Tag Archives: intellectual-property

Complete Zenith: A Review

cover to Complete ZenithWARNING: Some minor spoilers in the images, but nothing to get too excited about.

Zenith is a comic strip from “my era” of 2000ad. I first started getting 2000ad from Prog 497 (after already purchasing several Titan reprint albums) and Zenith himself arrived in Prog 520.

In some ways it’s a surprise Zenith was a hit in the comic’s pages. Grant Morrison is one of the few British creators in the 80s who didn’t cut his teeth in 2000ad – his break was in DC Thompson’s Starblazer – and it is fair to say he never really “got” the 2000ad house style as was all too apparent in his work on Judge Dredd and the infamous “summer offensive”. What’s more, 2000ad doesn’t do superheroes. Zenith represented 2000ad’s first non-parodic toe dip into those deep waters.

In many respects, Zenith feels more like a Warrior strip than a 2000ad one and has a lot in common with Alan Moore’s Marvelman and Captain Britain in that it is a very British treatment of a quintessentially American genre. I wouldn’t over emphasise the similarities however, and feed into Alan Moore’s lazy narrative that Morrison is a plagiarist. Indeed, many of the ideas that Morrison plays with in Zenith are ones which he has revisited in his own work many times since, particularly in Final Crisis, Animal Man and his Vertigo trilogy of The Invisibles, Flex Mentallo and The Filth.

Despite Morrison moving rapidly onto bigger things, the story arc of Zenith is complete. The full colour Phase IV came out a few years after Phase III, and Morrison even returned for a one-off in 2000. It has however been increasingly hard to get hold of. Titan Books only reprinted the first three phases and ceased their 2000ad line in the early 90s. There was talk of reprinting it in the early noughties, but it quickly emerged that there were legal disputes preventing this from happening.

What are these legal disputes? Essentially, pretty much everything which 2000ad has ever published has been on the basis of work-for-hire: the company owns the rights in perpetuity (there are actually exceptions to this, but for the most part this is where the comic published work which had been initially commissioned by another publisher, notably Toxic!). However, Grant Morrison maintains that he never signed away his rights to Zenith and it would appear that 2000ad cannot prove him wrong in this respect. They could offer him a new contract or just accept he has the rights, but that would open up a legal minefield which could force 2000ad to revisit its ownership of pretty much everything it published in the 80s. As such it would appear they are at an impasse, the big loser being artist Steve Yeowell for whom this probably represents his most critically acclaimed and commercial work.

2000ad Books’ decision to print the entire run in a single volume earlier this year came out of nowhere. It has been limited to a (quickly sold out) print run of 1,000 and it is entirely possible this is the only time it will ever be reprinted. By all accounts, Morrison was not consulted on this and Rebellion have essentially stonewalled him. The theory goes that this is an experiment to see how he reacts. Either he’ll throw his lawyers at them or he’ll let it pass, in which case their case that he waived his rights and they are free to reprint will be that much stronger. It is far too soon to tell who will eventually win this, but in the meantime those of us willing to fork out £100 get a copy of something they have been dreaming of having in their hands for years.

What can I say about the book? I haven’t read the strip for many years and haven’t had a chance to pore through this edition yet, but I can say that it is very, very lovely indeed.

My shelves have been filling up with 2000ad’s “telephone directory” reprints for quite some time now (yes, I know that telephone directories these days are thinner than a weekly Prog; you get my meaning). I adore them, but they’re a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the reproduction and restoration, especially in the earlier days, is a bit iffy – especially when they are working from degraded copies of the comic rather than from negatives. And some of their choices can be a little odd, such as their decision to not include The Dead Man and America from their Complete Judge Dredd volumes (WHY????? Sigh, it still makes me furious). So I’ll be honest when I say that despite being willing to fork out for this volume I was a little trepidatious.

some of the reprint covers which appear in the Complete ZenithBut it has exceeded my expectations in several respects. This may seem obvious, but when they say “complete”, they mean it. It doesn’t just have all the strips, but it includes all the covers. Not just the 2000ad covers but the covers of the Titan reprints (which themselves were Ryan Hughes design classics) and the Quality and Egmont-Fleetway US reprints. I didn’t even know that Simon Bisley drew covers for the latter, although I have to admit that I’m not entirely blown away by them. It even includes a text story that Mark Millar wrote for an old annual, which if I recall correctly was only tangentially related to Zenith and (like many Mark Millar superhero and 2000ad stories) best forgotten about.

And then there’s the colour. Reprinting 2000ad strips from the late 80s and early 90s can be a bit of a challenge because the comic went from mainly monochrome to full colour in 1990. To keep costs down, book publishers tend to get creative when confronted with things like this by printing half the book in black and white and half in colour, but this can often look awful. On top of this, Phase I of Zenith was during a brief period when 2000ad adopted an odd habit of printing the last page of some of its strips on the back page of the comic itself – often in full colour. Most of the time, the solution to that is to print the page in black and white – and most of the time that means a page which looked gorgeous in the original comic looking muddy and illegible. This has particularly plagued the Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog reprints.

Colour transitions in the Complete ZenithNot so with Zenith. That £100 asking price means that, to their credit, they have spared no expense. So on the two chapters in Phase I where this applies you get a wonderful burst of colour. There is a slight issue which I’ve noticed whereby one of the annual stories, an Interlude, appears to have been printed slightly out of sequence so that it appears between Phases III and IV (when, if I recall correctly, it should be between II and III), but this is not disastrous as the story is out of sequence in any case.

Overall, I’m very happy with this and am content with paying the money. I very much expect an unlimited edition to appear in the next few years, but I don’t think those reprints will be either as comprehensive or include the nice touches that this one does.

