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

{Temporary Note, 6 October 2009: Core77 visitors might want to read “Update 2” at the bottom of this post. And by the way, “the (uncredited) writer” is me.}

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 revenue 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 (TM) 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

{Update 1: Add another virtual world lawsuit:

“Six Major Second Life Content Creators Sue Alleged Copyright Infringer in NY Federal District Court” (Link) – Virtually Blind

And just so people don’t think this is actually “pennies”, from the complaint:

…the action is between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs.


{Update 2: For the Core77 visitors, this entry is a bit old and thus doesn’t reflect current developments. Among those developments are the increasingly kirkyan-like toys being developed linking tangible product to virtual goods; mentioned in the original text of this entry and something I’ve discussed at length throughout my blog. Also of note is that the virtual goods industry – unlike the industrial design industry – is booming. Some of the incomes being reported by individual content creators is substantial; seven-figures substantial. Lastly, if you’re unfamiliar, I’d recommend learning about companies like RideMakerz and ToyBots. The last especially made it clear in a recent video that they were more interested in profiting from virtual goods than tangible product sales… even though they were presenting a physical prototype to interested parties.

There are many things going on, including my current Kickstarter project – the 100K Stray Toasthed Pull Toys experiment – intended to find a way to fund an open source product development effort which bypasses most intellectual property issues. It’s not an amazing product idea; in fact, it’s pretty old and pretty average; and not too different from what Build-A-Bear and Automoblox are already doing. And it’s just like a lot of projects professional designers are asked to spend time on every day. While it might not – probably will not – be funded, it will potentially set a precedent for how much a typical design effort is worth. If you’re a toy designer, I would expect you to be especially curious. I’m aware of some of the recent difficulties facing that particular niche and what I’m doing might point a way forward for you. I certainly hope so.}

8 thoughts on “The Looming Dark Horizon: When the IP Mess Hits Industrial Design & Co.

  1. Pingback: eliteqz » Blog Archive » The Looming Dark Horizon: When the IP Mess Hits Industrial Design …

  2. LOL csven, that post ^ trackback above mine is a spam blog. I bet you left it there to prove a point. That idiot is also scraping my stuff.

    Regardless, that is a beast of a post you got going there, but full of relevant points. So much so i’ve continued the conversation at my blog.

  3. Pingback: Design Sojourn | Strategic Industrial Design Blog » The future relationship of IP and Industrial Design

  4. Not to prove a point, actually. As you’re probably aware I do check incoming pings, but this one isn’t a spamblog… yet. There’s no ads. Looks more like someone’s aggregator right now.

    I kept it mainly bc I’m not finding any more design blogs and thought that one might lead me to a couple. Hope springs eternal and all that.

    btw, I was looking for industrial designers on Twitter just a few hours ago (going through you, btw) and finding very little as well. Are IDers just not involved?

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post. Will have to see where you’ve taken it.

  5. Hi csven,

    Yes please do looking forward to your comments.

    Yes I have that same thoughts as well. if you google id blogs mine is like 3-4th. and with the amount of traffic that cant be right. its more like there is no one else.

    talk soon.

  6. Pingback: The Meshverse Journal » Blog Archive » IP Mesh

  7. Look,

    Any copyright laws being violated upon bittorrent is a good thing. How do you expect students to be able to continue advancing the rate of innovation (eurgh i hate that word) and push humanity into new things without them being able to get hold of industry standard cad software to use outside the lab. Yes universities are ploughing millions into cad for their students however when it came down to specific pieces of video editing software used for animation or composting we were left wanting. Without students being able to get a leg up from the industry how can industry still demand hundreds of thousands for a single license (UGS NX6 for instance) Please dont sell out our futures, if students know a specific piece of software which will help in a constructive manner through piracy in early stages of their career then their employers will be more likely to buy 1 or more copies of a license later on down the line as this standard seems through into the industry.

    dont sell our futures short by shortsighted means of controlling information.

  8. How do you expect students to be able to continue advancing the rate of innovation (eurgh i hate that word) and push humanity into new things without them being able to get hold of industry standard cad software to use outside the lab.

    Uhhhhh, download the FREE learning version from the developer’s website? You can get FREE versions of Alias and Pro/E, last I checked. Learning either one of those will prepare you perfectly well for learning Rhino, SolidWorks, and other apps.

    As to UGS, they demand what the market will bear. That’s called Capitalism.

    Sadly, so many design students seem to believe that becoming technically proficient on a CAD application is necessary to be an innovator. However, the innovators out there aren’t relying on a computer program. And the best portfolios I see online aren’t the ones which show a bunch of CAD images.

    I’d say to people like you: Don’t sell your future short by being so narrowly focused on a piece of software that you’re unable to think innovatively with a pencil. After all, I can hire an Indian CAD consultancy to do the CAD work for much, much less than I can hire anyone in the West. Not understanding reality is more short-sighted than letting the market dictate prices of software; much of which – again – is available in learning versions which typically only prevent people from using the application to do more than learn.

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