The Small Matter of Creative Zeitgeist
Published on 01.18.10
I was recently on one of my more vociferous tirades… something to do with prolific creative theft, copying and piracy… about the flagrant disregard for the rights of fellow creatives (and their livelihoods). How can everyone be so dishonest and selfish? As always, reason found me eventually and calm returned. This time it came in the form of a lawyer friend… She rightly pointed out that in many (if not most) cases involving copyrights there is no clear antagonist, no obvious victim. Put simply: both parties often feel that they are in the right.
This situation can come about for a number of cases
One example is when an unscrupulous third party is involved. For instance, a respectable company may hire a shifty “designer” to design a new logo and end up with copied work which they end up trying to defend a few years later by suing the actual owner.
Another possible scenario is subconscious copying. On a small level we all unknowingly copy parts of each other’s ideas, ‘looks’ and styles every day, the question here is where to draw the line and the law is usually pretty specific about that.
But perhaps the greatest cause of these confusingly common “perp-free” cases is simply that sometimes two people come up with bizarrely similar work at the same time. No!… Yes! Why?
Because 1) There is nothing new under the sun and 2) we all operate in the same or similar Zeitgeist* especially in today’s globalised and online world.
It’s also becoming far easier to find similar work because of the sheer number of creative’s operating on the web.
Your next great piece of copy is a result of your inspiration and approach that, in a global world, may be frighteningly similar to mine. And your resulting work may be too (especially if it’s simple work – a four word payoff line or a clean, simple logo or name).
If you’re at the edge of your art/science, look to the left and right of you. You’re not alone. It’s possible that others are stepping on remarkably similar territory, coming from the same collective sources of inspiration, solving the same problems, developing at similar speeds, and approaching their crafts using the same tools and methods. Remember Nylon? Invented, so the story goes, in New York and London separately but simultaneously.
Take for example the proliferation of ‘love brands’ three years ago. Love was, very literally, in the air: Love your skinTM, love yourself TM, juice is love TM, we are love TM, I’m lovin’ itTM . love love love… grey is the new black, yellow is the new grey. Then there were the three word payoff lines: simpler, better, faster TM; today, tomorrow, together TM, “word, word, word”.
Recycling is in (so too is brown paper and energy saving ‘dark sites’), bling is out… oh no wait, it’s back in. Illustrator has a new gradient plug-in, the word “unfriend” has just been added to the dictionary.
Design, writing, photography, all of the creative arts sit on a greater platform called zeitgeist and as we develop together similar ideas and work emerges from entirely disparate sources. It happens.
Now bear in mind that blatant copyright infringements are also commonplace
The danger of the whole zeitgeist thing is that it can be branded about as an excuse.
But in cases such as these, more so than in any other, it boils down to WHO WAS FIRST. See where I’m going with this? And remember my zeitgeist take on things is just my take on things – perhaps another of the subjective tirades I seem to be so fond of. But then again, perhaps you’ve had mysteriously similar thoughts yourself? Perhaps we’re standing together at the cutting edge of copyright philosophy? Perhaps you yourself are a writer and you’ve written/are writing a little piece similar to this yourself? Maybe it’s very very similar.
Whatever the case, I’m cool with it. But be warned: if you do in fact copy me then sleep with one eye open. I’ve already uploaded this article on Myows.com and I WILL take you down.
*Zeitgeist roughly translates to “the spirit of the time”. See more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeitgeist