image found here
This was such a simple concept when we were young, no? That was either my copy of Nancy Drew's The Clue of the Broken Locket, or it was yours. At that time ownership was determined by who paid for what. Later, as we got a bit older, possession determined ownership. I am currently holding this bongo drum, therefore, for the duration of this music class, said bongo drum belongs to yours truly. As adults, what "belongs" to us becomes something different. We claim ownership of things we can't or perhaps shouldn't really own, like people, as in "that's my boyfriend." The word "mine" becomes muddled, subject to both the laws of the land as well as those that govern society.
Ownership, like most things, ultimately becomes a question of economics. If there is a chance for money to be made we all clamor to become rightful "owners" of things. Like domain names, property, both physical and intellectual, material items, you name it...we are a culture that likes to own stuff.
Today I read a blog post by scrapbook designer Keisha Campbell. I've been a follower of hers since she lived in Beijing and was a Bit Far-East. I always loved her timeless feminine style with just a enough vintage to satisfy my grandmotherly soul. I adored her type treatments-that delicate combination of script and serif. True, it wasn't as though she owned that stylistic combination, but I personally came to look upon it as a hallmark of her work. Does that mean she owned it? No it doesn't, nor was it something she ever claimed. Rather, she openly shared her art and encouraged others to be inspired by it.
So that begs the question. If it is openly shared, does that make it available for public consumption?
Let me say right now that I am not an attorney, though I have consulted attorneys in respect to this very question. I am not an expert on copyright law. I am just a collector of information. A researcher to my core and I like to talk things out. In my very first graphic design course my professor spent a long time lecturing on this subject. It would become somewhat of a constant in my life as budding graphic designer. He discussed words like "proprietary" and whether one could own an idea. He talked about the difference between theft and inspiration. For the record, there seemed to be little difference sometimes. I found it increasingly hard to know what was mine and what wasn't. What if I had an idea, only to discover...when showing our work in a gallery setting that I was not the only one to have that very same idea. UGH...was I wrong to think myself an original? My professor would do that to illustrate a point. We all inhabit the same earth and as such are subject to the same stimuli. Many of us fancy the same fashions, the same books, the same blogs...oh, I could go on and on. So, if you think in terms of mathematics, the likelihood of us having the same or similar idea is very high...even when you figure in the sheer volume of ideas to be had. Factor in similar backgrounds, geographic locations, education and the like and the numbers exponentially increase. Even that fellow with a beautiful mind struggled to have a perfectly original idea.
That said, do we owe the world credit for inspiring us so? Perhaps this is a personal thing but I would say Yes and No. When I was doing a great deal of branding work I found myself collecting copious amounts of information. That was my process and yes, I billed for it. I felt it necessary to see and gather as much as I could pertaining to the work I was doing. Was it incumbent upon me to credit everyone and everything that led me to the work I finally submitted? uhuh, I don't think so. Occasionally a client would show me a logo and say "i want something like that." Eek, dangerous territory. It then became my job to dig and find what it was about a particular image that moved my client and use THAT as my foundation...anything beyond that was derivative and the waters begin to get murky.
My husband and I work in similar fields. He gets paid for ideas. It is not unusual to have the exact same idea as someone he has never met. It is part of a collective consciousness and thus unavoidable. The unknown in the equation is YOU. Keisha is rightfully upset because there is someone out there using her ideas and claiming them as her own. Someone who has blurred the lines between theft and inspiration. Someone who she feels is infringing upon what she owns. As an artist, her aesthetic is her property.
Do I agree with this? Kinda. Although I have unresolved feelings about the idea of ownership in general, I do believe Keisha is entitled to credit from this other source. It makes me a bit sad, perhaps because I know this can be a hard fight. I have had people actually request to purchase items from my shop while simultaneously telling me they are in the process of making their own. HUH? Why do you want mine if you're making your own? I figured out a few weeks later why she wanted mine. I know because I saw "her version" in her shop. What was I to do? Refuse to sell them to her? I guess I subscribe to what Bruce Mau said, "Imitate.
Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable."
The truth is, I still haven't worked out how I feel about all of this...hence this long windy blog post. Some days I am all...it's free for the taking, nothing's original, blasted ego, just relax and let people take what they want and use it how they see fit. Other days...when I find myself being compared to somebody when in truth, perhaps that somebody should be compared to me, I take a deep breath and go outside. Those days I feel as though life isn't fair. Those days I get angry and rail against all the Goliaths who would rather steal from David then come up with their own dang stuff. Those days I'm so pissed I can hardly see straight. But then I get a grip and remember that I too have stood on the shoulders of others. The best I can say is be straight up. I tend to think that a person knows when they are taking something they shouldn't be taking. "Borrowing" a bit too much, and if they don't get it...well then I suppose they've got bigger fish to fry.
The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
-Incomplete Manifesto for Growth