Ideas are free

I’m going to stick my neck out and risk being perceived as a tad cranky. Deep breath, here goes.

When I was in grad school, lo, those many years ago, I took a class about copyright law as it pertains to the development of media products. I learned the intent of the copyright law: To reserve the rights to profit from protected works to the creator of the work. Seems simple enough, right? If I make something, I get to make money from it because it’s mine. Cool.

But: Ideas are not subject to copyright protection. Why is that?

The intent of those who penned the copyright law was to allow for the development of new works inspired by existing works. The idea behind the work cannot be protected by copyright. The rationale is to foster bigger, better, evolutions of works because creators can be inspired by an idea, fiddle with it, and make their own work based on the inspiring idea.

The copyright law is a humanist law. It’s a law premised on the principle that we, as a whole, are much greater than the sum of our parts. If we share, communicate, inspire, build: we really can change the world.

What I love most about knitting is the community of knitters. Knitters who share their ideas, techniques, and stitch markers. When I became a knitter, I fell into history; became part of the collective consciousness that continues to find new ways to combine knits and purls and fiber.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be at an intensely inspiring two day knitting workshop. The whole point of the workshop was to look at existing works, build on them, and come up with brilliant new ideas. The workshop was well attended, with several of the elite Knitterati present. The workshop ended with knitters sharing what they’d learned in the last two days. By the time it was over, my brain hurt from thinking so hard.

Much joy and light, right?

Here’s the bitter pill: Towards the end of the second day, several of the Knitterati where huddled over a laptop. They were right behind my chair. I could not help but hear what they were talking about occasionally, and it fell into an area in which I have some expertise. I turned around and asked, “What are you working on?” because I thought I might be able to help them.

They fell into silence; then one said, “We can’t tell you.”

Fast on my feet, I replied with a laugh, “Ha, well, there’s stuff I can’t tell you, either!” With some chuckling, we returned to what we were doing.

I’m writing about it because the incident has been eating at my heart. In the midst of a workshop all about building on the ideas of our predecessors, a room full of knitters supporting and crowing over the achievements of their classmates, I’d wound up sitting in front of a bunch of schoolgirls whispering out of school.

I was profoundly disappointed.

Ideas cannot be stolen. Ideas are free.

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