April 1, 2013
It is interesting to me that so many people regard intellectual property, as much as they do regard it at all, as falling into one of two categories.
One view is reserved for widgets and things crafted by engineers, meant to be fought over by oligopolies and made sacrosanct by expensive lawyers that exist to make sure no companies or individuals steal their creation of the newest so-and-so.
The other regards intellectual property as something that is pop culture in the absolute largest sense of the word. A dominating force meant to be acquired and controlled by, again, some giant, multi-national corporate media entity. Giant libraries of characters, universes, and merchandising potential. (Think “Star Wars,” Marvel Comics, Harry Potter, Disney, “The Lord of the Rings,” etc.) Giant, hulking behemoths that throw off billions of dollars a year in revenues and that will exist in perpetuity in our collective cultural consciousness.
Why bring up intellectual property as it relates to these notions? Well, to put it as simply as possible: Intellectual properties are mere “creations of the mind.” What that means is that anyone can create IP. Anyone.
But what is also less understood is that what “intellectual property” really is, in it’s most turgid legalese, a form of control. It is a system of memorializing your ideas in their most infinitely possible, well beyond their beginning and end, without the bounds of time and space. Because while copyright protects a story or narrative as it exists now, intellectual property protects anything that could exist from that same story.
Han Solo as a character, is an extremely valuable piece of intellectual property. Along with Spider-Man, Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter, and so on. Who knows what narrative these characters will exist in, the only thing that matters is that we know that they will continue in some form. Because what you are controlling is not the idea per se, but the possibilities that idea holds. And it’s in that vastness of possibility that those who create, need to look for power.
What creatives, storytellers and creators of ephemera are oft to shy away from is the notion of intellectual property in its most pejorative sense. That’s because it is perceived to be so antithetical to what they do. Creation represents boundless possibilities of artistic expression/freedom and “intellectual property” is a legal system of constraint. Granted it can be misused, but at it’s most basic by viewing one’s work as intellectual property anyone, absolutely anyone, can create infinities.
Because while a muse may grant someone to create in the moment, very few, if anyone can foresee the possibilities of their creations. Into what forms, what realms, what journeys, and across what media creations may inhabit, only grows, changes, and expands with time. Lucas may have understood “A New Hope” from beginning to end at the time he wrote it, but certainly didn’t know his “Star Wars” universe would grow to encompass literally tens of thousands of characters and span tens of thousands of years. But foresight of understanding that what he was creating was powerful IP was enough for his infinity to expand to whatever reaches he and/or it decides.
But the pivotal point remains, anyone can do this. As story telling becomes increasingly democratic and the walls that previously stood in the way of its dissemination crumble, people have nearly complete and total control of the stories they want to tell. But what can’t be overlooked is they also don’t have to place their creations, their ideas in anyone else’s hands to let it grow. For it to jump medium from web comic to TV show, to go from YouTube webisode to feature film, or from concept art to video game. For more characters to get introduced or for their universe to expand, all that people need to recognize is that there is value in the possibility of of the art they have yet to create
Having control means having freedom and ultimately, that’s how the best stories are told.