There is no copyright in an idea and I’m glad. Imagine a world where ideas were controlled. Books have been written on the topic. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury is one. Do we care? Maybe we should. All through history regimes have tried to control ideas. I thought this was something we were trying to get away from in 2010. Whether the control is religious, cultural or political – diabolical or paternalistic, it comes down to the same thing. Control. What I think – and I’m glad that I can – is that ideas want to be free.

The Internet has given platforms to a lot of pundits, many of whom have small points of view but big voices, to howl about the theft of ideas. Especially in the area of advertising – which occupies public, accessible space – a lot of people get attracted to the noise, cheerleading the trend to “out” copycat styles, imagery, lighting, themes, techniques, etc. This may be short-term fun, but it’s narrow thinking for the longer term. It’s regressive. Sadly, the misanthropic view is that individuals and societies tend to make the same mistakes over and over. In this case, just as the Internet has given us give the tools to set ourselves free, we clamor to constrain ourselves. Sites like and blog posts like Ryan Healy’s “The Ethics of Idea Theft” are a grand meeting place for idea-cops worldwide. Get over it people. The point is that original ideas don’t hardly, ever-ever exist. Culture ought to be a dynamic accretion of ideas. There is no such thing as a completely new idea. Please, how naïve! There are only wonderful, endless manifestations of ideas built on each other, mirroring and referencing each other.

Imagine a big open public room. Nothing is confidential. Everyone can see what everyone else is doing. A hundred people come in, stand at easels, grip their pencils. They are asked by a woman at the front to sketch a picture of an apple on a table. They can clearly see each other’s work. When they’re done, each one owns the copyright to their sketch, but they don’t own the idea of an apple on a table. Copyright protects the maker of a work from having it reproduced by someone else. If the best, most beautiful sketch of the apple on the table was scanned by someone and then used without permission, that would an infringement – rightly so. But to protect the rights of the person who came up with the idea of the apple on the table? Of course not – that would be totalitarian. What about a person who suggested the apple should be green instead of red, or the person who thought the apple should have a happy looking worm in it? Should they get a credit on someone else’s sketch if the other person wants to draw a green apple with a worm? Where do you draw the line? Simple. Ideas want to be free. Why do we insist on giving them ownership?

  1. Hey William,

    Thanks for linking to my post!

    Actually, you and I agree. I basically said the same thing in my article. Ideas can’t be copyrighted (and shouldn’t be), but the words that you or I write can be copyrighted.

    Anyway, just wanted to clarify that. 🙂

    Thanks again!


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