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The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks…
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The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation (2012)

by Kal Raustiala, Christopher Sprigman

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In school, students are taught of the historic importance of copyright and intellectual property as ways of assuring the rights of the creator and ensuring first-mover advantage. In THE KNOCKOFF ECONOMY, however, the authors take a look at innovations that cannot be copyrighted, including football plays, jokes,recipes, and music. In the digital era, how does non-protection (or lack of punishment for imitation) impact and, in some cases, spur innovation and profits? How does giving one's music away on Myspace or Facebook lead to future financial gain?

Rather than dismissing the power of copyright, the authors -- both bloggers for the Freakonomics blog -- tell compelling, well-researched stories that coax us all into thinking differently about the potential opportunities that arise from knockoffs, mimicry, and prolific sharing.

While this book has obvious appeal for professionals interested in issues of intellectual property (such as attorneys, inventors, CEOs, and librarians), the seductive arguments will have general audience appeal.

Highly recommended.

(165) ( )
  activelearning | Aug 25, 2012 |
Uncompensated and uncontrolled copying is all around us, and it’s not destroying creators’ willingness to create. The core case studies of the book are: (1) Fashion, where norms don’t stop copying, but instead, the authors argue, the inherent desire of fashion consumers for the new and trendy and distaste for the old means that innovation continues even with a lot of copying, though copying may well add a bit of speed to the cycle. Of course, fashion is often despised for this changeability, where we celebrate innovation in many other cases; both fashion’s lack of intellectual property protection and its general lesser status compared to other arts are gendered. (2) Recipes created by chefs, where norms do govern and restrain copying in many circumstances; chefs generally seek credit for innovation but share information readily. Also gendered in its lack of intellectual property protection and rise into higher status; cooking became art when men (“chefs”) started to do it. (3) Stand-up comedy, where there has been a noticeable decrease in acceptance of copying over time, which the authors connect to changes in the technological context—comedians can now reach millions and thus copying a joke is more noticeable and may really occupy the field in a way that vaudevillians stealing from each other didn’t—and relatedly changes in the social meaning of comedy—a shift to identity-based rather than single-joke comedy that is likely to make many kinds of copying more difficult/less funny to the audiences. Louis C.K. can’t tell a Sarah Silverman joke without substantially revising it to make it his own. Comedians reportedly have strong anticopying norms backed not just by gossip but by the threat of violence (again, gendered), and the norms cover far more than copyright would, protecting the premise or idea of a joke that is, under copyright’s terms, free for anyone to appropriate. Based on these three, the authors suggest that “Social norms about creativity probably work best, and are most likely to take root, in contexts that are most social—that is, where individuals are the key actors and where they rub up against each other frequently.” (Interestingly, it would be relatively easy to secure copyright for jokes, but comedians just don’t use the copyright system to protect against copying, almost without exception.)

The book also discusses magicians, who prize secrecy from the public over anticopying; financial products, where innovation is not necessarily a good thing; football moves; fonts; and databases. An epilogue discusses music; the authors suggest that music is transforming, not dying, with money shifting to touring and other forms of production that don’t rely on large-scale record sales. (For football, the discussion of the mixed, often negative reaction to the West Coast Defense, the No-Huddle Offense, and the Spread Offense, all adopted by weaker teams to offset the advantages of the existing leaders, reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell on underdogs in basketball. Whereas the football innovations were all eventually adopted by other teams, Gladwell’s story makes the point that innovations are regularly resisted by people doing well under the current system; in fact they can be crushed if you convince enough people that doing the thing “right” requires avoiding innovation.)

A coding challenge where submissions to a contest are all public and can be borrowed as the contest continues helps illustrate that what the authors call “tweakers” are often directly responsible for refining a leap by a pioneer, and this both incentivizes tweakers and leads to big debates over credit allocation. Copyright and patent don’t favor tweaking, though; and this leads to an unfortunate aside about how it’s maybe a good thing that we all can’t rewrite Star Trek episodes to “explore the romantic possibilities between Commander William Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi,” along with an equally unfortunate footnote noting that, in fact, plenty of people do just this but deeming “almost all” fan fiction to be infringing, neglecting fair use.

One overarching lesson of the book’s case studies is that regimes that don’t rely on intellectual property to incentivize creativity and innovation are everywhere; copyright and patent are more exceptional than we often assume. Things that are relevant to the kinds of copying and innovation that occur include: fads, norms, the ability to sell a different underlying product or experience/performance along with a creative work, first-mover advantages, and branding success (we pay more for Coke than for generic grocery store cola). ( )
  rivkat | Aug 4, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195399781, Hardcover)

From the shopping mall to the corner bistro, knockoffs are everywhere in today's marketplace. Conventional wisdom holds that copying kills creativity, and that laws that protect against copies are essential to innovation--and economic success. But are copyrights and patents always necessary? In The Knockoff Economy, Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman provocatively argue that creativity can not only survive in the face of copying, but can thrive.

