In case you haven’t seen it yet, the fourth episode of Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” series went live in mid-February on Ferguson’s site. As in the previous three episodes in the series, Ferguson examines modern attitudes toward “intellectual property” and how these attitudes rather counterintuitively stifle creativity rather than fostering it.
Part 4 of “Everything is a Remix” deals largely with the contentious subject of software patents, a subject we’ve covered many times here at TUAW. According to Ferguson, 62 percent of all patent lawsuits are now over software patents, and he estimates the total wealth “lost” (read: siphoned off from “infringing” companies and individuals towards patent holders and their lawyers) at half a trillion dollars.
Apple has found itself on both sides of the software patent trench warfare, as both target and aggressor. Ferguson makes it pretty obvious that Apple is just as guilty of hypocrisy as everyone else when it comes to software patents; he points out that Steve Jobs from 1996 proudly stated “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas,” while Steve Jobs from 2010 said he was going to “destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product” and was “willing to go thermonuclear war” on Google and its allegedly copycat product.
As Ferguson points out, “When we copy, we justify it. When others copy, we vilify it. Most of us have no problem with copying as long as we’re the ones doing it.”
The question remains, however, where to draw the line between copying as a necessary portion of innovation and copying as an admission of a failure to innovate. Some might say all Samsung has done with its many riffs on Apple’s products is “remix” the iPad and iPhone, but even after viewing Ferguson’s series I’m not wholly convinced of that.
On the other hand, Apple itself has long been accused of “copying” innovations at Xerox PARC for the first Mac OS — something Ferguson himself addressed in an earlier episode of his series — so the demarcation between “remix” and “shameless knockoff” isn’t always easy to find.
Ferguson’s entire series is very well put together, and is itself only possible because of the very “remixing” he discusses. If you haven’t caught the earlier episodes, I’d highly recommend setting aside an hour to watch all four parts back-to-back.