My college degrees are in music theory and composition, the "and" signifying that I both analyzed what the greats had done and wrote my own pieces. These two processes were, however, rarely separate: much of what I composed was an imitation of what I was studying, and I went through compositional fads related to my then-current theoretical interest. When I was infatuated with the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, I wrote music with twelve-tone rows, and not being original, I used one of theirs. When later I was into the avant-garde Polish music of Penderecki and Lutoslwaski, I tried to write like them.
I eventually stopped composing because I came to the conclusion that I had no authentic voice of my own (although I still play an instrument, clarinet). I concluded all I could summon was a weak imitation of others' voices. I sometimes wish I had kept at it, not out of a belief I would have gotten better, but for the sincere joy of it. Yet, I realized then, as now, that as Oscar Wilde quipped, "all bad poetry is sincere," and as we shall see, he should know.
The fear of influence in music is well-documented, including Brahms' complaint of Beethoven "dogging" his footsteps, and the unflattering comparison of his music to Beethoven's. In literature, Harold Bloom wrote a classic book in 1967, published in 1973, called The Anxiety of Influence. On pages 5-6, Bloom writes:
"My concern is only with the strong poets, major figures with the persistence to wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the death. Weaker talents idealize; figures of capable imagination appropriate for themselves. But nothing is got for nothing and, and self-appropriation involves immense anxieties of indebtedness, for what strong maker desires the realization that he has failed to create himself? Oscar Wilde, who knew he had failed as a poet because he lacked strength to overcome his anxiety of influence, knew also the darker truths concerning influence."
In Benjamin Kaplan's The Uneasy Case for Copyright, he states: "Copyright is in danger of stifling such wrestling with ourselves and with our predecessors: by seizing on all appropriation as a legal -- and moral-- shortcoming -- we fail to appreciate the creative process, and will end up the poorer for it." He also refers to a natural right to imitate, a nice twist on the different way the term "natural rights" is used in copyright discourse.
Copyright is often cast as a battle between creators and users, but more importantly, it involves issues with other authors, and within ourselves. We will be poorer, as Kaplan noted and as Bloom cautioned, if we don't facilitate the working out of creative anxieties.