It seems that in today’s day and age there is an issue around owning ideas. In an era in which everything can be copied, ripped, duplicated, and mashed up, what is the value of intellectual property (IP)? While there are clear benefits to an open-sourced society, there are real tensions when that world interacts with older conceptions around unique ownership of ideas. While I hope to raise children in an open society, I do not want to teach them to steal.
I do not just deal with this as a father, I also deal with this all the time as an educator. How do educational providers make money in the 21st Century? People used to make their money off of their IP, but today we all have to give it away for free. At best IP has become the business card for people to sell other services. I worry about great educators out there who will not survive in the open seas of the open-sourced market.
So while I argue that we need to migrate Jewish education to this new market, I still feel that it is critical that we teach our children ( and our adults) to make sure we give attribution. We need to understand the wisdom of Pirkei Avot:
kol ha’omer davar b’shem omro, mevi geula l’olam – whoever says something in the name of the one who said it [first], brings redemption to the world (or, gains eternal life). (Pirkei Avot 6:6; cf Hullin 104b)
Why is properly attributing source material deserving of redemption? The Gemara Megillah 15 cites Esther 2:22 – “Queen Esther told the King in the name of Mordecai” of the plot against the king. It seems extraneous to mention that she told this over” in the name of Mordecai”, but this itself leads the King to put Mordecai above Haman, leading to the redemption of Shushan’s Jews.
But this is not a new idea from Purim. We first learn of this at the end of VaYeshev, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:
20 And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 And he restored the chief butler back unto his butlership; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgot him. ( Genesis 40: 20-23)
And next week after Pharaoh has all of his dreams we read:
8 And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof; and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh. 9 Then spoke the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying: ‘I make mention of my faults this day: 10 Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in the ward of the house of the captain of the guard, me and the chief baker. 11 And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. 12 And there was with us there a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. 13 And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was: I was restored unto mine office, and he was hanged.’ 14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon. And he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:8-14)
The butler ould have forgotten him forever. He could might have kept Joseph’s powers of dream interpretation a secret, or worse he could have pretended to have the powers and still used Joseph. But he put forward a model of collaboration. He helped Joseph and helped himself. It is one of those cases that the butler did it. Human nature is to be self serving, but he realized mutual benefit in sharing the information of Joseph skills.
This open sourced society cannot forget to give attribution because ultimately it is self-serving. We need to teach our children to tell the bigger narrative and have the long view for how helping others will help ourselves. Maybe that itself is redemptive.