Thursday, October 8, 2009

I'm sick of playing all of these games, it's not about taking sides

(**NOTE** I have, since publishing this, talked with the owner of Boxed Heroes and corrected some of the errors in this post. You can read down, or go ahead to the correction and apology. Thanks.)

I'd heard about this, but I will admit, I just had to go see it for myself. I had to stand in the shop and see what they'd agreed to do.

Step Up!

The full kiosk, with the orange ribbon the organizers thought had no confirmed meaning; with the ribbon button that looks like an insincere smile; with the "Step Up!" in lettering straight from 1974.

Right. We're seeing the posters, the banners, the kiosks, all over the grid now. People are walking around with their group tags--"I'm Stepping UP!" Why is this different?

Boxed Heroes logo

Because this is inside Boxed Heroes.

Boxed Heroes.

For once, I'm not going to rant and rave and carry on--though I easily, EASILY could. No, I'm just going to let a few pictures do most of my talking, I think. To illustrate the point.

Batman & Robin

After certain individuals who actually owned copyright on everything they were selling came in and stomped them flat, it took a bit for Boxed Heroes to reinvent themselves. You'd think they would have learned, but...apparently not.

This is their version of Batman, and Robin. Not from the comics; from the movie. So they're not just risking the wrath of DC, again, they're risking the wrath of Warner Brothers.

Harley & Ivy

They're not even trying that hard. Oh, their version of Harley Quinn has a different hat, and they're calling Ivy "Deadly Ivy"--but it's instantly recognizable.

Dr. Doom & Iron Man

The "Doomed Doctor Avatar"....are they kidding? Right next to a version of Iron Man that is directly lifted from the film version! Which is above a version of Wolverine that is also lifted directly from the film version of X-Men!

Crow & the Captain

The Crow--he's even called "Eric"--and Captain America.

Words fail.

Vampire hunting in style

They've even gotten Blade and Serena in on the action--and Blade and Serena? Are just down the row from Neo and Trinity, from the Matrix movies.

Wonder Woman & Rorschach

In honor, I suppose, of the potential Wonder Woman film coming out, and the Watchman film that did come out--Wonder Woman and Rorschach.

Arachnid WomanThe Hulk

Finally, "Arachnid Woman"--which proves they can do original stuph (and they can, some of their armor sets are INCREDIBLE)--which, nevertheless, still draws heavily on comic books and Adam Hughes artwork--and a green-skinned ultra-muscled "Gamma" hero.


So what's the hang-up? A store liked the concept of supporting content creators. The Step Up! people--who are obviously not in the least bit interested in policing who asks for a kiosk to display--have sent Boxed Heroes a kiosk. They put it out. What gives?

I'll tell you. Do you honestly think, for one moment, that Boxed Heroes' largest concern is "content theft"? SERIOUSLY??

No! Their largest concern is not having Warner Brothers land on them like a ten-ton spiked weight! Their largest concern is hiding from DC and Marvel! Their largest concern is NOT GETTING CAUGHT!!

Oh, pardon me--not getting caught AGAIN.

Now, I should state that Boxed Heroes, as a creators' collective, does an amazing job recreating these (copyright-protected) avatars. And, as I mentioned, they do original work, some of which they give away in their lucky chairs, and I have never failed to be less than impressed with the work they do.

But that's beside the point; their original work isn't what keeps their coffers full. What keeps them paying tier is the work they've done on the backs of other creators. And isn't that pretty much directly what Step Up! stands against? What it was, in fact, founded to combat?

First, if "Step Up!" as a campaign is to be taken seriously at all, they need to police who's picking up their kiosk. That's the main point I'm making, and I am deadly serious on this--otherwise, they're just a bunch of lip-service gossip girls who want a cause for five minutes, and as soon as the next thing goes bang, they're going to flutter off to it.

And personally, I know most of the women involved in this, and I cannot believe for one moment that they are that brainless. So they need to pull it together and look at what they are--by kiosk presence--approving on the grid.

Second, if "Step Up!" is seriously invested in preventing copyright infringement, then Boxed Heroes cannot be on the list. Nor can any store that engages in copyright infringement. Because it looks bad. You know how it looks?

It's Marianne-McCann-dancing-on-Zindra bad, that's how bad it looks.

