Reconsidering Copyright

Steve Pavlina famously blogs about “Personal Development for Smart People.”

He is always pushing himself to the limits in his attempt to discover ways to enhance his productivity, efficiency, and money flow. His blog is what he makes his living from. Which is why his latest idea seemed like one of those destined to crash and burn….

He’s given up his copyright.

That’s right, his entire life’s work, which he describes as “2 million words of content, enough to fill 25 books,” would become free to copy, distribute, and rewrite as anyone sees fit.

Now, for anyone who writes, copyright is sacrosanct.  Plagiarism is one of the seven deadly sins, banishing the evil-doer to the darkest depths of hell.  No one has the right to take our words and pass them off as their own.

But what if the words we write aren’t our own?

The Origin of Ideas

Where do your ideas come from?

For most writers, they come from a jumble of sources.  Perhaps you heard someone say something, and then you read something else, and then you heard something on the news that tied it all together.  Or maybe you just sat at the computer and let your fingers type away without much interference from your conscious mind.

In both cases, it could be argued that what you wrote is not actually your intellectual property, but common property belonging to all.

Case #1: Nothing is Original

One of those overused quotes that I can’t stand is:

“There’s nothing new under the sun.”

In other words, every idea has already been written about before.  You can’t say anything new; you can only rework old tropes in novel ways.  I’d say that most of us would agree with this statement.

But if it is the case that nothing is original, then how can copyright be claimed?

It’s like composer John Cage copyrighting 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence.  Most of us would consider such copyright ludicrous, but Mike Batt of “The Planets” had to pay six figures to settle a plagiarism case taken out against him by Cage’s estate, because Batt’s song, “A One Minute Silence,” contained … a minute of silence.

Why are we so possessive of our own ideas, if it’s clear that they are amalgamations of or based on ideas that other people before us have expressed?  Why do we think we own a storyline or characters when we based them on people we know or stories we heard in the news?

Clearly it’s impossible to be an original thinker, when all ideas owe a debt to their predecessors.  Intellectual property belongs to all.

Case #2: Inspiration is Divine

Please forgive me in advance if if I use some words that seem clunky.  I don’t meant to bring God into this, but I’m not sure how else to describe the origin of inspiration.  Let me explain…

Artists throughout history have found that, when they’re absorbed in the creative process, ideas flow forth that seem to have an origin outside themselves.  When they looked at what they had created, they didn’t recognize it as their own work.  It was the work of the Muse, or God, or the Divine.

It feels undeniable to say that truly great artists are the mouthpiece of a higher power, whether that power is God or the Zeitgeist.  Surely, the greatest works of art could not have come from a human mind alone.

They must have been inspired, given life by Divine breath.

If that’s the case, then how can their human creator claim copyright?

If we artists are merely channels, then our work is not our own.  The true copyright, if the concept still applies, belongs to whatever Higher Power was channelling through us.

And, if I can hazard a guess, I don’t think that Higher Power cares too much about copyright.  All It cares about is getting out Its message.

Pavlina’s Creative Process

Steve Pavlina goes down this channel in his extraordinary article, “Moving Beyond Copyright.”  He explains:

“The truth is that I can’t really say that I’m the one creating all this content. It flows through me so effortlessly that I don’t really know where it’s coming from….  When I write in the best way I know how (from inspiration), it’s like my consciousness steps aside, and content flows through me and onto the computer screen. I’m basically a pen. I let the dreamer communicate through me.”

The “dreamer” Pavlina is referring to is the sentience that’s dreaming our world.  At the time when he wrote this post, he was engaging in a 30-day trial where he committed fully to living with a subjective belief system, which he defines as “the notion that consciousness is primary, that there’s only one consciousness, and that all of physical reality is essentially a dream world that arises within consciousness” (30 Days of Inspiration).

–> As an aside, you notice how I’m quoting him carefully to avoid stepping on his copyright? 😉

The way Pavlina describes his creative process will be familiar to most of us:

“I simply wait for inspiration to hit me, and then I run with it….  I get the ideas as mental downloads. I understand the information quickly, and my job is to translate it into words, sentences, and paragraphs…. I’m essentially a human translator.”

Do you ever feel like that?

Do you ever feel as if your role as a writer is to just sit in front of the keyboard or the notepad, and wait for your Muse to start writing through you?

I know I do.  In fact, I hate to tell the Muse in advance what I want to write about, because I know she’ll make a much better choice than me.  I just have a general idea that I want to play with, and she’s off and running. Sometimes, she’ll end up guiding me to write something totally different than what I’d planned!

Now, I’m using the terms “Muse” and “she” for convenience.  I don’t actually think I have a Muse or that she’s a female.  I don’t really know what I’m channelling when I write.  I just trust whatever is “out there” a lot more than I trust my puny human brain.

Becoming a better writer, for me, has been a process of getting out of the way, letting inspiration take me in unexpected directions – even if I don’t know where it’s going, and trusting that words will appear on the page without too much work on my part.  (See Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.)

Do You Believe in Copyright?

So is what I write actually mine?

If I’m honest, I don’t think it is.

But my ego refuses to let me go down Pavlina’s sacrificial path of giving up copyright altogether.

My ego wants me to believe that I’m the greatest author on earth, my ideas are unique and original, and no one has a voice like mine.

My ego is tied up in being a writer.  I love everything I write.  I hone my sentences like little babies, pushing them proudly into the world once every syllable rings true.  My ego won’t let me abandon those babies to the ravaging wolves.  They’d be torn apart!

So I won’t be abandoning copyright any time soon, but I admire Pavlina for making the leap.

Category : Writing


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