Advice on posting to the mailing lists

Feb 11, 2023

Legal and ethical stuff

I love the fact that people share their ideas in the ballooning community. I know that I’m only as good as the masters who have gone before me.
– Jason Gadino

What can you post?

  • According to US copyright law, (I know nothing about international copyrights or those of individual countries other than the US.) you can only copyright the actual expression of an idea. The idea itself cannot be protected by copyright law. By expression, I mean the written words and the accompanying pictures that describe the idea. If you invent a method of twisting a balloon into a Russian woman named Olga, anyone can copy that idea and print their own directions for it. However, they cannot take your words and pictures and reproduce them in any form. Therefore, on a purely technical note, you’re free to put any balloon sculptures you want into your book, post it to the net, or in general, give it to anyone you want, provided that you write your own directions.
  • Now, the hard part is determining what’s fair to use in your book. If you really do manage to make Olga, as mentioned above, that would probably be such a unique creation that I would feel compelled to ask for your permission to print my directions to it in my book. So, basically, if you can find the creator of some sculpture you like and want to use, the polite thing to do would be to ask. Use your own judgement. Put a footnote in your book pointing to the original creator if possible.
  • An example that came up recently is Tom Myers’ cowboy hat. One member of the mailing list asked if it would be ok to post Tom’s instructions. (He used great judgement in asking before doing it.) The answer was no. And Tom has every right to say that since it’s his. While I know how to make the hat, and I could legally write my own directions for it and post it, I won’t. A reference to Tom’s book was posted so anyone that wants it can find it that way. I’d consider it unfair to post something like the cowboy hat here when the creator is both easily accessible, and more than willing to share other ideas and information. In this particular case, the information requested is available in one of his books. I’m not going to take money out of his pocket by posting instructions that only he sells, and scare him away from participating in discussions here.
  • So, the rule I’d use is, if you can locate the person that created something that you consider unique, either leave it alone, or ask permission. If it’s common enough that you can’t be sure that there is a single creator, or it’s basically found it’s way into the public domain, go for it. Just make sure to write it up in your own words.
  • Any balloon sculpture the public sees becomes public domain merely by its presence. All of you have seen a balloon figure and gone home to figure out how to make it. It’s a natural thing to do and your figure is probably a little different (better) than what you saw. So you have made an original variation that is yours but how do you give the first guy (who probably did the same thing you did) credit. See what I mean?
    The best thing you can do with a new idea is write a book or write it up to be published in a magazine or newsletter or this mail list (no compensation) with your name attached to it (recognition). If you make your figure in public and let time go by you will eventually see a variation of it by a twister who saw a twister who saw a twister. – Tom Myers
  • I, for one, got into this business sort of by accident, and found that I loved it. When I started I had a few good ideas, and wondered how I could patent them so no one could steal them, and I could make a profit off of them. In other words, I didn’t want to share. Then one day I went to a convention (IBAC 3, Chicago, 1987). I saw stuff there that I had never even dreamed of. Spiral arches! Sculptures! Amazing 260 designs! Joining spiral garland together to make precision walls!Most of the people there were there to share. The beauty of it was that these people were NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). I did not compete with these people, so I did not have to guard my “secrets”. I found that some of my secrets were common knowledge that others like myself had also discovered, and some had even improved on my secrets. Some of my secrets, which I freely shared, were welcomed into the “industry”, and I took some of other peoples’ “secrets” and put my own style and improvements on them.

    In the years since, every single convention I’ve been to, I’ve come away with several little tidbits, and a few mega-ideas which have enhanced my business. I’ve met people from all over the world who do what I do (Oh, sure, no one does quite as well as I do!) and have been invited by a few of them to help out on some big jobs in different places, and have had them help me out as well.

    If you try to “protect” your ideas and keep others from creating them, or try to sell your ideas to others, you’re only going to alienate the people you most need in this world – your peers. (This does not apply, of course, to those who write books, which, as implied above, has value in and of itself – a well executed book can be full of commonly known ideas but sell bunches if it’s clearly explained and engagingly illustrated.) Freely give away everything you know. Show your designs to anyone who’ll listen to your explanation. Why? Two reasons:

    1. You will gain the reputation of someone who shares what you know, which makes you an attractive person to talk with, so that
    2. For every idea you share, you will get two ideas in return.Compare it to computer skills. I know a lot of “knowledge misers” who figure things out, then try to keep them to themselves. These people tend to find a niche in the business, and stick there. Now they’re the world’s best daisy-wheel printer repairman or they know all the desktop publishing secrets of Ready, Set, Go! Mean- while, people who share their knowledge have moved into the ’90s and are completely up on the latest technology. Trust me, your coolest ideas are pretty much pigeon poop compared with the same idea posted on the net and enhanced by the comments of the other contributors. The people who make money at this are people with clean skills, a good patter, a ready smile, and a lot of creative ideas. The first three you can develop on your own: the last one increases exponentially for every other person you include in the process.

      It has never been true that people who keep ideas to themselves are likely to get increased business as a result. Not in any field.

      Look at it this way. There are maybe 50-100 people (I’m just guessing) in Northern California who regularly read this list. There are thousands of restaurants, parks, streets, clubs, and with millions of people in the greater Bay Area, there are several birthdays per day. You can twist right next door to 15 other twisters, and there’s still plenty of work. Anybody with a good patter, clean clothes, a smile and solid twisting skills can do as well as s/he’s willing to risk success. As you get out of major urban areas, there are fewer people who are trying to make a living at busking, so there’s plenty of opportunity everywhere.

      The subscribers to this list are mature enough to realize that someone else’s success doesn’t take away from their own. Everyone has something valuable to contribute, and anyone who can put aside their own ego long enough to pay attention can learn *everything* they ever need to know about twisting in a couple of hours of skimming the website. After that, it’s just practice, practice, practice.

      I learned balloons and some simple sleight-of-hand from my good friend, the Amazing Jody Baran. He took me along several times to meet highly respected magicians who were very free with their “secrets.” Why? Because they know that any magician who *sees* them perform a gaff will be able to go back to their garage and mock up the same stunt, probably cheaper and better than they did. So the really great performers give away everything they know (been there, done that) because they’ve already got fifteen new projects in the works that are going to revolutionize their field. All the great contributors to the list are just keeping their furnace stoked by scraping out the ashes and throwing in fresh fuel.

MB 12/13/95
MB 9/13/96
MB 6/22/98