You want your campaign to be taken seriously? Then take it seriously. Don't blithely hand out kiosks to everyone who's made a t-shirt to put out. Check who's going into the group. Go look at what they're doing.

Because Step Up!'s kiosk in Boxed Heroes? Is laughable. Worse, it's sickening and it's a tragedy. It's empowering to anyone who's ever thought, hey, I don't have to pay for things, I can just copy them. It's the fast buck mentality in spades.

Am I blaming Step Up! directly for their kiosk in Boxed Heroes? No. Indirectly, absolutely. But more, I'm saying if Boxed Heroes retains their kiosk, anyone seeing it is going to know two things, beyond any shadow of any doubt:

1. Step Up! is a joke, and it was never a serious effort to make the Lindens sit up and take notice of the problem of copyright infringement; and

2. The Lindens' edict on no items that infringe copyright on XStreet isn't serious, because look what they allow in world.

Yeah. Just look.

Welcome to the new world.


Rhianon Jameson said...

Wow. Or, as you might phrase it, Miss Orr, wau. Either way, words fail, although the irony is so delicious.

Emilly Orr said...


There's enough irony there to help anemics balance.

Dale Innis said...

Way worse that MM dancing on Zindra, imesho. :)

I haven't joined STEP UP in any sense, because I can't figure out what they are actually about. "Copyright violation is bad", yeah well okay, that's hardly a minority opinion that needs extra support. "The Lindens should be doing more to counter it!". Well, okay, maybe; but what exactly?

I've seen some loose talk in the STEP UP context about taking the client protocol closed again, and cutting off all the third-party viewers. This would be a really bad idea, and would have a minimal effect on copyright violation while making SL in general a less useful thing. So I don't support that, if it's in their platform.

Similarly I don't think I want the Lab paying people to go out patrolling the Grid for copyright violations. There are much better things they could do with that resource. Have you ARd Boxed Heros for copyright violation? Has Warner DMCAd them? If the answers are No and No, I don't think LL has the responsibility to go out and scour the Grid themselves and act as Copyright Polict. And in fact I think I'm glad that they don't.

So STEP UP is expressing concern about something that is in fact bad. But just exactly what they think ought to be done about it isn't clear. And the fact that blatant copyright violators have joined the campaign just confuses me more. :)

Emilly Orr said...

Pretty much. Generally, my stance on ARs--which needs to change--is that if I'm being directly harmed, I AR; if I'm not, I feel it's not my place to say whoa, this is a problem.

It's even more confusing in the case of Boxed Heroes, who is not under any specific policy, per se; on XStreet, they can't sell copyright-infringing material, but the grid has no such ban.


And, also, they've already been blasted by Marvel (though I note, not by DC, Warner Brothers, or Time Warner, the parent company of both--in DC's case, since 1969), and this was their comeback position--essentially, to offer unchanged-save-for-title avatars for the movies, and cut most of the direct-from-comics avatar packages.

There's only three they've retained, in fact (since I'm counting Rorschach as a movie tie-in): Wonder Woman (who's had her own show on TV); Harley Quinn (who's been seen in a variant costume in several animated series, but never live); and their WitchBlade variant (which did have a TV run, but had an entirely different look on the show). Everything else? Is based on films, and they've taken down the Green Lantern avatar they had, all versions of the Batman avatar, the Joker (taken from the comics), the Penguin (taken from the Adam West show, if I recall)...

While I'm sure Time Warner could potentially come after them, they haven't bothered to yet, and partially, that's because they've been renamed. They're pretty egregious violations, but at least they're selling He-Bat, Gamma Strongman and Female Vampire, not Batman, the Hulk and Serena.

But it is confusing; by virtue of the kiosk in their store, Step Up! is now sending mixed signals. They want things to change--great, how does their demi-official presence in Boxed Heroes change that? They want people who rip content to retitle it? Recolor it? Maybe move the prims slightly or just clone things and say, hey, similar ideas, it happens?

Where, precisely, do the Step Up! crew draw the line on copyright infringement or even, to use their phrase, outright content theft?

Gabrielle Riel said...

Thanks Em -

You just helped me make a decision.

As of now, I am on leave from Second Life.

Emilly Orr said...

Well, I wasn't exactly subtle on this point, but it did have to be said, at least from my perspective.

And I'm sorry you feel your hand was forced, if you do. I'm still not sure if it's genuine thanks, or sarcastic anger.

