The Knockoff Economy

Learn why imitation can often drive innovation.

Back in 2000, the band, Metallica, had filled a lawsuit against Napster, which had been a music sharing site. They had gotten so tired of their fans taking advantage of the website in order to either steal or copy their music and not paying a cent to do it. Most people in the industry believe that in order to enjoy everything that creators make, people need to pay for it in return.

As fair as that opinion may be, it’s actually incorrect. Instead of stealing the creator’s work, imitation and copying, the majority of the time, can be immensely advantageous to them. In this text, you’ll learn how a variety of industries, whether it be fashion or sports, have been positively impacted from those who copy and imitate.

You’ll find out:

  • How come there’s no such thing as an authentic chef
  • How come radiohead ended up making more money when they had given
  • out their album away for free
  • What had happened to the Encarta encyclopedia

Copying and imitation do not need to stifle creativity and innovation.

During any conversation about copyright law, there’s a pretty big chance that you’ll encounter someone talking about how both copying and imitation negatively impact creativity as well as innovation. People think that copying isn’t as costly as creating resulting in a decrease in trying to be innovative. Why would someone try to spend their time, savings, and energy in order to create a brand new idea if they can just copy it?

However, copyright laws don’t even protect those industries that are the most creative. Copying happens naturally, but regardless, the industry ends up prospering.

Based on data between 1998 to 2012 from the US Bureau of Labor, the average price of clothing has essentially stayed the same all throughout. You’d think that those businesses whose goods had been regularly copied due to their high prices would damage their bottom line. However, in actuality, those companies ended up booming even though they were selling their clothing 250 percent higher than that of their competitors who had been copying them.

In the same respect, there isn’t a copyright protection for recipes, either. That being said, a lot of people claim that the culinary environment has hit its creative summit.

Should you be a chef that’s had their winning recipe copied, your status as an inventive chef is only strengthened. For instance, Thomas Keller’s dish, “Oyster and Pearls”, has been copied far and wide. However, did that make him go out of business. On the contrary, it had earned both his restaurant, The French Laundry, and himself, international respect and success.

In addition, just because some industries encourage strict copyright laws, it doesn’t mean that they’re more creative. Those industries like music and film, which have a lot more strict protections that prevent people from copying anything, have been seeing a decrease in their markets. In addition to keeping pirating at bay, those protections also make it much more difficult for new competitors, who have been a prominent force behind innovation in the industry, to sample previous work with their own pieces for free.

It’s no secret that copying is accepted in some industries, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less creative. On the contrary, it ads to their creative environment.

Copying can serve as a foundation for creativity.

In a few industries, copying isn’t an offence that needs to be adamantly pushed out, but rather it’s just how the industry works. In those industries, creativity and innovation only occur thanks to copying.

A few markets are actually quite creative, and thus successful, all with the help of copying and imitating.

For instance, open-source computer programming is a very creative market where all of the source code of any particular program is able to be copied at any point in time.

That model has demonstrated how successful it actually is. In fact, 25 percent of every corporate servers operate using Linux, which is an open-source operating system. Over half of them use Apache, which is an open-source web-server software. In addition, Mozilla Firefox is a free as well as open-source web browser, which boasts over 150 million users.

Every single one of those programs develops and evolves accurately since it’s so simple and accessible in order to copy.

In addition, copying plays a huge role in the culinary industry as hopeful chefs copy both recipes and techniques in order to better their skillset and enhance their taste.

The culinary industry had even recognized how important it is to copy back in 2006, when Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller, three of the most innovative chefs of the past several decades, had published their manifesto in the Guardian. It stated that the top culinary traditions are “collective, cumulative inventions.”

In addition, nonprofit, shared, as well as creative components are able to be even more successful than those ones that had been protected with the help of copyright.

Take, for instance, Wikipedia, which has been written anonymously and by those who didn’t get paid, but understand that their work can be copied by any person at any period of time as long as Wikipedia gets credit for it. Regardless, it is today’s most comprehensive encyclopedia that boasts over 20 million entries.

This is quite an accomplishment, especially in comparison to Microsoft’s no longer functioning encyclopedia Encarta. It only had 62,000 entries even though it had been protected via copyright as well as significant resources.

Copying current inventions and tweaking them can lead to new innovations.

Whenever you think about Thomas Edison, your first thought is probably, “Oh, yes; that’s the person who had come up with the idea of a lightbulb.” However, was that invention that he had gotten so much acclaim for an entirely brand new idea or had it been something that he created based on other people’s work?

