“This is evolution. Copy, Transform and Combine”
This is how author-director Kirby Ferguson sums up his Theory of Creativity. In his four parts webseries, Everything is a Remix, he argues: “copying is how we learn. We can’t introduce anything new until we’re fluent in the language of our domain, and we do that through emulation”. In other words, to copy in order to create. To emulate in order to find your own originality. It’s always been done in the technological field, from James Watt to Steve Jobs. In the musical field, from Ray Charles to Bob Dylan (also, see this article about my Beloved Hero, Bruce Springsteen). In the cinematic field, from Walt Disney to Quentin Tarantino. Nothing new about that.
In the fourth part of the series, System Failure, Ferguson gets to real point: remix vs copyright laws. But let’s come back a little bit. US Founding Fathers conceived the 1870 Copyright Act as an “act for the encouraging of learning”, and the Patent Act as a mean “to promote the progress of useful Arts”. In short, they wanted to patronize and foster creativity by granting inventors a certain profit; at the same time, they meant to produce a rich pool of public domain.
Now, here comes the Corporations, which gradually transformed public domain into exclusive domain through an abuse of the Copyright and Patent Act: these laws were born to protect creativity. Now, they only protect the ones that own that creativity: as I said, corporations. What’s the aim of these Acts now? To maximize corp. earnings, instead of creativity and public knowledge.
At the end of the series, Ferguson calls for a renewed social awareness: “We live in an age with daunting problems. We need the best ideas possible, we need them now, we need them to spread fast. The common good is a meme that was overwhelmed by intellectual property. It needs to spread again. If the meme prospers, our laws, our norms, our society, they all transform. That’s social evolution and it’s not up to governments or corporations or lawyers… it’s up to us”.
So, I already said what I think about it in here. The problem here is a market failure: society has already understood how digital era works and it’s therefore taking back its common goods. The problem, now, is that institutions need to understand it too. They need to copy, transform and combine in order to evolve.
PS: the Italian version of this article is available on Carnage News.