Modernist design was a serious attempt to create a collective, universal style that was thought to last forever. The belief in the Swiss style of typography was so profound that Unimark studio saw it as their mission to propose the Helvetica typeface for any corporate identity. Total Design was criticised in the Netherlands for designing everything from phonebooks to corporate identities in the same style, flattening any culture or historic differences in the name of technological progress and efficiency.
The modernist corporate identity form has claimed a universal design language, which assumed to be the best form of communication for all countries and in any culture. The claim has been challenged by designers who point out that this very limited view of what design is, rooted in a Eurocentric modernist design culture. The corporate identity studios were also notably uncritical of capitalism and its worst excesses. Many designers sincerely believed that merely applying a modernist style was a radical act, while ignoring political struggles of the time. (1)
The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable Earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people (communities, user groups) manage for individual and collective benefit. Character-istically, this involves a variety of informal norms and values (social practice) employed for a governance mechanism. Commons can also be defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.
The term “commons” derives from the traditional English legal term for common land, which are also known as “commons”, and was popularised in the modern sense as a shared resource term by the ecologist Garrett Hardin in an influential 1968 article called The Tragedy of the Commons. (3)
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be a authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean Luc-Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” (5)
Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.…The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity. (6)
Since the early nineties, an ever increasing number of artworks have been created on the basis of preexisting works; more and more artists interpret, reproduce, re—exhibit, or use works made by others or available cultural products. This art of postproduction seems to respond to the proliferating chaos of global culture in the information age, which is characterized by an increase in the supply of works and the art world’s annexation of forms ignored or disdained until now. These artists who insert their own work into that of others contribute to the eradication of the traditional distinction between production and consumption, creation and copy, readymade and original work. The material they manipulate is no longer primary. It is no longer a matter of elaborating a form on the basis of a raw material but working with objects that are already in circulation on the cultural market, which is to say, objects already informed by other objects. Notions of originality (being at the origin of) and even of creation (making something from nothing) are slowly blurred in this new cultural landscape marked by the twin figures of the DJ and the programmer, both of whom have the task of selecting cultural objects and inserting them into new contexts. (7)
Of course, it is extremely common within the art and design world for one work to incorporate the entirety of another work or to clearly derive from another beyond mere “inspiration”. From a legal/IP perspective it is not contradictory for the new work to incorporate part or all of someone else’s creation and be seen as original and worthy of protection. (8)
In typography, one success is never enough. Letterforms, if they catch on, will become ‘types’ of a certain letter, and are regarded by society as normal. And then they are a matter of general culture - yet at the same time they may still be somebody’s creation, and their name may be the property of a manufacturing company. With a broad category of letter, such as grotesque or sanserif, one typeface is soon not enough, and competing foundries start to make similar designs. The problem is as old as typography itself, but it is also not a static one. From the early days we might think of Aldus Manutius, who suffered from people copying his style of books and letters. However unfair and distressing such pirate behaviour might have been, it was also unstoppable and irreversible too. As typography grew in its effects and importance, this problem slowly became more prominent, until the moment when attempts at regulation began to be made.
When, in 1957, the Association Typographique Internationale (ATWI) formulated its ‘moral code‘, it was an attempt to deal with this paradoxical problem. The main players in this organization were the typefoundries. For as long as typefaces were tied to a particular composing machine, they were the only ones who were capable of transferring a design into type. With the formation of ATypI, the foundries decided to try to behave acceptably towards each other. The code was in part an attempt to establish how and when a design could be copied: after ‘an appropriate space of time', as the document of 1957 put it. These producers were competing, but they each had solid shares of the market, and their world was still moving slowly. Type designers had a place, but it was on the sidelines. Since then the world, including the world of type, has been changing at an ever increasing speed. ATypI’s code soon fell into disregard, even among the manufacturers who had supported it. And now that the club of manufacturing companies has lost its power, and now that type is made and sold in quite other ways, the whole matter must be rethought.
