williamallenpepper

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CAPTURING LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE…THEN HIDING IT

The last few years, the way we get our information has been in the news as much as how we use that information or  what it is. We live in a time when perhaps the means of communication and content transfer are as valuable – and closely guarded – as the content itself.

A few years ago, Google got a lot of flack for scanning thousands of books and making them available for free. The desire to make information accessible to all slammed up against the economic interests of some.

Piracy of copyrighted work has been around forever. Bootleg movies begat illegal sharing of music files which begat sharing of e-books without permission. Piracy, it seems, equals evil.

The counter argument is that yes, copyrights are infringed, but the act of sharing is free publicity that actually increases legal sales. Every publisher, especially self-publishers, wrestle with whether to release their books with digital rights management (DRM) in place. I did with In the St. Nick of Time . So has every other writer in the lat few years. People who create – writers, computer programmers, artists, whatever – are very protective of the things they create. Loosening the chains is a difficult prospect to get behind.

When I did the print version of my book, e-books and readers weren’t really a thing yet, though they followed soon after. When I decided to do an e-book, I had to spend a lot more time thinking about how people would access that content and what they would do with it and how I felt about that, not just as an artist, but as a business person trying to make a profit. Was I okay with letting people steal from me, should that occur? Every publisher has had to make that call. It has not always been easy.

Which brings us to litigation. There’s been a lot of it. Music companies sued or threatened anyone with a PC and music file. Microsoft has sued and been sued many times. And, of course, a jury just smacked Samsung with a billion dollar verdict in Apple’s favor for infringing patents. I’m not an expert on that suit, but the gist seems to be Apple sued Samsung for making Galaxy phones that look WAY too much like iPhones. Two companies, dedicated to technology and innovation, then Apple comes along and says, “Hey, your phone looks a little too much like ours.” And the jury agrees and gives them lots of money.

I don’t know if Samsung really infringed. If they did, there probably should be some sort of penalty. But it does seem to me that, like cars (I know I’ll get heat for this), there are only so many ergonomic or aerodynamic or aesthetic things you can do with a phone (or a car) and pretty much all phones (and cars)made today look more or less similar to each other.It’s not because anyone stole an idea, but rather because that look or that method or whatever works best.

Still, creatives tend to assume their thing is the most unique thing in the world. But you know what? The dirty secret is sometimes, it’s not. We can capture lightning in a bottle – a voice that stands out, a killer plot, a phone with cool apps, but we can’t hide it under the bed. It’s too bright. Something else is always going to come along to do the same thing. A new bottle full of new lightning.

Some have speculated that Apple suing Samsung was more about getting at Google’s Android operating platform than about dinging Samsung for similar-looking phones. Part of me gets it, wanting to protect your ideas, preserve your reputation for being on the cutting edge, and protecting your financial stake in what you’ve done. There is nothing wrong with wanting to protect your bottom line. Contrary to popular belief, art and making money are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One doesn’t diminish the other.

If you steal, you’re still a thief, whether it’s a car, a book or a phone design. Still…the free flow of ideas is a seductive and beautiful thing. And maybe, in some cases, there is actually more money to be made the pirate way? I don’t know…

Yo ho ho! And a bottle of rum, matey!

Hey, that sounds good. Excuse me…

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