Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Equal Opportunity Innovation

In a perfect world, teachers would be paid like brain surgeons and non-profits could function as though they were making millions. They would get the money they needed and then some. A mere reward for all their hard work. With that money, they would be able to protect themselves and their ideas from big corporations and those ideas would be on the cover of magazines.

Unfortunately for Sound Portraits Productions, this is not an ideal world. This non-profit created a national oral-history project called StoryCorps back in 2003. Their trailer travels the country recording the stories of everyday Americans. The stories are archived in the Library of Congress and NPR shares them weekly on their new program “Morning Edition.” Since 2003, they have recorded over 8,000 stories and have grown to have two offices in New York and two traveling trailers. The value of these stories obviously goes beyond any monetary value, and contributes to the history of Americans all over the nation.

But last month, Sound Portraits accused the discount airline JetBlue of taking their idea. An idea they believe took years to generate and maintain. And they say it’s a project that will be put in jeopardy if this airline doesn’t change its name and concept from ‘Story Booth.”

JetBlue created the same type of trailer and the same type of experience for Americans to tell their stories. They even showed up in the same cities as StoryCorps. And while the airline thinks it’s ridiculous for the non-profit to take credit for the idea, the point is, they can’t even fight JetBlue in court for the rights of their project. They don’t have the resources.

“StoryCorps is the boldest attempt I have ever seen to take the American art of storytelling and bring it everywhere in the country. I find it astonishing that any company would try to capture and take that spirit and apply it for commercial purposes,” says Ken Stern, executive vice president of NPR.

It raises the question: How can we combine the humanistic passion from the non-profits and the money and resources from big business?

Perhaps in the answer, innovation for both can be expressed equally.

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