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Our Collective Ophitoxaemia

Even as content industries, patent trolls, and cretins shamelessly abuse their monopoly privileges, some of their behavior filters down to creators with even less to gain from such behavior. The false concepts of idea “ownership” and permission culture are a flesh-melting venom chewing away at our creative body.

One of the most egregious examples is more or less the entire deviantART community. Nowhere else can you find so many amateur artists attaching inane restrictions and “licensing” restrictions to their work—so much so that the “stock” section of the community is essentially useless for use as actual stock. Unless, I suppose, you’re of the breed whose creations are limited to compiling a few images to blend with brushes and filter effects—a specimen found in profusion on dA.

I’ve seen people discontinue work on beloved community projects like game mods or apps because some nitwit did something or other with the content that the author didn’t like. And of course, there’s the Lego community and its artisans who attempt to assert some kind of “right” over their models,  ranging from overall designs and instructions to specific techniques. I even saw that on the entirely safe for work (seriously) YouTube video for “Batman XXX,” the commentariat was arguing over whether or not the parody violated copyrights and trademarks.

It’s as though these people, indiscriminately abused by major industries, can’t wait to turn around and heap the same abuse on others. What the no-name deviantArtists, modders, and builders fail to realize is that sharing their creations is about the best thing they could do for themselves—creating fans, expanding reputation, and establishing themselves as valuable members of their respective communities.

This is why I can’t stand the Creative Commons. The various licensing schemes available reinforce the same flawed idea articulated so well by “gambort” on The Brothers Brick:

…the whole basis of IP law is that the creator (or those who are granted permission) has control.

gambort, comment on The Brothers Brick

No, that isn’t at all what it was about. It’s ostensibly about promoting cultural progress, as set forth in the US Constitution, and in actuality, the purpose of copyright and other monopolies is simply to reward whoever the monopoly is granted to.

The message for today’s artists is simple: stop worrying about what other people are doing with your stuff and work on improving your own operational model. If somebody copying what you do is devastating, you’re doing it wrong.

8 replies on “Our Collective Ophitoxaemia”

You bring up good points, but there are also legal protections to consider, especially because of the abuse that you mention. Unfortunately, people aren’t all as nice as we’d like them to be. So when somebody takes your free product/creation and uses it to make millions without giving you a dime, there ought to be some legal protection for the artist to prevent abuses like that from happening, no?

Why? How does that hurt the original person in any way? Firstly, the original creator of something has “first mover” advantage – they can bring their own product to market before anybody else. After that, imitators fall into one of two categories: they are straight up duplicating the original work 1:1, in which case they are constantly playing “catch up” with the creator (who has intimate knowledge of the product, releases updates, and has customer loyalty), or, they are changing or modifying the original work in some way that provides additional value to customers, in which case they should be allowed to reap financial rewards.

Your argument ASSUMES that people who see a form of the original product knows the source of creation. That’s not always true. For example, if I saw a product or creation online that I really liked, I might just go ahead and buy it or recommend it and never know that it was stolen from another free sources. Without fear of legal ramifications, the imitator has no reason to admit that the idea was not original – people would never know otherwise (unless they search around thoroughly and somehow find the original). Without knowing the original creator, those customers that should be going to the originator are instead going to the imitator, and there’s nothing that the originator can do about it.

As far as changing or improving upon a pre-existing idea, that’s all well and good – it certainly creates competition in the market, which is advantageous for the customer – but how big does a change have to be for it to count as an original idea? Could I take the iPod, make the clickwheel a little bit bigger and the screen more HD and throw some extra knickknacks on it, and call it a totally original design? We’ve seen repeatedly in history this abuse taking place – an imitator takes a good pre-existing idea, tweaks it in a really minimal and irrelevant way, and reaps the financial rewards due to claiming it being an original idea. I call bullshit on that.

I don’t think my argument assumes that people know the source, only that it is highly likely they will find out eventually. Remember, this is the internet we’re talking about here. It’s just not practical to claim another’s work as your own when the consequences of discovery are so high. Most of the time, people supposedly doing this are actually adding some kind of value that others appreciate: a collection of others’ stories, song remixes, photographs of paintings.
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I think the key here is realizing that no idea is completely original, but is instead built upon what came before. In the iPod example, other companies have been doing just that. Not only the stuff by Creative or Microsoft, but the knock-off “iPods” hawked by street vendors in major cities. The reason the iPod sells so well has nothing to do with IP, but rather with good design, utility, and brand loyalty. If somebody can tweak an existing design in a minimal way and truly reap large financial rewards, they deserve it. There’s nothing stopping the original company from adding the same feature as well.
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Nobody gets the “right” to a monopoly over what they do. If they create something people like, they will be copied (if not here, than overseas). Simple imitators don’t stand to gain much because they will always be a step behind the real innovators. Competing innovators create a robust marketplace by challenging the originator to continually improve and promote themselves. The only thing we lose is the ability for a small group of shortsighted individuals to legally hold back innovation and stifle creativity just to make a few extra dollars.

[…] As I’ve said before, sponsoring the continued expansion of permission culture is extraordinarily damaging to the creative community. If indeed this artist encouraged another ill-conceived rush to stifle the expression of others, he’s made himself an embarrassment. None of those infringing activities diminish his ability to make money from what he does, and if he can’t figure that out, he’s not only doing it wrong, he is unworthy of being called an artist. […]

[…] As I’ve said before, sponsoring the continued expansion of permission culture is extraordinarily damaging to the creative community. If indeed this artist encouraged another ill-conceived rush to stifle the expression of others, he’s made himself an embarrassment. None of those infringing activities diminish his ability to make money from what he does, and if he can’t figure that out, he’s not only doing it wrong, he is unworthy of being called an artist. […]

I do like the sentence “If somebody copying what you do is devastating, you’re doing it wrong.”

I think it hits the point. There are for sure more advanced way to run a software business, and more ethical, too.

Thanks for the suggestions.

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