Innovation, Copying And Civil Disobedience

from the moving-the-discussion-forward dept

We recently took Jon Taplin to task for his comments insulting Nina Paley’s artwork, because he did not agree with her viewpoint that disobeying copyright law for the sake of making new art was a form of “intellectual disobedience.” The debate spilled over to Twitter for a while, in which it went a bit all over the map, before Taplin did issue what appears to be a sincere apology, along with a blog post, which he said he hoped would move the debate forward (unfortunately, that blog post contains yet another backhanded slap at Paley’s art — which he calls “what she claims to be art”).

That said, since we’re always about “moving the debate forward,” rather than arguing over old points, we might as well do that — and Taplin’s blog post, does in fact, bring some new things to the debate that are worth discussing. First, though, as a preamble, to those who haven’t been a part of “the debate,” I might as well catch you up by posting the in-person debate between me and Jonathan that happened a few weeks ago at the Tech Policy Summit (but was only recently posted online). It runs 45 minutes, starting off slow but gets more and more lively as it goes on:

Okay. Now that you’re caught up, the Taplin’s blog post reasonably asks if we’re losing our ability to innovate, as we become more focused on the ease of copying as an alternative. It’s an appealing thought, but one that I don’t believe survives significant scrutiny. However, let’s start at the top. Taplin points to an article called Infinite Stupidity by evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel. It makes some very interesting arguments, talking about evolution, and wonders if humans are evolving away from being innovative. The basis of this is as follows:

If I’m living in a population of people, and I can observe those people, and see what they’re doing, seeing what innovations they’re coming up with, I can choose among the best of those ideas, without having to go through the process of innovation myself. So, for example, if I’m trying to make a better spear, I really have no idea how to make that better spear. But if I notice that somebody else in my society has made a very good spear, I can simply copy him without having to understand why.

What this means is that social learning may have set up a situation in humans where, over the last 200,000 years or so, we have been selected to be very, very good at copying other people, rather than innovating on our own. We like to think we’re a highly inventive, innovative species. But social learning means that most of us can make use of what other people do, and not have to invest the time and energy in innovation ourselves.

Now, why wouldn’t we want to do that? Why wouldn’t we want to innovate on our own? Well, innovation is difficult. It takes time. It takes energy.

The fear then, is that, as a species, we become “docile copiers” rather than innovators. In fact, as he later argues (in the paragraph that Taplin highlights on his blog), Pagel questions if the internet is leading to a situation where “copiers are probably doing better than innovators” because we don’t have to innovate to get by. It’s an interesting theory from an evolutionary perspective, but not one borne out by economics or history, unfortunately, which have studied this particular issue much more closely. Of course, throughout history there are numerous examples of people insisting that we had reached the pinnacle of innovation and there was nothing more to be done. And every time, they’re proven not just wrong, but laughably so.

Innovation may be “hard,” but it’s also incredibly rewarding. If you want to read a very long, but absolutely fascinating and worthwhile book on the subject, I highly recommend Robert Friedel’s awesome A Culture of Improvement, which looks at the last thousand years of innovation to understand why do we innovate. The key finding? That we improve because we see a better way of doing things.

But — and this is the key point — the way that you see “a better way of doing things” is not to invent something new from scratch. But to see something — and, often to copy it and then to improve upon it. We, as a species, are always looking to improve. The argument that Facebook has made people perfectly docile suggests little understanding of what happens on Facebook all the time. Even just looking at Facebook alone, there are constant complaints about how it works, with suggestions on how to make it better. There are still companies launching new and different social networks, believing they can do it better.

Is there some copying going on? Yes, absolutely, but there’s no real reason to just copy for the sake of copying. It’s only if you can do it better. In fact, as the (also excellent) book by Oded Shenkar, Copycats explained, copying is often a very useful strategic weapon in figuring out how to innovate. What Shenkar’s work showed was that there is value in copying, but not merely for copying’s sake, but to take what’s been done, not to re-invent the wheel, but then to do the incremental improvements on it that can make all the difference in the world.

Going back to Nina Paley. Taplin suggests that her “art” is barely art at all, because she is one of those “docile copiers,” and thus not innovating. But this suggests a near total ignorance of Paley’s work, an incredibly innovative film, which you can see right here:

Is Nina copying? Well, it tells a variation on a classic Indian story, combined with a modern story of the main character’s own struggles. It also cleverly weaves in the music of Annette Hanshaw. Is there “copying” going on there? Sure, there are elements of copying, but it’s all for the sake of innovating. There is no way to watch that and claim that it is mere “docile copying.” Nina had a story to tell, and sought to tell it in a very innovative way. The story had certainly never been told this way. And tons of people have enjoyed the movie because of that innovation. If it were just a copy of “the same old story” people would not have enjoyed it.

And that, really, is what happens all the time. Copying is there — and it can make people upset — but it’s a key natural resource in the process of innovation. And that’s not just a random statement. As the research of many economists have suggested, it is the very nature of copying that leads to economic growth. Why? Because a copy increases the pie. Where once you had “one” copy of the resource, now you have two. And so on. It expands the pie, and makes it more possible to do things, such as innovating.

Caltech professor Carver Mead once talked about how, when things become abundant we have an obligation — not just a possibility, but an obligation — to waste that which is abundant. And that is because it creates new opportunities and expands the world and innovation even further. What is more abundant than what can be copied?

So, all of this fear of “docile copying” is, I believe, misplaced. All of that copying is generating the expanding natural resource base for further innovation, as people continue to build on that culture of improvement by saying, “hey, I can do that better.” Innovation may be hard, but when the resources are abundant, it cannot be stopped. It is our nature to seek to make things better, and when we share ideas and build and copy on our way to making things better, it is the inevitable progress that we find at the end.

I’m glad that Jonathan brought up this subject and is seeking to move this debate and discussion forward, and I look forward to continuing the back and forth — hopefully on friendlier terms.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Innovation, Copying And Civil Disobedience”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

You know who else just copies? The Chinese! I mean, they just put some people up into space, like, outer space!

Big deal.

They copied the Americans, like, totally. How innovative. Yeah, right, I’m sure that copying actually advances humanity!

And the Americans copied the Russians, anyhow. They were the first to put people into outer space and look how innovative the Russians became!

If countries really wanted to be innovative they would put people into inner space.

Your move India!

Anonymous Nina Fan says:

If you want to criticise Nina for ‘just copying’ a story in Indian culture you should first try to find a Disney film that isn’t ‘just’ a retelling of one of the Grimm’s fairy tales or other existing culture. Or you should find a play of Shakespeare’s that isn’t ‘just’ a retelling of the folklore of the time. Or ….

Hey wait, I seem to recall an article on this already.

As for the comment about “so-called art” I just can’t think of any way that Nina’s art is anything but art. Sita is entertaining, engaging, and very popular for the style of film it is. Her cartoons are witty and communicate her point well. And she’s able to make a living from her art, if you consider that some sort of validation of it. By what measure can you claim that her art is “so-called”?

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

thank you! excellent point in a pithy remark…
besides that, um, ‘evolution’ is NOT at play under such a short time period over such vague and indeterminate ‘traits’ as ‘copying’…
wtf? paley -and other ‘pirates’- is now considered a more desirable mate because of her ‘copying’ ? she now has an evolutionary advantage because she made a collage (a VERY good one, at that) ? ? ?
that’s crazy talk…
*however*, i will concede that talking about the consistent 25% of society that are authoritarians, is almost certainly related to evolutionary pressures: stupid people learn enough to know that if they do EVERYTHING the smart nekkid ape in the tribe does, they have a better chance of surviving… so they slavishly ‘copy’ everything the smart, healthy nekkid ape does, whether they ‘understand’ what they are doing or not… *that* is almost certainly why we have so many stupid sheeple who only want to do what Big Daddy tells them to do…
besides that, if i ‘copy’ Ooog’s new spear design, that requires that i already know how to make spears; *NOT* that i would have never had a spear without Ooog’s new design…
*however*, if i *STEAL* Ooog’s ACTUAL, PHYSICAL spear, *THAT* would be a sign of an unethical -but better living- nekkid ape…
hmmm, i think we’ve found the origin of the rip-off class that inhabits the RIAA/MPAA ! ! !
*that’s* where the amoral miliken’s, madoff’s and dimon’s of the world came from ! ! !
art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, absolutely, but there’s no real reason to just copy for the sake of copying.

Sure there is. You can avoid all of the money and work that went into the original. The Tupelov Tu-4 was the Russian clone of the Flying Fortress, right down to replicating the a hole mistakenly drilled in the wing of the Flying Fortress they copied (forced landing in Russia). And that’s just one example. Soviet science officials used to tour US aviation plants with special, sticky-soled to pick up bits of metal so that they could learn the composition of the alloys being used in aircraft manufacture. How much time and money do you think this saved them?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

and what content do you create that so many people want? Oh, none, you’re just a useless lawyer that monetizes other people’s content.

If you don’t like others copying or monetizing ‘your’ content then don’t create and release it. You are free to find another job. You are not free to tell me that I can’t freely copy what I want as I please. and I will make sure my government knows it. Abolish IP!!!! If any politician wants my vote he or she will seek to abolish IP.

Dreddsnik says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

” Sort of like all of the innovation around getting content for free or monetizing other people’s content “

Why, yes.
Encryption, anonymous transfers, darknets etc .. have been moving along in giant leaps and almost all because of the RIAA-MPAA- government coalition to lock down the net. Their actions are driving innovations in net technology with hurricane force, and you’ll never catch up. If they weren’t suing, lying, and lobbying there would be no need, thus less innovation. Thank you for that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Military examples are fundamentally different from the commercial perspective Mike is taking, but if you want to consider it from the perspective of the relation of innovation and copying, I can guarantee you that the americans – upon finding their work had been copied – did not throw their hands in the air and decide to quit innovating. If anything, the soviets copying the B-29 spurred more efforts into innovating improved technologies.

Also, if you want to get super-pedantic, the soviets did not make a perfect copy of the B-29 thanks to the wonders of the imperial measurement system :p

Anonymous Cowherd says:

Re: Re: Re:

And why are they fundamentally different? Because the american military couldn’t just sue the soviet union for copying them, whine to the government about how “piracy” is killing the military-industrial complex and demand people be “educated” about how “copying is bad, mm’kay.”

