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Our Desire to Own Ideas is Damaging Evolution

Throughout history we have strived to own the things we create, from new products to new ideas, we want to protect our creations from others.

One of the earliest examples of this was in Italy as early as 1450, with the invention of patents. Patents were granted to glassblowers in Venice to protect the new and inventive glass styles and textures created.

After the invention of patents in Italy it took another 200 years before the next significant copyright act was established in the UK to protect the printing press, with the Licensing of the Press Act created in 1662 by Charles II.

The next copyright legislation came in 1891 with the creation of the International Copyright Act of 1891 in America. Together these three major developments slowly seeded the concept that you can legally own an idea.

Ownership Overload
From here the flood gates opened. You can now legally own almost everything – a book, a song, a name, a phrase, a colour, a typeface or even a web domain.

In 2015, Columbia Pictures hired Entura International, a copyright ‘troll’ to send Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices to people who posted their copyrighted film clips – an understandable but extreme use of the law considering that many companies are usually happy for clips to be shared “freely” in order to increase the publicity of a film or product.

This was then superseded by an even more extreme measure, when the company sent takedown notices to all Vimeo videos containing the word “Pixels” in the title, including the 2010 award winning short film the movie is based on and the official movie trailer to name a few (source: wikipedia.org).

It feels like copyright laws started with the good intention of protecting creative ideas but these are now, more than ever, being exploited to protect profits rather than protecting creativity. As much as I completely understand the need to own an idea I am also saddened that copyrights are having a negative impact on creative industries.

Sharing is Caring
In design, there is an unwritten ‘freedom of generation’ rule that allows designers to re-create what they see for the sake of evolution in design. When we enable others to shape and amend our ideas we open up to a new generation who can offer a fresh perspective that can often enhance the original product or design.

It’s not just about enhancement as sharing ideas can also enable others to learn from your mistakes, making life more efficient and enabling us to evolve.

We need to ensure that there are clear examples of the benefits of sharing design in the public domain to encourage people to be open about their work. Currently it seems that the voice of the copyright industry is far louder than the voice of creative industries.

We need to demonstrate the damaging impact of copyright restrictions and the benefits of expanding on ideas, in the words of new-wave film director Jean-Luc Godard: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”