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“quietly informing” is not a solution

The opinions expressed in this post are solely mines and are not a reflection of anyone else’s opinions, including anyone who may be associated with me in any manner.

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“quietly informing” is not a solution

A somewhat emotional and thought-provoking open letter to designers has been posted by Sasy Scarborough, Ryker Beck, and Whimsy Winx on their own respective blogs.  Let me preface this by saying I have the utmost respect for these ladies — they are one of the many tireless bloggers who invest so much time, effort, energy, and very often their own money into blogging the latest in the Second Life fashion scene.

Blogs are important.  They are THE place to go when you want to be in the know about the latest and hottest  designs, and they fulfill a role that no monthly publication can ever hope to touch:  blogs serve up content that won’t hit the magazine kiosks for at least a month, if not two.  There is absolutely no doubt that blogs play a crucial role in making Second Life fashion what it is today.

Bloggers take pride in their work.  I have firsthand knowledge of this:  I’ve indulged in a bit of fashion blogging in the past and it was something I took seriously, discussing details in texturing and even shooting short videoclips of select items.  And as I mentioned a few paragraphs up, the majority of what most bloggers cover is paid for out of their own pockets.  For most, blogging about fashion is a labor of love.

It is therefore entirely reasonable for any blogger to be somewhat mortified when confronted with evidence that s/he has given blog coverage to items that may be infringing upon a third party’s copyright.  Their blog is basically their baby, after all.

But I digress… anyone who pays any attention at all to the Fashion Planet feed will have witnessed events today (Sunday) that have acted as a catalyst for this open letter to designers, which I will quote in part here:

“… We completely understand the need for silence when dealing with said issues. However, one thing that has consequentially occured from doing so is that many, many bloggers are continuing to post on items they are unaware may turn out to be stolen. This is painful in the end for not just the designer – and we totally share your pain in this – but also for the many bloggers who have showcased/reviewed the products, filling their blogs with praise for the items, only to feel let down in the end and ultimately have their own values questioned. …”

The open letter then goes on to propose a solution:

“… Second Life fashion bloggers are valued and sought after to showcase items for many designers, but that is where the respect seems to end. We hold designers in such high regard. If we were told via IM or notecard that something was amiss with the content of one creator over another, we would be perfectly capable of keeping that to ourselves should you request that. Naturally, further blogging on the items in question would cease to occur. We understand that designers dealing with the trauma of having their work stolen may not have considered alerting the bloggers as a course of action in the past, but now is when it is crucial to stand united in this and feel more like a community than ever before. …”

And further down:

“… We hope that people will help us in the future by letting us know, privately and anonymously if necessary, that there is questionable content making its way around the blogosphere. …”

Hrm.  If only it were that easy.

The fashion blogging community is a complex one, due mainly to the fact that so many of it’s participants have crossover interests:  It is not uncommon for a blogger to be employed by a designer, run a fashion-related business such as a modeling agency, or own a sim that depends on the success of it’s commercial fashion renters.  We even have designers turned bloggers, and bloggers turned designers.  I personally think it’s only natural for bloggers to eventually have multiple fashion-related stakes in SL; if you love fashion then it is practically a given that you will be drawn to the various activities/industries that surround it.

As a result of this, our community is sometimes prone to outbursts of what some like to label as “drama”.  There have been numerous occasions on which I have seen allegations of copyright infringement end up being construed by some as nothing more than “smear campaigns” maliciously orchestrated to “ruin” the accused.

And while I personally would like to believe that most of us will act in an ethical manner when we learn of instances of infringement, the cold hard truth of the matter is that there are times when some (not all, only some) individuals will choose to conduct themseves in a way that serves their own interests instead.  This is not something I’m making up; I have heard of many instances where a deaf ear and a blind eye have been deliberately turned towards designers who took the time to point out the likeliness of theft, or worse yet, have had the tables turned on them and wound up finding themselves accused of acting out of jealousy and spite.

