Here is an excerpt from The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation, which has just been published by Oxford University Press. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be running 2 excerpts from the book here on the blog and taking questions from Freakonomics readers in a Q&A. We’ll also run a contest for the wackiest photo of a knockoff item.
In The Knockoff Economy we examine the relationship between copying and creativity. Most people who study this area look at industries such as music or publishing, where intellectual property (IP) protections are central. We do something different: we explore innovative industries—such as fashion, food, fonts, and finance–in which IP is either unavailable or not effective. In these industries copying is common, yet we find that innovation thrives. In a world in which technology is making copying ever easier, we think these industries have a lot to teach us. And one of the key lessons is that copying is not just a destructive force; it can also be productive. Harnessing the productive side of copying—the ability to refine, improve, and update existing innovations—is at the heart of this excerpt.
THE KNOCKOFF ECONOMY
Rules against copying don’t just cover outright imitation. They also address variations: works that use that some portion of another creative work but add in new stuff, and in the process transform the original work. Think of Shepard Fairey’s famous Hope poster of Barack Obama, which took an existing photograph and reworked it into an iconic image: Read More »
In honor of Memorial Day, Foreign Policy published a fantastic photo essay on a year in the life of an American soldier. “It has been a tumultuous year for the U.S. Armed Services,” the magazine writes, “one that included the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq and preparations for a dramatic drawdown of combat troops in Afghanistan, the end of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the removal of a dictator in Libya, and a strategic pivot to Asia. At the same time, the American military has weathered a scandal over burning Qurans in Afghanistan and stared down the barrel of a looming budget fight in Congress.” The essay includes images of soldiers training in the U.S. and elsewhere, patrolling and in combat in Afghanistan, and returning home.
Its content notwithstanding, what’s interesting to me about this picture is how jarring it is to see a black-and-white photograph these days. It instantly looks like an antique. There was a time, not so long ago, when 99 percent of serious photographers sneered at color photography. I worked at the N.Y. Times when it began printing color photographs in the news sections, and from some of the shrieking commentary you would have thought they were producing the color ink by pulverizing baby seals and kittens. The full-on proliferation of color photography is a good example of how quickly we get used to new things that we predicted we’d never get used to.
I cannot believe we posted a photo puzzler the other day about the pricing strategies at a banana stand and failed to acknowledge the most delicious fact about the situation: There’s always money in the banana stand! Read More »
A reader named William Kearney describes the following mystery, which puzzles him every day. Read More »
A new Foreign Policy photoessay takes a look at the secretive, Bangkok-based Dhammakaya movement. Read More »
Freakonomics reader Jerrod Savage sends in a couple images that seem to show a rather unwholesome advertising strategy. (Don Draper certainly wouldn’t ever pull something like this.) What happens when you reduce the size of a container of Nesquik chocolate syrup by 33 percent? You also reduce the sugar content by 33 percent, magically creating a healthy, low-sugar alternative! Read More »
The piracy problem off the Horn of Africa has received less media attention in recent months, but the pirates are still going strong, and international efforts to combat the threat have increased. FP’s new photoessay, “Pirate Hunting in the Gulf of Aden,” depicts the battle. Read More »