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sure there is. You can avoid all of the money and work that went into the original. The Tupelov Tu-4 was the Russian clone of the Flying Fortress, right down to replicating the a hole mistakenly drilled in the wing of the Flying Fortress they copied (forced landing in Russia). And that’s just one example. Soviet science officials used to tour US aviation plants with special, sticky-soled to pick up bits of metal so that they could learn the composition of the alloys being used in aircraft manufacture. How much time and money do you think this saved them?

Ha, the old myth that the Russians couldn’t innovate and hence had to copy. The reality is quite different. As everyone always does did a lot of copying – but then progressed using their own ideas ultimately producing aircraft that were ahead of anything the Americans had:

DMNTD says:


It’s an affront to a talking point imo; but that’s where it stops. How can we lose “innovation” stripes when our existence is based on improving all things around us. This “idea” is only actionable if you believe only one human initiates and idea on any one subject and then it’s just LOST forever.

So to me, it’s a non-point; and is just a perpetual argument to people who don’t want to see that we are all equal. Being such as that is, our ideas can all be realized by that equalization of our human structure to infinitude.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

In order to innovate, you must first copy.

That’s how you learn how something is done, and only then do you figure out a better way of doing it. Often because something that came easy for them or didn’t bother them is really annoying to you, and you want to fix it. Fixing it is where innovation happens.

The idea that you look at the world around you and try to come up with something brand new that never existed is such a joke. It doesn’t happen. You look around the world and simply try to make it better.

Look at operating systems – Windows, Mac OS, Linux – they are nothing but copies of each other. Ideas mimicked and slowly improved upon over decades (and some thing never improved upon). Eventually they evolve into different things, but they all started out as copies of each other, and they are not all that different.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but laziness is the father.

Anonymous Coward says:

Innovating by copying.

What do you get when you copy an impeller design, mix it with air bearings and use(copy) an old physical observation about thermal barriers from the 50’s to help designing the shape of it along with fluid dynamics?
Youtube: Sandia Cooler

A 30% improved heatsink.

I believe in observations though so when I see nature copying it itself, self replicating itself and still innovating without any real thought put into it, no real effort to change things just little changes happening over time accompanied by big changes once in a while it was able to create all that we depend on and more.

We can’t even replicate nature yet, so we have a lot to innovate, a lot of room to grow.

Liz (profile) says:

The Internet leading to “docile copiers” seems absurd in a widely connected culture that is so eager to move onto and discover the next new thing. A wave of people that try and out-do the other person for little more than boasting rights. And as soon as they’ve set a trend and done their thing, they get bored and move onto the next thing.

And in this culture of “New, Now, Next,” of attention seekers, we have people who not only try to one up others, but put their own twist on a subject. We get an unending cycle of evolution, innovation, and invention that can change things in as little as a day. Yes, there will always users and leeches and those who are content to consume. They drive the markets. They select those innovations they like and weed out the rest. And yet all it takes is one spark of inspiration to turn a consumer into a budding creator. Someone to say, “I like this and I want to do it, too!”

And how do they start? By emulating their source of inspiration.

Edgar Allen (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As a counterpoint…

“In this deceptively casual talk, Charles Leadbeater weaves a tight argument that innovation isn’t just for professionals anymore. Passionate amateurs, using new tools, are creating products and paradigms that companies can’t.”

The people used to doing things the old way almost always insist that the new way is “not as good”.

Souza was wrong when he testified to Congress that these “infernal machines” (record players) would cuase young people to lose their voices in “generation or two” just as this troll s unhappy that “young people do not work hard enough” at creating. Like choosing what to include and exclude are not creative choices.

I think that some guilds even tried to have printing presses banned because Monks would not be able to get paid to copy manuscripts anymore.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Evolution of evolution

I agree that we’re innovative as a species. We not only improve on what others have done, we rapidly adapt it and change it to suit “the tribe’s” circumstances at the time.

If, as speculated, we survived the last ice age while the Neanderthal didn’t, it was because we could not only innovate, we could communicate the innovation where they couldn’t. The branch of humanity that appeared, on the surface, better adapted to what was going on at the time survived. The Neanderthal did not. Sub tropical homo sapiens survived and we’re now the alpha predator on this planet. Archeological evidence appears very clear on that.

We’ve never stopped innovating. It’s gotten us to where we are today, even if it’s spectacularly backfired on us at times. (Easter Island.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Evolution of evolution

This is why innovation in the tech industry has such a quick turn around time. As soon as you buy something, it’s not 6 months until your model or version of software is surpassed or even obsolete.

Some suggest that we will evolve into a point of Singularity,

… something similar to AI & a sci-fi idea of super computers where technology will be able to notice connections (akin to more humanistic mental faculties) and act upon/suggest changes– software/hardware will eventually be able to analyze its own data, see opportunity for improvement, and improve upon itself… kinda like this:

…or that animated Shane Acker/Tim Burton film “9”.

I know that’s not exactly on topic, but most of my primary comentary has already been well expressed by others.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

I’m sure the Chinese didn’t add to what they’d copied so that, in their mind, they did it better.

If by inner space you mean the floor of the oceans private groups are already doing that including the fella that made Titanic and Avatar whose been fascinated with the ocean since making Titanic.

Though given what we humans have done to the surface of this planet when we’ve turned spots of it into tourist traps I have this feeling that we should stay out of inner space until we figure out how to clean up after ourselves.

As for the broad meaning of your post it sounds to me to be similar to what people said about the Linux when it first appeared. “There’s nothing innovative about that! They’re just copying!” Which ignored the itches kernel developers wanted to scratch that have resulted in evolutionary changes to the OS.

This “copy” now controls the internet, the Mars rovers, satellites, computer systems on USN and RN warships, telco switching systems and much much more. It’s been adapted to all manner of situations and applications. Not bad for something that was dismissed, at first, as not innovative or as “old technology” by Windows fanboys.

When we start off with a copy we can “stand on the shoulders of giants” as Sir Issac Newton observed. Notice I said start off. From there we improve and innovate something newer and better. Innovation doesn’t spring from nowhere or occur in a vacuum. Invention doesn’t just happen.

Most often, it starts with a copy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Most often, it starts with a copy.

That is true and there’s nothing wrong with it. But the point is that those that build out almost entirely on the innovations of others ought to compensate the innovator for the time and money invested in the original. That is what patent law tries to do. Admittedly, there needs to be revisions in what is indeed worthy of a new patent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Why ought they?

That innovator has built on the time and effort and work of others. Did they compensate those others? Did they compensate whoever innovated money? Did they compensate the innovators of the very language they use to record their patents?

There is no ought about it. There’s no moral imperative and no law of physics imperative.

There might be some good reason to do so, but that reason needs to be explicated and examined and the outcomes and measures taken in respect of it need to be constantly judged against it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“But the point is that those that build out almost entirely on the innovations of others ought to compensate the innovator for the time and money invested in the original.”

This is your arbitrary opinion. I disagree with your arbitrary moral standards.

“That is what patent law tries to do.”

IP law is unethical and should be abolished. No one is entitled to a govt. granted monopoly privilege and the govt. has no business trying to ensure that people are compensated for their works.

The only purpose IP law should serve should be a social benefit to the public interest, not to those who innovate. That you are making these laws about something else is more reason to abolish them. If the public interest is best served without these laws then they ought to be abolished because those who get patents are only harming the public and not helping it and so they are only imposing a burden, not a contribution, to society.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m not going to argue that point. It would take too long and far too many words here to go into how that was done in the days before patents when the innovations were done by people in the city-state, tribe or other small unit as were the subsequent ones. So the originator, at least as far back as could be traced, was rewarded.

I did say, as well that innovation and invention never takes place in a vacuum. Something precedes it. And what makes further innovation possible is what came before it.

GuyFromV says:

That “better spear” analogy seems to be ignoring the fact that the spear that everyone in his scenario is being accused of lazily aping had to be a really badass spear that accomplishes everything the copier needed in the first place or else that spear wouldn’t have satisfied his needs. That cool spear had to be invented at some point by someone else in the past, just not the spearless dork who the analogy focuses on. Just because that spear isn’t as new as one that could have possibly been invented by spearless dork doesn’t mean that humanity has hit the evolutionary wall or doomed to die off because spearless dork found that he didn’t really need a spear with a blu-ray player on it. Or something.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Is another factor “killing” out ability to innovate, our ability to make bad laws allowing 1 person to have an idea and then pursue everyone that arrives at or near that idea, even if they took an entirely different path?

Eventually people just resort to what is safe, who wants to spend any money designing a new smartphone in the current atmosphere? If it runs Android you have to pay off Microsoft, make sure your icons aren’t to round, the corners of the phone aren’t to round, and tip toe around 100 similar patents over concepts the original dreamer never created in reality.
If you make a new MP3 player with awesome new super powers, you can bet the RIAA will be screaming how it steals from them and rapes puppies and has to be stopped.
Once upon a time having a new idea that made things better was a good thing, now its just begging to be sued out of existence.
If you want to bemoan how people are copying, it might be best to look at the massive hurdles that have been created for people who want to innovate but can’t afford lawsuits designed to just bankrupt them.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It is both interesting and alarming how many people seem to think that a patent is to cover an idea rather than the industrial or technological expression of that idea. Even worse how many people in the USPTO feel that way given some of the patents they’ve approved as software patents and business method patents when I read them and seem capable of anything including recreating and restaging The Big Bang.

Without, at least, a drawing of the working expression of the idea the American instinct to sue everyone in sight takes over, further hindering innovation.

Adam Gorman (profile) says:

I believe that innovation often is simply a mistake in copying.