There is, too, the matter of the possibly unscrupulous designer who WOULD take advantage of such an arrangement with bloggers to stick it to their competition.  How on earth is a blogger supposed to differentiate between the legitimate concerns and the ones intended to hurt another designer?  Are bloggers now to serve as judge and jury?  That is a role even Linden Lab won’t take on.

And then we have the matter of appropriate timing.  Exactly when IS it a good time for a designer to notify bloggers?  What is fair?

Should a designer notify bloggers while the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notice is still being worked on (i.e., paperwork still being filled out but not yet turned in, or already filed but pending action by Linden Lab)?

Should a designer notify bloggers immediately after a DMCA takedown has occurred?

Should a designer wait until the party they’ve successfully filed against has had ample time to file a counter-claim?

It should be noted that a DMCA takedown in and of itself is not a ruling; Linden Lab makes it abundantly clear that they do not adjudicate.  A takedown simply means that they have received the paperwork and are now acting to comply with the law.

This is the dilemma that faces any designer who finds that their work has been infringed upon.  It is unfortunate that the act of protecting your copyright should come with so many complications, but this is how it is.  Designers need to balance their desire to protect their work with the need to protect the brand name and reputation that they have worked so hard to cultivate and nurture.  When viewed in this light it is understandable why some designers choose to deal with such issues in a quiet manner, and will take it to a more public arena only after repeated attempts to quietly do so fails to produce the desired results.

Again, I understand that bloggers who find that they have praised items that turned out to be less than legitimate might be “devastated”, as one person put it.  I hope that bloggers realize, however, that no sane person would ever fault them for reviewing items that they bought/received in good faith or contend that they were part of the problem.

So please, don’t let something like this “devastate” you or give you reason for too long a pause.  Process it, learn from it, and then shake the dust off your feet and move on.  I say that there are far too many great fashion items by legitimate and talented designers out there that deserve your attention for you to dwell on this too long.  ❤

August 11, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Ethics, Intellectual Property | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why I Will Not Be Attending Skin Fair 2008

FINAL ADDENDUM 03/03/2008 @ 2:00 p.m.

Okies, this is getting old already and since the Skin Fair has already kicked RG out I’d really prefer to just drop the subject already.

I feel the need to clear a few things, however, since some misinformed people seem to think that my blog is ruining some innocent person’s reputation. This final update to this post will prove otherwise, and then — finally — that will be that.

Before I start, there was a comment someone had made that I found pretty disturbing:

This fight isn’t yours, we don’t have the right to judge or not if someone stole or not naughty’s work… Let’s leave this to whom it may concern – the creator of the ripped skins and the people who in fact are selling it stolen.

Wow. Not our fight, huh? Tell me, what would your Second Life look like if it weren’t for these talented artists creating content that we make use of every time we’re in SL? Sorry, but no, when theft of intellectual property occurs, it’s not just the concern of the person who was stolen from, it’s something that affects all of us. I would prefer for my favorite content creators to happily remain in SL and continue beautifying my virtual surroundings, instead of taking off in disgust over ongoing theft problems. Not our concern, my ass… I’d like to see this person say that to all the fashionistas who went stir crazy over the prospect of not seeing any new Minnu skins!

Okay, enough of that. On to the screenshots that prove the alina skin base was used in the skins “candy”, “interrupted girl”, and “moon” by RG. (I’m pretty sure there were yet other skins by RG using the stolen texture as well; I saw some more for sale but there were no demos available for them and I certainly wasn’t about to spend 1000L to verify.)

These screenshots include notes pointing out where the skins are identical; you will also be able to view my inventory so that you can see for yourself that I am wearing the skin being displayed (item is in bold and will say “worn” next to it); the properties dialogue box of the inventory item is also clearly on display to leave no question as to who the creator of the skin is.

