It was years and years ago. I was a young artist trying to find his place in the world. I was pretty sure I wanted to be a comic artist and so I created Rikki Ratt and the Vermin. A rock band of rats traveling around, making music and saving the world. I know it was weird, but this was the 80s and stranger things have happened. I submitted my comic ideas to a company who was looking for characters that would have the possibility to branch into toys and other products so when I submitted the comic, I submitted some sketches of toy designs as well. My favorite was the “Verminator Tour Bus” a tricked out school bus that’s back opened up into a concert stage, complete with lighting deck and real working speakers. Of course, it was rejected but about six months later, I saw a similar product for the company’s characters. I was beyond upset.
The question is, did they steal my idea? What about my copyright? While at the time I was sure they stole it, the answer is probably not. They were huge, probably receiving hundreds of submissions every day, and had a team of people and hundreds of licensees working on their products. We probably just had similar idea and their product while similar was also in some ways different. The larger question about copyright is even more vague and that is why I share this story. You see and I know this is going to be controversial, copyright is in a lot of ways useless. Here’s what I mean. First copyright only covers the exact image. You can’t copyright an idea. If they had done the exact image, I may have had a leg to stand on, but the idea, which let’s face it is the most important part, didn’t qualify. A patent may have helped but my toy idea really didn’t contain anything worthy of a patent. It simply wasn’t unique enough. Also, even if it was a blatant rip off, they were a multi-billion dollar company and I could barely afford the copyright fee. To me the copyright was useless and not long after I gave up on copyrighting anything.
Why? Well for my exact creation, I already have an implied copyright because I created it. Secondly, I don’t have a lot of resources to enforce a copyright even if I had one. Thirdly, the world has changed and so has my view on a lot of things. When I created Rikki, I had essentially one option. I created something, sent it to a lot of companies, hoped no one stole it and that someone picked me, which in effect meant running to the mailbox and collecting rejection letters. Now I have the internet, I have my own channels and vehicles to take my message and my creations to the world. I create my best work, skip the middle man and put it out there for the world to see. All of the sudden, rather than trying to protect it and hold it close to the vest, I want people to share it and spread it around. The more it spreads, the larger my audience, the larger my audience, the more opportunities I have. Seth Godin said it best, “Ideas that spread, win!”
Of course this is compounded because so much of what I do is about spreading the Gospel. I want what I do to go to the end of the earth, whether I get paid or not, because I know there is a reward coming from my Father regardless.
There has never been a better time in the history of the world to be a creative than right now. Of course this also means there has never been more competition for the time of your audience. The best we can do is do our best and put it out there, make it “spread worthy,” tell the world and pray people spread it. You may or may not make any money (and this path is not for everyone) but you may just make a difference.
Your audience is waiting.