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What would Henry Ford have to say about all this?

I ? Hope. Perhaps the topic is dated now. It’s so two weeks ago. But recently one of the design world’s greatest and most beloved icons— Milton Glaser— entered into the Sheppard Fairey v. Associated Press copyright battle. Mr. Glaser is famous for creating the I [heart] NY art along with dozens (hundreds, thousands) of other iconic graphic designs. He’s something of a hero to me.

Now, my friend Paul Jones has been twittering up a proper storm about Fairey’s lawyer— Tony Falzone— being on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus this week. So I thought I’d enter into the fray myself.

My initial response— what an industrial-age argument to be having!

As I read the Print Magazine interview, Glaser’s lack of comfort seemed to be caused less by the legal argument of ownership and more centered on the ethics of attribution and the moral issues of training young artists and designers in art and craft. I’m in full agreement on those issues.

But does anyone really think the AP or its photographer could have used its own ‘art’ on posters, t-shirts, et. al. and created an effect similar to that of Fairey’s poster? No reasonable person believes that.

Fairey created an iconic image out of a generic photograph. I love and respect Milton Glaser and everything he means to the design profession. But if he is arguing the legal issues involved, I’m afraid he will be asked to eat his hat by Falzone, if it pleases the court. Let’s all pray it doesn’t come to that. [DISCLAIMER: I, of course, AM NOT A LAWYER, judge or legal scholar, although I sometimes like to mimic the lines of the judge in Miracle on 34th Street: “Overruled!”]

Perhaps the talents and products of artists and designers have been so devalued over the last century or two that we’ve had to protect ourselves as best we can. We’ve prospered by successfully assigning value to the artifacts we create.

But culture and the creative process is the real creator of value. And that value is diminished any time artifacts are the sole representation of value. We can’t even see it anymore. But open source software development is a powerful proof point.

Value in open source software is found in the community of developers, in the culture and the authentic meritocracy their culture demands. It’s found in the genuine participation of customers and partners throughout the entire ecosystem. It’s messy. But businesses who serve and support those participants provide value. Those who seek to control, own or exploit the culture of these communities lose value.

This is one of the reasons I love Red Hat’s new mission statement (my good friends Chris Grams and Jonathon Opp are still up to good). Detailed in Matt Asay‘s blog (where he read it in a Red Hat ‘bathroom briefing’), it is simple, beautiful and right on target.

“To be the catalyst in communities of customers, developers, and partners creating better technology the open source way”

I suspect that one might puzzle Mr Ford, too.

The opportunity for the design profession to redefine its own value is now. We will lose out again if we defend old models of ownership that are increasingly irrelevant. Each of us has to decide whether we believe primarily that design is a driver of innovation and problem solving, or of property. I’ll stand with the open source community, Fairey, Andy Warhol, Public Enemy and Isaac Newton on this one.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if Fairey stood with me too. Argh.

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