From Peril to Profit

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yesterday, I came across an example of creative problem solving that is as amusing as it is instructive.

In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning for his third term. Three million campaign posters were printed with his photo and about to be distributed, until it was discovered that the campaign didn't have the rights from the photographer to use the photo. The copyright laws of the day allowed for the photographer to claim as much as $1 per poster, which adds up to over $60 million in today's dollars. The campaign couldn't afford to pay the photographer, but also couldn't afford the time and money to reprint the posters.
Josh Linkner of ePrize frames the problem in terms of a multiple choice test, and along those lines says that, for the Roosevelt campaign, "The multiple choice options seemed bleak."

But Linkner's point is that, many times, those who succeed can find or devise a less-than-obvious answer, and choose that answer. (He calls this an "unconventional alternative.") This is exactly what the Roosevelt campaign did:
[A] brilliant campaign manager sent a telegram to the photographer that said, "We are considering using your photo in the campaign. How much do you offer to pay for the publicity?" The photographer ended up paying $300 for the exposure instead of bankrupting the Roosevelt campaign and perhaps costing him the presidency.
What I see the campaign manager as having done, at least in this example, is back away from the ugly dilemma created by the initial mistake enough to see the broader context, which is that copyright protects the ability of the creator of intellectual property to trade his work for profit. This broader context allowed the manager to see the opportunity to do exactly that -- rather than just the "choice" between breaking the law or throwing away money he was responsible for.

-- CAV

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