Happy World Intellectual Property Day!

By | Tuesday, April 26, 2011 1 comment
Bet you didn't know that today was World Intellectual Property Day, did you? Almost certainly not if you live in the United States. Since 2001, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO, an agency of the United Nations) has held conferences and symposiums on April 26 "to celebrate creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the development of societies across the globe". As near as I can tell, though, it's almost wholly ignored here in the States.

I only first heard of the organization and the event this morning. Now, admittedly, it usually takes a few years for holidays and celebrations to catch on, but what I've been able to find online so far suggests that more people are aware of the event in Mexico than here in the States, despite the population difference and, ostensibly, a greater importance put upon idea generation up here. The event is, by comparison, HUGE in most European countries and has a strong base in the Middle East, South America and Southern Asia.

Which leads me to wonder why it's not bigger here.

I mean, arguably, America is founded on the notion of creativity, isn't it? If you don't like the way something works or think of a better way to do it, work it up on your own, sell it and make yourself a millionaire. That's the America DreamTM, isn't it? Haven't many of the great inventions over the past 100 years come from the U.S.? Aren't many of the best-known characters in pop culture from the U.S.? Doesn't a huge chunk of our export revenue come from movies, video games and television? If so much of our society stems from the promotion of intellectual properties, shouldn't we be more interested in something called World Intellectual Property Day?

We should, of course. But we're not.

The issue, as I see it, stems from the fact that putting on World Intellectual Property Day events requires money. Money that is largely in the pockets of large corporations. Corporations that have invested millions of dollars over decades to secure intellectual property rights for themselves. Corporations that have lobbied hard to repeatedly extend copyright laws that prevent works from entering the public domain for generations longer than they used to. (My friend Matt had an excellent post about that many years ago. Hey, Matt, I don't suppose you still have that, do you? It was on your blog prior to Alchemy.) These corporations fully realize the value of intellectual property and also know that they (as an organization) can't really generate more ideas; they're reliant upon individuals working for the organization. Further, they know that the people who CAN generate great I.P. ideas generally don't need the corporation to secure the rights to those ideas.

There was a chart in a Jack Kirby Collector several years ago where someone analyzed all the issues of the Fantastic Four and plotted how many new characters Jack introduced each year. I can't find it offhand to check the specifics, but the numbers went up and up, until around issue #70 and the last two years or so of the title saw mostly variations on old ideas. The reason had nothing to do with Jack's creativity -- he was still dreaming up new characters and story ideas. But now, he was keeping the best ideas to himself. He didn't want give Stan Lee (and Marvel) anything else that would make them a lot of money. That's why, when Jack finally quit Marvel and went to DC, he had this incredible flurry of output with his Fourth World material. That was all stuff he'd been saving up.

Of course, he realized that DC wasn't any better in that regard after a year or two, so he held back on his ideas. That's where Kurt Busiek's and Alex Ross' upcoming Kirby: Genesis comes from: all the brilliant ideas Jack had after he left DC.

You can look at some of the legal fights that have been going on in comicdom lately to see the same thing. The ongoing Siegel/Shuster battle against DC over Superman. The ongoing battle between Lee and Stan Lee Media, Inc. The various lawsuits from the Kirby estate and Joe Simon against Marvel. Those are all about a large corporation trying to hold on to intellectual property that was created by someone else.

I'm not saying that your not hearing about World Intellectual Property Day before now is part of some grand conspiracy. I'm just saying that I suspect most corporations who might sponsor such an event see it as going against their best interests to help educate creators about their rights.

Just something to think about.
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Matt K said...

Yeah, pretty much.

Message of Easter: buy chocolate eggs.

Message of Mother's Day: buy greeting cards.

Message of Sweetest Day: buy flowers.

Message of World Intellectual Property Day: Buy lawyers and lawmakers so that intellectual property laws favor your end of the trade.

Hm, yeah, large companies and particularly large media companies wouldn't seem to have quite as much motivation to spread that message among society at large.