Social Pressure Can Solve The 'Copying' Problem Even Without Copyright

This article, by Mike Masnick, originally appeared on techdirt on 2/23/09. 

from the reputation-is-a-scarce-good dept

Whenever we talk about a world without copyright, people chime in about how awful it would be because someone can just "take" someone else’s content and pretend it’s their own. However, that’s not nearly as easy as people make it out to be.

As we’ve pointed out before, in many such cases, it won’t take people long to figure out where the content really originated from, and the end result is that the "copyist" (especially if it’s blatant, and they do little to improve the content) has their reputation slammed. And, since your reputation is a scarce good (often one of the most important in any business model), there is strong social pressure to stop any such copying.

Two recent examples demonstrate this in a very clear manner.

First, MAKE Magazine noted that publishers Klutz/Scholastic were publishing a book on BristleBots, small robots made out of toothbrush heads, and failed to credit the folks who had originally created BristleBots, a group called Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, as an example of a simple, do-it-yourself, robot making system. It was a pretty blatant copy, from both the name to the design. And, while Klutz/Scholastic at first tried to claim that it was independently created, the similarities between the two made that difficult to believe. This resulted in a public outcry from many different sites, and Klutz/Scholastic finally agreed to back down and will credit the Evil Mad Scientists in all future releases. Notice that this didn’t involve any copyright claims or lawsuits — but pure public pressure, and the potential (serious) damage to Klutz/Scholatic’s brand and reputation. Already, the reputation is damaged, and the company will likely be much more careful in the future.

Meanwhile, angry jonny points us to another example. The community over at the excellent website Metafilter discovered that the author of the webcomic User Friendly has been blatantly copying punchlines to his comics from the Metafilter community.


Read the rest of the article at techdirt.  Publetariat editor’s note: since the piece was written, the creator of the User Friendly comic strip has taken down the strips at the center of the controversy.  Therefore, links to those strips in the second half of this article will not display the comics in question.