Evolution and adaption works the same way. Animal is making a copy of its DNA, and occasionally something goes slightly wrong in the copy process. The color of the bird is different, and this error happens occasionally across the board in the copying. Over time, that bird survives and becomes more dominant because that color turned out to be beneficial. No animal (at least to our current knowledge) ever actively set out to change something about itself.(Elephants maybe have done this? with tusks? google it)

The same way with the spear copy.
You see the spear being made a certain way, and you see a few others copying. But in your attempt at copying, you make it slightly different, because you only could see it from a distance, you didn’t get a chance to study it and hold it and use it extensively. But your error in copying may turn out to be a better design, and its sharper or lasts longer. This in my mind is innovation through copying.
This happens even more often if you do not have access to the same tools or same materials are the original “Improved spear maker”
There was never intention of making a spear better than that other guys ‘improved spear’ but this happening over and over again, is what led us to a significantly superior spear.

Greevar (profile) says:

Taplin is focusing on the wrong issue.

I’ve said this many times in the past and Taplin should take it to heart. The solution to getting artists paid for content is to monetize the creation of the content as a service instead of the fruits of their labor as a product. Digital goods are are a weak product. That’s just a fact.

Once you accomplish that, it doesn’t matter who’s downloading your work because it becomes promotional material for your creative services. As Mike pointed out with Kickstarter, artists and developers are getting their labor paid for by people that are passionate about what those creative people are creating. People are essentially voting on what content they want to see created by throwing their “votes” at the project they want to fund.

You just have to come into this and realize right away that people are going to copy your work whether you like it or not, so trying to monetize that probably isn’t the optimum solution. You’re trying to put the feathers back in the pillow after you scatter them to the wind. It’s just not going to work.

varagix says:

Re: Taplin is focusing on the wrong issue.

It’s also worth while to point out that there are a few more ways to pay for an artists services than for content-as-products.

You have the patronage model, where individuals regularly support an artist they like while they continue to make content at a reasonable rate. You have the performance model. You have various forms of investment models. There’s work-for-hire. There’s tangential services too, such as education and commentary. Save for maybe performance, that all applies to all forms of expression, and none of them impose a burden on the rest of society.

Compare that to “buy content” (and “buy same content again in a different form”) and “rent content”, all with the presupposition that someone can lay claim to something that, upon transferring to others, becomes a part of them, and that is near-infinitely replicatible.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: Taplin is focusing on the wrong issue.

The solution to getting artists paid for content is to monetize the creation of the content as a service instead of the fruits of their labor as a product.

What? You mean like every other career that involves creating something but isn’t deemed “artistic”? Nah.. that’d just be copying rather than innovative, surely? /s

The Old in The Sea says:

A Challenge for all those who think any form of copying is wrong

To each and all, a challenge:

Name any idea, product, service, story, song, etc., that has not copied any of its elements from that which has gone before it? You will have to name the thing and demonstrate that every aspect of it has had nothing in it copied from something else.

If you cannot demonstrate that the thing in question has no copied elements then answer the following. If copying something else whether it is an idea, product, etc is wrong then how do we move forward?

I look forward to the results. As the line goes “Enlighten me.”

I have just spent nearly two years working with a gentleman with whom we have spent much time sharing our experiences creating software systems. Both of us have been greatly benefited from this sharing of knowledge and experience and we are both better able to provide better solutions to our future customers.

regards to all.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: A Challenge for all those who think any form of copying is wrong

Nothing is original. Everything is derivative. Starting with mud on cave walls, to oil paintings, to digital photography, the latest works bear the core elements of the previous works. What do those things I listed have in common? They are all methods to record and display instances in time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: A Challenge for all those who think any form of copying is wrong

Very interestingly, the current leading explanation for the human ability to produce 2D art that represents 3D objects is the tracing of hallucinations (brought on by visual sensory deprivation) onto cave walls.

So the capacity for visual art in the form of pictures was probably triggered by hallucinations and was probably that most basic of all kinds of copying, direct tracing.

The Old Man in The Sea says:

Re: Re: A Challenge for all those who think any form of copying is wrong

Stone knife, based on observing that things are cut when rubbed against sharp edges. Pick up shattered stone and use. Make better by knocking more more rounded parts off. All of these went before it.

Or haven’t you as a child done this in some form?


Metoo says:

Ideas do not compete with genes. What kind of evolutionary biologist thinks ideas are an independent competitor to genetics rather than wholly reliant on them for their existence?

Do minerals dream of silica sheep?

Our cultural capacities derive from underlying genetic attributes, just as our innovation comes from underlying inductive propensities.

Induction, not curiosity is the foundation of human innovation and induction is universal to the wider human genome.

I doubt innovating has ever been evolutionarily significant for individual fitness. There’s too much externalization of the benefits.

Jesse (profile) says:


“but there’s no real reason to just copy for the sake of copying. It’s only if you can do it better.”

I think there are other reasons too. Like wanting to use something from a story to make a new story. Its not a bigger story all the time but it is a new story as a addition (With the idea or other type from a story) and I think that’s creative and art also. 🙂 Unless that quote I put down was mainly for a certain subject or something. Or that better means addition like more and new based off of also. xD

Anonymous Coward says:

Quality TV programs on the cheap.

In 2010, we mounted a successful Kickstarter campaign for our pilot for Pioneer One. It went on to be downloaded nearly 2,000,000 times and we raised another $100,000 from fans who wanted to see the show continue. In all, we finished a 6-episode season that garnered an estimated 8,000,000 viewers worldwide. The pilot won Best Drama at the 2010 New York Television Festival, and we’ve been nominated for Best Drama at the 2012 International Academy of Web TV Awards, and the 16th Annual Webby Awards. We are also an official honoree for Best Writing in the Webbys.