A moral code aims at a certain kind of protection: protection from other human beings, or even from ourselves, from our behaviour in relation to a specific object – in this case type. (It is not necessary here to define what a typeface is.) As far as I know, ATypI's moral code never worked or had any substantial effect on behaviour. Since with time and technological change things seem only to get harder to grasp, it is tempting to say ‘let's forget about it, it's too complicated, everything has changed far to much. I think this is not the right way to go. True, things have been changing and will continue to change, and probably at great speed too, but meanwhile we are getting quite used to the new situation, and probably the most essential changes have now happened (for the time being). It is true that a moral code is a nice idea – but what is the use if it has no real power?
In my opinion the answer is quite simple. A moral code will never protect you from the really bad guys, and it is wrong to assume anything of that kind. A moral code provides in the first place a platform for judgement and behaviour, so that at least the bad guys can clearly be identified and labelled as such. The crucial changes of recent years created a vacuum. The old ones forgot about their behaviour, or did not realize how much was still true and good about it. After all, they had to adapt too. In many ways, otherwise they would not survive. At the same time the gates have been opened for newcomers who do not know how to behave, or pretend not to know. Open spaces are quickly filled by the disrespectful; the neutral zones are conquered by the brutal ones, as soon as they think this suits their needs. Grey areas are then said to be to be white; bad habits are declared to be legal. This will go on and on. Many things now happen which are simply unacceptable. The possibilities provided by the new techniques are not an excuse here. We are all too busy grabbing our share of the market. We can hope that less prosperous times will turn our minds away from our bank accounts a little, to allow an atmosphere in which we are willing to think about what it is we are doing. The misbehaviour that is now allowed, with a shrug of the shoulders, is accepted as normal by the younger ones. At the moment we are completely floating. So a moral code provides guidelines for behaviour. This is good for all who agree to respect the guidelines, and is a way of introducing newcomers to the ﬁeld. It gives us, at least, the opportunity to point with a finger.
IThere are three parties involved: type designers, manufacturers and distributors, and the user or the customer. The ideal is a moral code drawn up by an organization so powerful that it could prevent other organizations and even companies from doing the wrong thing. But it‘s a fantasy.
Much of the trouble with the companies is that they are often dealing in the grey area of possibilities opened up by technology, with which the law or even moral standards are not used to dealing. In a nutshell: technology can he developed so fast, stimulating ways of acting and behaviour with such a speed that it is impossible for moral standards and the law to keep up. Duelling with large organizations that have major interests is difficult and should be left to other powerful organizations. However, the most powerful force is the mass of the unknown consumer or user. A moral code should therefore focus in the first place on the individual. As I have been saying, type plays an important role in our Western society. So maybe a moral code should work from the bottom up, rather than top down. The moral code of an organization like ATypI should not focus on the interests of their typical members — the type designer or manufacturer. It should focus rather on the largest group it can reach. This is not the group of its members, nor yet the people in the street still using Windows 97. But it may be the worldwide community of designers and their organizations.
There is a new world now, and there is no way that any moral code will touch the ways in which this new world operates. If something is convenient and can be done on a large scale, it will happen, no matter what. So any code will fail if it is too focused on itself.
Type is so woven into daily patterns that you have to take into account the many other factors that help to shape it — which is a hindrance in defining a clear moral code. The problem can be solved by bonding with other groups of professional users of type. See what interests you share, and out of that process define a code, to create a stronger voice which might be heard.
Professional users of type are people who are active in the applied arts. These arts have general rules that have evolved over the centuries: rules rooted in honesty, honour, skill, and an atmosphere of respect for individual creation. These unwritten rules cover die same general principles, no matter if you are an architect. a sculptor. or a designer. The developments of the last two decades seem to have had a disconnecting effect, severing us from these rules. It does not really matter what you are designing, there is still a rule which says that copying is not allowed, not true, dishonest – certainly if you do not credit the original source.
We have to go back to such down-to-earth first principles, before we make it more complicated. It is already difficult enough in these days in which the technical developers openly state that the ‘original’ does not exist. This is tricky. Since you are a designer, you smile at these words, because the original lies in your archive drawers. Does it really? Come on, ninety per cent of your work does not need any paper at all. And if it does, these are just rudimentary sketches. visual thoughts, which could be made by anyone. If the original does not exist any more, then technique wins over man. And we all know that creation starts somewhere: it starts in the trained minds of creative people and not in machinery. It is an intellectual thing. It is the designers thoughts visualized. But how to protect thoughts, and how to prove that you are the one who thought them first?
