I saw a small storm on Facebook the other day over intellectual property.
It involved people who’d invented a variety of techniques for a particular craft and were selling the method in seminars. And so they should. It’s their intellectual property and it’s fair to get a return on it; people gotta eat.
The problem was that some industrial espionage had been going on, it seemed – basically, people were trying to find out the technique and then selling it themselves.
Stated that way it’s obvious theft of intellectual property. And the principle is no different from any other theft of intellectual property – including, I might add, the work of writers. But when the people who’d invented the craft system put their collective foot down – what happened? There was a screech from those who’d been pinching it.
One even claimed that everything on the internet ‘should’ be free.
Really? The thing is that the internet, these days, is a communications vehicle – not a device for claiming entitlement to others’ ideas. It doesn’t reduce reasonable intellectual property rights.
Bubbling along beneath that, also, was the notion that this did relate to a hobby industry – to home-crafts – and therefore, also, should be free. This is something writers, too, have to wrestle with. I think what it boils down to is the conflation between hobby and profession. Many people have craft hobbies. Many people pick up writing as a hobby.
All of these people do it for the entertainment value – for the reward of having made something, be it a craft object or a book, or whatever. Their time doesn’t need a return.
One result, it seems to me, is that those who variously either develop the stuff to supply that hobby – or who write professionally for an income – find their time is devalued. They are treated as if they, too, should be giving away their time and expertise.
The fact is, though, that those consuming the hobby need to have something to consume – and it’s fair that those producing what they consume are paid for it. Hobbies also usually aren’t free (I have often been tempted by RC aircraft, except for the cost of it. Or rallying, except for the cost of it).
Similarly, there are distinctions between the ‘writing for the fun of it’ kind of writer and the ‘writing as an income’ kind of writer.
I can hear the scream now: ‘but – but – everybody writes to publish’. Sure. However, not everybody writes to make an income. There is a difference. The problem, I think – certainly for writing, likely for a lot of other hobbies – is the conflation between the activity-as-pastime and the activity-as-business, which is a very different concept.
Part of that conflation comes, I think, because both sides of the coin still demand the art – the creativity, the passion – that for most of us is something we reserve to pour into a hobby. For some writers, the goal is status with their peer groups, another motive that I’ve found is incompatible with the demands of writing from a purely professional perspective.
As always there are balance points between all these things. But I think, at the end of the day, if you’ve created something – created intellectual property – that is consumed by others, it’s fair that they pay for it.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016