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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.  ❤

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