But I still believe you need to rest sometimes, and that you do push yourself, and that there is a difference between sitting down for a breather and falling down unconscious.

Be well, rest and heal, Radio Riel will go on in your absence, until you decide what you're doing with it. (Me, I hope you keep it...whether I'm working as part of it, or not.)

Saffia Widdershins said...

Having our kiosks in places where issues of intellectual property or even outright content theft are present is a problem.

However - we had to make a call.

If we freely distribute the kiosks, to spread the word about Step UP! as widely as possible, then some of our kiosks will end up in dodgy places. If we're informed about that, we can ask for them to be removed. We can't enforce their removal, however.

If we insist on vetting every place where a kiosk will be placed, we will severely limit the number of kiosks going out. None of us have time to do this vetting, and there would be backlogs of kiosks, resentments, accusations we're behaving like divas in selecting who we give kiosks to, and thieves making kiosks anyway to try and give themselves legitimacy ... you can't win.

What we have to do is to do the best we can.

Saffia Widdershins said...

And we need tell people that if they find a kiosk in a dodgy place, they should let us know either through the Ning, through IMs or by alerting us to the fact that they've written an omg! drama!! post. We haven't done that yet, and we should have done. But a lot of what we are doing is evolving as we do it. We won't always get it right. But we will try and get it right - and try and do the best we can.

People here have talked about the discussions that Step UP! is causing. These are discussions - not Step UP! policy. We're allowing people space to discuss aspects of content theft, so that we can work out the best ways to warn people of problems and dangers. Some members of the group favour stringent means of protection. That's their right - and they are welcome to use the discussion groups to air their views - and share them with others.

But we are focused on three areas: Action - Celebration and - above all - Education.

The action is the one day ban on uploads to the grid. This is NOT and never has been intended to be anything more than a marker. Some people might like to see more - but we wanted to do something that would be noticed, without damaging content creators - who are already having huge problems.

The celebration is a chance to celebrate the work of content creators. It is also a way of spreading information about content theft and its effects on creators.

But the core of the campaign was and is and will be education. If you take a Step UP! pack (and no-one here seems to have done that) you will find that it comes with a variety of information, explaining not just what Step UP! is, but what content theft is and how one might detect it. It also suggests ways in which individuals in Second Life can help content creators. It's low key and low drama - but it's important that people should know.

And it's making a positive difference. Yesterday, someone relatively new to Second Life contacted me. She'd seen my name on Step Up! materials and she wanted to show me something she was worried about on XStreet. I looked at it, and explained how you could report it. She did so - and saw how it had already had been reported. She wondered why it hadn't been taken down in that case. I explained to her that this was protection against malicious reports. No drama, but she learned something and - because of it, felt empowered. She saw how she could act. And that's what we want Step UP! to do - to educate people and to empower them - creators and consuumers alike.

At the moment, people from all over the grid are coming together to discuss and develop materials that can be used to help people - writing and translating notecards, making machinimas and radio ads. And this is what Step UP! is all about. If you don't like the font or style of the ribbon, make your own! Don't like the orange ribbon? Leave it out! Don't just critique others - make your own positive contribution.

One can start to sound pompous by giving out quotes such as "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." But it does. Stopping the abuse of intellectual property rights is a huge task, and there will be many, many ways of affecting the social change that is required. But, despite the magnitude of the task, and despite the fact that we know we will make mistakes, we are Stepping UP!

A Positive Critic said...

I do not mean any offense, and I do not care to cause any anger. This is simply my positive criticism, which I note is a positive contribution by it's very nature.

The problem Miss Widdershins, is that Step UP! is not original, and it is not unique. It is following in the steps of the MPAA and the RIAA trying to reign back the natural movement of society. It's fighting not against thieves or mis-education but against the nature of digital property. The words that are used and the methods that get supported are as misleading and harmful as what is being fighting against.

There is no such thing as 'Content Theft', and using that word is insulting. It cannot exist in a digital realm so long as one has a copy somewhere. Perhaps simply in one's SL Inventory. Perhaps on one's Hard Drive using one of the Open-Source viewers that allow such useful functions. The word Step UP! is looking for is Copyright Infringement, use it. Any other word is deceptive at best and outright manipulative at worst.

