Monday, March 9, 2009

Raising the ethical bar in the community

It occurs to me that when the web first started multiplying into a vast network of anonymous users that there was a time when accountability was weak and behavior could slide into mis-behavior without ever being noticed. Soon though, the web developed searching and sorting functions that allowed groups to aggregate. This was the beginning - thankfully - of accountability. Now, with increasingly robust tools for user feedback (the basis of Web 2.0), it is even more possible to hold anyone and everyone in a given community to account. Ever hear of how a seemingly harmless Facebook photo can become a liability in an interview?

In a very natural way, it appears that size is self-limiting and that we have created a parallel universe of society on the web where community has finally developed and many rules that reflect our values and ethics have begun to build. The process is by no means complete (nor is it in real life, for that matter), but what I mean to say is that the process does not yet equate to our most well-established practices in the parallel worlds of physical community.

Take, for example, an incident that happened last week within our very own LM community. A member, and very talented designer, posted a work that was deeply derivative of another designer's earlier work. No credit was given, though when confronted, the posting designer immediately ackowledged the earlier work. This is really quite an amazing turn of events on two levels. First it is amazing that we would find such behavior in a competition, and second it is amazing that the original designer himself discovered the derivative work and wrote the Company to alert us within hours of the posting.

What all this means is that our community has begun to police itself, and it is left to us to establish the basic standards of practice by which that policing takes place. We could look to domestic or international law, but in cases of design protection, we have found that the precedent is weak and that the standard really places the onus on the original designer to prove copright infringement.

Since the Local Motors community has already become a recognized force for design creativity and a collaborative hotbed of ideas, it is critical that we lead the way in setting a standard that places a high bar on ethical behavior. For this reason, we have drafted the following policy to support or future actions in the community. I hope that you will read it and share it.

Review Process for Unethical or Offensive Behavior
Within the Local Motors Community

"Though rare, Local Motors recognizes that in certain occasions the use of work or the comments or the images on the Local Motors website can be a tool for someone to behave in an unethical, offensive, or injurious manner. In many cases, even this behavior is misunderstood or mislabeled and can be cleared up with a frank discussion. Unfortunately, there are times where the behavior is deliberate and inexcusable and requires swift action. This policy is meant to deal with identifying and remedying those situations.

As would be expected, anyone is welcome to report suspect behavior at any time. The normal method of report would be an email to, but reaching out to any Local Motors team member is also encouraged.

Once a report has been made, designs or other material in question should be sent to Local Motors (LM) for review. If the questionable material is a design, then the LM design team will likely take the lead in reviewing the suspected offense. LM will then reach out to the offending member(s) if he/she/they can be reached and ask them to respond to the allegations. If it is judged in Local Motors sole discretion, in accordance with the site usage policies, that some, one, or all of the offending members are responsible for the offense, then Local Motors will retain the option to notify all involved parties, to remove the offending work, and to bar the offending member(s) from the Local Motors site for any given term.

If a designer who has been removed from the Local Motors site for offending behavior chooses to participate within the community under a different name, and without permission, then he/she could be banned from the site in perpetuity.

These rules are in place to protect individual designers within the Local Motors community and in the design industry at large. These consequences are easily avoidable. Local Motors seeks to uphold the same moral rectitude within the community as is upheld within the Company and all schools and universities.

It should go without saying, but we will say it here to be clear: Do NOT steal, cheat, plagiarize, write injurious comments, post injurious images, or claim work as your own if it does not belong to you."


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