Pioneer One started asking $6 K and they raised $100 K, now there is another series coming out the pipe.

Michael says:

“What this means is that social learning may have set up a situation in humans where, over the last *200,000 years* or so, we have been selected to be very, very good at copying other people, rather than innovating on our own.”

Umm, yeah, they can’t even accurately predict the weather over the course of the week yet pretend they know what happened on earth centuries ago, manufacturing any arbitrary number to fit in with their phony evolution model.

anon says:


I think anyone copying someone bolt for bolt is just trying to take innovation and use it to make money, but is that in itself wrong, if a business cannot supply a product at a reasonable price and do not have the capability to supply demand then copying is not as bad as it may seem.

Also the one thing i hate with a passion is people saying they spend a fortune on R&D and deserve to recouporate it. This is nonsense if you have an idea you can spend time getting it to the market the same as anyone else copying your idea.
It was shown recently that the pharmaceutical companies in America were giving grossly exaggerated costs for developing drugs where it cost a couple of hundred thousand to develop they were saying it cost billions.

And any drug or any device that is developed today will obviously use technology that was developed previously , any phone or car or pc developed today will use the basic principles from previous innovation.Is this copying, of course it is , you might, as this article says, copy parts of someone else’s innovation to innovate a new use for older innovations.

Anonymous Coward says:

not only is it right that different people have different views, it’s right that they should be able to air those views. the problems arise when a person with a particular view has proof positive displayed or handed to him/her but still refuses to accept that their view is wrong. this example was amply demonstrated here by Taplin. he seems like a very intelligent person. what a shame that, as in a lot of peoples cases, he is so stuck in the rut of his personal belief, that he has no room for an alternative view, let alone for a better option. shame really because a compromise and amalgamation of thoughts and ideas could be so beneficial to a lot of people, including him

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What harms innovation is the need to keep reinventing the wheel. If everyone must keep reinventing the same thing, instead of building on each others inventions, we can never move forward. That’s why before doing research it’s often useful to first see what research others have done, so you don’t make the same mistakes as others and so that you don’t unnecessarily duplicate the works of others but you look for areas where research is missing and areas where improvement can be made. This helps advance innovation, everyone redoing the same research over and over is a huge and unnecessary cost as it brings about unnecessary redundancy.

Maxine Horn (profile) says:

Etiquette, ethics & evolution

Whilst I fully understand the link between copying (or inspiration) and evolutionary innovation – none the less, those who directly copy others work and save themselves not only a great deal of time, effort and money off the back of it but earn commercially from it without so much as an acknowledging to the originator least of all a shre in profits, should question not just their etiquette but their ethics.

The practice of licensing was created to enable one party to innovate from another party and improve, add features and so forth whilst remunerating and recognising the effort of the first party.

If first mover innovators efforts are just used as a blueprint for others without recognistion and reward – the first movers will become less and less – and then where does that leave innovation and societal progress?

All it takes is etiquette and ethics to ask permission to use someone else’s work, perhaps collaborate and or license or profit share to enhance innovation.

There is no excuse for outright copying and commercialisation off of another party’s efforts, time, money, expertise, knowledge, creativity.

The human principles of etiquette and ethics are already in place and likewise the commercial mechanisms such as licensing.

If Nina Palin’s artwork was a derivitive works of others works she is morally and legally obliged to ask permission to use others works, including anothers parties music – which could be licensed.

There is nothing to prevent Nina from innovating having been inspired by others works and choosing to present them in a new way. There is just an obligation to credit the inspirational sources and ensure she has their permission to utilise their work in a derivitive work. And if she earns a profit from the derivitive works to consider whether a % of that profit is rightly due to those she was inspired by and whose original works she used to obtain a commercial profit.

So there are no barriers to evolutionary innovation just an etiquette and ethics obligation.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Etiquette, ethics & evolution

I put it to you that the greater ethical transgression is to deny someone permission to create what they want, when they want, freely and without concern.

I assert that it is unethical to create a piece of art, release it to the world, and then claim some sort of ownership and control over it. I feel it is arrogant and unethical to believe that you get to dictate the terms under which others get to consume, be inspired by and copy your work.

Crediting, I agree in most cases, is a matter of good manners and good etiquette. Sharing some portion of the profits sometimes seems like the “right” thing to do, yes – other times, not at all. But getting permission is, as far as I’m concerned, an affront to the entire notion of art and creativity, and the least ethical requirement of copyright law.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Etiquette, ethics & evolution

Oh and:

including anothers parties music – which could be licensed.

