Over at Ed Felton’s blog, Freedom to Tinker, Ed Felten, observing the CopyBot phenomena in Second Life, asks the question Will It Copy? As interesting as that question is, is I am more interested in a special class of objects that, even if they would copy perfectly, will lose a good part of their value when they are copied.
For example, even if you could make a perfect copy of my suit, it wouldn’t be worth very much to you because it won’t fit you, or, even if it did fit you, it might not be appropriate for your line of work. This isn’t as trivial as it seems at first blink, because many items fall into this class. What’s interesting is that some of these items are already primarily digital in form, so they would be very easy to copy. Once you start to study why things are resistant to copying a whole new category of copybot resistant items can be seen, and those items all have some distinct commonalities.
As an Architect, I create every day digital files, either directly, or after doing a sketch scanning it into the digital world. these works are not especially protected or protect-able from someone copying, if they were determined enough. The plans and elevations are frequently part of planning and zoning submittals that are a matter of public record, and anyone can get a copy, if they really wanted to. The construction plans are widely disseminated to bidders, subcontractors, and contractors, who can and do sometimes end up showing these to our competitors. This is much less of a threat than it seems, because a building is very particularized. It is a special creation which is a unique result of:
- That client’s program, which is a reflection of their unique business plans, that’s its tailored, or crafted, to fit.
- That particular site for which it is designed: it’s dimensions, it’s urban context, the local climate, and the expectations of the community in which it is built. These are influenced by the fact that the building is public, of permanence, and expensive.
- Designers input, in terms of the creation of an object of cultural significance. A building is often an item of social and cultural differentiation, so the copy would not have that cachet, and would also serve to increase the value of the original, as in “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I have seen this at work in high end residential architecture (my area of practice in the mid 1980’s)
The group of things whose copies are less valuable than the originals is larger than you might think: A lawyers brief, for example, won’t help anyone except those in the case for which it was written. A Doctor’s diagnosis, for example, could be copied, but won’t be of any use for the copier (excluding the case of the hypochondriac, of course, in which case all diagnosis would seem to be fitting!) A piece of custom millwork or the installation of plumbing in my house would also lose a good part of their value, even if you could have an exact copy for free.
It seems that all these items have certain common features: they are particularized by the necessity of their purpose, and as a result, in their process of creation, they are crafted. Such objects are deeply resistant to copying, as copying reduces their value, and can be said to have the quality of being copybot-resistant.