Reading Frenzy ~ An Independent Press Emporium

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