Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Book Review - The Knockoff Economy

Before I start, I just have to share this:
With love from the internet!

I've been reading about copyright. Not copyright rules as such - but the concept of owning ideas and how ownership or non-ownership of an idea or design can fuel creativity and spark innovation...
The Knockoff Economy - Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman.

Our ideas about how things work are culturally framed. Often, our concepts of creativity and innovation are shaped by the prevailing perspectives on 'incentives'. So the incentive idea goes 'A designer invests a lot of energy and creativity into creating something. In order to recoup those costs and make a profit, copyrights / intellectual property rights should be available, otherwise there will be no incentive to create.'

The authors of this book look at whether that is actually the case - putting forward the idea that actually, knockoffs/copies and 'tweakers' can help creative industries thrive. There are a number of different creative industries examined in the book, each with their own dynamics and challenges and they look at the differences in the way these creative industries flourish. These areas include fashion, music, football, comedy and food, but also anecdotes on other forms of creativity.

They also effectively break down the question and look at it from a few different angles -
'Is copyright good for the individual?' 'Is copyright good for the industry?' 'Is copyright good for creativity?'. The music industry for example, is struggling because of piracy. But that doesn't mean there is a reduction in creative output, or that music itself is struggling.

Focusing on the chapter around fashion, since that's the subject of the blog here, copying is an integral part of the way fashion works. A trend or a fashion is only in fashion because people have copied it! There have been attempts to restrict copying, but the nature of clothing (being essentially utilitarian items) and the speed of fashion, and the high number of variations possible, mean that restricting copies is highly expensive, impractical, and difficult to police.

But fundamentally, would the fashion industry be better off if designs could be copyrighted?
Fashion needs copying. And at the same time, fashion is destroyed by copying. It is a cycle of reinvention, and a mix of people's desire for things which are both popular and unique.

For me, I don't love a cheap imitation of a 'luxury product' - and the idea of knockoffs pretending to be the real thing strikes me as unethical. To be fair, I've never really understood the brand thing anyway. I don't really love the designer industry's solution of slapping copyrighted logos all over things either - it just seems vulgar to me.

But I love a good homemade knock-off. The entire process - the reverse engineering, the adjusting, the reinvention  - strikes me as the whole point of self expression. It goes back to the history of fashion plates and sample dolls which served as inspiration for the latest fashions for the home dressmaker. To take something and make it your own. And to mix and match ideas. That's the fun stuff!

Of course, the other side of my creative process is the blog. I wouldn't dream of knocking off someone else's writing, or copying out someones tutorials. I know what's involved, and I respect it. I think (and these are my reflections rather than the book) we probably become more respectful of creativity where we are actively creative ourselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment