The marketplace of (other people’s?) ideas

The blog of Burlesque Of North America pointed out the following a little while back. Here is a poster designed by Minneapolis artist Amy Jo (who you may recall is one of the folks I hired to create a promo poster for Buying In), back in 2005:


And here is a T-shirt from LRG, in 2009 :


I’m not in the business, of course, but it’s hard for me to believe that the designer of the latter just coincidentally came up with that psychedelic swirl/flower pattern, among other similarities. (And yes there are differences — the LRG shirt in my opinion is pretty sophomoric compared to the more-striking Amy Jo effort.) And I was actually surprised to see that one of the comments on the Burlesque of North America blog linked to this Frank 151 item alleging LRG had lifted another design, from Sailor Jerry, and claiming that “they have done this several other times.”

To be clear, I’m not making any allegations myself, as I have no idea what LRG’s side of the story might be. As you probably know, a variety of similar instances involving big companies and indie creators are explored on the site You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice. Often the posts there come from creators who feel ripped off.

A prominent theory of Web-thought is that such exposure ought to spark some kind of response and ideally resolution of the specific instances — and, you would think, a downtick in the number of such instances. And yet it seems routine. And it looks like LRG didn’t even respond to the allegations on either the Burlesque of North America blog, or on Frank151. Aren’t there swarms of social-media consultants out there claiming that companies have to seek out and address complaints and allegations — whether they come from the creator, or from a third-party observer — or suffer marketplace consequences? Is that theory true or not?

Or does a creator who feels aggrieved have to do what Jenny Hart did and file a lawsuit*? I don’t want to get sued myself, so let me just be clear, again, that I really do not know enough about copyright law to say how the various allegations noted above would fare in the legal system. And maybe there are explanations — maybe LRG, for example, has some plausible reason for the apparent similarities between their designs and Amy Jo’s, and Sailor Jerry’s. If so, you’d think that they’d want to say so in public. But maybe in real life, despite what the social-media folks say, it’s easier for them to just ignore it?

[*10/24 update: I originally wrote that Hart “sued,” but that’s technically wrong as the suit was filed, but not served. My apologies. I’ll follow up later on this to set the record straight in a clearer way.]

In The New York Times Magazine: Sponsored classes

Is a corporate-sponsored marketing course a real academic service, or a fake one?

A couple of years ago, the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition — a trade group whose members include fashion, software, pharmaceutical and other businesses concerned with knockoff versions of their products — decided to take its message to college campuses. Specifically, the I.A.C.C. College Outreach Campaign aimed to enlist students in spreading its message to other students. While intended as a sort of win-win situation that gives students real-life experiences and spreads the I.A.C.C.’s “fight the fakes” message, the campaign has also ended up sparking an entirely different ethical question about the sponsorship of college courses.

Read the column in today’s issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

Real and fake and imaginary and authentic

A couple of interesting things in this Metropolis slideshow on “The Unreal World.” For instance, while it’s no surprise that you can hang out at an H/M store in The Sims, I’m not sure what to make of the fact that “the latest edition of Sim City Societies challenges players to ­create a green society by using alternative energy sources.” Is it good news that we may be on our way to tackling global warming in an imaginary world?

Also: Herman Miller “now offers Second Life members a collection of virtually rendered authorized editions of some of its best-known pieces.” Big deal, right? But this is what I like: The company “will make most of these new designs available for free to users who purchased virtual knockoffs. … from unauthorized sellers.”

That’s fantastic! If you’re going to have a representation of Herman Miller chair in a virtual world, you better make sure it’s, um, authentic. Make sure all your fake things are the real thing!

And finally, Fabjectory, which makes physical representations of avatars, for a fee.

Knockoffs, copying, and creativity: Debated

Recently, The New Yorker argued that apparel knockoffs are not only no big deal, but a benefit to all, because they spur innovation.

There’s little evidence that knockoffs are damaging the business. Fashion sales have remained more than healthy—estimates value the global luxury-fashion sector at a hundred and thirty billion dollars— and the high-end firms that so often see their designs copied have become stronger. More striking, a recent paper by the law professors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman suggests that weak intellectual-property rules, far from hurting the fashion industry, have instead been integral to its success.

Counterfeit Chic counters this argument in this recent Q&A:

The tired, old argument that copying is good for fashion has been around since at least the 1920s – and has been clearly false since at least since the 1960s, when fashion’s youthquake upset the previous hierarchies of creativity. The article is based on an outdated, pre-internet portrait of the industry – in other words, it’s “out.”

More here.


Speaking of negative word of mouth:

One thing I’ve noticed that many independent artists/entrepreneurs have in common, even when their work and cultural contexts vary widely, is a dislike of Urban Outfitters, which they all assert is a stealser of ideas. Now BoingBoing points out a blog that’s basically about this very theme: “”

The most recent post there is from March 17, and recounts a protest at a Vancouver location of the chain.

This seems to be the only way to get through to them – the ground roots approach, hitting individual stores and real people instead of their corporate headquarters where we’ve been virtually stonewalled – so we’re going to be handing out these pamphlets in front of the majority of their locations across the United States and Canada over the next few months. If you live in a city that has an Urban Outfitters store in it and you have a couple of hours to spare for the cause, please send an e-mail to

Worth keeping an eye on … See the site itself for more.

Fakes On Display — Really

Via Counterfeit Chic, here’s The Museum of Counterfeit Goods: “This permanent collection, located at the Bangkok office of the Tilleke & Gibbins law firm, displays not only a range of fashion items but also food products, electronics, toiletries, pharmaceuticals, and even automobile parts alongside the fake versions. Open by appointment — and no, there’s no gift shop.”

Not going to Bangkok? At least you can browse some online pictures of the collection.

Anti-Fake: A Q&A

When I saw this “Stop Rockin’ Fake Shit” T, created by a Georgia-based brand called Prestigious, written up by Freshness, I was immediately interested in what Susan Scafidi would think about it. Her current project is a web site (and book in progress) called Counterfeit Chic, and it’s “about the culture of the copy within the multi-billion dollar global clothing and textile industry,” her site’s Introduction explains. “It’s about New York’s Canal Street and Beijing’s Silk Alley, but also about the cognitive and sociological reasons that make us want to buy or reject knock-offs in the first place.” Generally knockoffs are thought of as a luxe-world issue, but it’s a topic in the brand underground as well, albeit with some different spins. Whether these T’s actually get much consumer traction or not, they do express a particular point of view on conterfeits that’s worth considering. Prof. Scafidi graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

Q. In the luxe world, the fight against counterfeiters seems to play out in the form of legal and/or legislative moves, which tend to be focused more on producers than on consumers, right?

A. That’s right – we haven’t seen a grassroots “Save the Vuitton” movement or (role) models proclaiming, “I’d rather go naked than wear fakes.” Most anti-counterfeiting efforts have been pursued through the courts or through law enforcement efforts. But a quick tourist travel advisory: in France and Italy, consumers can face steep fines for purchasing fakes. Also, bringing counterfeits back into the U.S. is prohibited.
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