I read Joe Nocera’s column last weekend about J. K. Rowling’s efforts to control everything related to her Harry Potter novels. I understand that she created the characters and the story. And I understand her desire to control everything that is done with that intellectual property. But I wonder if she was inspired by anything she read in the creation of the Harry Potter series. Were any of her characters based on people she knows or things she read? Did she ever read anything about witchcraft or wizardry that got her mind working on what became Harry Potter?

Keith Richards once said that rock and roll was simply white musicians copying black musicians. I believe that almost everything we do in life is inspired by what someone else did before us. And so allowing people to tightly control their artistic works is going to lead to less creativity not more. There have to be limits on how tightly we allow creators to control their intellectual property.

I was at a meeting yesterday and the person we were meeting with started off the meeting showing us this video which has been on YouTube for over a year now.

So this morning I went to find the video so I could show it to my family. And I noticed that the voice seemed to be Will Ferrel’s. So I did some more YouTubing and came up with this.

As funny as the Will Ferrel piece is, I think you’ll all agree with me that the kid’s mashup is way funnier. That kid is part of a generation that grew up in world where most content is digital and mashable. His generation will do amazing things with mashups. I hope our legal environment is structured  appropriately.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Chris Brogan...

    I’m thinking that it’s the generation after Rowling who will understand this better and embrace it. The next big character will be someone’s copyright, but the WORLD will have some kind of creative rights where people can create ancillary characters and interact with the concepts there. Eric Rice talks about this a lot with regards to his Saijo City project. Since it’s inception, he’s built creator’s rights around the ancillary characters and concepts, and he has built a mechanism that allows people to create settings, plot points, and other ideas to the commons. This, to me, is the concept to watch.

  2. John

    That shes claims to be planning to “donate the proceeds to charity” sounds like she knows she is being unreasonable and is trying to justify her actions.Personally if it were me I’d be only too keen to help fans promote the brand.

  3. Steven Kane

    There’s a legal concept which governs all this — “fair use.”It may need to be revised or rethought in the modern era (it probably needs to be constantly revised) but its the right idea.The Rowling litigation is over “fair use.”Rowling’s peeve isn’t that the book is derivative — it clearly is and the author doesn’t dispute that — but rather over whether it crosses the line from “fair use” to commercial use.As the NYTimes piece explained, Rowling has been very very generous and cooperative with the book’s author for years, when he was publishing a sort-of Harry Potter universe index web site, that was not a commercial enterprise (it was free and didn’t carry advertising).Now come this book, which clearly is a commercial enterprise (you have to pay to get the book.) A court will decide whether this continues to be “fair use” of Rowling IP or not. What’s wrong with that?The fact that Will Ferrell has not sued over that YouTube clip doesn’t prove a thing. Does he know of this situation or is he oblivious or ignoring it? More to the point, if made aware, will he grant explicit permission for this type of re-use? (Ignoring the situation does not rob Mr. Ferrell of his rights.) Seriously, I’m dying of curioisity and would love to see Mr. Ferrell’s answer when he is asked if his likeness can be considered public domain.I think we all know the answer.For me, I hope everyone avoids the easy path of condemning Rowling just because she is wildly rich and successful. Harry Potter is 100% her invention (despite that she may have done research) and her literary creativity quite literally got her off the dole! She is an amazing inspiring example of how IP law does its job of protecting the little inventor and artist. If such law is seriously weakened, would Ms. Rowling be so rich and successful? Definitely not — TimeWarner and Disney and the pack would have appropriated her IP in a nanosecond.btw, I’m not saying the new book is NOT “fair use.” maybe it is. I don’t know and I am content to let a court decide. But I think we are all in the porcess of “throwing the baby our with the bathwater.”In our desire for cheap or free entertainment, and our understandable frustration at huge corporations seemingly over-zealous profit motives, we are going to screw over the small inventor and artist. Remember, once you weaken IP protection, who really benefits? The small artist or inventor? Or Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs? There is literally nothing preventing artists and inventors from creating to their hearts content. IP law does not squelch creativity — it is designed to protect inventors and artists from, well, theft.Again, I’m not saying IP law is perfect. far from it. If it needs an overhaul, let’s get to it. But lets not outalw theft just because its easy to steal.Finally, how much of his MASSIVE royalties does Keith Richards donate to the artists he seems to acknowledge he stole from? Or even to the Musicians Union pension fund? I’m not condemning him; just pointing out the real situation — he believes fervently in IP law.And do we seriously believe that, in the world before mashups and digital copying were easy, there was less creativity? I am a huge fan of the democratization of media and creativity but I am hard pressed to say that there was any less innovation and personal expression in any other era. Tools are just tools. Invention and creativity come from people, not machines.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree with most of this steveHowever, I think that the overhead associated with clearing rights and the inability to innovate when rights are withheld are problems that are increasing and need to be dealt withfred

