important and fair to establish that this was not a case of plagiarism. Lack of foresight, yes. Fraud, no.

Sean Tejaratchi, March 18, 2012

@ShittingtonUK on twitter

Taking the Piss

Please read update here.

Chances are pretty good you've recently seen the "Banksy on Advertising" quote that begins, "People are taking the piss out of you everyday." The passage is from Banksy's 2004 book Cut It Out, and it presents the idea that if advertisers are going to fill your world with ads, you have every right to "take, re-arrange and re-use" those images without permission. The quote has been posted widely on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, which is where I found it.

Here's the interesting part:

Most of it is swiped directly from an essay I wrote in 1999, in the "Death, Phones, Scissors" issue of my zine Crap Hound. The first paragraph is more or less original, but the rest is mine, right down to the same words and phrases.

See for yourself. Here's the Banksy quote followed by the relevant part of my essay as it appeared in Crap Hound. (The full essay is linked at the end of this post.) Pink indicates indirect references, and yellow shows the direct swipes.

Click to see full-size version here.

It's hard to know how to feel about this. My first thought was, "Hey, Banksy reads Crap Hound!" Then, "What the fuck is going on?" Then, "Am I a real person? Am I actually happening?" And finally, "Am I a beautiful flower angel sent from heaven to inspire Banksy?"

As problems go, it's a pretty nice one to have. I like Banksy's art and ideas. I'm flattered he liked my writing and my sentiments, and I'm happy others liked the quote enough to post and forward. I've seen forums where people are debating the passage, including rebuttals from ad-agency twats. It's on wikiquotes and a hundred blogs. My essay never would have had that impact on its own.

The downside is that Banksy's name is always on it. Seeing my writing credited to someone else makes it a little less magical. Same with knowing that one day (maybe soon, since the issue in question is being reprinted), I'll get to hear how I ripped off Banksy.

The fact that he's an "elusive mystery artist" doesn't leave me many options. I found contact info online, but so far I've only received bounced messages. 

My goal is to set the record straight online. There will be no lawyers or threats of legal action. I've tried not to jump to conclusions, or angrily denounce Banksy, or the Internet, or the terrible unfairness of the universe. Maybe a ghostwriter was responsible for lifting it. Maybe an attribution was lost in layout. (On the other hand, my words were rearranged and tweaked. How does that happen accidentally?)

Banksy, if you're reading this, I accept your apology for the mix-up! I have a Crap Hound book coming out next year, and I'll be sure to make it up to me by signing your name to a really enthusiastic jacket blurb.

Sean Tejaratchi, March 10, 2012

@ShittingtonUK on twitter

P.S.: Two important things for clarity's sake:

My zine, Crap Hound, is full of "swiped" vintage advertising from 1920-1970 that was drawn by anonymous commercial artists. The crucial difference: I don't pass those images off as my own. When writing appears without attribution in Banksy's book, the natural assumption is that he wrote it.

Also, sooner or later someone might fart, "How brilliantly ironic, such classic Banksy! Swiping something about swiping, then complaining that it's been swiped!" For the record, I'm not a fan of telescoping, self-referential irony. It's a tiresome, lazy circle jerk that confuses ideas with actual life. I've seen people wondering if Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop was staged, so I'll be clear: This is a little baffling and irritating, but it's not a conceptual gag. 

The full Reciprocity essay is here, and the passage as it appeared in Cut It Out is here.

Note from Chloe: This has come to light while we're (Reading Frenzy/Show & Tell Press) in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to fund a reprint of Crap Hound #6: Death, Telephones & Scissors. The campaign has been planned for months (and was posted on March 4th, four days before Sean found the Banksy quote). Some may consider the timing a happy accident, but this is a straightforward issue of giving credit where it's due. You can read about, pledge to, or share our project here.