The Artist and Intellectual Property

As my regular readers know, I co-invented a musical instrument called the WalkaBout Drum, which is receiving modest success and slowly increasing popularity. So much so, that we recently discovered our first copycat manufacturer, someone who’s trying to sell a knock-off version of our instrument. I admit that when I first saw their ad, I got angry, like a papa bear whose cubs have been threatened. Like any act of thievery, I felt wronged, cheated, violated.

But after mulling it about for awhile, I began to settle down. We’ve put much effort into defining and refining, even creating an entire ecosystem for this instrument. We have multiple patents and trademarks. We’ve developed proprietary designs and manufacturing processes. So we feel fairly certain that we can protect our interests from infringement. And as a number of people have mentioned to me, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

But I began to think again about this weird thing we call Intellectual Property. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, “Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.” So IP is not a thing in the material sense of the word. But it is understood to be a property just the same. IP includes designs, inventions, processes, trade secrets, and software, but it also includes songs, theatrical plays, graphic designs, sound and visual performances, books, paintings, novels, images, and even symbols. So if you are an artist who has painted, composed, penned, designed, or filmed, you have created—and possess—Intellectual Property.

The ability to prosper from and protect one’s intellectual property is one of the backbones upon which our entire western culture is based. Innovation and creativity are what fuel our society, and our ability to protect the innovators and creatives—as well as their works—is one way in which we allow ourselves to flourish technologically, artistically, and socially. Free cultures encourage and reward and protect originality.

There are several ways in which we treat and protect IP. Copyrights protect things like books, music, paintings, film, photographs, websites, computer programs, and video games. Patents are granted to original inventions and processes, either for its design or its utility. Trademarks protect logos, images, and company identities. And of course, there are many complicated and varied laws and rights behind each of these types of protections.

Looking back at our definition, I love how the WIPO refers to Intellectual Property as “creations of the mind.” For artists give birth not only to paintings or songs or choreography. We give birth to ideas. To concepts. To emotions. For Artists of faith, this is even more true, for we are made in the image of an ever Creative God, and we know from where our creativity springs. So we have an obligation to properly steward not only our gifts and talents, but the creations of our mind as well.

In some circumstances, I do believe that imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. But imitation can also be a form of stealing. So at some point, I guess we’re going to have to lawyer up. If you are an artist, inventor, innovator, or creative, I highly encourage you to understand the laws and protections afforded to you, in order that you properly steward and protect your IP. Laws vary from discipline to discipline, and from country to country, so know what’s out there for your benefit.

And may creativity abound in every aspect of your life.

[Banner photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash. Inset photo by Diz Play on Unsplash.]

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