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Pirating Ideas: Is No Thought Safe?

Leonicka Valcius: Pirating Ideas: Is No Thought Safe?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pirating Ideas: Is No Thought Safe?

I recently came across two articles on http://www.cbc.ca/ that really made me realize how tenuous copyrights can be.

The first article was about a lawsuit between George Lucas's company Lucasfilm Ltd. and a Mr. Andrew Ainsworth over the rights to the stromtrooper helmets. Apparently, Mr. Ainsworth, a prop designer who made the helmets for the 1977 Star Wars movie, has been selling replicas.
http://www.cbc.ca/arts/film/story/2008/04/08/stormtrooper-lucas.html

The second article was about another lawsuit. This one feature J.K. Rowling against a Mr. Steven Vander Ark. Mr. Vander Ark is planning to publish a book called Harry Potter Lexicon based on his website.
http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2008/04/14/potter-lawsuit-rowling.html

These situations are similar in several ways. Both feature billionaires against the average Joe, tempting the casual observer to side with the underdog. Both of these "average Joes" seem to be trying to cash in on someone else's success and, considering the size of the other party's pocketbook, who can really blame them?

What concerns me is this concept of intellectual property. That is, who owns the idea? I strongly doubt that Rowling and Lucas are suing for money. Perhaps I'm being over idealistic, but I think they are suing for the ability to say "It was my idea first."

Notice, Rowling had no problem with Mr. Vander Ark when he was just runnig a website. In the article, she admits to visiting and appreciating his website. She did not feel violated until he tried to make money of it.

Because of the vast popularity and wealth of the Star Wars franchise, it is easier to say that Lucas is suing Mr. Ainsworth out of greed. But it is also because of the ubiquity of Star Wars that Mr. Ainsworth can not credibly say he did not violate any copyright laws. I am sure Mr. Ainsworth has worked on plenty of other movie sets (if he is indeed a prop designeer by profession) but somehow I doubt he is making replicas of those props in his garage to sell online. Is it fair for him to take advantage of Star Wars' popularity simply because he had access to some forms?

At the end of the day, it comes down to pirating. pirating has become the pariah of the music industry and it is slowly extending to other forms of media as well. It is unfortunate because it may deter many talented people from publishing their work. Why share your masterpiece when some hack is just going to rip you off later?

It is also damaging to those who simply want to explore their creativity. There are dozens of websites devoted to fanfiction. These site allow fans to write their own story using characters from a show, movie, etcetera. These sites appeal to overzealous fanatics (that is typical Harry Potter or Star Wars fans) who want to see their favorite characters live beyond series. What happens when overcautious authors or filmmakers start targeting these well-meaning fans because some hack who wasn't so well-meaning set a dangerous precedent?

Mr. Ainsworth and Mr. Vander Ark would best serve themselves and their community if they would come up with there own ways to make money. If Mr. Ainsworth is such a creative prop designer he should start his own line of action figures or become a sci-fi costume designer. If Mr. Vander Ark is seriously pursuing a writing career, he could consider creating a mythical encyclopedia of his own, then developing a fantasy series besed on his entries. In both examples they would make alot more money and it would be their idea.

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