Content Creation Is An Evolutionary Process

from the where's-the-darwin-of-copyright? dept

We recently wrote about Julian Sanchez’s video explanation of how culture is often a more important part of remix culture than the remix itself. That is, the act of sharing an experience with others is often the key to culture, and those that focus on the content alone often seem to miss this aspect of it, which explains why they often seek to limit the ability to share that culture through copyright. Of course, as with any such debate, when supporters of stronger copyright fail to have significant reasoning for how to counter such an argument, they tend to fall back on the “but it’s not art” or “if that’s the type of creativity that we get from remixing, we’re better off with out it” types of arguments. That is, they begin to focus on the subjective quality of the content, not realizing that such content often isn’t directed at them as a target audience, and the people it is directed at, who do enjoy it, really don’t care what they think.

Julian has now built on that discussion, first pointing out how obnoxious it is to denigrate these works of art, when nearly all artwork comes from similar derivative processes, but then taking it a step further to point out how the creative process is evolutionary:

Current intellectual property law frowns on “copying” as opposed to mere “influence.” If I write and record a song that is manifestly influenced by the sound of the Beatles, that’s just how culture works; if I remix or reperform a medley of their songs, that’s infringing. One way to think about the distinction is to ask how much mutation of the original work has occurred in my head before I send it out into the world. We can imagine my sitting with a guitar playing “Taxman,” beginning by improvising new lyrics, and gradually altering the melody until I’ve produced a song that is sufficiently transformed to count as an original work, though perhaps still a recognizably Beatlesesque one. I’m free and clear under copyright law just so long as I only record and distribute the final product, which consists of enough of my own contribution that it no longer counts as a “copy.”

Implicit in this model is the premise that creativity is fundamentally an individual enterprise–an act of intelligent design. Yet so much of our culture, historically, has not been produced in this way, but by a collective process of mutation and evolution, by the selection of many small tweaks that (whether by chance or owing to some stroke of insight) improve the work, at least in the eyes of the next person to take it up. Perhaps ironically, this is the kind of evolutionary process by which myths evolve–myths of life breathed into mud, or of Athena springing full-grown from the head of Zeus. Our legal system now takes these evolved myths as its paradigm of creation.

In the past, we’ve frequently made the point when it comes to innovation, inventing and patents that innovation is a process, rather than a single burst. In fact, innovation is an ongoing process that never ends. And yet, patents treat innovation as a once-and-done “flash of genius” sort of thing, despite little evidence that innovation ever happens this way. Effectively, this is the same argument that Julian is making, but for content, rather than innovation. And it makes a lot of sense. The problem that we’ve seen with patents, where sticking monopoly rights and privileges into the middle of that process leads to hindering the forward progress of that process by limiting how others can continue the innovation, can also apply to content and copyright:

The Romantic model of creativity as an individual act of genius excludes the form cultural creation has taken throughout most of human history, and the legal regime best suited to promote and incentivize individual acts of creation on the Romantic model may be quite hostile to the aggregative process of creation on an evolutionary or peer-produced model. The law says, in effect, that we will protect creativity that occurs all at once, in one brain, or at least as the upshot of a planned and organized effort–but at the cost of forbidding the individually derivative elements of distributed and spontaneous creation.

The point of all of this becomes clear quite quickly, once you think about it. We often have copyright defenders in our comments make a statement like: “please show me any new content that is actively hindered by copyright.” But, of course, that’s trying to show a negative. How do you show the content that wasn’t created? But what Julian is pointing out is that so much content really is an iterative, derivative, transformative process, but the monopoly rights put forth by copyright law effectively hinder that process in the false belief that creativity and content creation is separate from such a process, but springs fresh from the minds of geniuses, without acknowledging the fact that they are merely building on the works of those before them.

Content creation is an evolutionary process. Stifling evolution through blocking important mutations via copyright law creates a loss for society and culture, and doesn’t seem to “promote the progress” at all.

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Comments on “Content Creation Is An Evolutionary Process”

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PEBKAC (profile) says:

Content creation is an evolutionary process. Stifling evolution through blocking important mutations via copyright law creates a loss for society and culture, and doesn’t seem to “promote the progress” at all.

That’s what frightens me most, the strangling of culture. Nothing is created without a lifetime of influences, concious and subconcious, yet the extremes of copyright would dare to make the opposite assumption and make criminals of us all in the process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Have to agree here, R&D, invention and innovation are all iterative processes. Our current copyright and IP laws can make it difficult to avoid coming up with the same ideas that others have had. When you get deep into the bowels of a project some things just become obvious, the first one to write it down wins and thats where the problem comes in. There needs to be room for derivitive works and independent invention.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sure, this makes sense if art is controlled by artists! But everyone knows that true art is controlled by lawyers.

Artists shouldn’t be able to make art until they’ve asked a lawyer. For $100/hour. And if you’re a poor and starving artist who cannot afford to consult a lawyer than maybe it’s time you got a real job?

Fucking artists, always thinking they know better than the lawyers. The arogance of the artistic mind baffles me.

These lawyers went to law school! Where do artists go? Art school? To learn collage? Ha! Don’t make me laugh.

Collage is stealing. Ask any lawyer. True story.

Weatherby Swann says:


Has anyone listened to the radio recently? Time after time I hear the same beats sampled, lyrics used, and names chosen but yet these people are making really good livings. I see film makers picking and choosing different styles from older directors/actors and making a new work of art. I.E. Tarantino. Culture moves forward, and quickly at that. Yet you all seem to think that right now I can’t go paint/sing/produce anything because I’ll be sued into the ground by copyright holders. That’s not true, I won’t. Example: I will make a new song. I will sample from the Beatles. I will copyright it. Because I’m the artist, and I want to protect my work from those who would not pay for it, that’s how I make a living. No one is preventing you from getting to any sort of culture, you just have to pay a fair price for it and you would pay far less then your over dramatic whining would have others believe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Possibly of interest:

In Praise of Creative Freedom 5 (Includes mention of a work that wasn’t made, since it would have been derived from the Beatles’ “Elenor Rigby”.
In Praise of Creative Freedom 4 (Re-using old tunes for songs on matters of current interest.)
In Praise of Creative Freedom 3 (Challenges the Eldred majority’s contemptuous dismissal of “other peoples’ speeches”.)
In Praise of Creative Freedom 2. (“They used to call [musical borrowing] ‘stealing’ and ‘plagiarism’ until Pete [Seeger] came along and re-named it ‘the folk process'”. Cumulative authorship of the words to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.)
In Praise of Creative Freedom (G. F. Handel’s borrowing.)

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Preaching to the choir

I’m curious about the anti-copyright, anti-patent discussions. Everyone gets worked up about it, but is it really going to make a difference? Unless there is worldwide lobbying to change the laws (with someone or some organization footing the bill for the bill), what will change?

It seems to me that the best way to move forward is to convince current content creators to make their works freely available and not worry about what has gone on it the past.

Given how difficult to get much of anything passed in Congress these days, I don’t seem much changing on this front any time soon.

Weatherby Swann says:

How did I not answer the question? I payed the Beatles for their songs by buying them. If it gets to the point I owe them more royalties because my work is in wide release great!

I don’t understand how there is such concern of oppression of culture creation? There just isn’t. Distribution of your work is easier than in any point in history and if your work includes more than just ideas, i.e. the beat, of another artist you should pay them for it, hence copyrights.

You aren’t entitled to anything other than the ability to consume culture legally and as of today that is a right you all still have. As such culture continues to grow.

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