A few weeks ago, I attended an all-day workshop at the LEGOLAND Hotel conference center in Billund, Denmark. The restaurant at the LEGOLAND Hotel serves brick-shaped fries; for lunch I couldn’t resist putting a few on my plate. Being a good Instagrammer, I snapped a photo to show the world what I was eating.
After lunch I checked Facebook, and saw that my colleague Signe Lønholdt (from ReBrick) had already posted a photo of the same fries. She copied me! I was a bit bummed … she took my idea and posted it first, stealing the thunder I thought was mine.
But Signe’s photo was just a plain old iPhone shot. So I tightened my skinny jeans and fluffed my scarf as I scrolled through Instagram filters, observing for example how Lomo-fi brought out the rich colors of my artsy catsup splotch while Walden faded it out. I chose Hefe, wrote a witty comment, and uploaded it.
Almost immediately, an AFOL responded to my Facebook photo; “so that’s the second time today someone has posted those fries on my feed.” Aargh, I had been outed as a copycat. But Signe copied me, I thought, and mine was better!
My thunder was stolen and my faux-hipster ego deflated. I was a copycat.
But who had the original idea? Did I steal it from Signe? Did she steal it from me? Or were we both inspired to post a picture of the fries because of the trend of sharing food photos online? The brick fries are a rather unique food, but neither Signe nor I invented the brick fries. We both independently came to the same idea of sharing a photo of them; the “idea” to share a photo was both of ours.
It’s easy to understand a person who is upset because someone else uploaded an idea they had; they had the spark of inspiration and another person took it! Is that really what happened? No, someone independently had a similar thought and executed it too. I’ve even heard a few people say, “I thought of Facebook before it took off,” like they thought Mark Zuckerberg owed them something. What about Friendster or MySpace? Don’t they deserve Facebook’s success, because they did it first?
Paul Lee, a regular on LEGO CUUSOO, once sent me this Doghouse Diaries web comic to illustrate the principle.
On the site we see two kinds of ideas; original ideas (that you truly thought up yourself) and generic ideas (like a new fire truck, your favorite sports team, or even a new LEGO element that compliments an existing one, like a roof corner).
“Generic” ideas themselves are only a small fraction of the value of a project.
For LEGO CUUSOO, we see the value of a project as the Idea + Execution + Audience. It’s not enough to have a good model, or be the first with the concept. Your project should be produced in such a way that it attracts an audience that in turn shows us the demand for a potential product. Just like Facebook built a more successful social network than Friendster and attracted more users.
This means you can’t “squat” the thought for us to release a new IP or a new generic idea by putting up a photo and a description — even if the model is original. Someone else has every right to submit their own version and attract supporters. However, if you submit something truly your own, and someone else tries to piggyback or copy it, you can use the report button on the project and we’ll remove the project if it comes too close to your work.
I hope this story helps illustrate what we consider original, and what the value of a LEGO CUUSOO project is. But what happened with the brick fries? As of this blog post, I out-executed Signe. My pic got 27 likes and 13 comments, where hers got 19 likes and 8 comments. ;-) So Signe, thanks for stealing my idea. It inspired me to write this post.