The Blurred Lines copyright verdict, creativity & what it means for PR.

The Blurred Lines copyright verdict, creativity & what it means for PR.

So did you do what I did when I heard the judge’s ruling about the Pharrell Williams/Robin Thicke copyright lawsuit brought by the family of the late Marvin Gaye – did you go and check out how the two songs compared online?

It was a surprise verdict that stunned the music industry. As the Daily Telegraph said: “How can you copyright a shuffle?” Or a feeling?

No one likes outright plagiarism, but isn’t ‘inspiration’ from another source at the heart of almost everything you see and hear? Thicke and Williams are, apparently, licking their wounds (expensive wounds – the judge awarded a payout of $7.4m to Marvin Gaye’s kids), leaving around a third of the profit, but Pharrell did take a moment to give his thoughts about the matter to the Financial Times at the weekend.

“The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else,” he said. He rightly adds that this could apply to “fashion, music, design – anything,” and he definitely had me nodding along when he said, “Everything that’s around you in a room was inspired by something or someone. If you kill that, there’s no creativity.”

To suggest that the ruling represents a major turning point in creativity in PR and marketing is probably stretching it a bit, but the judge’s decision is definitely food for thought. We take on so much information on an unconcious leveI, can we ever really say that we have not been influenced in our thinking by other work?

Writer Kirby Ferguson, creator of Everything is a Remix, believes that nothing is original. From Bob Dylan to Steve Jobs, he proposes our most celebrated creators borrow, steal and mould ideas. There’s a great TED talk on this from him on this here.

As Picasso said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” 

In PR-land, just take the idea of a ‘pop up’ anything. It’s hard to pinpoint the ‘first’ of these – but there are examples dating back to 1999 in retail, now totally ubiquitous, old hat, been there, done that. You may have seen the great Christmas stunt/campaign in 2013 from Westjet ‘realtime giving’ that garnered masses of word of mouth, coverage and kudos, and at the time of writing, 41m Youtube hits. All last year agencies were asking for a ‘Westjet please’ in creative briefs I saw.

Compare with this 2010 Spanair’s ‘unexpected luggage’ campaign which got 396,000 hits and much less interest. Notice similarities? Obviously we’ll never know the ins and outs of how either of these campaigns came to life.

I really like the current #LidlSurprises campaign which is another take on the random acts of kindness trend (leveraged above) that’s been going for several years now. Even banks are getting in on the act like NatWest’s Little thankyous campaign and the more recent Lloyds Bank Thank You Sally campaign (notice any more similarities?). American futurist and trend guru, Faith Popcorn (previously an ad agency CD) talks about how and why trends and similar ideas emerge at the same time in her famous and brilliant book ‘The Popcorn Report’ http://www.faithpopcorn.com

In our copy and paste culture nothing is sacred. How many times have you googled a topic whilst prepping a pitch or a presentation and found something that you can ‘swipe with glee’ and nabbed it for your deck? We’ve all done it. Do you feel duty bound to acknowledge the author or the copyright of the image or do you just move on to the next thing? But the minute you use a quote or an image you don’t have permission for you’re in breach of copyright.

Many digital campaigns now thrive on the idea of crowdsourcing or throwing the idea out to the world and seeing what happens. Who owns the idea then? There are 10 great examples of crowdsourced music projects here.

The customisation trend prevelant just about everywhere from jars of Nutella to your Nikes often invites people to mess with your product or brand.

Steve Jobs famously said that “creativity is just connecting things” and that creative people find more things to connect than others. This is called combinational creativity and is a technique to generate ideas – this in itself acknowledges that there is a starting point for the idea that’s not original – but the mash up might be.

If the ruling does anything, it might perhaps encourage us all to try just a tiny bit harder. Originality does count. In PR we’re in the business of ideas and we’re all striving to have original, brilliant, ‘wish I’d done that’ kick ass ones! Do you believe there’s such a thing as a 100 per cent original idea? One to ponder in the pub on Friday when many ‘original’ ideas emerge.

©Claire Bridges 2015 (!)

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