Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Culture of Creativity

Is a new work only creative if it does not bear any resemblance to existing work?   Many people would answer in the affirmative; after all, if you borrow someone else's ideas are you not guilty of copyright infringement or, as a student, plagiarism?

I wonder what an author like Shakespeare would say to that.  After all, his famous love story, Romeo and Juliet, is based on Arthur Brooke's poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, which ends when Romeo "drinks his bane. and she with Romeus' knife, when she awakes, herself, alas! she slay'th."  In fact, many of Shakespeare's tragedies are reworkings of stories written by other people.  Brooke published his poem two years before Shakespeare was born.  Macbeth and Hamlet were based on Scottish and Danish legend respectively.  However, in English literature, Shakespeare is hailed as our greatest playwrite and poet, and his plays continue to be performed on stage and in film.

This does not mean that I accept outright plagiarism, presenting the words or ideas of another as your own.  However, I do not believe that we should decry the reworking of existing literature or music or art, which brings me to Larry Lessig, a professor of law at Stanford University.

In his Ted Talk, he explains how copyright law is used to stifle creativity in our youth.  He believes that, by criminalizing the sharing of music and remixing of existing work, we stifle the tendency of young people to use existing art (musically or visually) to present new ideas in engaging formats.  Like the generations before us, we see how young people use technology and we are afraid because "we have to recognize [you] are different from us. We watched TV, [you] make TV as we see what technology can do.. we can't kill the instinct technology produces, we can't make [you] passive we can only make [you] pirates...[you] live life knowing [you] live life against the law."  Because society forgets what it's like to be young, we punish our youth for taking our work and making it better in innovative ways.

As an aside, note how he uses powerpoint in his presentation.  Each slide uses an image or a minimum of language to express entire ideas as he verbalizes each concept -- brilliant!

Larry Lessig on Laws that Choke Creativity ( 2007) TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Ted Conferences LLC. Retrieved 16 March 2010 from the Internet:

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