audaces fortuna juvat (caliah) wrote,
audaces fortuna juvat
caliah

Ethical Issues, IP Infringement and Content Theft

http://commonsensible.net/2008/05/09/blogger-news-of-skin-piracy-slanderous-content/
http://commonsensible.net/2008/05/10/skin-theft-intermediate-witch-hunt/
http://commonsensible.net/2008/05/11/skin-piracy-scenario-fashionista-hornets-nest/

While I've been largely keeping out of the current mess involving SCD, Danae Kotsi and Minnu - I have no taste for drama, and it's only when I can't help but comment on the fracas that I do - I felt i had to write a personal post as this is an issue that people in SL have always felt strongly about. Having been a victim of theft myself, as well as an employee of Glam World, one might think that my emotions might be more conflicted on the issue than those of a more impartial observer who's never had to deal with this sort of crisis on a personal level. In a way I am more involved, but what this has done is to give me more room to evaluate my own behaviour and stance regarding IP infringement. I can say I'm embarrassed at the way I handled the first case in which my work was copied, but when it's your own work, emotions run high, and you tend to lose much of the objectivity that you might pride yourself in. When I was stolen from I can say almost all logic vanished in the blinding white light of extreme emotion, and I wasn't as much angry as shocked that someone would have the effrontery to do it. To my credit, I took great pains to ensure that I wasn't falsely accusing anyone, and asked for opinions and feedback from a community of my peers - fellow designers, not the fashion community, as I felt they would provide more objectivity than I might have been capable of at that moment. What I regret about it is ever airing any of it before it was resolved, though the dispute was settled in my favour with surprising speed, considering the difficulty of resolving such cases in SL. This is what I think affected parties should think about - although one feels that they have been grievously wronged, it is our obligation as ethical human beings to give the other party the benefit of the doubt, whoever they may be.

The first time I encountered a case of what seemed content theft was when I was visiting a long-established designer's store in the fall of 2006. This person had been in SL since 2004, and the person I believed she had lifted the design from had been in SL longer by about a year. The older designer is an established big name, the former not so much, though she had been creating content regularly up till that point. You can imagine how conflicted I felt eyeing the slip dress in her store, a dress absolutely identical to the one I'd purchased from the older designer at one of her frequent sales. After some thought I sent her a notecard, but never got a response. As of this writing the design's been retired from the older designer's inventory, but even up till now I wonder who stole from whom.

After a while I managed to establish something of a reputation for being able to discern small details in items that would identify them as being copies of something else. (When you're a jeweller by trade, you tend to develop an eye for tiny detail if you don't have one already). Sometimes all I needed was a blog photo or a photo from a notice, other times it was so difficult that only a much closer perusal would yield anything definitive. Up till now some people still IM me when they need me to to look over the latest suspect item, and I have to say I take some pleasure in the job, as it works both ways for the affected parties depending on whether you can establish whether or not some details are identical. I have to say right now that many blog exposes simply miss some of the finer details that although similar, are revealed to be completely different on closer, more careful inspection by a sharper-eyed person. This is one reason I've never liked forming judgements based on comparison photos on the feed -unless- it's obvious the comparison is is absolutely correct, and it very, very rarely is.

When I was asked by Minnu to become editor of the magazine, I was doubtful and asked her to give me a day to think it over. Anyone who knows me well will know I am a very meticulous and pragmatic person. In the fashion community there were all kinds of rumours being passed around about Minnu, mostly negative. The only time I had encountered Minnu was when Aradia had suggested I take a store in Glam World, and I had had to move out because they needed the space for development. I did feel bad that some of the other stores who were on the sim were allowed to stay, but I just shrugged and went on with my business - it was their right to choose which stores to retain after all, though I certainly didn't feel too good about it.

So, when I was asked, I certainly had my doubts, but accepted as I thought it was a good opportunity and learning experience. It has been and I don't regret it all. I did wonder how I would mesh with the other employees and with Minnu herself, as I am an eccentric and a bit of a cynic, and by no means the "fashion diva" that some people accuse me of being (I snort over that a lot in private). It was awkward in the beginning, but I've acted as professionally and fairly as I can.

Why, some people might ask, having seen my comments on SCD and Ari's blog - am I being supportive of Minnu in this instance? Doesn't it seem like the height of hypocrisy for a staunch advocate of IP rights to be condoning this? All I can say is that as an employer Minnu treated me with more fairness and kindness than I would ever have expected coming from someone who could have simply given me a set of orders to follow and expected me to adhere by her rules. It is only fair that I give her a chance to prove her case regardless of what mistakes she may have made and/or differences we have in opinion, and given what evidence I've seen, I have reason to believe that she has told me the truth. The nature of which should be the -only- concern of anyone involved in this case - not her character or her occupation, or god knows what the pitchfork-bearing mob should unearth or decide based on hearsay. The mob's active encouragement the use of bullying tactics to drive the designers out of Glam World and remove their support is no better than the lynchings we've seen committed under anyone's name in the outcry against content theft (which, though I have witnessed firsthand - I have never personally joined as demonstrations are not to my taste). I would urge any of these designers who receive any sort of harassment regarding this case to either file ARs or compile a list of names, as well as the url of the posts encouraging this behaviour, and report them not only to LL, but to other designer communities as griefers. If any designers involved with GW or renting space on the sims are reading this and have experienced this sort of harassment, I suggest they send me an IM.

This brings up the question of a designer's ethical obligation to the public as well as transparency in business. I have to say I have nothing but distaste for the general atmosphere of mob justice that is encouraged by the American press when they're putting their icons under scrutiny for their moral foibles. This, if not nearly identical, has produced akin to the same result. As far as I'm concerned, if you run your business ethically and with the proper regard for the law, you should not feel obligated to be transparent about your dealings, but it is recommended, at least to some degree, to establish trust. However, with the SL fashion community being as it is, and being generally unforgiving to put it mildly, it's not surprising that designers remain secretive about their work methods (and thus are so easily brought forward to public condemnation even for what might constitute a perfectly legal act on their part). It will remain that way until a stronger sense of reason prevails, and people stop seeing designers as lofty icons but as hard-working individuals who carved out their own piece of the pie. I believe it is resentment and jealousy speaking rather than any sense of vindication when people so freely engage in professing their schadenfreude over such a case as this one, as they themselves, despite their own efforts, have not managed to accomplish as much as the person in question. Also, whilst much is aired about designers and their attitudes, the other side of the coin - the unscrupulous, bullying consumer - is hardly ever discussed out of designers' groups, but trust me when I say that any established designer gets more to complain about every working day than a customer ever would. Consumer advocacy is well and good, but in a world driven by user-generated content where less-moneyed individuals rather than companies run the majority of businesses, the consumer already has more power than they do in RL, even if they don't know it.

In a way, this will be more beneficial to the community, with more lasting effects, if people see this as an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of IP rights and how to respect them while maintaining a practical balance between self-generated content and sourcing from third parties, designers learn to better protect their rights and craft better EULAs - and the fashion community learns the hard way that legal sourcing is not theft. Now, I do believe that creators of resources for commercial and personal use should have first say over what constitutes copyright infringement of their creations, but as this case illustrates, measures must be taken to safeguard these copyrights and with the aid of good legal counsel, EULAs must be absolutely clear about what constitutes theft.

**Edit: I added a paragraph or two here about my personal feelings and how I became editor for GLAM.
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