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Are All ‘Ideas’ Stolen?

Welcome to the 207th insertion of DEMUR®, an analytical series highlighting the intricacies of the artistic world and the minutiae lying within. In this episode, we find ourselves contemplating the authenticity of thought, attempting to define the parallel between originality and theft and the evolution of an idea.

Thievery in creation is an eternal debate that has provoked artists and innovators for centuries. The rooting conflict wrestles with the classification of a product or premise being used as ‘inspiration’ in opposition to blatant stealing. While almost entirely subjective, this controversial discourse has insinuated many scandals in all avenues of design, yet remains widely unsolved.

At their core, all ideas are a domino effect of past endeavours, concepts and principles. Compounded together, we’re surrounded by a variety of spinoffs and bootlegs that predominately retain the same function, yet are slightly altered in appearance or efficiency. Taking a t-shirt for example, we can accredit the base silhouette as a direct product of the US Navy but would have a hard time plaguing the millions of other iterations as ‘stolen’ ideas.

This grey area leaves a ton of room for error in falsely accusing creators of disingenuous thought, or perhaps even keeping quiet when feeling exploited. At what point does thievery become innovation, and who’s to dictate such a complex and obscure problem?

Virgil Abloh was perhaps one of the greatest examples of this dilemma, leveraging his design rule that states; to “create something new” one must only change “a process, a product, a perspective, etc. by 3 percent”. This philosophy often sparked outrage as he debuted products that looked all too similar to others, but his work allowed us to question our parameters for authenticity nonetheless.

It seems as if one is to build upon a preexisting ideal in a positive manner, an idea is not deemed to be stolen, but one simply altered for personal gain is often plagued as theft. Despite an origin in an alternate design, so long as one differentiates itself to aid in productive thought or efficiency, the idea is no longer stolen, just simply repurposed.

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