Innovation has been hit by inflation in the past decade. The word has, that is – not the art.
“Innovation” is the new, new “thinking outside the box“. It’s almost as overused as “amazing”. Both words are on the verge of losing their meaning completely, though in the case of “innovation,” the culprits are largely from the tech and media community.
If simply creating an app is, in itself, trumpeted as innovation, the past four years could be described as more innovative than the Renaissance and the past two centuries combined. Consider that iTunes features 399 apps just for search term “internet radio”.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines innovation as: “the introduction of something new, a new idea, method, or device.” But it continues: “In technology, [the definition is] an improvement to something already existing. Distinguishing an element of novelty in an invention remains a concern of patent law.” The dictionary goes on to use submarines, airplanes, the telescope, the steam engine and semiconductor technology as examples of innovation through the centuries.
If having a new idea and expressing it in tangible form is an innovation then, surely, musicians and writers are some of the most prolifically innovative people in the world. So how come innovation is one of the most overused words bandied about as one of the two reasons for not enforcing their rights (the other being “censorship”)?
Yes, any attempt to effectively enforce copyright – or, as the Swedes call it, “the originator’s right” – online is portrayed as anti-innovation and pro-censorship. It’s an odd argument, as copyright underpins and supports both innovation and freedom of speech.
Yet it’s been repeated so many times that, by many, it’s accepted as truth. Take this Washington Post blog by Gregory Ferenstein that discusses the “outrage” against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), for example, asking why there’s no such outrage against the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).
While it’s a valid question (though the answer is quite simple: because CISPA wouldn’t hurt the interests of Google and the other corporations that largely orchestrated and manipulated the response to SOPA), why is it posted in the newspaper’s ‘Innovations’ section? And why does it pose the follow-up question: “Does this younger, tech-savvy generation care more about innovation than civil liberties?”
Ferenstein says the anger directed at SOPA was due to “an almost parental protection of information and innovation (there’s that word again). If that’s true, then they’ve just created a new definition of the word. Something like: “innovate: (verb): (1) to provide political cover for achieving non-trespassory taking of the property of third persons; (2) to accumulate wealth by providing unlicensed access to creative works, see e.g. Google.”
But let’s stick with the Merriam Webster definition for the time being.
If, as anti-copyright campaigners claim, copyright stifles innovation, then how come the interfaces of pirate websites are so unimaginative and, let’s face it, crap?
How come a music service such as Spotify, which respects copyright, is constantly developing to improve the user experience, while those that infringe it remain largely stagnant?
The business dictionary, more specifically, defines innovation as “the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay”.
A good or service that makes it possible for quality newspapers, musicians and movie-makers to survive amongst all this so-called “innovation” – now that’s an innovation that could truly rival the steam engine.
Image is of the first passenger carriage in Europe, 1830, Liverpool and Manchester Railway (public domain).