Making copies

makingcopiesWhereas today the price of digital cameras makes creativity affordable for many, in the past, only the wealthiest people had access to art. Royalty, nobility or members of the court who commissioned an artist to paint their portrait could do the equivalent of modern ‘airbrushing’ by instructing the artist to hide their less attractive features or to change their appearance completely. Kings and queens in particular would be very exacting about how they were represented: control of their image was as important then as it is to modern high-profile celebrities. In general, access to culture and education was limited to the richest and most influential portion of society.

These restrictions also extended to the written word. The development of the first European printing presses in the fifteenth century made it easier to create multiple copies of written texts: a great leap forward for the spread of culture and ideas. In England, the monarchy didn’t want the wrong sorts of texts to be printed and so established control over all the printing presses – a control that was maintained for nearly two hundred years. The King or Queen had the right to say what could and couldn’t be printed (copied), and who was allowed to do the copying. By controlling the press the ruling monarch hoped to keep control over the information available to their subjects.

Can you think of any parallels in the modern age where what people see and hear is controlled by certain individuals or groups?

Who would you say has the most control – Multinational companies, Governments, Internet providers or individuals themselves?

Would you say social class is more or less important today in terms of people’s access to and understanding of the world at large?

Copyright control

The British Statute of Anne of 1709 was the first law to give control over copying to the author of a written work. This law meant that writers could decide where and how their work was reproduced and make a better living from it. The Statute explains the reasons for introducing a law on copyright in order to prevent problems caused by unlicensed copying ‘without the Consent of the Authors or Proprietors of such Books and Writings, to their very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their Families’, as well as ‘Preventing therefore such Practices for the future’, the law was intended ‘for the Encouragement of Learned Men to Compose and Write useful Books’. It protected existing works and was designed to protect intellectual creativity into the future.

Nowadays ‘copies’ of original works are available in countless formats, such as digital music, image and text files, movie files and web design – and these files can be manipulated and reproduced. The ability to copy is certainly more freely available, but the right to copy other people’s work is not so straightforward. The producer of an original work still owns the copyright to it: they own the content, and the expression of ideas. They don’t actually own the copies themselves – so an author owns the text that makes up their novel, but they don’t own all the copies ever made of that book, and it’s the same for a musician and digital music files – they own the creative work itself and not the object that contains it.

Making a fake

makingafakeIn the art world, forgery is a recognised problem. An original Picasso is worth a lot of money, whereas a copy is not: but what if you can’t tell the difference? And what is it that makes the ‘original’ more valuable than a forgery that looks identical?

Taking someone else’s property without paying is one thing, but what about taking something more abstract – such as taking an idea? Copying another person’s design; sampling someone else’s music, using another person’s idea – these can all be problematic, but the lines are less clearly drawn.

Is a fake always less valuable than the real thing? You could refer specifically to art or money to help explain your answer.
Do you think it’s possible to ‘steal’ a creative work, and is it more or less blameworthy than stealing physical property?
Is it ever possible to have a truly original idea, particularly now that we are bombarded with media messages and images all day long?

In Austria there is even a Museum which is dedicated to forgeries. Visit their website and see how they define the different types of forgeries that exist.

Great minds think alike…

Ever wondered how all the High Street fashion chains manage to have similar styles and designs at the same time? There’s a long lead time on designing clothes, manufacturing them and getting them into the shops, so it’s not as easy as just looking at next door’s stock and copying it. In fashion retail, events such as London Fashion Week play a big part in influencing High Street trends: big-name designers showcase their latest looks whilst fashion journalists and buyers take notes and pictures of what they’ve seen. Styles, colours, patterns and fabrics are adapted and reinterpreted then filter down, and eventually end up in the shops.

Trends in design in everything from shoes to MP3 players can be seen across different brands at the same time – the German phrase ‘zeitgeist’ sums this up in terms of ‘the spirit of a moment in time’. At a conscious and a subconscious level, each of us may be influenced by other people’s ideas – especially now that online advertising, social networking, billboard posters, shop radio, TV and cinema ad space mean we are exposed to thousands of media messages each day.

But where do you draw the line between inspiration and just plain copying? The possibility of a creative work, concept or design ‘owned’ by one person being ‘stolen’ by another, is what led to the term ‘intellectual property’. Concepts and visuals can have real value for businesses and individuals, just as much as stock or assets, so making them into a kind of property where they have a legal owner seems to make sense.

Can you think of any examples which show the difference between being “inspired by” something is different to “stealing an idea”?
In music, artists often do cover versions of songs by other artists. Is this inspiration or stealing?

Smart goods, intellectual property

smartgoodsAs you will already have seen, innovation and creativity have long been important to the economy of many countries. Businesses in the creative industries look for new designs, new products and new ways of presenting services to consumers in the hope of getting ahead in the market. Investing in the research and development of new products and services also helps move the economy forward – but it is expensive. If a business develops a brand new product or service, the last thing they want is for their rivals to suddenly start selling that ‘exclusive’ new design as well.

So how do businesses avoid getting into lengthy legal wrangles about their designs and products?

Research task
The website for the World Intellectual Property Organization contains plenty of information about copyright, design, patent and trademark, as well as more general information about IP. You can find the site at
Use the website to take brief notes on the different kinds of ‘intellectual property’ protection available.
Find a selection of dictionary definitions of ‘intellectual property’.
Where, and when, does the term ‘intellectual property’ come from? Are your different sources in agreement?