Nothing new under the sun?

I wish I could elaborate, but with these unusually hectic weeks I have been having lately, this post will have to be more of a ‘note to self’. I am sure I will come back to it later though as ‘copyright in the digital economy’ is one of the subjects I am keenly interested in.

Yesterday I came across this article at the New York Times Freakonomics Blog (via @yy).

Who Owns the Korean Taco?

This is not the first time I heard/read talking about the Kogi truck, but the focus was invariably on their marketing innovativeness, particularly their pioneering use of Twitter. This time, the two guest authors – Kal Raustiala and Chris Springman, both law professors – redirect attention to copyright issues in the food industry. The article was a brilliant read as a whole, but to me personally, the brilliance lies in raising the following question.

“Why does creativity thrive in the culinary world despite the rampant copying that takes place?”

The authors also offer a couple of possible answers to the question.

  1. Cooking is an analogue technology and therefore exact copies are, unlike file sharing, inherently impossible.
  2. Food is enjoyed in a context; so copying a recipe wouldn’t be enough.
  3. Chefs share the understanding that there will be some professional costs to copying.

Naturally, the article got me to reflect on digital culture. As already implied in the first point, the matter is trickier in the digital environment because copying is easier and there will be practically no compromise in the quality of outcomes.

Whether digital or not, stealing is bad. Full stop. But is the current copyright model the best way to go about it? I doubt it. Then do I have a once-and-for-all solution? I am afraid not. But I have a feeling that we might have been looking at the wrong end. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is not about discouraging copying by more severe legal penalties but about encouraging original and creative work by higher incentives.

And here are a few more bits and pieces that popped in my head in the meantime – telling us nothing but how scattered my brain activity is.

  • ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’ in Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman (1998). In this essay, Fadiman said: “In the incestuous world of cookbookery, there seems to be no such thing as a plagiarism. Add a spring of rosemary and the recipe is yours.” Then she added a sweet footnote going: “I stole this line from Dan Okrent. However, I made it mine by changing “teaspoon” to “spring.””
  • Things that tweet, a presentation by co-founder of Area/Code Kevin Slavin at the 140 Characters conference last November. According to Gartner, as Slavin cited, by 2012, 20% of non-video Internet traffic will come from physical sensors. Among his examples of this were the Laundry Room at Olin College (@laundryroom), the BakerTweet, Tower Bridge (@towerbridge), and the Kogi truck (@kogibbq).
  • Dawn French’s Boys Who Do Comedy (2007). In this BBC TV series – which I absolutely love, by the way – interviewed comedians explained with one voice that nicking another comedian’s joke is the worst taboo of all in their profession. From 2’19” to 3’34”.

  • Copyright: The Elephant in the Middle of the Glee Club‘ , another interesting article I recently read on this topic (via @NickAnstead). I humbly admit that I’ve watched a couple of episodes of Glee, but the thought of the possibility of copyright lawsuits just never came to my mind. It must have been overwhelmed by the melodrama of the purest.
  • Come to think of it, there indeed was a case last year in Korea where a video clip of a 5-year-old girl singing along a pop song, recorded and posted online by her father, was removed by Naver the portal service provider per the request of the Korea Music Copyright Association. The court later ruled that the Association should pay compensation to the individual online user in question.
  • OK, this last bullet point is not necessarily related, but speaking of the Glee Club, here is a performance that stayed with me for a while, ahem, curiously.

3 thoughts on “Nothing new under the sun?

  1. Hadn’t thought about the analogue-digital comparison before. Interesting.
    BTW, I always loved the saying “Amateurs copy, professionals steal” (seems it’s usually attributed to Picasso which I didn’t know.) The reason that’s true is that to steal in the professional sense you have to know how and why something works the way it does which opens up the possibility of adapting it to other purpose. On a possibly related point, there’s been some mention on the web over the last few weeks of the Dunning–Kruger effect. Put very crudely, people who are highly competent underestimate their abilities because they recognise the complexities involved in doing something, while the incompetent think things are easy because they don’t know enough to understand those complexities. (Think all those pub conversations beginning “All you have to do is …)

    • The Dunning-Kruger effect? I wasn’t aware of it. Would it possibly be a fancy way of saying “the rice plant bends its head down as it ripens”? A Korean proverb. 🙂

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