Here are the SLURLs to the shops where you can still find RG’s skin with the ripped texture, up for sale… but for those lacking common sense, may I point out the obvious once more — RG can go to these locations and delete the skins in question at any time, so just because you go there and don’t see it doesn’t mean it was never there. For those who need to actually see proof, the screenshots below are for your benefit.

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Liberty%20Central%20N/215/92/51
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Sanctuary%20Rock/12/96/34

Clicking on the screenshots will take you to the larger versions so that you may see in more detail.

Detail on right breast:

right breast alina right breast candy right breast interrupted girl right breast moon

Detail on the butt:

butt alina butt candy butt interrupted girl butt moon

Detail on the torso:

torso alina torso candy torso interrupted girl torso moon

Detail on the left thigh:

thigh alina thigh candy thigh interrupted girl thigh moon

Detail on the foot:

foot alina foot candy foot interrupted foot moon

Proof that these skins were available at several of RG’s satellite shops:

moon at liberty central n interrupted at liberty central n candy at sanctuary rock candy at liberty central n

Proof that they are, in fact, for sale:

interrupted sale payable to RG candy sale payable to RG

And finally, proof that RG had to have been aware for some time that his skins use a stolen Naughty texture, regardless of how he originally obtained it. Revenge edited his profile roughly a day or so ago to conceal this evidence, but thanks to the way the new Search tool works, the older version of his profile was still cached for several hours and I was able to grab a screencap of the text:

rg profile cache

Interesting how RG says that the other store owners have been to his main store and confirmed there were no stolen items there. Duh, that’s because the stolen stuff was only to be found at satellite shops that RG did not list in his profile. So there you have it. If you still hold to the belief that RG was innocent in all of this, you’re a moron.
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ADDENDUM 03/01/2008 @ 8:25 p.m.

Wow, so many reactions to this post; where to start?

All right, first thing I’d like to do is correct the misconception that I’ve deleted any comments made by others at my blog. Everyone is free to agree, disagree, whatever — it’s all good, and I’m not going to censor any of it. However, I absolutely will not tolerate comment spam or any really obvious trolling, and my method for controlling this is to use comment moderation. How does this affect you? All it means is that if you’re commenting on my blog for the first time ever, your comment(s) will not be posted immediately. This enables me to view it first so that I can make sure you are abiding by my rules regarding spamming and trolling. Because I was gone for most of today, there was a small bit of a comment backlog going back almost twelve hours.

Okay, next order of business: I’d like to address Aradia’s comments regarding the removal of “Designer RD” and about Carl’s character. I’m really glad to hear that the designer in question was removed, because as I’ve stated in the original post (which you can see below here after the block of blue-formatted text), the texture theft was glaringly obvious. Like, really really really really really obvious.

I never meant to imply that Carl’s demeanor throughout my conversation was ever anything less than polite, because he was very polite the whole time. With that said, I’d like to remind everyone that I did not pull the conversation I had with him out of thin air. He really did state quite plainly that he was not going to kick Designer RG out of the fair, and yes he really did make that comment about most skin designers using Renderosity and then posed the “who is REALLY ripping someone off” question right after making that assertion.

It is interesting to note that Aradia wrote, “It is wrong to sit there and accuse him of wrong doing, he is not a mind reader, nor does he keep tabs on every single skin designer on the grid.” Yes, quite right — that would be a monumental task, and my thanks goes out to Aradia for making my point for me! This is the reason why I contacted him in the first place. Of course I don’t expect him to be aware of every skin designer out there, and it’d be ludicrous for anyone to assume that he’d be able to identify every case of texture theft that might pass before him… call me crazy but I was actually trying to be helpful when I IM’d this information in the first place.

I’d like to remind everyone once again that my choice to not attend the the Skin Fair was in no way reflective upon the other skin designers involved, and while I understand the ideas expressed by several of the comments left by various skin designers in this post, I will not make any apologies for my original intent to boycott. Folks, this is how boycotts work — they are not meant to be half-assed, weakly performed protestations; they are strong and vocal and designed with the intent of getting one’s point across in a very noticeable manner. This is my voice, and this is how I choose to wield it.

