Monday, January 9, 2012

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Here's the last version of the "Wings Over Antarctica" logo for the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition I did.

And here is the masterful design work of "The Horned One" currently featured on 54 products from CafePress.

What annoys me about this isn't so much the transparent hijacking of my design, but just how shoddy it is. It's vapid imitation without even a hint of appreciation for the source material, either mine or Lovecraft's.

There are very good reasons why the elements of the original are the way they are. The outline of Antarctica, for instance, is relatively devoid of details because it only shows what what was known in 1930. The extent of the continent under the ice wasn't mapped in detail until well into the 1950s. "The Horned One" just dropped in the modern outline, presumably because it was easy. The aircraft in the knockoff is a Dornier Do-24, a seaplane that didn't exist until 1937. Six years after the remains of the Dyer expedition left Antarctica.

To be honest, I didn't think something like this was possible. After all, I give everything away. For free. Want a hat with the expedition logo on it? Help yourself to the graphic and make one.

That's the whole point of the Creative Commons license I use. The only limitation I put on everything, and I think it's a reasonable one, is that you don't sell copies. I'm pretty loose on even that small restriction. I've never turned down a commercial use request as long as it's incidental to the overall craftsmanship of the project. Outside of that Propnomicon is a free, all-you-can-eat buffet where the food never runs out.

I know I'm probably over-reacting. It's not like I'm somehow being deprived of piles of money. But why would you rip off something the original creator gives away for free?


Tome Wilson said...

That's fucked up.

Raven said...

... But why would you rip off something the original creator gives away for free?

Because this way he gets to take both credit and royalties.

There. That was simple, wasn't it?

Honest people have such trouble understanding the simple motives of the less honest.

Jason McKittrick said...

I don't think you're overreacting at all. The opposite actually.

As someone who also puts a lot of work and research into their projects, I consider these "forms of flattery" to be completely unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

You are NOT overreacting. You do amazing work and it's disheartening to see some chump try to rip you off for his/her own enrichment.

I'm sorry this happened, but please keep up the good work.

Raven said...

Let me tell you a little story, Oakree, about a medievalist group you may know a bit about, the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Over the years since its founding in California, it had spread across the country, divided into Kingdoms, and (from its earliest event) established knighthoods and other peerages to honor service and achievement.

As Master Perygen Northhumber pointed out, such awards were the only currency the SCA had to give, since it didn't pay in money. So to steal credit for another's work, in order to receive an award for it, would be the moral equivalent of robbery. It would be likewise for the Crown to deny such credit and award to those who actually had done the work in question.

Nearly all SCA activities were aimed at adults. Especially the swordfighting, naturally enough. But many adults have children. And besides looking on, children want to, need to, learn about how the society they're living in -- even just on weekends -- works, for their safety, and to have the chance of playing their own happy roles in it.

That was Lady Fey's insight, and her response was to start a "Pages' School": teaching SCA children about medieval society (real and feigned), and the useful role a young Page might perform at a royal court -- carrying messages, standing proudly beside the throne ready to do errands, all with the skills of courteous and courtly behavior that will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.

The School was a resounding success. Lady Fey wrote a locally printed Handbook for it. This got distributed quite a bit, and Pages' Schools sprang up in some other Kingdoms.

The SCA's headquarters began to print or reprint on a national level some books that had previously had only local distribution. Lady Fey sent them a copy of her Handbook, asking whether they would be interested in publishing it. They replied No thank you, they already had something of the sort.

Eventually Lady Fey got a copy of the SCA's newly published Handbook. It was, word for word, hers. Except that the author's name was not hers, it was a name completely unknown to her.

It was the clearest, most easily demonstrable case of copyright infringement -- far beyond mere "plagiarism"; outright theft of credit, of authorship, of intellectual property -- that could even be imagined.

And since the SCA publisher had already had a copy of Lady Fey's previously published Handbook *before* going to press -- the "No thank you" letter proving receipt -- there could be no denial of knowledge on their part.

What had happened? A lady in another Kingdom, another part of the country, where no-one else had heard of Lady Fey's Pages' School, wound up with a copy of the Handbook... and laboriously retyped it as her own, then submitted it to the SCA publisher.

This lady's Kingdom made a very big deal of her achievement: she was about to receive the Order of the Laurel, a peerage equivalent to knighthood for mastery in the arts... and then this scandal erupted. The peerage nomination disappeared, the lady pleaded mental disorder, awww, and everyone got very quiet about it.

The SCA publisher issued stickers with Lady Fey's name, for anyone with the book to please put over the other "author's name" wherever it appeared, if they would be so kind. Copies not yet sold would be corrected.

And did Lady Fey, the actual author, the actual School founder, the actual person to devise and spread the whole concept around, receive a peerage from her own Kingdom for this achievement? (Not that she ever asked; but see above re currency.)


The members of her Kingdom's Order of the Laurel blacklisted her, decided they would never ever nominate her for the award, because -- shh! didn't you hear? they say she once threatened to sue the SCA!

And decades later, there the matter remains.

Along with, in my opinion, the honor of the entire SCA.

Nick Storm said...

Prop Solidarity !

This abomination MUST die.

and, and,'s fuqing ugly.

CoastConFan said...

Small minds need to steal because it's some form of power, so they think. Borrowing is fine, simulation is a sincere form of flattery, and taking an idea and making it your own is pretty good too. But just filing off the serial numbers and passing the work off as yours is pretty sad.

Propnomicon said...

@ Tome Wilson


@ Raven

That's part of what I don't understand. It's not like a design like this is a license to print money.

@ Jason McKittrick

The worst part is that he/she has to know they'll eventually get busted. Why risk your reputation for something so trivial?

@ Raven

That's just shameful.

