Copywrong!

by Didier Marlier on Friday April 26th, 2013

David Pearl is one of these “atypical” although highly competent and qualified personality that we like at the Enablers Network. All the work we have developed around the “Hero’s Journey” concept is coming from him. He regularly writes a blog and I found a recent post to be a great illustration of what Gerd Leonhard foresees as an unavoidable evolution: The challenge to the copyright mentality.

“Last week I was very nearly “copywronged”. What else would you call it when someone tries to forcibly enter your head and take your ideas for their own?  Maybe “copyraped” is a better term.

But there was no point turning to the law for help.  The lawyers were the perpetrators.

When clients hire me as a business speaker the contracts are normally quite standard affairs, confirming particulars of the engagement, a cancellation clause plus a bit of confidentiality for good measure.   But every so often a lawyer will tuck in a sneaky Intellectual Property smash-and-grab clause.

Last week’s was a classic.  It required me to sign over the copyright of all the ideas and materials I would be using in my session to the client for their unlimited use, anywhere in the world – forever.  They weren’t going to pay extra for this privilege nor would they allow me – get this – to use the same ideas with any other clients ever again.

This is a bit like going into a store, buying a new pair of Nikes and then insisting the retailer stops selling the same shoes to anyone else because you want to feel exclusive.  Good luck with that.

I am not saying I have anything against lawyers.  My dad and brother are both successful lawyers so family loyalty prevents me from saying anything disrespectful about them.  That, and the threat of a super injunction…

I do however have serious reservations about this piratical approach to IP.

  • For one thing, it’s bad business.  Playing legal hardball creates an immediate faultline between a client and new service provider like me, when we should be concentrating on building a fruitful new relationship.
  • For another, it’s bad manners.  No, it’s worse.  Like someone trying to make you sign a “pre-nup” on the first date,  it’s creepy.
  • It’s unenforceable (if I had signed they couldn’t possibly have made good on their threats),  and counter-productive (had they insisted I sign the clause, which in the end they didn’t, I would have simply walked away from the job).
  • But most importantly, it’s out of date.  In our post-industrial economy,  you create value by sharing ideas not hoarding them.  Have these guys never heard of open source?  Or the creative commons?

Yes, they’ve heard of it.  And it terrifies them.  They point at copyright infringements in the developing world and see themselves as all that stands between capitalism and chaos.  They’re the thin, grey pinstriped line.  Where would we be without them?

Quite possibly better off according to a young British inventor I met recently who sees his more successful and more famous inventor father pumping millions into patent litigation when he’d be better off just inventing more things.

My own father-in-law offered an interesting take on things.  He’s a distinguished designer who has recently turned expert witness for US manufacturers seeking to prosecute companies producing fake car parts.  Rather than pay ruinous legal bills, one car giant has recently signed a deal with the counterfeiters which goes something like this: “You agree not to produce the fake parts for an initial period of, say, three years.  And when you do, make them with our blessing and at a quality that we’d be proud of.”

From pirate to partner.  Everyone wins.  Except perhaps the lawyers…”

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