Darryl W. Perry – Imitation: Sincerest Form of Flattery or Theft?

Free Press Publication

By Darryl W. Perry

Can you own an idea? This may seem to be a simple question, however the question requires a complex answer. And unlike most issues, not all people who fall into the libertarian quadrant of the Nolan Chart agree on the answer.

While many people believe “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” some libertarians believe that an idea belongs to the creator even after the idea is shared and that imitation is theft. Recently, a three-year old dispute between Davi Barker and L. Neil Smith was reignited when Smith sent an email to one of Barker’s employers. Smith’s original complaint was that the Shire Society Declaration was “plagiarized directly from my ‘Covenant of Unanimous Consent’, absolutely without my knowledge or permission, and without even giving me proper credit as the author.” Smith further alleged, “you have altered and damaged my property, again without my knowledge or permission.”

First, Smith alleges theft of his idea, he then alleges the idea was “altered and damaged.” This allegation is based upon the notion that a person owns the idea even after it is shared. Smith also demanded restitution in some unspecified manner. Barker offered restitution if Smith would define the terms, and suggested mediation, which Smith declined. Barker wrote, “As a writer myself, I view the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon an author is to have inspired actual human action.”

Smith isn’t the only person to claim ownership of an idea after he shared the idea with other, some college professors are even attempting to claim copyright of their lectures . Once an idea is made public, the originator of the idea no longer has control of the idea. To illustrate this further allow me once Einstein went public with his Theory of Relativity, he no longer had control over how people used his theory. That is, Einstein could not rightfully claim to hinder anyone from making modifications to his theory. As Barker puts it, once an “ idea comes to rest inside my brain… my brain does not become you’re property.”

If Smith is correct that an idea is perpetually the “property” of the originator of the idea, and that no modifications can be made without expressed consent of the originator; Thomas Edison would not have been able to make a practical light bulb for commercial use without expressed permission from several other inventors; Henry Ford would not have been able to mass produce an automobile; and we would be without most of our modern conveniences.


In Peace, Freedom, Love & Liberty,
Darryl W. Perry

Darryl W. Perry is an activist, author, poet & statesman. Darryl is a regular contributor to The Bulverde Standard, The Canyon Lake Week and The Comal Beacon and writes a monthly article for The Sovereign . He hosts the weekly news podcasts Freedom Minute and Police Accountability Report and hosts the weekly radio show Peace, Love, Liberty Radio on the Liberty Radio Network .
Darryl is a co-founder and co-chair of the NH Liberty Party .
Darryl is the Owner/Managing Editor of Free Press Publications .

To schedule an interview with Darryl please send an email to editor@fpp.cc or call 202 709 4377

4 thoughts on “Darryl W. Perry – Imitation: Sincerest Form of Flattery or Theft?

  1. Jill Pyeatt Post author

    I didn’t realize Barker and Smith had a history. I stumbled across an unfavorable review of J. Neil Schulman’s movie “Alongside Night” in early September on Facebook. Schulman didn’t take the criticism well; in fact, he didn’t “take” it take at all. He said that Barker’s opinion didn’t matter because he isn’t a movie professional. At this point, I jumped in, pointed out that my opinion should matter because I’m listed in IMbd, and his movie stunk to high heaven. He said my opinion didn’t matter, either. LOL.

  2. Matt Cholko

    This is an interesting subject. An “idea” pretty clearly, IMHO, cannot be, and should not be, controlled after it is released in any public way. However, taking exact wording (don’t know and don’t care if that happened here) may be a little different. If that wording is equivalent to branding, then it could be said that one party is trading as another’s brand. In other words, If Pepsi comes out tomorrow with red cans that mimic what we all know as Coke cans, change their name to Coca-cola, and start using the exact same slogans as Coke, I think we would all say that Pepsi is trying to profit from Coke’s marketing. I’m not sure how I feel about this from a legal angle, but I certainly would consider it pretty messed up from an ethical perspective.

    On the other hand, if Knapp Cola launches tomorrow with red cans,a logo than doesn’t look much like Coke’s, and a slogan like “Just like the real thing, only cheaper” and it tastes just like Coke, I would say that’s perfectly fine.

    I don’t even know where I draw the line personally, much less where (if anywhere) the legal line should be. My anarchist tendencies make me lean towards saying that there shouldn’t be any legal boundaries in this area. But, eh….I dunno.

  3. Jill Pyeatt Post author

    Well, I am an artist, although I don’t currently make money from it (okay, I never made much money from it, which is why I sell insurance for a living). Most ideas start from another idea–that’s just the way it is. You can’t really track where it came from, but you saw some colors that worked well together,then that rolled around in your head until they became this object you picture, which grew from a painting you saw somewhere, then finally there’s a finished product. That finished product is yours however, a sum total of your talent and life experience, That is something that should be copyrighted or protected, whatever is appropriate in your field.
    People in the arts should be revered and honored for their special gifts.

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