Edison’s designs had actually been alternatives of ideas from a collection of various proto-light bulbs which helped create what we now call a lightbulb.

In fact, by echoing and changing up ideas and creations that have already been made, we are able to broadly widen innovation.

For instance, fonts aren’t protected by copyright law, therefore, it’s quite simple to copy as well as change up. Since those symbols aren’t protected, creators have been able to make brand new, cool fonts that derive from those that have already been created.

In fact, Microsoft’s Arial is currently one of the most utilized fonts worldwide and was made in order to be able to steer clear of paying licensing fees for a font that exists.

That type of copying and change has caused an eruption in the number of fonts out there today. Based on a survey made in 1990, the number of fonts totalled was at around 44,000 fonts. In 2002, that number had increased all the way to 100,000. In 2012, that number increased even more to a smooth 170, 232.

In addition, copying boosts market cycles and puts a lot of pressure on businesses to innovate if they’d like to have a high standing in the market. This is very prevalent in the fashion industry, as copies of name brand pieces from brands that aren’t nearly as expensive lead to those pieces going out of style. Now, although it is necessary to get enough people to wear your designs in order to bring them in style, their value does end up decreasing the more people are wearing it.

As a result, designers whose pieces get copies are forced to constantly work hard to make new pieces, resulting in a boost in momentum for a rise in innovation.

Social norms can self-regulate copying without the need for intellectual property regulations.

Intellectual property doesn’t always need to be protected by laws. Indeed, there are powerful social norms in a handful of industries that aren’t protected by copyright law in order to keep copying from deteriorating.

In the comedy industry, although comedians aren’t protected with the help of copyright law, they’ve made their own agreement with each other promising not to steal from each other.

When the comedian Dane Cook had been accused of taking some work from Louis C.K., the other comedians had shunned him and he had gotten lots of disapproval from his audience. All of those objections and disapproval came with plenty of repercussions. In fact, Cook claimed that the time after the ordeal had been one of the toughest in his life.

Likewise, a study made back in 2008 on highly acclaimed French chefs and shown that although they borrow a lot of things from each other, they never copy recipes word by word. The research had also shown that whenever chefs revealed things about their dishes to their fellow chefs, that information doesn’t travel to others without the permission of the chef. However, should permission be given, that initial chef would get the appropriate recognition.

In addition, consumers can easily tell the difference between a copycat and the original; typically choosing to have the original instead of the copy.

In the instance between Cook and Louis C.K., fans had become a part of the conversation. Although Louis C.K. had never actually discussed the situation, thus not shining a light on it, those fans that had found the similarities between the two and accused Cook of plagiarism on a number of platforms including blogs as well as anonymous YouTube videos.

In the fashion industry, a huge part of the consumer experience is the social status that pieces offer. Copies typically offer a lower status. Therefore, when wearing the proper brand and being the first one doing it helps keep up the status of originals. For instance, an original Louis Vuitton bag has so much more status than that of one from a knock-off market over in Thailand.

That being said, it’s unlikely that copying will be disappearing in the near future. Therefore, what does the future of innovation look like in a world that copies?

In the future, competition will drive innovation through tweaking.

It’s simple to see how businesses that have powerful intellectual property protection are able to remain at the top. They simply have to submit a patent. However, how are businesses able to compete when copying is so prevalent?

Competition pushes innovation by making slight adjustments, copying something that’s already been made, and enhancing it with the help of minor changes.

We can see changes happen in real time on the football field on Monday nights, when NFL coaches copy and enhance plays in order to be able to remain in competition with others.

Apple’s well-known Steve Jobs had been detailed as a tweaker instead of an innovator. In fact, the iPad, which had been one of his last innovations, was virtually just a tweak of a concept from their rival, Microsoft.

In the financial field, both copying and altering investment strategies is yet another method that investors can utilize in order to remain at the top of their competition.

For instance, when John Bogle had created the first index fund, which is an investment strategy that was created to mimic the average performance of stocks on the stock market, his colleagues weren’t very impressed. Initially, they had made fun of it and had even began calling that idea, “Bogle’s folly”.

However, by 2001, there had been more than 400 index funds in the American market. Even though Bogle’s strategy had been copied in abundance, his business, The Vanguard Group, is still the major index fund provider.

Even in a few of the most competitive industries, like tech and finance, you’ll find that they deal with lots of copying, mimicking, and altering. Despite that, not a single one of those fields have plummeted. On the contrary, they act as a perfect instance of the type of innovation produced from copying and altering.