      1. scott crawford

        Steve, Agree — Nice post. The rights of the individual drive protection of private property rights, including IP.Fred, Yes, they must be dealt with, but i sounds like your bias is toward relaxation because it’s easier. But how do you regulate that? There always has been and always will be “inspiratiion and influence.” Pick any school of art and track its flow and development. The artists involved freely push one another, most often in reciprocal relationship. But that doesn’t mean it’s open season on plagiarism.That said, the individual in society today and tomorrow has the choice to give things away in new reciprocal relationships that yield great value. To me, it’s the realization of this trading economy that’s really exciting. That opens up great new vistas of personal freedom. We as content generators can help this along if we clearly post what is and is not considered free for the trading and taking.Scott

      2. Gerald Buckley

        Fred, you seem plugged in well enough to know that’s what Joi Ito and Creative Commons seem to be poised to address. (thank goodness)btw, forget that the kid might have stole Ferrell’s work… I think he may have pinched my bike from 1977… I see it right there against his wall. That’s not fair use!

    2. Ethan Bauley

      You would probably enjoy “Free Culture” if you haven’t read it.The main issue he deals with is the expansion of copyright into regulating non-commercial use (which you hit on in your post).Also, Umair’s paper on a new kind of property right enabled by the Net (where consumer/users can extract extra value from copyrighted goods through side payments, etc) argues the middle ground between full control and “geek style” infinite copyability:http://www.bubblegeneration

  4. Andrew

    Walking around Berkeley a few summers ago I saw a huge wall covered with spraypainted graffiti that said, “Originality is unrecognized plagiarism.” I don’t agree with the quote, but I wondered if the guy that spraypainted it stole it from someone else.

  5. Notta Sharon

    Rowling is looking back at all the folks financially benefitting from her creation and feeling ‘jipped’…and she’s got a pretty full bank account 🙂 In my opinion, the bigger question is…are all those indie content creators out there supposed to just go home happy that their content got mashed up and they got ranked highly in some social network and all their “friends” poked their wall and yada, yada, yada?…while the mash-up tools and hosting sites make all the money?! I wonder when the focus on “the web helps you find and play with content you’d never discover otherwise” turns into “the incentive to create content has dissipated because the only folks benefitting have a ‘.com’ at the end of their name.” It feels like a slippery slope to argue that innovation is just something borrowed from past influence. If that argument really enters the legal ether no one will have any protection/motivation/benefit to create anything. Ideas will become common property, we’ll start to look more like Asia cranking out every stolen blue-print, R&D will lose the ROI and companies will close down those departments, and we’ll all become marketers! ewwww

  6. J.C. Hutchins

    I’m with you on this. There are scrappy online indie content creators who actively encourage mashups and creative contributions from their audience. This does so much more than spur readers — or in my case, podcast listeners — to create art inspired by the “source” content (though that is a tremendous thing on its own). No, this cultivates community and a connection to the source material in a way that simply cannot be achieved by handcuff “hands off” policies many mainstream content creators support.My philosophy: take my content and mash it up, slap in into the Cuisinart and frappĂ© it. Craft music, poetry, videos … whatever you want … inspired by my work. It’s an honor to see that kind of engaged participation by an audience — and it showcases the power of participation, especially when those new “mashup” content creators spread about the word about the content that inspired them in the first place.It’s time mainstream entertainers celebrate their audience, and not poo-poo the zeal and goodwill of fans.