Apart from the really bad guy, our real enemy is the speed of change. Things change so fast that we do not really care what is going on anymore. We even come to expect surprises. It is impossible for formal agreements to keep up with this. And even if they could, they would not be of much use, since you would not know when the agreement had changed. The only anchor-point in the whole scene is the thing that changes the least, and also the thing that is most important. The answer to this riddle is simple: as I have said, it is probably us – we, the human beings — who change least. Normal, easily applicable and understandable rules need to come back and to be advocated again. These rules should apply not only to the world of type but to the world of the typographer and the graphic designer. If you say that this is not possible, then I have to think that you put technology before yourself.
A young reader may sigh at these words, or think that it does not concern them — the young and hip ones. Well, enjoy these days, because the time is moving fast, and the young ones grow old, faster than ever before.
If all this makes sense, what then are the rules? (9)
Designers increasingly see the question of copyright and intellectual property as an important issue. More and more, they are concerned about being ‘ripped off’, and are told that establishing copyright is essential. But there is little understanding of what copyright is, how it works, whom it benefits or what alternatives there are. This Agenda hopes to raise awareness of the issues surrounding copyright and to empower the designer to make informed choices about how to use copyright and its alternative: copyleft.
A new book, Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law, raises important questions about the ownership of ideas and expressions. These draw on the example of open-source software, e.g. Linux, a free and freely available computer operating system that is now challenging Microsoft Windows. A diverse range of thinkers, designers, musicians, artists and activists have been questioning the way in which copyright is being transformed into a tool that benefits corporations rather than the artists and authors for whom it was originally intended. These discussions have also led to exciting changes in the way that some creators are allowing others to use and re-use their work. This sharing of ideas, knowledge and designs can be revolutionary for designers who, often without realising it, are drawing on the inspiration of those that have gone before. By allowing others to use their work, collaborations, critique and collective projects that were previously difficult to achieve can now take place.
It is crucial that designers within the creative industries equip themselves with the necessary knowledge to participate in discussions about free culture. Some of the arguments may appear technical, dull, irrelevant and even trivial, but, if we do not develop an understanding of the issues involved, how can we be part of a public debate that is important for our profession?
The right to copy. Printing was one of the most significant technical advances in history, transforming the spread of knowledge. Gutenberg’s development of movable type revolutionised the process of book production. Up until this point, the method of copying a work (e.g. scribed by hand) was only possible through a large investment of materials and physical labour. With the ability to reproduce large quantities of texts, but with no control over who did it, publishers soon began to worry about others reprinting their books. The British Statute of Anne in 1710 was the first modern concept of copyright that accorded exclusive rights to authors and their publishers. The duration was limited to 28 years – once that period ended, the work would pass into the public domain. Previously, governments in Europe had granted monopoly rights to publishers mainly to be able to censor books by licensing who had the right to print books. It was also assumed that the publishers owned printed works in perpetuity – a source of constant complaint by Enlightenment philosophers concerned about the restrictions on the flow of knowledge and the temptation of book publishers to set their prices as high as possible.
Essentially, copyright is a monopoly, a bundle of rights that applies to the ‘expression’ of an idea. It establishes the author as the creator of an intellectual work and creates exclusive legal rights for the author to control duplication, performance, or distribution of their creative works. So, for example, the writer of a book who transforms an idea of a novel into a written manuscript will find that copyright protects his manuscript but not his ‘idea’ or plot. Similarly, for a designer, the actual artwork itself would be protected under copyright and he would have the rights over its use. Copyright is one of a number of intellectual property rights, such as patents, trademarks and design rights, that allow the creator to exploit the work by licensing others to use it. The moment a work is created, it automatically becomes copyrighted. Examples of works include literary pieces, drawings, paintings, photographs, film, music and sound recordings and, more recently, computer software programs.
