What Will You Do In A World Where Anyone Can Rip Off What You Make?


Tuesday, 7.34pm

Sheffield, U.K.

They say the secret of success is being at the right place at the right time, but since you never know when the right time is going to be, I figure the trick is to find the right place and just hang around.” – Bill Waterson

It’s not often when some of my favourite concepts find themselves travelling towards each other and, unlike physical objects that find it hard to occupy the same space at the same time, combine to create something greater – something more lasting.

Let me explain.

If you are familiar with Bill Waterson’s cartoons of Calvin and Hobbes – the boy with the tiger – you may remember that he once invented a transmogrifier – something that would change you into something else.

Later, he modified the transmogrifier, turning it on its side creating a duplicator – where you could make copies of anything.

The one in the image above is the perfected version…

A duplicator, coincidentally, is the subject of a story that Neil Gaiman remembers in his book The view from the cheap seats – a story that changed how he looked at things.

And it has to do with theft.

When someone steals from you they take something you have, something you can’t get back.

Like your watch or some gold or a car.

But when you steal music or a book or a movie, Gaiman points out, it’s something different – what you’re doing is using a duplicator – making a copy.

In doing that the original hasn’t been taken, but an exact copy has.

What this means for creators is that the value of stuff that can be duplicated is going to go down.

If you create a song now you sell it for less than a dollar.

Books are cheap – not many people can get away with selling books that have a three figure price tag.

The entire industry that goes into policing intellectual property – making sure that copies are not passed around may keep prices high but reduces value as well due to the cost of policing.

In this new world the things that will hold and gain in value are the things that cannot be reproduced.

Gaiman suggests these are things like live shows and personal contact.

And we’re all probably finding that to be the case – which is why events and get-togethers are one of the fastest growing segments of society and activity.

Gaiman then talks about his friend Cory Doctorow who has an analogy about mammals and dandelions that starts to explain this changing world.

Mammals invest a huge amount of time protecting and nurturing their young.

Dandelions let their seeds drift away with the wind and don’t worry about which ones make it or not.

People who treat their intellectual property like mammals treat their young – protective and nurturing to ensure their profits will find the whole thing pretty hard going and pretty depressing.

The thing for creators now is to create – that’s the first thing.

As the quote that starts this post suggests find something you like doing and then go about doing it.

Don’t worry about profits and protection and property – such things are from the old days.

Just create and set your creations free to drift with the wind – fly along the Internet.

And find things to do to help you make a living that are hard to duplicate – consulting, events, support, maintenance – the kinds of things that will pay for food and shelter and some luxuries.

Because the thing is you might find that the duplicator works for you and the things you do that are hard to duplicate work for you.

The only question is when?

Until then, hang around creating stuff you enjoy making.


Karthik Suresh

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: