“All Creative Work is Derivative”

I could watch this video forever. Such a beautiful illustration of how creativity is always based on inspiration, a continous process of copy and remix.

Made by Nina Paley and uploaded on the “questioncopyright” channel. However, when it comes to that discussion, I can’t globally take sides. Conditions differ so much for different creative spheres, business models, even individuals.

It’s a big difference whether you need money for a large book project in advance, collectively produce it with editors and designers at a publishing house and then co-depend on sales. Or whether you freelance for a daily newspaper, do most of the work on your own, sell everything under Buy-Out conditions and hardly make a living. Those are just two of the many, many ways the reality of a creative might look like. Music, literature, art, journalism – even within these branches there are so many differences.

I don’t believe that the few successful crowdfunded films or podcasters living on Flattr money prove anything – yet. But one thing is for sure: Things will change, legally and economically. Our perceptions of creativity, originality and copying are already shifting. How fundamental will those changes be? That’s what the ongoing and coming struggles of interests, power, and cultures will decide. I’m really, really curious how this will all look like, ten years from now.

3 Gedanken zu „“All Creative Work is Derivative”“

  1. We can choose to focus on the question of business models.

    But we can also focus on the question of freedom: when (if ever) should an artist or a publishing company have the right to tell people they can’t share culture with each other? Remember, we’re not talking about credit here — proper attribution is important, and plagiarism is simply a form of fraud and should be banned both by custom and (if needed) by law. That’s fine. But copying and sharing have nothing to do with that problem. They’re just how people communicate with each other and build a culture together.

    Our message at QuestionCopyright.org is that freedom is more important than supporting particular ways of doing business, especially since most art is not paid for via those ways in the first place.

    Ask the counter-question: has traditional monopoly-based publishing “succeeded” in supporting artists? How would you measure it if it did? Is asking artists to restrict the spread of their work really the best way to support them, even economically?


  2. Hi Karl,

    thanks a lot for your comment.

    I think freedom is great, and I wish we would not only share cultural goods, but all goods freely.

    I don’t want to bore you with this old argument purported by publishers and others, but I think there is some truth to it: That if you support the free circulation of cultural works, you should also freely share other goods, goods that people might need even more than a song or video.

    People from the copyright side would put it this way: Oh yeah, you want to share our song / movie / book for free, then why don’t you go to the gas station or bakery and ask if you can get THAT for free?

    Of course, there is a crucial difference in that gas and bread are not copyable in the same way that – for example – a video can be losslessly copied. And so it’s true to say, hey, these are apples and oranges!

    But on the other hand, both goods, be they copyable or not, are currently produced under various circumstances that help the makers make a living.

    One aspect is the business model, the other (connected one) the legal side: What kinds of contracts do I have with my publisher, and my publisher with me? And all around that, there is historical context, which has created power relations. Who gets to decide what contract we have, me or the publisher, or both of us in a fair compromise?

    The business model, the market and the legal conditions decide how much we make from that work, who of us gets what share, and then we can think about, whether that is just or not and if it’s possible to free the work for public use later.

    As you write, many of those conditions do not favor the artist, musician, author. They favor the publisher, label, or company. But there are also circumstances in which the interests of both are more aligned. So I think it would be unfair to just use this one argument to ask why copyright isn’t good in the first place. If it was really benefitting authors and artists, who depended on it, then questioning copyright would become a bit harder to argue.

    If there was a system to ask the creator more directly for permission to use her work in yours, then things would be a lot easier – I think the CC licenses are a great step into that direction.

    The reality in which copyright has evolved nowadays is not acceptable, and not practicable. In the case of Buy-Out conditions, the money does not end up where it belongs. And on the user or sharer side, people who share snippets in social networks can’t be blamed or even sued for doing that. Linking is the nature of the web. Even if Facebook or Google started using snippets “illegally” without asking the publishers, it’s now such an integral part of how we share information, that noone has the right to take it away anymore.

    I also think – as you write – the freedom to share, copy and remix has a lot of benefits: education, artistic freedom, preservation of knowledge and art and the right to enjoy collective cultural works.

    Sharing other ressources such as food, medicine, energy, and the responsibility for environmental impact, might have similar or even greater benefits. It would be a fairer, better world, with less mutual exploitation, a world with a just distribution of money or no money at all. In any case we could get rid of the speculative financial system, because noone would depend on prices and hopes anymore.

    It would be wonderful to live in a sharing culture. Will we find a form of “socialism”, unlikes the unfortunate ones that have been tried, that is compatible with human nature? I don’t know.

    If you distinguish between freedom to share cultural goods that people make a living with, and other goods and services such as food or a haircut, how do you justify it? I’m sure you’ve heard the question many times.

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