Our Cheating Hearts

Virtual handbag using brandname

I’ve probably made at least one previous reference to the problem of design piracy. It’s an issue which resonates with me probably because I’ve seen it first-hand during trips overseas and while conducting tours through manufacturing supplier workshops where the original, patented product is sitting on a workbench and the “we make better” prototype version is being constructed on the shop table next to it – looking for all intent and purposes like the same product. To add insult to injury, there’s also a good chance the tour guide will proudly volunteer how they run the latest, greatest CAD software and then chuckle about how they bought it pre-installed on a harddrive (for some out-of-the-way places, lack of broadband makes this a nice option). That the effort is being both unofficially endorsed and officially rewarded by both Western retailers and consumers, makes the competitive landscape look less like a football field and more like a Cambodian minefield. I’m not saying it’s impossible to overcome these inequities, but I am saying it hurts small Western businesses both directly and indirectly; and like a drug addict enjoying the honeymoon of a new high, there will in my opinion come a time when the honeymoon ends and withdrawal sets in.

If I sound frustrated, I am. Not with the creative effort and process and the joy of designing, but with the nonchalant attitude of the consuming masses who somehow feel it’s their birthright to acquire everything they desire – regardless of how they acquire it or what impact their actions have on others (or themselves). And this applies across the board: from the dirty products they buy in the real world, to the hacked software and entertainment products they download on the internet. The sad part is, I think the honeymoon has yet to reach the bedroom.

What we’ve not really yet seen is the merging of tangible product with virtual 3D content. But we will. And the collision between the two worlds may turn out to be a kind of perfect storm. On the one hand are the learned attitudes and practices of the “download” culture. Add to this the “credit you deserve” and “gotta have it” mentality that leads people to purchase foreign goods which pillage the intellectual capital of their own culture while sending jobs and money to others (not realizing that these things sustain their system and their own quality of life). And on the other hand is the potential to some day download a file and fabricate the product on demand (already a possibility in some sectors, like posters and printed t-shirts). No, the quality won’t be as good initially. And no, rip-offs aren’t normally as well-made and long-lasting as pricier originals. But then since when has the consuming public shown that quality trumps price; just look at the history of Wal*Mart and how they grew to the world-consuming retailer they are today – “From the beginning, Walton had bought goods wherever he could get them cheapest, with any other considerations secondary“).

The world through my eyes – as a creator of both real and virtual product – looks like this:

>Second Life resident public comments – “Yes I violate trademarks…. My personal approach about copyright issues is this: I will break them.

>Ongoing white collar job lay-offs in the U.S. reported today – “Ford cutting 1,700 salaried positions

>Virtual products using trademarked brands (above image): SLBoutique fashion accessories

>And the reason for today’s entry courtesy of BusinessWeek blog Well Spent: – “The Cheating Culture

Again, this is not a new issue for me. Since “reBang” was started with the original intent of creating products that spanned both the virtual and real product worlds, I’ve both observed and commented on it before. I just wish that at this point I had some solid sense of whether the effort is worthwhile.