On Creativity and the Law

by F.

I’m sympathetic to Stefan Stern’s views, as expressed yesterday in the FT

What we now call the Renaissance was, in French literary circles, also known as “la Restitution des Lettres”: the restoration or reproduction of classical learning. If Racine chose to write his own version of Euripedes’s Hippolytus – as he did – it was no rip-off or piece of cultural parasitism. To imitate was to be creative and, yes, original.

We still labour under a rather romantic (that is, Romantic) notion of what creativity and originality look like. We picture the lonely figure experiencing a eureka moment and, from nothing, creating something completely and utterly new.

But this view of creativity is simply wrong, and unhelpful in a corporate setting. Very little in this world is ever wholly “new” or the result of work carried out by a single person. Innovation is a team game, and one in which everyone has much to learn (and copy) from what is going on in the outside world.

Stern concludes that IP laws can stifle innovation, rather than promote them. My gut is that that is right: I suspect current IP laws impose a deadweight cost.

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