Keep On Keeping On (or 'Calm Down, Let's Make Things')

I saw this van in Brighton at the weekend…

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…which of course, if you don’t know, is a riff on this, which is now seemingly the defining poster of our age:

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It’s really taken hold of a nation held in the grip of financial, social and now even flu-based uncertainty. 

I guess it’s probably chiming because it’s a quintessentially British attitude, that’s for sure, though perhaps one that hasn’t been vocalised for many years. 

And it’s becoming a big financial success for some…

This Guardian article informs me that the guy who originally started reprinting the poster “…has sold some 41,000 posters. He is not the only one. Mike Coop of keepcalmandcarryon.com reckons he is shifting 300-500 products a week (and admits to having tried to trademark the phrase); the Keep Calm Gallery’s Lucas Lepola is selling “probably around 500 a month”.

…and of course there’s T-Shirts, mugs… anything you can print it on.  It’ll be the new UK flag next.

Then of course there’s all the remixes of it… my favourite being the one Matt Jones of Dopplr did:

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So why has it spread so far, so fast? 

Well, predominantly because no-one owns the rights to it… it was created by the Ministry of Information in 1939 in the event of invasion by Germany. 

Which means that anyone can take it, reprint it, sell it, change it, improve it… use their own creativity to take the original work of someone else, and make something even better as a result.

Because they more things that aren’t subject to restrictive copyright terms regarding their use and sharing, then the more innovative and creative things we’ll build upon them. 

By its very nature, copyright restricts this constant improvement in the social age.

One oft-used example is Disney; think of the wonderful creations made by Walt Disney based on the works of others… like Snow White, a German tale collected by The Brothers Grimm.

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Without The Brothers Grimm, there would have been no wonderful Disney movie.  Without the German folk tale, there would have been no Brothers Grimm… and so on and so forth

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But now the form that copyright takes prevents people from taking that which has gone before, and building even greater things on top. 

Firms who currently own the copyright have also been fighting for years to extend the duration for which it applies – see the Copyright Term Extension Act in Wikipedia, also known as the ‘Sonny Bono Act’, or even the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act’ (as it continues to protect works back to 1923, in order to continue enforcing copyright on the big-eared one).

However, some argue that by continually extending copyright, we are creating a situation where nothing can be built upon, improved, remixed and relayed through culture (just like the ‘Keep Calm…’ poster has been).

It’s this principle that’s driving the Creative Commons movement.

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In their own words, “Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry”.

Rather than a catch all system for copyright, Creative Commons allows the creators of work to be a lot more flexible about how they set it free… so for instance, they can allow anyone to use it, as long as they are acknowledged in the resultant piece. 

It’s not against people earning money for what they create of course, just simply deciding themselves what form of protection they want to associate with their own work, in order to encourage legal and productive sharing of work.

I’d encourage you to go and read more, because it’s something that’ll play a big part in the future of content dissemination.  And it’ll be fascinating to see if there’s a way that record labels, movie studios, TV companies and so on will begin to find a way to embrace this form of sharing, and find a way to make money whilst doing it.

In the meantime, if everyone can just keep calm…

PS

If you’d like a copy of the limited edition print of ‘Get Excited And Make Things’ poster, they’re available here (although the small ones have gone already) at 20×200.  And all the money goes to support the Creative Commons movement.

 I think I may get one for the office…

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