This is a conversation that seems to come up all too often in the social marketing circle. Social media IS collaboration, the very essence of it lives and breathes only through the willingness of individuals to interact, make connections and share information & knowledge. It requires an openness that in many ways stands against the very fibre that is modern Copyright & Patent mentality.

For 250 000 years, the modern human has lived in communities because we are stronger/smarter/more resiliant as a group. In fact, this sense of community, the sharing of knowledge between individuals, civilizations, companies and everything in between has led to collaboration and adaptation for global improvement.

Then, about 300 years ago, the ruling government in Britain made a decision to protect, regulate and control its printing sources (the sole median of knowledge distribution). They put forth laws to protect the government and church from obvious issues that could arise with the advance of the printing press. Thats the ironic thing about the history of copyright I suppose: the very essence of which once served solely to protect governments and the church from the sharing of knowledge, and not the individuals actually responsible for creating the information. This power, over time has shifted from governments to corporations, and copyright and patent laws still stand to protect and maintain power and regulatory position.

Now, it’s important to note that working in an industry which is solely driven by knowledge-based services, we understand the need to protect the original creators of all works, technologies and discoveries. Copyrighting, in its purest form is a very viable and important element of rewarding those at the frontier of their respective fields. The frustration lies when this need to protect intellectual rights becomes an obsession, and a powerful bargaining chip for multi-billion dollar conglomerates. Companies spending millions and millions of dollars each year taking one another to the courts, for lengthy multi-year cases that often end in out of court settlements: Rim vs Motorola, Apple vs HTC, Apple vs Nokia, Kodak vs Rim & Apple, suffice to say there is a long list of them…

Then there are the cases of companies suing one another with claims as vague as: “workspaces provided by an object-based user interface appear to share windows and other display objects,” or companies requesting and having patents granted on some very vague and sometimes ridiculous designs as featured in Bloomberg Business.

This may seem like trivial banter, but the important thing to note is that any time very vague and general technologies or discoveries are patented, it prevents others from developing and building on these ideas. In fact, many international business strategists we speak with often come across this problem when working to bridge the gap between the best knowledge and the best technology when they are managed by different parties. As much as possible, we encourage clients and consumers to collaborate openly, as we have done for hundreds of thousands of years in order to move the entire human race ahead, rather than develop the power positions of many large corporations.

How does this relate to social media? Well, if you consider the flow of information on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace etc you will notice that because of the need to preserve secrecy and control, many of the interactions between corporations and consumers feel forced. Also, many organizations that control celebrity and athlete contact with social media sensor events and sometimes outright ban their clients from partaking in any form of social media communication. A constantly recurring theme is the ban of athletes as occurred during the FIFA World Cup 2010. This has now been followed up by the NBA, NHL and NFL in some form or another. This type of restriction is something that journalists have faced for years from governments, corporations and organizations alike. With the advent of social media, companies must adapt, become more creative and less rigid. This can lead to greater innovation and business growth.

To believe in social media, we must accept its open collaboration model for all of its yays and nays. To live with copyright and patent laws we must do so in its truest form. The model of collaboration and copyright can indeed thrive together. As individuals and businesses, we must sometimes put social good ahead of protectionism. Embracing social media can make this possible.

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