There are No Original Ideas Left

Try as you might, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to come up with an original idea. For artists, musicians, and writers, sometimes it can be frustrating to dwell on an idea, maybe even get some words/thoughts/sounds/pictures out on the page/canvas/recorder, only to find out that their beautiful idea was already done long ago.

I remember thumbing through my old screenplay about a group of waiters and bartenders after Waiting came out at the movies and thinking, “Damn. Well, what’s next?” It wasn’t that I felt like the movie copied my screenplay—hell, it would’ve been impossible for anyone in the movie to have ever seen the shit that I had written, considering I never even emailed it to anyone—but I felt like I had been scooped or something. What was the difference between me and Rob McKittrick? Connections? Talent?

Probably yes on both of those…

Did I wallow in self-pity after that? Well, yeah, but not for long. Soon after that, I started to work on a novel about an alcoholic musician, a writer, and a prostitute who was traded for subsidiary adaptation rights. Do I think that I’ll get scooped on that one? Not really. And besides, that’s not what the book is really *about* per se… It’s really about love, will, destiny, and copyright.

It’s kind of a hard sale…

But that’s okay, because copyright laws are here to protect our ideas, right?

Nope.

Copyright laws protect our tangible forms of expression from unauthorized copying. You know: “right to copy.”

Complicating the issue is the fact that there are so many ideas out there, that it seems like it would be nearly impossible to come up with something new and original. Even a movie as seemingly original as The Matrix had its fair share of intellectual property controversy. Grant Morrison called out the Wachowskis, saying that the first of the movies was practically “plot by plot, detail by detail, image by image, lifted from Invisibles…” (Suicidegirls). He raises some compelling arguments, along with some meh ones (suggesting that the fact that Reloaded and Revolutions were bad because they deviated from his own work, and in my opinion, undercutting his own argument in the process), but in the end, only the Wachowskis know whether or not they infringed on any copyrights.

Recently John Beiswenger, author of Link, has taken Ubisoft and Gametrailers to court over copyright infringement, alleging that the Assassin’s Creed games have stolen components and ideas from his book published five years before the game, namely a machine that can record ancestors’ memories, assassinations, and Biblical themes of good and evil. In the process, he is currently getting review-bombed on Amazon, with clever reviewers citing Nintendo and other sources of stories that could’ve had their own intellectual properties stolen by Beiswenger himself. Whether or not he has a case remains to be seen, but go read some of the reviews and tell me if there couldn’t be an argument made for some of the other potential infringements.

Mark Twain once said:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

This idea presumes that nothing new can be created; all stories are merely reinterpretations of existing stories. How many Romeo and Juliets are there? How many Epics of Gilgamesh? Joseph Campbell had once remarked that there were two stories: 1) The hero goes on a journey and 2) A stranger comes to town.

Whether or not this reductive, deconstructionist thought is actually helpful and healthy for creative types remains to be seen. It is freeing in a way, thinking that we are simply spinning our own subjective versions of already-told stories. On the other hand, it can feel depressing that our own original ideas are actually the same things that others have always thought.

They just have different names and faces.

Perhaps its encouraging, linking us together as humans, able to see basically the same things, just with different and new accoutrement… Or maybe that’s wildly too idealistic to be practical.

If that’s the case, I’m okay with it. Somebody else has already thought that, so that means I’m not alone in my idealism.

What about you? Have you ever been scooped on an idea? Ever caught someone copying your works? Did you care?

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