The discussions you claim are simply 'discussions' are ones that you, as one of the main drivers of this movement, support. I cannot support a group that has a leader who so obviously has different goals then me. Say what you will about such open 'discussions' but when you yourself have seemed to come out against Open Source Clients and Free Accounts, you are showing that you are not going to stop at simply education.

Not to mention this protest has not been advertised as an education effort. It has been shown to be a protest, one apparently involving celebration which is sending mixed signals to say the least. The problem is, for those looking at this with a critical eye, is Step UP! not sure what it is protesting about. Is it protesting against the Infringement of Copyright? If so, what do the Lindens matter? They are not the ones stealing your stuff and by no means do they support such acts as seen by the reports filed and DMCA notices they have honored. Maybe Step UP! is protesting SL's lack of stronger action? Then it seems to me it is expecting Linden Labs to create something that cannot exist, a perfect way to protect copyrighted works of art in a digital medium.

Protesting for an impossible goal, or protesting against one organization for the acts of ones who have no connection to them is useless. It is, to sound pompous and use my own quote, "Sound & Fury, signifying nothing." As for your own quote, there has been far more than one step, by the RIAA, by the MPAA, and by Video Game Publishers to name a few. So far such steps have led us to a place far worse than we were at the start. At best, Step UP! will be ignored, like most of SL's Organizations; at worst, it will drive the Lindens to do something that will irreparably harm the world of Second Life. Education is a fine goal, Step UP! however is overreaching, and I and others cannot support the hypocrisy it embodies when it does so.

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Widdershins,

I'm not entirely sure where to start, honestly. Maybe here:

If you take a Step UP! pack (and no-one here seems to have done that)

Actually, you yourself sent me a copy of the kiosk. I haven't rezzed it out; I'm not a member of the group, nor do I intend to be, and I want the kiosk as far away from my stores as possible. Am I for content theft (your term), or copyright infringement (mine)? No, not at all. But I simply cannot support an organization that's made this many mistakes this soon.

If you don't like the font or style of the ribbon, make your own! Don't like the orange ribbon? Leave it out! Don't just critique others - make your own positive contribution.

It's not that I don't like the orange ribbon (though I admit, as has been stated elsewhere, the concept of limiting ourselves to a 'ribbon campaign' in a virtual world is nothing short of ludicrous), it's that it already has strong associations--freedom from Chinese tyranny in Tibet the largest. And I'm sorry, I just can't wrap my mind around theft of a prim table being the same emotional and psychological loss as several Buddhist nuns lighting themselves on fire because they cannot bear the destruction of their culture by the Chinese.

And I am not just criticizing others--while I haven't yet finalized the fair use column, I have commented on copyright infringement in the past week, and in the past beyond that; I have commented on the actual, not assumed, rights and responsibilities of DMCA filing; and I fully intend to follow up on these issues as they evolve.

Stopping the abuse of intellectual property rights is a huge task, and there will be many, many ways of affecting the social change that is required. But, despite the magnitude of the task, and despite the fact that we know we will make mistakes, we are Stepping UP!

And this final statement was just...staggeringly artificial. In a sense, I feel I have to laud you for that--you are, within only a few weeks of Step Up!'s formation, as polished as any television evangelist. That's weirdly admirable.

But it doesn't change the fact that what you want to happen, won't; what you feel needs to change, likely can't; and how you're addressing the problem in the first place--focusing as you do on the completely inaccurate term of 'content theft'--is wrong.

Emilly Orr said...

Mm. Critic, whomever you are:

Good points, all. I especially like the phrase "protesting for an impossible goal"; I wish I'd thought of it.

The problems of copyright infringement are not small, and there is hurt dealt (and even financial hurt dealt) to those people who find themselves so infringed. It is a dark and thorn-riven path to get justice, and even then, the brand dilution has already occurred. And as I've mentioned in the past, in former entries, there are times where the person screaming loudest about DMCA injunctions is not the one who's been infringed in the least; and far too many times, because of that specification of real-world address and name attached to any counter-claim, many creative makers of things on the grid are simply choosing to allow DMCAs filed against them to stand. In the words of one designer, she refuses to give a crazy woman access to her home address. "What if she's close to me?" she's asked me. "What if she can drive over to my house with a gun, or a knife?"

DMCA was never designed to work in the virtual realm. It was never designed to do what it's being used to do. It was never intended to be used by people who did not have large, secure, corporate offices.

And yet it is. And that's part of the problem with copyright violation, right there.