The Knockoff Economy approaches the question of incentives and innovation in a wholly new way--by exploring creative fields where copying is generally legal, such as fashion, food, and even professional football. By uncovering these important but rarely studied industries, Raustiala and Sprigman reveal a nuanced and fascinating relationship between imitation and innovation. In some creative fields, copying is kept in check through informal industry norms enforced by private sanctions. In others, the freedom to copy actually promotes creativity. High fashion gave rise to the very term "knockoff," yet the freedom to imitate great designs only makes the fashion cycle run faster--and forces the fashion industry to be even more creative.

Raustiala and Sprigman carry their analysis from food to font design to football plays to finance, examining how and why each of these vibrant industries remains innovative even when imitation is common. There is an important thread that ties all these instances together--successful creative industries can evolve to the point where they become inoculated against--and even profit from--a world of free and easy copying. And there are important lessons here for copyright-focused industries, like music and film, that have struggled as digital technologies have made copying increasingly widespread and difficult to stop.

Raustiala and Sprigman's arguments have been making headlines in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Boston Globe, Le Monde, and at the Freakonomics blog, where they are regular contributors. By looking where few had looked before--at markets that fall outside normal IP law--The Knockoff Economy opens up fascinating creative worlds. And it demonstrates that not only is a great deal of innovation possible without intellectual property, but that intellectual property's absence is sometimes better for innovation.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:13 -0400)

"Conventional wisdom holds that intellectual property rights are essential for innovation. But are copyright and patents really necessary to spark creativity? In The Knockoff Economy, Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman provocatively argue that creativity can not only survive in the face of copying, but can thrive. The Knockoff Economy approaches the question of incentives and innovation in a wholly new way--by exploring creative fields that do not rely on legal monopolies, such as fashion, cuisine, and even professional football. By uncovering these important but rarely studied creative worlds, Raustiala and Sprigman reveal a nuanced and fascinating relationship between imitation and innovation. In some creative fields copying is kept in check through informal industry norms enforced by private sanctions. In other cases, the freedom to copy actually promotes creativity. High fashion gave rise to the very term "knockoff," yet imitation only makes the fashion cycle run faster--and forces the fashion industry to be ever more creative. Raustiala and Sprigman carry their analysis from food to font design to football plays to finance, examining how and why each of these vibrant fields remains innovative, even in the face of sometimes extensive imitation. There is an important thread that ties all these instances together--successful creative industries can evolve to be resistant to, and even to profit from, piracy. And there are important lessons here for copyright-focused industries, like music and film, that have struggled with piracy. Raustiala and Sprigman's arguments have been making headlines in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Boston Globe, Le Monde, and elsewhere. By looking where few had looked before--at industries that fall outside normal IP law--The Knockoff Economy opens up fascinating creative worlds. And it demonstrates that not only is a great deal of innovation possible without IP, but that IP's absence is sometimes better for innovation"--"In many sectors, copying is more or less accepted as a business strategy. Products that look, taste, and sound suspiciously like 'originals' abound in upscale chain restaurants, fashion outlets, and contemporary architecture. And such industries typically regard the pervasive piracy as a spur toward further innovation (albeit individual designers and creators may condemn it). When an original becomes a knockoff, it's a signal to move on to the next big thing. Interestingly, while piracy certainly skirts legality, there is no prosecution of it in many arenas. Instead, sectors as diverse as the jam band circuit, the gourmet scene in New York and Los Angeles, the comedy circuit, the garment industry, and the NFL accept the fact that copying will occur and instead rely on social norms to police the practice. Those who step out of bounds are called on it, and often ostracized. As Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman argue in The Piracy Paradox, such fields have not suffered any loss of vibrancy. There is presently an intense debate surrounding copyright law, especially with regard to how it applies to the media and entertainment industries, yet very rarely does it factor in the benefits of piracy that are so evident in other sectors. This is to their detriment, the authors argue. Enhancing copyright law has not worked, largely because people subjected to it do not accept the social norms that the law implies. Changing norms so that consumers and producers buy into limits on acceptable practice offers a path out of the dilemma. That means acknowledging the dynamism that an acceptable level of piracy fosters, and in turn rejecting aggressive approaches to copyright law enforcement"--… (more)

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