Countering this are some compelling arguments made by Annyka Bekkers of Blowpop who wrote, “… I am extremely uncomfortable with third parties acting on the designer’s behalf, no matter how well-meaning. There’s too much potential for mistaken accusations and ruined reputations, which we’ve seen too many times in the past… “

I agree with what Annyka says, which in my mind should serve all the more to underscore just how obvious the texture theft in this case really is. I would not go on record saying Designer RG is using a texture that actually really belongs to the Naughty designers unless I were 1,000% sure of it… and really, that is how sure I am. I invite you all to go see the proof for yourselves (and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the designer goes and deletes the evidence unless they are deliberately waiting for a DMCA takedown and hoping to profit in the timebeing):

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Piccadilly%20Circus/14/90/25

Pick up the demos for the candy skin, the interrupted girl skin, and the moon skin, and then compare it with an Alina demo from Naughty.

Those SLURLs are also for the benefit of those people who’d gone to the main store and found nothing. Designer RG has only his/her main location listed in Picks and Classified, but there are other satellite locations that you won’t see in his/her profile. This place at Piccadilly Circus is one of them.

In closing of this addendum, I’d like to make it clear that in light of Aradia’s announcement that the designer in question has since been removed, I’m no longer advocating a boycott of the Skin Fair.

And now, on to the post as it had originally appeared…

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Okay, before I say anything else? I struggled with whether I was going to post this at all because I am pretty sure it’s going to invite the kind of attention I’d rather not have. I mean, after I got a taste of how some bloggers reacted to even the faintest notion that their traffic might get diverted away from their sites, I can tell you straight off that I MUCH prefer to sticking to writing about pretty clothes that make me happy.

I feel, however, that this is a subject that just cannot be swept under the rug. So here goes…

If you keep up with the Second Life fashion blogging scene at all, you’ve probably noticed several mentions lately about the upcoming “International Skin Fair”.

I got a press release which I believe was distributed to a number of bloggers. Here’s an excerpt from it:

“… More than 65 Second Life skin designers are waiting to present their existing and new products to those visiting the fair.

The huge skin variety guarantees something for everyone. Meet the known designers exhibiting next to talented newcomer and small companies… “

Naturally, my curiosity was piqued and I was anxious to know what to expect at this event. One of my brilliant friends suggested that I look at the Vanity Universe group (the group that was founded to organize the participants in the Skin Fair) to see what skin designer names appeared. Very clever!

Fast forward to the part where I learn that one of the skin designers being featured at the Skin Fair is currently selling a skin with a body that is identical to the Alina skin from Naughty Designs. (For the sake of making this easier to write, I will refer to this designer as Designer RG.) I was somewhat dismayed by this; the subject of skin theft has been a particularly sore one lately as many fashion bloggers will attest.

I decided to contact Carl Crabe, since he is listed as the founder of the group. I explained to Carl that I was a bit concerned about Designer RG being featured at the Skin Fair. I even made sure to make Carl aware that as I was speaking to him, I was alternating between the demo for Designer RG’s skin and the Alina skin, and was seeing with my very own eyes that the textures were identical from the nipples down.

Carl’s response was not what I was expecting; in fact, when you think about it it’s actually quite insulting to SL skin designers in general. For starters, he said he was already aware of the matter, and then he went on about how the majority of skin designers in SL get their basic skins from Renderosity and simply make a few alterations. After making that statement, he posed the rhetorical question of just who, then, is really doing the ripping off?

(Note: To suggest that Lost Thereian of Naughty Designs takes items from Renderosity to make his own skins seems not just a little bit ridiculous, and judging from comments he has made in the jira issue regarding texture theft, I think it’s safe to say that he probably uses sources such as 3dsk.)