Many people confuse copyright with physical property. Although it is referred to as an intellectual property right, it is not actually property in the same sense as the ownership of a house or car. This is because essentially copyright is a right to copy the expression of an idea rather than an unlimited property right – a copy-right. The reason for the distinction between copyright and property rights in general is that after the initial effort has been put into producing a piece of artwork or a manuscript it can be infinitely reproduced at little or no extra cost. This is very different to physical property, which will slowly wear out. Additionally, if, say, I give you a copy of the artwork, it does not diminish my own use of it – we can all have a copy without anybody losing out. Again, contrasted with physical property, if I own a car, only I can drive it, since only one person at a time can use that car.
When copyright expires. Once the period of copyright ends, the work enters the public domain and becomes freely available for anyone to use and draw ideas from. The public domain is an increasingly valuable, but little appreciated, source of inspiration and material. Folk music and blues are perhaps the most obvious sources of creativity that unashamedly reuse old songs in new ways. The musicians in these fields seldom gave much thought to ‘locking up’ their works and restricting their reproduction. Today, however, things have changed. And as music has become a vast industry, so the values of the ownership of songs and recordings themselves have changed. This change in mentality has occurred wherever creativity has taken place in capitalist society; art, music and design are seen more and more in terms of their monetary value alone. Consequently, lobbyists have fought to extend copyright terms upwards from the initial 28 years.
The current term for copyright in the UK and the US is now 70 years after the death of the owner. Copyright can only be extended by changes in the law, often to abide by an international agreement, such as those developed through the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) – for example the WIPO Copyright Treaty 1996 which extended copyright to computer programs.
New technologies and new ways of using information are continually being developed, and these serve to question our assumptions about copyright and creativity. The current criminalisation of piracy, data ‘theft’ and hacking are the latest salvos from industries trying to restrict the flow and use of their creative work. It is interesting to note that the owners of these creative works are seldom the creators, and pressure for the extension and strengthening of copyright comes almost exclusively from the multinational corporations.
Copyleft.The origins of open-source and copyleft licenses can be traced back to the 1970s. An American software developer, Richard M. Stallman – who felt strongly that the sharing of source-code, development ideas and algorithms was fundamental to the software-development process – developed a ‘free’ version of the widely used Unix operating system. The Gnu(Gnu’s Not Unix) software was released under a specially created General Public License (GPL). This was designed to ensure that the source-code would remain open and freely available to facilitate the sharing of ideas and improvements. It was not intended to prevent commercial usage or distribution. This has led to the development of probably the most successful copyleft project, Linux, which is now considered by many to be superior to Microsoft Windows. Another example is Wikipedia, an online collective encyclopaedia that is created by the activities of millions of writers and editors freely contributing their time and energy to the project. This is licensed under the Gnu GPL and allows the free reuse, copying or distribution of text in the project, providing that the reuse is also similarly licensed.
These projects have inspired the US-based Creative Commons, an organisation that is putting into practice some of the ideas generated by Lawrence Lessig and others. Creative Commons provides an ecology of copy licenses, from public domain licenses to sampling licenses, all intended to encourage creative freedom. Lawrence Lessig writes widely on what he believes to be a headlong rush into privatising the public domain and thereby reducing the stock of raw materials that we all use in our creative projects. Clearly, if using a work becomes more difficult or, more likely, more expensive, then it will be increasingly difficult for those outside the corporations to create new and innovative work. However, releasing work under a Creative Commons license is not the same as giving it away. Instead it licenses ‘reuse’ under terms that you, as the creator, specify in your selection of a license.
The notion of scarcity. Scarcity is critical to the operation of markets, and property law has been shaped by, and indeed can function only due to, the fact that exclusive use is a hallmark of physical property. This allows markets to base their operations on the exchange of limited amounts of goods and price accordingly. However, as we move into the so-called Information Society, it becomes apparent that intellectual property does not operate in the same way as physical property. In fact the idea of scarcity, or the fact that information can have only one owner, does not apply. A design on a computer may be copied infinitely – many of us may work on the design separately or together, with no loss to anyone. Without scarcity or ‘wearing out’, it becomes impossible for the market to function.