Perhaps you should read a bit about what Nina went through to license the songs for Sita:

The film uses a number of 1920s Annette Hanshaw recordings. Although the filmmaker initially made sure these recordings were not covered by US copyright law,[10] a number of other copyright issues surfaced, including state laws prior to US federal copyright law on recordings, rights to the compositions and the right to synchronize the recordings with images. These recordings were protected by state commerce and business laws passed at the time in the absence of applicable federal laws and were never truly “public domain”.[11] In addition, the musical composition itself, including aspects such as the lyrics to the songs, the musical notation, and products derived from using those things, is still under copyright.[12]

Without a distributor, Nina Paley was unable to pay the approximately $220,000 that the copyright holders originally demanded. Eventually, a fee of $50,000 was negotiated. Paley took out a loan to license the music in early 2009.[3]

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Etiquette, ethics & evolution

“If first mover innovators efforts are just used as a blueprint for others without recognistion and reward – the first movers will become less and less – and then where does that leave innovation and societal progress?”

There’s one problem with that logic. What will the copycats imitate if there are no first movers? That means there will always be a place for those first movers because you can copy what hasn’t been created. People are going to copy what is copyable, that is just the nature of the beast. If you sell your ability to innovate rather than what your innovation brings, then you won’t have to worry about copycats. The truth is, they need you. Without you they would have to innovate on their own. Don’t value the thing over the action.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Etiquette, ethics & evolution

How much do you pay for your use of the innovation of language? Language is probably the biggest sea-change technology humans have ever innovated. So what kind of a fee are you paying on your use of language and who do you pay it to?

I suggest that you personally live on the benefits of the innovations of others and that you pay to the original innovators absolutely nothing for your use of most of the innovations that form a part of your life.

A case in point: you posted your post on the internet. Neither you nor your ISP have paid for major innovations necessary to the function of the internet because they were freely given to humanity for the common benefit of all.

Jesse (profile) says:

But if I notice that somebody else in my society has made a very good spear, I can simply copy him without having to understand why.

Right. Because if that were the case wouldn’t we all be re-inventing the spear today, rather than, I don’t know, reading an article on a computer, networked to all the other computers across the world?

That theory is so instantly defeated it’s laughable. “GUYS I’VE MADE A BREAKTHROUGH: HUMANS STOPPED INNOVATING 200,000 YEARS AGO.”

Maxwell (profile) says:

Full time blinders

Mr Taplin seems to equate the biggest and richest to ‘everyone’. The fact that he can only name people who made 100K+/year as examples and looks down on Nina Paley demonstrates this. At this point, the word “fair” lost all its meaning to me.

He claims the MPAA/RIAA have been poisonous about finding ways to solve the problem, that “the royalties have ceased”, yet he blames only Google as being the entire problem. Why didn’t he blame the labels first ? I mean, they are the ones handing out checks and suddently stopping. Thats the biggest innovation from the content industry: manipulating people into thinking “it’s everybody elses fault, but our’s when we dont pay”.

Has the industry learned anything from the Napster and Limewire cases ? Stopping those services did not stop piracy nor did the settelement money ended up in the rightful hands. These cases are undeniable counter examples to his magical thinking solution, but yet he keeps on digging Carreon’s style.

Anonymous Coward says:

Here is the fundamental problem with his argument. If innovating makes me better off I will likely innovate. So what if someone copies me and becomes (relatively) better off than me for it, the point is that if I am better off for innovating then I have incentive to innovate.

This person is only looking at the relative well being of those who innovate in opposed to their absolute well being. The point is that innovation makes everyone absolutely better off, including those who innovate, and so people have incentive to innovate to make themselves absolutely better off even if doing so makes others who copy relatively better off.

Innovating makes everyone absolutely better off and so, as a whole on a macro-scale, society has incentive to innovate, even if innovation makes those who innovate relatively worse off than those who copy on a micro-scale.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Necessity drives innovation, the need to solve a problem. If I see a problem and I see myself as being absolutely better off for solving it (and expending the resources necessary to solve it) I have incentive to solve it. So what if someone copies and becomes relatively better off than me as a result, this is, in fact, a good thing, the point is that I am absolutely better off for innovating (even if relatively worse off) and so I have incentive to do so.

I think this is one of the core motives underlying those who benefit from anti-competitive laws. They mostly compare the relative well beings of themselves to others and they want to advance their relative well beings, their relative status, and the worlds income inequality in their favor. They want to be wealthier than everyone else and they want to make everyone else poor to their benefit. They want everyone to work for them, while IP extremists and govt. established monopolists do absolutely none of the work and reap all of the benefits. That someone else does work and the lazy IP extremist didn’t optimally reap as much benefit from that work as possible is something they can’t tolerate, for some innovation to benefit someone else more than the IP extremist is unacceptable to them. All innovation should not only benefit the govt. established monopolist but it should optimally benefit the govt. established monopolist more than anyone else. Can’t have someone else benefiting from something more than the patent holder or govt. established monopolist even if the innovation makes the IP extremist absolutely better off. These people are selfish and the policies they advocate should not be tolerated.

Eponymous Coward says:

I’m sorry, but what the fuck is Pagel on about? That may be an interesting thought experiment, but it is shit as a theory goes! We live in such complex societies with highly advanced and complicated technologies, what again is the expectation on us? That I ignore the advancement that is the iPhone and innovate my own… These devices, inventions, technologies, and algorithms take teams of people, working in very diverse fields, so that they come to market. I find it a bit absurd the suggestion that this process can be handled under such a reductionist idea. Besides, even as complex our tech is people are still innovating: in the code they write, the app they develope, the new market they open up, and/or how they implement this tech. In fact this argument can be turned around and I can claim that are present allows us to be just as innovative as we have been. For instance I can create an app, that many others may find usefull, without having any background in programIng or other such fields. Also my hypothetical app doesn’t stifle innovation in its users, but may inspire it by them creating their own innovation; whether app, or other. I think this whole technology is making us stupid meme is stupid and absurd!

