When is a Copy not a Copy…?

I have just watched the 2016 remake of the 1960 classic, “The Magnificent Seven”, [56 years – really?!] and I was struck by the question as to when a copy ceases to be a copy and becomes something else. Something original.

In “The Magnificent Seven”, although there are echoes of the earlier film’s music and some snippets of dialogue are lifted word-for-word from the original, the characters – and their characteristics – are different, and the situation is altered: the Mexican bandits stealing food are replaced by a ruthless miner who wants the land for profit… Yet the underlying skeleton and premise of the film is pretty much identical.

This question, ‘when is a copy not a copy?’, is particularly relevant in terms of ‘found’ poems of course, where you take a text – a collection of words and punctuation in a particular order – and rearrange/delete/supplement them to turn the whole into something else. At what point does the new ‘thing’ become a ‘thing’ in its own right? Is it as soon as you touch a word? (At the logical level it of course changes as soon as you amend the smallest element, even a comma.) Or would it be five words? 15%?

Or is it when the new ‘thing’ is used to convey a different meaning? When the essence of the revision becomes something else? If so – and this is where I’d place my money – who is to say when that line is crossed?

If the new “Magnificent Seven” were about milkmen delivering milk, well, that would be another thing entirely..!