Yesterday I wrote about an interview Corey Doctorow gave to the Bizarre Assemblage in which he talks about how wrong-headed enforcement of copyright law interferes with creative progress. He talks about copying as the source of learning, refinement and, ultimately, improvement. Doctorow speaks on this theme a lot.
I have been carrying around this quote from that article all day: “[I]f we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that everything we do is creative and everything we do becomes plumbing for the next creative act.”
This is a lovely, direct way to say a very powerful thing. Humans are creative. We create things. Being creative is what makes us unique. Current copyright law focuses very much on the need to protect fixed expressions from theft. That is not a bad impulse. People who create things deserve credit for those things. People who make a living creating things deserve fair compensation for creating those things. No argument there. The problem arrives in the overreach. We have fetishized the end product so much that we have missed the point of what we are actually doing when we create something.
The artistic products we value — the books, movies, paintings, poems, stories, pictures, drawings, performances, music — have value because they transfer ideas. New artistic works don’t spring up from nowhere. They come from previous works. They take ideas and comment on them, enlarge them, refocus them, refute them. Artistic products tell us about ourselves and tell the people who come after us about ourselves as well.
I am very, very interested in the idea that art is really just a conversation. That the point of any creative work is simply to give someone else an idea so that they can do a creative work that will give someone else an idea so that they can do a creative work and so on.
When we think of ourselves this way, the work we do, all the work we do, becomes an inspiration factory. We are always building the plumbing for the next creative act. The goal is not really to write a book or make a movie or paint a picture or write a program. The goal is to propagate our best ideas, to move the species forward by mixing thoughts and ideas in a mad foam where the best ideas can combine, survive, mutate and grow.
Biology gives the example. This isn’t a one to one transfer where you give me an idea then I give the next guy an idea. This is pollination. A mad spray of ideas, inspiration and perception which mixes together in weird, unexpected, powerful ways.
We cannot control the outcomes of our creative output. Maybe we can’t even really understand it. That’s why the impulse to control and limit creative copying is a bad thing. We are limiting ourselves before we have even had a chance to see what we are capable of doing.