Friday, March 14, 2008

Lesson from iTunes - Problems with a lack of good image rights tools

In the last few days since our semi-closed alpha launch of Local Motors full website, we have received a constant and intense stream of personal emails asking if we are for real and if we really intend to protect the rights of transportation designers. There are so many sites, people, blogs, videos, etc. today that simply "rip-off" great transportation design that rights have become a large concern.

Rightfully so. Great car designs are not a function of a click of a button on Photoshop or Alias. In fact, it is not even the tools you have at your behest that make you a great transportation designer. It is the guts, vision, experience, excitement, AND skill that allow you to pen a spectacular drawing, and if a stone and chisel is all you've got, it will still look beautiful.

Trans Designers, you rock, your skill is special, and Local Motors has got your back!

So we have spent a HUGE amount of time at the company making certain that we elevate the rights of a designer to the top of our list of concerns. It is our mission to build a site that increases collaboration and speed with a similar increase in the ease of rights protection.

What are we up against? A LOT of friction, and sometimes from places you would not expect.

I was reading a blog post by Michael Galpert from our friends at Aviary in which he rightly argues that until technology makes it seamless and easy to track Rights Royalties and Attributions (RRA), that people will continue to take the "easy route" by just screen-saving proprietary art neither asking permission nor giving attribution.

I agree 100% on this position, and could pile on my own thoughts, but this is a well understood argument. Instead, I thought I would discuss an example of an equally glaring failure that this lack of adequate image rights technology has caused. This is the failure of overzealous legal protections DIS-allowing well-protected communities of great designers into the competitive arena.

For example, in the past year, Local Motors has become involved with numerous schools and associations where a number of great students can be found producing fantastic work at the graduate and undergraduate level. In each case, we have endeavored to make known our company's plan to offer an ongoing forum for competition and collaboration on car design for the purpose of identifying and building a new brand of American cars. When we talk with students, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. They are looking for exposure, and we are pledging the first, legitimate avenue for them to design, collaborate and receive the highest recognition for the work that they do. They design, we pay them, and if their car is selected to be built, we not only attribute their work and pay them even more, but they are let into the inner circle to refine the car AND they get their name emblazoned in the "Pininfarina" place of honor on EVERY car of their design.

You would think that this effort is enough to assuage the skeptics, but unfortunately because we are one of the only organizations coming through the "front door" of these schools and asking students their permission to access great talent and to pay for it, we are met with a huge amount of administrative resistance. Sometimes the resistance is so strong, that you would think we were a third-world mining company hunting for illicit child labor.

The problem is that the powers that be at these schools and associations have no adequate defense against the rampant pirating that goes on and their frustration has built to such a fever pitch, that when new businesses approach them, they unleash with a fury of skepticism. Somehow, we have gotten to a stage that if a company calling card does not say Daimler, BMW, Ford, or similar, that you must be a petty-thief.

I would submit that in some cases, those more well-known calling cards are the one's that a student SHOULD be wary of, not because they are trying to steal his design, BUT rather because they are trying to steal his soul. They want to squash almost every ounce of independent creativity and drive in the name of training to "do it" the way they always have - "Long, slow, and laborious."

Not to fear. We are here for the long haul, and Local Motors has a message for the legal watch-dogs "protecting" great talent:

"We understand your concern and we are here to create a legitimate marketplace for the growth and enrichment of transportation designers. It is organizations like us who are dedicated to righting the debauched state of usage of great design on the internet. We are going to help solve this dysfunction, even if you don't want to help us."

I will leave you, with an analogous story that might crystallize our current state of affairs. Since the days music piracy began on the internet, artists and record labels bemoaned their loss of revenues. When iTunes finally came riding in on a white horse providing a solution that worked for both listeners and artists, it was met with a great deal of resistance. How could they, an upstart computer company, pledge to save the rights of these artists and owners? Well, they did it, and everyone is better off....

I think I will go download some Led Zeppelin on iTunes while we get to work making Local Motors car design site the next great thing in America!

(graphic property of Apple, Inc. colors not original)


Ari said...

Jay, I think you are exactly right. Transparency is so necessary to ease the minds of the leery.

More and more, I think a video conference to address FAQs is a great idea.

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