  7. messels

    have you used jumpcut much? maybe your kids would be into it. the entire concept is mashing content together. it’s a great platform. the most frustrating thing about IP is the rigid control of how it’s manipulated. i think the tools created by as well as structure of the net will continue to challenge old beliefs about how we handle IP. ‘creative destruction’ at its finest.

  8. markslater

    Its known that her entire vision for Hogwarts is pretty closely based on the public school (boarding shcool) life in England. I can tell you first hand that it is. I agree with you fred. Look at what the electronic DJ does. Umair wrote a great piece disecting that.

  9. Tony_Alva

    Keith Richards and Mick Jagger won a suit against the Verve for a piece of theirs that got sampled and used in “Bitter Sweet Symphony”. I can’t speak for him, but I’m pretty sure that both of them would agree with Steve’s take on this issue as do I. Thanks Steve for saying it so well.

  10. Andy Swan

    Careful what we wish for. I, for one, am not looking forward to the day when Nike can do a “mash up” that shows Dora the Explorer and Harry Potter becoming even more powerful because of her new $100 pink shoes. I already get pissed off that so many companies use Santa in their “mash ups”.I think that protecting the ideas and creations of individuals (and corporations) is absolutely critical to society and the economy. We must maintain incentives that reward original creations….not allow those with more means to profit to take them as their own.The key is in the PERMISSION of the originator. Ya, it might make a LOT of sense for an artist to want his stuff out there mashed up by everyone….but maybe not. I say that’s his decision completely and I’m actually pretty encouraged by the copyright/permission advances and acceptance of the last 5-10 years.

    1. michaelgalpert

      Andy I agree with you that in order for world order, boundaries need to be set. But copyright law in the last 5-10 years IMHO are flawed.The prince youtube debacle that happened a couple of months ago, where a woman had a prince song playing in the background while filming her child is an example of how backwards the system is. of the originator are key. Thats why I am a big fan of creative commons and the licenses they offer creators. They arent perfect but it is definitely a step in the right direction for the next 5-10 years.

    2. fredwilson

      That makes one more thing we disagree about andy. The list is getting longer by the day!

      1. David Gillespie

        I have to side with Andy there as well. I think the use of works should be decided by the creator, but the obvious flow-on from that is the creators who allow their work to be used will have a far greater impact on and reach into the popular psyche. I’m a content creator and my work is available on iTunes, Amazon etc. But it is also freely available for download, and DRM-free is all formats because I want as many people to experience it as possible. I don’t begrudge other artists keeping their work as close to them as they can as I feel it is a personal choice, even if we are at opposite ends of the spectrum.I wholeheartedly disagree with a third party telling the creator what they can and cannot do with the works, though am happy to admit my own lines there get fuzzy when the creator is a massive corporation and not an independent artist; ultimately we’re all susceptible to our own biases I guess, and I’ll certainly plead guilty as charged there.

  11. Seamus McCauley

    “Did she ever read anything about witchcraft or wizardry that got her mind working on what became Harry Potter?”The first Harry Potter story is widely thought to owe at least a passing debt to a book written in 1984 by Nancy Stouffer called ‘The Legend of Rah and the Muggles’ which includes, amongst other things, a character called Larry Potter and extensive use of magic. In the event the courts threw out Ms Stouffer’s claim for plagiarism, not least because she seemed to have fabricated some of her case, but the similarities between some of the details of both stories are reasonably striking.

  12. awilensky

    The kid has the mannerisms down cold; a talent, no doubt. The Rowling story is a object lesson in persistence. She had the unfinished manuscript in a drawer, and revived it at the very bottom of her bottoms. Wow!

  13. ambrosini

    There was a great talk given at the TED conference last year by Larry Lessig (Stanford professor and “the King of Internet law”) titled “How creativity is being strangled by the law”. He walks through some past breakdowns of dated practices around IP “protection” (including ASCAP, which in some ways is analogous to the backward thinking we are seeing within the “old media” music industry today), and discusses some of the current challenges faced by our pre-digital IP laws.Lessig is a great presenter…worth a watch as it relates to Fred’s post, if not a bit on the long side (19 minutes):…- kevin

  14. jackson

    What you mean to say is that you think it’s funnier. I don’t. What you also mean to say is that this kid grew up in a climate where internet based media theft is acceptable.Again you miss the point. It’s not just Will Farrell who’s getting ripped off, it’s every gaffer and production assistant who worked on that bit.Sure, the kid poses no threat, because he’s not making any money off it – if he were, well that’d be criminal, unless he pays for the rights.Your war against copyrights and ownwrship of media is a war against art, artists, and creative people at large.One day the funny will end, because you ate it all. The flow of music will come to an end, because you made it worthless.

    1. Charlie Crystle

      Fred, the brother is right. But I don’t care for now.The kid is much funnier. What’s cool is clicking on the bottom video, then the top video right after, and using the pause and play buttons, aligning the two videos. Awesome.

      1. fredwilson

        Well my brother does care.I am trying to get him to see the world the way I do. And he is trying to get me to see it the way he sees itIts been going on since he was born and we are both better off because of itFred

    2. fredwilson

      That’s the fear. The negative view. I’m an optimist. I believe we are headed to a better world where artists will be better offFred

  15. terrycojones

    Hi FredYou should definitely watch the TED video mentioned in the comments, it’s very apropos. See also…Terry

  16. Tony_Alva

    Jackson swings and it’s a base hit…I’m not at all an optimist when it comes to this issue. I think the money juggernaut will bowl over artists and their intellectual property ownership rights without once consulting or considering their position and all will be ruined. Artists will be labeled ludites by the techno hippies with all their cash and it’ll all be over just as Jackson says. It’s already started.When this issue comes up, I always re-quote a good friend of Jackson and I who made this comment after a Bob Lefsetz post linked to here in which he lambasted Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers for his open letter to the asshats who leaked tracks for “Stadium Arcadium” before the final mastering was done”Flea’s (read: artists) essential point was that he wants you to hear the music the way it was intended. This is completely legitimate, and I’m tired of people forgetting that, for the vast majority of musicians (and recording engineers) this career is not about money. It’s about creating. Unfortunately, a lot of people have no understanding of this because they aren’t creative, they are pure consumers. Now they can add nothing and take everything.Consumers are so caught up in having it “their way” that they’ve forgotten that they have no “right” to this music and no “right” to receive it the way they want. Until not long ago, the only music you could hear was performed live. If you couldn’t play or go see someone play, tough. We’ve become so spoiled, so lazy, so quickly, that we forget that, for some of us, music (and sound) are sacred. It’s not just another commodity or way to get rich. It’s of an importance far deeper than someone like Bob can comprehend.”Pure consumers. Add nothing and take everything. You wanna know what the creators think, ask’em.

  17. Doug Kersten

    I guess Will Ferrel got upset that you said he wasn’t as funny as this kid because the video is no longer available.Doug K.

  18. Doug Kersten

    One of the early “fair-use” cases in U.S. history (maybe the first time the term “fair-use” was used in a decision, although my memory may be flawed on this point) occurred in the early 1900’s and was over whether or not a company was able to re-sell used books printed by another company. Definitely a commercial interest; definitely taking a creators work and making a buck off of it. I think we only need to look at Amazon to realize the final decision. My point is that whether or not someone makes money off of intellectual property should not be considered the indicator that shows whether or not something can be considered “fair-use”. The issue here seems to be the fact that Rowling’s people are attempting to enforce their own ‘fair-use’ rules rather then rules based on law. There is a certain feeling of wrongness about the whole affair.Another interesting point is that one of the arguments against fair-use is that digital copies are perfect copies. I can’t think of a more perfect copy then the same book that was originally sold (of course the book would have to be taken care of but then again data can get corrupted/modified/used too).Doug K.