The recent Apple/Iphone vs Android and Apple/Iphone vs Samsung battles have got me thinking about creativity. People often compliment me and ask me how I move the way I do as I dance. It is a nice little ego trip to say the music and my partner moved me, inspired me. That is true, indeed, but those moves are not patented and if anyone was to look hard enough I am sure that they would find places and people who have done the various pieces of the dance moves before. After all, “good artists copy, great artists steal,” as Pablo Picasso said.
It is the American way to believe that we are unique, that we think up the new, the original. We are the independent, the “pull-up yourself by the bootstraps” kind of people, self-made. After all isn’t that part of the American dream, the “rags to riches” story that anyone can be
a part of? Along with that is the idea of copyright, patents, and the ownership of property. It is all about loss aversion. After all if we invent something we want to benefit from it, and don’t want others to take advantage of our hard earned success. But, it is ok to steal something – someone or others hard earned knowledge – change it, and make something new.
If we carefully look at most inventions and success we see that the knowledge required was already pre-existing – just copied, changed, and combined in a new way. Take the patented Apple multi-touch that was introduced on the iphone in 2007. That technology was in use since the 1980s. So, how does patenting a specific application of multi-touch by Apple “promote the progress of the arts” – creativity – as described by the Patent Act of 1790, and is it really that unique? If the android is a stolen product what about the iphone?
We need to carefully examine current use and processes of patent law and copyright. One controversial example in a different field has been the patenting of plant genes by commercial companies that take advantage of the knowledge that traditional cultures have of medicinal plants. Such use of patents, for profiting through property ownership, makes me question whether the laws we have are fulfilling their purpose, or whether they have to be adjusted to the new realities of today.
All is not lost as people have been questioning and exploring alternatives. There are fairly mainstream options, such as open source software, the creative commons, and more, that encourage creativity, while still giving rights to authors and contributors. The photo by Brett Jordan, is shared under a creative commons license, for example. And to hear more on creativity via copy/change/combine, such as music greats like Bob Dylan, there is an interesting talk by Kirby Ferguson, on TED.com.
I am not advocating an one approach fits all strategy, but simply suggesting that we dare to disagree. To see where we need to change in order not to stifle creativity. I agree with Kirby Ferguson when he says, “We are not self-made. We are dependent on one another. Admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness, it’s a liberation from our misconceptions. And it is an incentive not to expect so much from ourselves, but simply begin” – being creative.