Consequently, the companies who wish to sell us information see copyright as a means for constricting the flow and thereby increasing the scarcity. But it is an artificial scarcity and is only held in place through the operation of copyright law. And copyright law was never intended to operate as a restriction on the flow of knowledge indefinitely. Copyright was a bargain between the creators or authors of a work and the public, not only to provide some limited recompense to the creator, but also to increase the amount of knowledge, music and art in our society for the benefit of all. It is therefore clear that copyright is being misdirected from its original intention to that of meeting the needs of corporations desperate to safeguard existing profits and create new markets artificially. If this continues, to the detriment of our ability to find and use knowledge and information and to debate and deliberate over it, there could be dire consequences for both democracy and creativity.
The potential for collaboration. Copyleft allows you to license a design in such a way that its use results in a transformation in the way others can use it. It opens up a space of freedom and creativity for others to draw and build on your work, and for you to do likewise with theirs. This could have the potential to produce far-reaching consequences for collaboration and creativity. Some examples include SchNEWS, BBC Creative Archive, Archive.org, Loca Records, Wikipedia, Indymedia and many others across the Internet. If, as designers, we form a genuinely imaginative and creative industry, we should engage this potential and use our collective knowledge and skills to produce work that has real social benefits. Using the opportunity to use Creative Commons or copyleft licensing is about working with others, sharing ideas and knowledge and contributing to the pool of culture and creativity.
Many of us have already used things from the public domain, maybe it is about time we put something back. (10)
Communing is a strategy that already exists in many parts of society…the commons are from before the very beginning of capitalism, when collective lands called commons were meant for collective or comunal uses. These lands were necessary for peasants to survive, where they could grow food and tend cattle, but they were also the places where social life happened. These commons were owned collectively, and were cared for by the peasant community, balancing human needs and ecological sustainability. When you think about it, the commons are a very logical way of organising society, and these shared spaces were essential to economic and social life before capitalism. Many indigenous cultures have similar ideas of commons known under other names.
Over time the idea of the commons has grown to include not just land, but also water, forests, rivers, and immaterial resources such as knowledge, education, health care, art, science , and digital networks. What unites them is that (at some point) they were freely accessible to everyone and owned collectively rather than privately. Having resources such as water, knowledge, or land accessible to everyone is a very anti-capitalist idea. Under capitalism everything is owned privately. Contrary to capitalism’s obsession with the individual, the commons are based on collective use and collective living. As Antonio Negri notes ‘One cannot live alone, in loneliness, one cannot produce alone, and one cannot love alone.’
A commons is not just about sharing resources, it is a process, a verb: communing. The idea behind communing is that shared spaces and resources require continuous care and tending for, and even need to be defended. Just like a river is a collective resource from which many can benefit (drinking water, transport, fishing, washing, irrigation), it also needs to be collectively cared for, in order not be become polluted, or drained by irrigation, or overfished. The reason why so many anti-capitalist initiatives refer to commons, is that it provides a practical way to create non-capitalist societies on a small scale. Silva Federica writes that ‘…a commons-based economy [enables] us to resist dependence on wage labour and subordination to capitalist relations’. In some way, communing is the continuous act of creating and caring for non-commercial societies.
How do you practice communing in design? Creating commons doesn’t mean creating free typefaces, or publishing graphic design works online for free. If a corporation uses your open-source typeface for a campaign, you are not creating commons, you are just giving capitalism your stuff for free. Just like an urban garden needs to be defended and cared for–otherwise it will be bought by urban developers, or its soil will be depleted when overused–design commons needs to be cared for and defended. Researcher J.M. Pedersen explain this process through ‘reciprocity in perpetuity’. Just as a river is a balance between a healthy ecology and providing food and water for the community, giving out free typefaces without any restrictions on use or adaptation doesn’t create a healthy design ecology. If designers use free typefaces, they could also add to the commons by sharing their work as well, or help to expand character sets to include more languages. Commons are not about giving everything for free without limit, but extending user rights under certain conditions, which as Fournier writes: ‘must not endanger the sustainability of the resources system.’ (12 (13) (14) (15) (16))