Of Just Outright Stealing Ideas

by Will on October 23, 2010

More and more, we as a society are touchy about using others’ ideas in our own work. Something has always bugged me about anti-plagiarism rhetoric (like when people criticize rappers for sampling other artists’ songs): if we’d always held everyone to such strict standards, most of Bill Shakespeare’s plays would have been illegal for him to write and produce.

I’m not a fan of the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, which they largely stole from an old orchestral version of a Rolling Stones song. But some seemed to like it. Should it not exist, since it isn’t wholly original?

Copyrights are a kind of monopoly. The Founders wisely limited their duration to a reasonably small number of years, on the theory that without such protection, creative people would not produce work. Today we have gone crazy, and copyrights hold for 70 years beyond the death of the author, in the hands of someone who had nothing to do with creating the work. Today the internet has also given us evidence — ample evidence! — that many, many people are willing to provide content for free, in exchange only for status rents. Perhaps copyright law needs revisiting?

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