Archive | February 12, 2010


The organization of American society is an interlocking system of semi-monopolies notoriously venal, an electorate notoriously unenlightened, misled by a mass media notoriously phony.

— Paul Goodman

Check out the Paul Goodman Essay Contest. (CHT Joel Schlosberg.)

Bear Becomes Mushroom; Trout Implicated

So the picture on the left of a girl leaning against a bear is an image that appears on merchandise produced by independent artist Hidden Eloise; and the picture on the right of the same girl in the same pose, leaning against empty air in the vague vicinity of a giant mushroom, is an image that appears, more recently, on merchandise produced by the British stationery company Paperchase.

original and copy

In Thoreau’s words: “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

Without IP laws, what would prevent this blatant appropriation of artists’ ideas?

Oh, wait. Britain has IP laws, doesn’t it? So what’s gone wrong?

Well, apparently Paperchase has been ignoring Eloise’s complaints, and she hasn’t felt prepared to lay out the thousands in court costs needed to pursue legal remedies.

This example reveals a certain asymmetry in IP’s vaunted protection for artists; it turns out to be a lot more useful to large businesses than to individuals.

But Eloise (if she has a last name I haven’t located it) recently got some unexpected help. Yesterday Neil Gaiman mentioned the case in passing on Twitter; and Gaiman’s Twitter feed has about 1.5 million followers. Overnight a firestorm of publicity erupted, talk of a boycott was floated, and now Paperchase is running scared and whining about how “dangerous” Twitter is. (You and Ahmadinejad both, guys.)

Now admittedly the case isn’t over, but Twitter has clearly done more for Eloise in one day than IP laws have done in four months. This suggests that IP proponents have not only overestimated the effectiveness of IP laws as protection for artists, but they’ve likewise underestimated the usefulness of voluntary alternatives such as boycotts and bad publicity.

It could be objected, of course, that Gaiman is a big name with a rather fanatical following, making it difficult to generalise from this case. But an institutionalised version of this response might be able to make up in organisation what it lacks in star power. Remember the Law Merchant, which secured compliance solely through organised boycotts.

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