It was at that point that I told Carl that with Designer RG’s skin demo, it was actually quite easy to see just who was getting ripped off. Seriously, everything on Designer RG’s demo and the Alina skin matched perfectly and their parts were lining up flawlessly. “The likelihood of two separate people applying all of these textures to the avatar UV mesh identically“, I told him, “is highly implausible.”

Further conversation with Carl proved to be a bit unsettling. After I’d just pointed out to him that the odds were against two completely different people skinning the UV mesh in such perfect unison, I can only interpret his answer as an attempt to dilute that by saying that Designer RG sells lots of other skins that Naughty doesn’t sell. What other skins that Designer RG might offer is besides the point!

Carl did say that he had tried to reach the Naughty designers to get their take on the matter, but they had failed to respond. (I do not know what methods Carl used to try to contact them, nor am I aware of the frequency/urgency with which he conducted these attempts.) Nevertheless, Carl stated unequivocally that he will not kick Designer RG from the Skin Fair. When I asked him, “Why not?”, his vague response was that if someone from Naughty could meet up with him, they could “talk” about it.

I then informed Carl that I planned on blogging about this. Especially in light of the rash of recent skin thefts that have been happening lately, with Minnu Palen even going so far as to announce that there will be no more new releases until Linden Lab acts more decisively on this, this raises serious questions about the integrity of the Skin Fair and it’s organizers.

Carl went silent after that. I continued on, telling him that I would send him snapshots of the demo skin and the Alina skin side by side so he could see just how perfectly identical they really are. In my last message to him, I said I was about to send him a couple of images… and I got the “User not online” message in return. I sent him the textures anyways so that he can take a look at them later.

Just to cover all bases, I consulted with someone who is familiar with 3D design and modeling, and they agreed to let me quote them but only under the condition of anonymity. What they had to say confirmed what I’d told Carl. “The odds of two 3d artists applying the same photosource to a UV map in the same way are virtually nil,” they said. “Mapping something as complex as a human skin onto the UV maps and having it look identical? Not gonna happen. Anyone with common sense should see right away if they look at the UV maps and consider what’s involved in the process.”

Anyhow, going back to Designer RG’s skin. It’s pretty obvious that one of two things happened for this to come about: either Designer RG ripped the Alina skin to use as a base, or Designer RG bought ripped full perm .tga files from a Business In A Box reseller. If it is the latter which applies, the fact that Designer RG persists in selling the skin while being aware of the questionable origins of the textures points to either poor judgement or a lack of ethics. (Yes, this designer is very much aware, as is evidenced by the commentary on their profile.)

So there you have it, my reason for boycotting the Skin Fair. My decision to not attend is in no way indicative of my opinion of the legitimate skin designers who are to be featured. It’s just that I find it apalling that the Skin Fair organizers would not only deliberately turn a blind eye to damning evidence, but would actually continue to promote someone who is using a ripped skin texture in their product.

NSFW shots of the skins are located after the cut.

Continue reading

March 1, 2008 Posted by | Ethics, Fashion, Intellectual Property, Skin | , , , , , | 57 Comments

B&B Skins – Rigging the Search Tool @ Skin Oasis

Someone posted an image on Bloghud.com and I had to go see for myself, of course. I ended up with several shots, myself:

Gaming the Search Tool

This is such total BS. Other businesses hustle to promote their brand by paying considerable sums on advertising in SL, in magazines, on blogs and websites — this includes paying models, photographers, set designers, possibly even graphic designers and advertising agencies. They take the time to network with people, sometimes offering their items for review at websites like Linden Lifestyles and Second Style Fashionista or courting modeling/PR agencies. They try to attract customers with all sorts of innovative builds and special events, brainstorming different ways to get people to take note and get involved.

They work damn hard to make their business a success.

