Thursday, February 11, 2010

Listening to the little guy

It was approximately noon today I first received wind of the Paperchase plagarism allegations via Twitter.  It went something like this:

"Handmade heroes, get behind a good cause. Paperchase rips off @HiddenEloise design? Email them #paperchase"

Always one to trot after a distraction, I clicked through and read the artist's blog complaint. An interesting, yet unfortunately not unique tale of an independent artist alleging a version of his/her work was duplicated by a larger company for a mass market. In this case, the British giant Paperchase was the recipient of the criticism.

It's now close to 4pm, and a Twitterstorm has emerged. Outraged Tweeple have made #paperchase a global trending topic, and the story is hitting the blogs (ahem) as we speak.

This post isn't about the injustice done when an artist work is not compensated, though I would feel much sympathy as a musician, songwriter, and artist myself. Nor is it about the unscrupulous theft of design components amongst designers and companies.

It's about common sense and the serious way our society undervalues creative copyright.

I do not know @HiddenEloise. I do not know Paperchase.  I don't even know a tenth of this story. 

What I do know is this.  Paperchase was contacted by an independent artist claiming that their design was wrongfully being used on merchandise. Paperchase did not handle this complaint properly. Even if they did investigate, they did not communicate any results back to @HiddenEloise.

This is rude. This is the outrage.  Had it been a huge design firm making this claim, would Paperchase have taken notice? Perhaps looked into the matter further? Removed the merchandise in question until the situation was resolved?

Independent designers, musicians, and artists have no real tools to fight the theft of their hard work other than through word of mouth and social media. Society demands art and entertainment, but is determined to pay less (or nothing) for it. Meanwhile, the cost of educating those artists, and the cost of the tools required to create their art, continues to rise. Most artists, faced with the theft of their work, can't afford lawsuits, even if the laws exist to support them.

Someone download your music illegally?  Lift one of your photographs off your website and print it on canvas to sell to the masses? Shrug.  Sucks to be you, not much you can do about it, most people would say.  Your own fault for posting your work where it could be stolen. (How else are could it be sold legally if it isn't visible to the public, I wonder?)

So if @HiddenEloise was left with no alternative but to vent her frustrations online, I completely understand.  However, I wouldn't haul Paperchase to the fire until the true story about the art is out in the open.  Feel free, though, to burn them because of their customer service. This is certainly something interesting to watch over the next few days.

What it amounts to is a serious public relations debacle for a company with little to no social networking presence. No matter who is at fault (if @HiddenEloise's designs were copied by an external design firm or not, then used by Paperchase) the real story is Paperchase's inability to handle the situation in a prompt and appropriate manner.

The moral of the story? It doesn't matter who you are, or how big you are. If you treat a person unfairly these days, you might just end up in a Twitter tornado, watching your reputation twist into pieces.

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