With the rise of the internet and the fact that pretty much everything creative is up there for everyone else to see and listen to, is it time we gave up on at least some of the idea of intellectual copyright? The case of Zynga suggests perhaps we should
If you go anywhere near Facebook at all, you’ll be familiar with Zynga, if not for their games then for the numerous requests you get to play the insidious things by your unhappily addicted friends. Think FarmVille, think Words with Friends, think Bubble Safari etc. Or, more likely, think of the games that preceded them for, as the company GM, Dan Porter, said in a recent open letter to the games industry ‘all games are derived from other games... the debate about originality in games is vastly overblown and misses the mark.’
He was in fact replying to a bit of a stink in the press where he’d been misquoted saying that Zynga copied games – a fact to which several out of court settlements will actually alude - instead saying that the 'genius' of his company lies in the way that it manages to keep people playing a game in significant numbers for years. His argument is basically that originality isn't the argument, execution is what counts
Maybe he has a point. The Internet of All Things means that artists in all forms are exposed to more content than ever before and trying to police originality is becoming an impossible task, whether that intellectual copying and pasting is deliberate or involuntary. The British satirical magazine Private Eye delights in exposing new TV ad campaigns from the global super agencies as simply having ripped off obscure YouTube video clips; TV commissioners seem to have a pack mentality and rejoice in launching similar programmes at similar times; some cinema genres have become almost ludicrously self-referential; and even those paragons of modern morality, journalists and writers, frequently trot out the 'I was not copying, it was a homage' excuse.
Give up ring-fencing ideas
Maybe it's time that we gave up on ring-fencing artistic ideas, especially in the visual spaces, and instead acknowledged that the true skill lies in the execution. It's less about the ideas of character and the twists and turns of plot, it's more about the framing of a scene, the position of the cameras, the way the edit cuts between viewpoints, the grade and so on; all those craft skills that make one project different from another. We become composers, other people can take our ideas and run with them and they become the performers.
Of course, they'll have to pay us: a new version of mechanical rights for a new era. But something will probably have to be done at some point; Aristotle argued that there were only seven basic plots - what he couldn't have foreseen was that you could probably cover all of them in as many minutes browsing on YouTube.