[LINK] IP protection changes creativity

Kim Holburn kim at holburn.net
Tue Jul 27 13:33:40 AEST 2010


> Did you hear the joke about the comedian and copyright law?


> For comedians, ripping off a joke is a major sin, but such cases  
> almost never end up in court. Federal court, where copyright cases  
> are heard, is too expensive to be worth it. Besides, copyright law  
> only protects the exact expression, not the idea, so rip-off artists  
> who add some different details are free to do so.
> This hasn't led to a dearth of jokes. Instead, comedians use social  
> norms rather than law to enforce their joke rights, and these social  
> IP norms have actually been part of the process that shifted comedy  
> away from one-liners and "rim shot" jokes to today's long-form  
> observational comedy.


> For instance, early twentieth century vaudeville featured plenty of  
> joke and "bit" theft. Comedic ideas were common property; it was the  
> performance that mattered. But as joke stealing became taboo in the  
> 1950s and '60s, thieves would find themselves blackballed from clubs  
> or ostracized by their fellow comics.
> As this protection proved itself to be effective in practice, it  
> encouraged comics to spend more effort on their "text." Jokes were  
> no longer common property, so comics invested both time and money  
> writing (and hiring others to write) new material in a way they  
> rarely did before.
> The result was more original comic material—but there was a side  
> effect. "Comedians today invest less in developing the performative  
> aspects of their work," says the chapter. "Indeed, many stand-ups  
> today stand at a microphone, dress simply, and move around very  
> little compared with the more elaborate costuming, mimicry,  
> musicianship, and playacting that characterized the post-Vaudeville  
> comics."
> When IP norms did not exist, the hard-to-replicate live performance  
> was the key differentiator. Once the informal community norms  
> offered some protection for jokes, much of the creativity shifted  
> back to the "text" and away from the performance.
> In both cases, though, comedy flourished, and neither required  
> official IP laws. "Conventional wisdom would have us believe that  
> this [lack of official protection] entails a tragedy of the commons  
> and suboptimal supply of jokes," write the chapter's authors. "Our  
> research makes us pause. We see an operating market."
> Their takeaway is not that we don't need rules, but that we should  
> be doubly vigilant against the "careless expansion of legal  
> protections." Informal norms might work well enough within different  
> communities (and the smaller the community, the easier social norms  
> are to enforce), and changing the official rules could produce  
> unintended changes in the type of creativity that people engage in.

Kim Holburn
IT Network & Security Consultant
T: +61 2 61402408  M: +61 404072753
mailto:kim at holburn.net  aim://kimholburn
skype://kholburn - PGP Public Key on request

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