Edgar Allen (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That brings up another thought in me. What about the hundreds of thousands of people whose work supported “his” creation ? The guy delivering groceries so he could pop down to the local super instead of scrounging around for a rabbit or squirrel, kill it, skin it, cook it, make the utensils to hold it, fire the plate to serve it on, etc.

Is their support of his creation not worthy of lifetime compensation ? If they are somehow “less worthy” then what makes him think I agree with him ?

His alternative to getting from me only what I think his creation is worth is to keep it secret and go hungry.

I have yet to see any innovation I would be willing to support anbody for the rest of their life and then their children and grandchildren after them to own, let alone the one time access which they seem to want me to acept.

Kevin (profile) says:


Lets look at the difference between innovation and invention because it appears that many look at either as the same. They are not.
Invention is the creation of something that had never existed. Innovation is the improvement of that invention.
Inventions should be protected. Innovation should not be because it is not an original idea.
No song, poem or written word can be an invention. That invention occurred when some caveman etched the first form of written communication on a cave wall and hummed the first song.
Ever since then that scrawling and humming has evolved. Every piece of written word and music is nothing more that a reorganization of what has already been invented.
That makes all writers innovators, not inventors. The only part of an innovated piece of work is the element that would be considered original and did not exits before.
No matter how good a writer or composer is every combination has probably been used before. Every song is just a rearrangement of those passages. So is any song truly original.
Here’s a scary thought. Under the existing copyright laws I could buy a Cray computer, write an algorithm that will produce a trillion combinations of music notes, claim copyright on all of them, and rake in royalties from every song to be written in the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is a sorry state of things when the only important thing said was that the RIAA/MPAA are “poisonous” to the current situation. I don’t mean to belittle the overall discussion in anyway, but that simple statement from a “protector of all that is good and proper” is like Jesus denouncing God.

All the rest of the content, good stuff, but pales in comparison to that single comment.

Eponymous Coward says:

I think this all is a silly display of bias based on the author(s) perception/ideas that innovation is superior to copying, and therefore copying should be denounced as the assumed lesser act it is. Since I disagree I think copying needs to be advocated for as being equally important as innovation is.

1) One idea, in its support, is that copying preserves innovation acting as cultural memory. Thus if person A innovates a superior spear and person B, C, and D copies it that innovation will persist, as further copying perpetuates, even if the original innovator dies suddenly. Under Pagel/Taplin’s idea of how things should work how many innovations would have been lost through time not to be rediscovered many years or decades later? Also through the lack of copying how many innovations wouldn’t have been improved upon by a copier with added insight into how to make the innovation better? The world they project would be a different one, and potentially less advanced.

2) Another idea in support is that copying is the conservation of precious energy and resources. Living in a world of finite resources we can’t waste time, energy or raw materials trying to reinvent a perfectly good innovation. This is especially true for our ancestors. So copying freed up their time, energy and other resources to pursue different interests/needs, some of which was innovating in other areas of life. Again, following Pagel/Taplin’s mode, what would be the state of our resources if they were squandered in an effort to always be innovative? What innovations would we lack since there was never enough time, energy, or materials to pursue them under this system?

David Gillespie (profile) says:

3D Printing

Just a quick note on 3D printing.

There is a Repository for 3D data sets for cultural heritage sites called CyArk. The data sets are laser scanned sites with an accuracy of + or – 1-3mm. What are peoples thoughts on the fact that cultural heritage sites/objects could be replicated and mass produced? An example being people if they had access to the Mount Rushmore data set contained by CyArk and where able to replicate it on a smaller scale.

Anonymous Coward says:

Freedom of opinion ?? not in Mansicks world !!!

We recently took Jon Taplin to task for his comments insulting Nina Paley’s artwork, because he did not agree with her viewpoint that disobeying copyright law…

Oh right, so you’re not allowed to be critial of ‘art’ or have an opinion in your world Masnick ??

So you do not agree with freedom of speech, or freedom of expression ?

NO ONE ALLOWED TO HAVE AN OPINION !!!!! that differs from mansicks !!

ALL art has to be considered “good” and you are forbidden from being critial about ANYTHING, if you do, expect the Masnick to jump on your for having an ‘opinion’.. or owning an indepedent thought and opinion !!! HAHAHAHA..

If not one is game to tell nina her art is crap then she’s keep on thinking anyone actually like it, or that it has artistic merit..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Freedom of opinion ?? not in Mansicks world !!!

You have a problem with art being considered good?

You know what, that is an excellent point. I shall henceforth respect your decision and decide that not all art can be considered good.

Your art, whatever it is and even though I haven’t seen it, SUCKS. A LOT.

There, there’s our opinion. Just for you, darryl, you waste of Cowper’s fluid.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...