"The Creative Industry is the Reuse of Ideas"
Is the system of intellectual property (IP) that we had in place at the end of the 20th century the most appropriate one for the 21st century? That is the question John Howkins raised at a forum on creative industries and IPR protection during Shanghai International Creative Industry Week which ended on December 6. Howkins brands the question "the elephant in the room,"something very big and important but so embarrassing that everyone pretends it isn't there. A leading British expert in the creative industries, Howkins has 30 years experience in the film and TV industries, and is well versed in the need for effective IP laws. It is universally accepted that IP laws provide a way to register ownership and protect property. But, as Howkins points out, IP laws have another purpose, one he believes is widely underestimated. "They should also enable people to have access to what has been created," Howkins says. These two purposes appear contradictory. According to Howkins, major industrial companies, led by US, European and Japanese entertainment, publishing, design, pharmaceutical and engineering industries, all put heavy emphasis on the first purpose. Western governments, which are keen to make their national economies competitive and to protect jobs, also believe IP assets must be protected as much as possible and at all costs, Howkins says. "To them, the more IP, the better." But Howkins prefers another approach, which puts access above protection. To him, access to existing ideas, knowledge and data is the starting point of all new ideas. "New ideas are two old ideas meeting together," he says. "The creative industry is the reuse of ideas." Historically, Europe, the United States and Japan industrialized when their patent and copyright laws were weak and enforcement was patchy, he says. Likewise, many developing countries would benefit from similarly weak IP as they look to industrialize. Major steps forward continue to be made by those who choose not to seek IP protection, for example, free and open source software, the World Wide Web, the Global Positioning System and the map of the human genome. "My argument is that IP certainly offers incentives and rewards but may do so at the cost of slowing down and inhibiting future work," Howkins says.