Copyright and Trademark come up constantly in the arts. In our studio, we debate over rights when considering using found video and film footage, music, imagery and content for making movies, iPhone apps or a tee shirt design. Often clients don't know any different so it is our responsibility to do the right thing legally but also morally by other artists.
On a personal level, artists are all over the board in their feelings of ownership of an idea. When teaching Contemporary Criticism, I brought up the Sheppard Fairey debate and students brought more research and energy to this discussion than almost any other. The subject struck a fundamental nerve for almost all of them.
In my own personal experience I eventually come to the final question, "did the person who took the idea do it better?" Of course, that triggers more debate for many but the final execution of an idea often brings clarity for me. And then there is that very common feeling of ownership of an idea but never actually making it or doing anything about it. Ideas are pretty cheap in the end it seems. At least ideas all on their own. (Read: Go make something!)
Lately the rights (or lack there of) fashionistas and designers hold has been leading the discussion at our table. This TED video, "Lessons from fashion's free culture" by Johanna Blakely has been a great contribution to the debate and in certain ways very liberating for me. I want everyone to see it.
P.S. Going beyond the idea stage and getting into what has been published or produced, I have been directed to two places to start if you seek rights to use someone else's intellectual property: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). Good luck with that.
Enjoy the video!