Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Internet Writing and the Ownership of Ideas
So you have this hierarchy - books, magazines, blogs, facebook and twitter - which going in one direction encourages depth of thought, and in the other encourages exchange and flow of information. In a way all this is obvious, and I’m sure it must have been said many times before. But I’m not going to search people out and credit them, partly because I thought of it myself, and partly because I don't see the need to do so.
Which brings me to another point, which is ownership of ideas. If someone directly quotes me, fair enough, credit me, though I won’t be heartbroken if you don’t. But if you take an idea from my blog and run with it, I really don’t mind if I am not credited with it – I would just be glad to see it out there, getting woven into astrocyberthought, unencumbered by a name tag. (NB I do, nevertheless, tend to credit other people for their ideas!)
Internet writing is not yet based much around money, it is hard to control, and I think that frees us from ownership of ideas. OK, you may one day put your blogs together into a book, but I don’t think it’s going to affect sales just because some of ‘your’ ideas have become well-known in an unattributed sort of way. Just make sure you write in an engaging style!
I think a lot of it is just egotism. Medieval religious artists used to not sign their names on their pictures. It was the work that mattered. And I think it’s the same with ideas. (There is something about publishing a book that can make some people feel they are real in a way they weren't previously, it makes them a 'name'.)
Internet writing is transitory, and the ideas get passed around. Some of my readers weren’t very enthusiastic when I experimented with audio blogs, because what they wanted to do was read my pieces quickly and move on. That is also how I work on the internet. I pick up the basic ideas and move on. Longer pieces, such as you’d get in magazines or books, often also have just a few basic ideas, but expounded at length. That is why I resist giving talks or writing magazine articles.
Significant ideas can be communicated quickly, and you will keep your audience. And the audience can interact. On the blog, we exchange comments. If I’m talking, I like to keep it brief and then see where the ‘audience’ takes it. Ownership of ideas starts to seem a bit daft in this sort of context. It’s for wannabe bigshots who take themselves far too seriously!
I don’t know where that leaves ownership of photos, but again, with so many people putting their pics on the net and passing them around, it’s hard to keep control of what is ‘yours’. I don't know who 'owns' the pictures I use on my blog, and I'm not sure what purpose it would serve to put a name under them, though I would do so if asked.
With both ideas and pictures, whatever the rights and wrongs of ownership, the fact is that we have a situation that is very hard to control. The net is a free-flowing universe in its own right, and I think the best thing is just to let go and be part of it. The free flow and exchange of information is its strength and getting too hung up on what is ‘yours’ just gets in the way of that. You are playing into the hands of those who want to over-control the net.