So yeah, it pisses me off when I see this kind of cheap stunt pulled because it seems like cheating to me. These people don’t care about the kind of lag they inflict on their visiting customers; all they can see are dollar signs associated with each green dot on the mini-map that isn’t an alt. And I sincerely doubt the avatars you’ll see in the following pictures are legitimate, paid accounts.

Clicking on the images will take you to their respective flickr pages, where you can view larger version. I’ve included the interface and HUD objects in the screenshots, but blurred out my linden balance because I don’t want anyone to see how poor I am. :p

Gaming the Search Tool 01

Gaming the Search Tool 02

Gaming the Search Tool 03

Gaming the Search Tool 04

Gaming the Search Tool 05

December 31, 2007 Posted by | Ethics, Rant | , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

“Questionable Ethics”

My friend Vivienne Graves just directed me to an interesting posting on her blog, Second Impressions.

Apparently she and another friend happened across a store that engages in some rather questionable business practices. This particular shop sells hats, and some pretty cool-looking ones at that. Upon closer inspection of these hats, however, one makes some unexpected discoveries:

My friend Morrigan Repine alerted me to a shop owned by one Chigadee London, called ‘Couture Chapeau’, which seems to be…well, I don’t want to say ‘ripping off’, so let’s say ‘inspired by’ Megg Demina’s justly praised Chapeau Tres Mignon. Ms London has a variety of hats for sale here, some that are rather striking…but if you do what we did and inspect the objects on display, you’ll see that most of the striking detail work is not Ms London’s, but was sourced from full-perms items by other content creators. For instance, the feather detail on the ‘Faerie Feathers’ hat, priced at L$400, turns out, on closer inspection, to be the work of Mistress Midnight, from her ‘Lace Wings’.

Inspecting the prims of the other hats on display (you’ll have to be quick, as they’re all on a temp-rez cycle) reveals that the butterfly on the ‘Secret Garden’ hat is the work of Saajuk Bogomil; the feather on the ‘Petite Caponita’ hat is by Natalia Zelmanov; the tassels on the shoes on sale in the shop are by Siggy Romulus; part of the detail on the ‘Callas Chapeau’ is the work of Billie Sunchaser; and the rose on the ‘Black Rose Chapeau’ is by Logan Bauer.

~ Vivienne Graves on Second Impressions

After reading Vivienne’s post, I decided to take a look for myself to confirm what she’d written. The right-click > inspect function does not lie :p Here are a couple of screenshots I took that will back up what she’s stated (clicking them will take you to flickr where there are larger versions of these images):

questionable ethics 01

questionable ethics 02

I take a very similar stance to Vivienne when it comes to modifying items in SL. I feel that if you’ve paid for something and it comes with Modify permissions, then you are free to unlink, relink, and alter the hell out of that item if you so desire, even to the point of Frankenstein-ing it with other items… you paid for it, mod perms have been granted, and *it’s yours* to do with as you see fit.

What, however, about this turning around and reselling products that contain parts cannibalized from other content creators’ works? It is true that we see creative collaborations all the time in SL (i.e., talented animator and celebrated fashion designer get together and put out a new purse that comes with a purse-carrying AO; knowledgeable scripter and innovative builder create a revolutionary product that forever alters the manner in which people photograph themselves in SL). In these cases, arrangements between the parties involved were obviously made and agreed upon before the items were ever entered into the market.

Does the granting of mod perms on an item for sale automatically imply this kind of agreement? Can I take that hairstyle in my inventory with the mod perms, unlink it to my heart’s content (pun not intended there), re-link selected prims from that hairstyle with other prims I’ve either collected from yet other hairstyles or created on my own, and then turn around and sell my newly modified project? By granting me mod permissions on that hairstyle, did the original hairstyle’s designer grant me permission to take individual prims out of her work to place in another object for resale?

I honestly believe that common sense would answer to this is a resounding, emphatic “NO”.

October 13, 2007 Posted by | Ethics, Fashion | , , , , , , | 5 Comments