Copyright or not? It’s up to you

Henry Ford once said, “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed.” Beside from the meaning of ideas influencing each other which I discussed in the previous post, it also means in every idea or remix or mashup of ideas we make, we need to show legal and personal respect to those who came up with their works first. Without them we would probably not have the knowledge to improve or produce something new and better. In this post I discuss the impact of user-generated content (UGC) issue has on the social evolution.

We are struggling with application of others’ creativity to see if it is legal and also suitable. We share and take online content to copy, transform and combine to do what we call remixing, or plagiarizing for some others may call. In his fourth video of Everything Is a Remix series, Kirby Ferguson stated, “When we copy, we justify. When others copy, we vilify.” One of the most typical examples that he brought up was that Steve Jobs – the CEO of one of the biggest companies Apple – used to say how shameless he felt for stealing other ideas as Apple’s computer Macintosh was actually taken from , and that ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal.’ Yet in 2010, he declared to sue Android at his best. He said, “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

Steve Jobs was proud of stealing others' ideas...

Steve Jobs was proud of stealing others’ ideas…

...yet got angry when others copied his!

…yet got angry when others copied his!

Consequently, there are laws and regulations to protect intellectual property and organizations like Creative Commons to provide licenses and encourage creativity. However, online sharing is still happening every minute and hour, so to fully prevent this is a mission impossible. Of course there have been lawsuits of those who got angry of their work being copied and shared without permission, and yes many of them won the credits. For instance, in 1981 George Harrison had to pay 1.5 million dollar for ‘accidentally’ copying the hit “He’s So Fine” in his song “My Sweet Lord”.

But according to Lawrence Lessig, this will just discourage the ability of being creative. In his speech on TED, Laws that choke creativity, our generation considers copyright laws nothing but nonsense and useless. We influence and are influenced by each other’s ideas, behaviors and skills and that is why remixes and mashups are two popular terms nowadays. Many of us create memes, music, arts… and are willing to share it, not for the credit but for the passion of creating and/or remixing something and sharing it with the cyber world. It’s what UGC is all about. Shepard Fairey, a person who made the Obama “Hope” poster for the 2008 presidential campaign (below), once said, “Every spoof gives more power to the original.”

Obama "Hope" poster by Shepard Fairey

Obama “Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey

So basically there are two sides of the story. One is about those whose feel fine with copying, as long as they are the ones doing it. The other is about those who feel fine with copying by both themselves and others. This is still a hard situation; it makes us wonder what the right ethics for copying, transforming and combining others’ ideas would be. Perhaps it is up to us to decide – the new generation who is active and familiar with uprising digital technologies. We can use the devices fluently and decide whether to show respect directly or indirectly to the previous authors. Some may include it in the introduction, or in the pictures, videos or other ways within their products. Just that we all need to remember that our ideas are not truly original and we all had knowledge and lessons from those who come first.


Ferguson, K 2012, ‘Everything Is a Remix – Part 4: System Failure’, video, 16 February, Vimeo, viewed 23 April 2015, <>

Jacobs, L 2012, ‘14 brilliant quotes on remixing’, 10 August, TED, viewed 23 April 2015, <>

Lessig, L 2007, ‘Lawrence Lessig: Laws that choke creativity’, video, March, TED, viewed 23 April 2015, <>

Parr, B 2011, ‘Grand Theft Apple: Steve Jobs Declared War on Android’, 24 October, Mashable, viewed 24 April 2015, <>

Popken, B 2009, ‘Shepard Fairey: Being An Art Capitalist Is Hard’, 27 February, Consumerist, viewed 23 April 2015, <>


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