I was briefly involved with the SCA after college and can easily believe that level of vindictive cliquishness exists. The dynamics of the SCA, and the odds of having a local canton awash in insularity, is worthy of a dissertation.

@ Nick Storm

On the bright side, at least the Do-24 is a beautiful plane. Heh.

@ CoastConFan

I thought long and hard about even bringing this up, since I openly admit to copying a variety of period resources. Along those lines, I try to actively encourage folks to reuse and re-purpose my own efforts. It's the idea of just doing it for money, without any appreciation for the source material, that rubs me the wrong way.

Deth said...

I would argue that he's taking something that looks decent, and turning it into an easily-acquired object for people to pick up cheaply and easily. It's a knock-off in every sense of the word; a sort of bargain-store Nick-brand shoe or something.

After all, not everyone has the ability, equipment, or mentality to just print up their own stuff using source material; they just want something easy and fast.

That said, your version looks way better, especially the plane.

Choose_Adventure said...


"After all, not everyone has the ability, equipment, or mentality to just print up their own stuff using source material; they just want something easy and fast."

Actually, that's the rub of the whole thing - the guy is just using CafePress - he doesn't have any equipment either. ANYONE can setup a CafePress account. You just upload an image, select which objects you want the image applied to, and the store is up and running. If you order objects from your own store, you pay only for the object. If other people order your objects with "your" artwork, you can choose exactly how much extra to charge.

So basically, all the guy has saved anyone is the 10 minutes it would take to setup your own free store before using the exact same order system, except that under CreativeCommons you could be using the excellent Propnomicon artwork directly.

Raven said...

@Deth: "I would argue that he's taking something that looks decent, and turning it into an easily-acquired object for people to pick up cheaply and easily."

Errr, no.

No, that is exactly what he is not doing.

Propnomicon's design is already "an easily-acquired object for people to pick up cheaply and easily."

(1) There is on the front page here a link: "Miskatonic University Expedition Swag from Zazzle" -- so the original is no more expensive or hard to get than the knock-off.

(2) If you were determined to get a design printed while merely denying the original artist any royalties, both Zazzle and CafePress allow you to upload artwork for your own Tshirt/etc. -- you're just not supposed to violate anyone else's copyright. How cheap can you get? (You'd still have to pay for the Tshirt, of course, it's a physical product that costs money to make and ship -- but the maker needn't send royalties anywhere.)

(3) What you get by posting up a design under your own merchant name is that when customers buy the Tshirts/etc, you get the royalties for it instead of the original artist. And there is the simple motive you're ignoring in your argument.

Anonymous said...

I've been waiting patiently for your patch designs for my figure skating jacket. Maybe I'll go spam the horned one for horning in on someone else's work!

Chris Pittman said...

I share your indignation, this is deplorable.

Anonymous said...

I am so gratful for what you share and am appalled but not surprised


Harold Roth said...

I'm with the others--this guy did this for the money. I have an ecommerce site with tons of copyrighted info on it that I have written. It costs people nothing to read the info on my site, but regularly I have found people ripping it off to sell their own products, to set up a mirror site they put ads on, to run a "class" they get paid for, and even turned into their "own" book they printed and sold. And I have "no reproduction without permission" on every page.

The reason why the horned jerk isn't worried about being caught? Because nothing is going to happen to him, and he knows it. Instead of being ashamed, I'll bet he gives you lip. I have actually been lectured by people who have ripped off my copyrighted text because I am "selfish" and I don't want to "share." Anyone can read it for free, but I'm selfish. Personally, I go after people who violate my copyright hammer and tong.

James Floyd Kelly (Jim) said...

Make a copy of your design and the bogus design and email it to a IP lawyer in your town and just ask him/her to take a look... even though you offer YOUR design freely, there may still be an issue here that can be addressed by the right legal representation. As a writer and someone who creates content that's easily copyable, I would pursue this with a vengeance.

Best case, contact and ask how to show you're the original design creator and request the content be removed.

Anonymous said...

It's a free market. Why not put your own designs on Cafepress and undercut his prices. You say that anyone 'could' do this easily, but the fact is no one has. And a telling fact it is.

Raven said...

@Anonymous: "It's a free market."

It's unquestionably a free market to market your own product. If the Horned One were marketing his own completely original designs, this conversation would not be taking place.

But if you walked into a physical marketplace and recognized on the counter the contents of your own, recently burglarized, home... forgive me for suspecting that you might then call the police to shut down that "free market" and retrieve your belongings ASAP.

Intellectual property, and theft, can inspire similar emotions, even though it's easier to file the serial numbers off.

And here's a case where the home in question had been generously made open to all, with free gifts for every visitor. [*] What a place for a thief to strike.

[* "All of the original material here is free for the taking under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License." Attribution: Just give due credit, which the Horned One didn't do. Noncommercial: Don't take what was given FREE to make a PROFIT, which the Horned One DID do. Share Alike: Let others use your materials on the same terms... where's the Horned One's share-alike licensing??? So far I'm counting three separate license violations by the Horned One.]

"Why not put your own designs on Cafepress...."

Three Full Days Earlier in this same thread, I had noted: "There is on the front page here a link: 'Miskatonic University Expedition Swag from Zazzle' -- so the original is no more expensive or hard to get than the knock-off."

And I will note that a merchant with a booth at "WestFair" cannot be obligated to also get a booth at "EastFair" in order to keep "EastFair" from selling pirated merchandise. That would be extortion.

Anonymous said...

This is the figure skating still hoping that you will make the patches available, as well as any more items you do with the Antartic Expedition this time. I'm waiting patiently for your designs where ever, how ever you choose to make them available! :D I really regret not getting your stuff when you did the Kickstarter project last time & have been lurking here ever since I found the last kit you did!

Dave Carson said...

You are not overreacting. The guy is an asshole.