The Looming Dark Horizon: When the IP Mess Hits Industrial Design & Co.

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by: C. Sven Johnson

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my primary interest in tracking the intellectual property issues currently plaguing the music and movie industries, waiting in the ebook wings for book publishers, and even frustrating hordes of bloggers whose content is appropriated and used to create spamblogs, is that at some point their problems become my problems; becomes the problem of anyone who designs and fabricates real products for a living.

At some point, p2p networks won’t have just mp3 files, they’ll have CAD files. When they do, the first thing that will happen is factories in distant corners of the manufacturing world will start churning out bootleg product at a pace that will make current infringement look like pre-Napster music “sharing”. After that people will start using locally-based fabbing services to rapid manufacture parts the way people used to photocopy stuff at the local copy shop. Eventually, home-based 3D printers (or, possibly in the more distant future, nano-factories) will allow people to fab something as easily as they currently print their digital photos.

That’s the future. It’s all up for grabs. Creatives can either try to fight it or they can figure out new business models.

One would hope the trials and tribulations of deep-pocketed conglomerates would make an impression. Fighting just doesn’t make much sense to me. Unfortunately, however, I see more resistance to infringement than I see creative effort put towards nullifying the effects of that infringement. So while it’s interesting to see formerly disinterested parties – mechanics, housewives, teenagers – grab a big clue when, say, someone copybots their Second Life creations and gets away with a few pennies in sales, it’s mostly disillusioning to see the same “it’s all mine” mindset when they respond.

And it doesn’t help when a catalyst for major change like the Radiohead “pay what you want” music offering turns out to be, according to their management, a ploy to simply sell more CDs the old-fashioned way. While they could still leverage the information they collected and pursue a more experiential solution – like giving people who used their download system a first crack at increasingly hard-to-come-by concert tickets as well as building up or linking in with some kind of reputation-based system (like iKarma) – by not doing so up front, they’ve arguably diminished their impact on user behavior. What a missed opportunity. If you read some of the “what’s the big deal” comments on Boing Boing, this missed opportunity is the “big deal” to me. And their seemingly greedy motivations are almost certainly a big deal to people like Cory Doctorow and friends.

I’m not saying I disagree with the concept of intellectual property. Far from it. The laughable arguments put out by people like those behind Pirate Bay melt away when one realizes that they too are in it for the almighty dollar… courtesy of ad dollars coming from both tiny adult “services” and large corporations like Capital One.

What I’m saying is that I think of IP law as a tool intended to benefit society by way of rewarding individual effort with reasonable protection; not the other way around. Unfortunately corporate influence and political corruption has turned the whole thing on its head, with the result being the polarized positioning with which I’ve previously taken issue.

The problem is, if you’re an up-n-coming content producer, you’re pretty much stuck in the middle. Which is why I’m saying that now, more than ever, some creative effort needs to go into circumventing the entrenched systems: those of both the corporate world and the “sharing” consumers. And that effort starts with simply keeping up with the news; something I don’t believe most industrial designers (or other creatives) spend much time doing.

To that end, here are some links to IP-related news which should be of interest to (industrial) designers; things I’ve been collecting for the past few months. Because I see increasing convergence between real product and virtual product, most of them deal with relevant developments on that front and may seem of little value, but once you get past the content type and into the behavior (which is what laws are all about), you’ll hopefully understand why I find them of worth.

If you’re a content producer, consider this time expenditure an investment in your future. So here, in no particular order but at least somewhat-logically grouped, are some links:

“Branding and Counterfeiting in Virtual Worlds – Digital Data?” (Link) – Digital Urban {Note: this is a generic entry and similar posts can be found here through the search function, but it’s worth reading if only for the reminder that these things are ongoing issues.}

“Herman Miller Combats Knockoffs in Second Life with Freebies” (Link) – Virtual World News

“Herman Miller Invites Virtual World Residents to ‘Get Real’ ” (Link) – Herman Miller Press Release

“Preferred Seating: Herman Miller offers Aerons to Residents… ultimatums to infringers” (Link) – New World Notes

“Aeron chairs in ‘Second Life’ rights showdown” (Link) – C|Net

“Topsite: Virtual Ownership” (Link) – Open the Future

“Herman Miller Fights Trademark Infringment in Second Life with “Get Real” Campaign” (Link) – Virtually Blind

“Lindens Boot Dueling DMCA Claims To RL Court” (Link) – Second Life Herald

“Boot Design Copyright Accusation in Second Life Highlights Linden Lab DMCA Policy” (Link) – Virtually Blind

“Updated: Millions of Us Discusses How to Protect Brands in Second Life” (Link) – Virtually Blind

“‘Aimee Weber’ ™ Gets USPTO Stamp of Approval for Pigtails, Tutu, Wings, Tights, and Stompy Boots” (Link) – Virtually Blind

“Defendant Named in Eros Copyright Suit” (Link) – Virtually Blind

“Eros lawyers ID ‘John Doe’ avatar; Youth denies he’s Catteneo” (Link) – Reuters/Second Life

“Plaintiff Says Defendant In Virtual Sex-Toy Suit Is Teen” (Link) – The Tampa Tribune

“Op/Ed: The Free Fandom Project” (Link) – Second Life Herald

“Game Content Usage Rules” (Link) –

“Virtual Law Update” (Link) – Terra Nova

“Movable Life’s Terms of Service Claim Ownership of Intellectual Property Created Using Viewer” (Link) – Virtually Blind

“Patent law overhaul: Bad for start-ups?” (Link) – C|Net

“Commentary: Second Life’s Terms of Service Stifle Innovation by Making Patents Worthless In-World” (Link) – Virtually Blind

“Amazon’s One-Click Patent Finally Rejected” (Link) – Mashable

“The Piracy Paradox” (Link) – James Surowiecki for The New Yorker

“How YouTube Uses Pirates to Make Money: Anti-Piracy Program Revealed!” (Link) – Mashable

“Perspective: Rights and wrongs in the antipiracy struggle” (Link) – Cary Sherman, president of RIAA, for C|Net

“Law Decides Who Owns a Dead Star’s Image” (Link) – NPR


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