And what of the ethics of reprinting this despite the legal uncertainty? Well, as readers of this blog will know, I’m fairly radical when it comes to my views on intellectual property. I think there is a good case for making all publications public domain 20 years after their initial publication – and I suspect that such an approach would have concentrated minds in both the Morrison and 2000ad camps. The existence of 2000ad slightly challenges my opposition to corporations being able to jealously guard their intellectual property because it has to be said that if their archives were worth less to them, it is entirely possible it would have ceased to be a viable publication some time ago (that said, I’m not wedded to 20 years and a somewhat longer period than that would probably fix that). I also have a lot of sympathy for Steve Yeowell and can’t believe that Morrison didn’t know he was working on a work for hire basis at the time. So yeah, I think they are right to test the waters here.

What’s left of what I believe

XKCD strip on nihilism
NaBloPoMo November 2012The main reason I’ve allowed this blog to fall into misuse over the past couple of years is that I stopped writing about politics. While my original concept behind this blog was always to write in the intersection between politics and geekery, at some point – specifically in May 2010 – I decided I could no longer really afford to vent my undiluted spleen about the state of the nation and had to start being a little more diplomatic and careful about what I say.

The problem is, I’m a little all-or-nothing and being careful quickly lead to me saying nothing at all. I figured it would get easier once the spotlight was off after the AV referendum; it didn’t. I figured I could be much less careful after I’d quit the party and thus my views became instantly irrelevant in the media’s eyes, but at that point I acquired a new problem: how can I write about politics without it either coming across as or actually being score settling following my resignation? I exchanged one set of anxieties for another and sclerosis quickly settled in once again.

And so, here I am, writing a blog about politics – which once again is really all about me. This is my problem in a nutshell. All I can do is plead for sympathy from you, dear reader: after 16 years, quitting a political party really is a big deal. It’s a wrench. It is no surprise at all that nearly eight months on I’m still a little defined by it. But at least you now know why it is that I’d much rather be writing about comics or, if you’ve seen my tumblr, even more esoteric things.

My article in September about quitting the Liberal Democrats had an interesting response. It was surprisingly positive, but I found it strange how so many people told me that they either loved or hated it but didn’t really engage with the issues at all. I had several Clegg loyalists tell me how much they loved it; curious given that I was not exactly nice about him. My favourite response was from a friend who told me that he agreed with “35% of it”. It was a strangely precise figure, yet he wouldn’t expand on what he actually meant by it.

Most of the negative feedback I did get from it, other than the abuse, centred around the accusation that I was being cynical and didn’t have anything constructive to say. I think the latter was fair comment and pretty much sums up where I am politically at the moment, but there is a difference between cynicism and nihilism. I don’t think I am cynical – indeed my decision to quit the party was about as far from cynical as it was possible to get. I took the decision to walk away rather that to stay on the inside and just feel bitter about things. The fact that I don’t have a fully worked out alternative to what the Lib Dems, and for that matter, politics more widely, doesn’t make me a cynic – it just makes me average.

But yes, I am a political nihilist at the moment, and as someone used to having a cause I can assure you that’s far more of a problem for me than it is for anybody else. All I have is a few scraps of ideas about what a possible way forward might look like, and they can be summed up as follows:

  • Triangulation is a doomed strategy for any political party – doubly so if you aren’t either Labour or the Conservatives. The people leading the political debate right now are the outliers who are working outside of the political mainstream but are successfully shifting the centre-ground to their direction simply by being well organised and disciplined. Right now, sadly, for the most part that means the weird axis of economic libertarians and social authoritarians who are exemplified by the Tea Party in the US but operate in different forms around the world. They aren’t succeeding electorally, but they don’t really need to. Everyone else is dancing to their tune.
  • Capitalism as we know it needs to die. Not trade, not commerce, but the system which commodifies and seeks to squeeze wealth from everything from people to ideas and natural resources is utterly anathema in terms of what humanity needs to do to survive the next millennium. That means critically reassessing what we regard as capital and property and thus what we believe can and cannot be owned. I feel I’ve just used a load of meaningless words there, but it makes sense to me. In terms of specific examples this means a fundamental shift from income and sales taxes onto things like land value taxation, and a massive global crackdown on the drift widening intellectual property laws to mean that every aspect of our culture ultimately becomes owned by a corporation out to make a quick buck.
  • It’s too bloody easy to blame the politicians. Our politico-economic system and media have infantilised the public, but as information technology spreads so does the onus on individuals to accept responsibility for the health of their democracy and culture. We have the tools to create a much better world, yet most people just sit there like good little consumers waiting for someone else to do it for them, and consider passively shrugging about it to be the mature response for when they don’t.

Beyond that? I’m lost. I have no idea about how you take those notions and turn them into something tangible which has any chance of being implemented. But I’m thinking about it – a lot. And perhaps I should write about it here a bit more often.

Speech: Where we are and how we got here

Note: I got into a bit of a state preparing for my speech at the Social Liberal Forum Conference on Saturday, staying up the previous night writing and angsting about it: for some reason I found the prospect of sharing a platform with Neal Lawson, Will Hutton and Simon Hughes (who ended up replaced by Evan Harris at the last minute) quite intimidating. In the end, I would have been better off just writing half a dozen notes, having a good night’s sleep and winging it. I never got round to doing the final section because I went massively over time.

I’m not really happy with it – in particular I really need to spell out better what I’m trying to say about corporate culture and how the banking crisis is connected to IP wars and body image – but for what it’s worth here it is. In the event, a lot of what I didn’t get a chance to say was touched on during the day in any case, which was pleasing.

We established the Social Liberal Forum in early 2009, but its conception arose out of the Lib Dem 2008 Autumn Conference. Many will have forgotten, but that conference was dominated by the publication of the so-called “vision and values” paper Make It Happen.

The party leadership’s line to the press in the run up to that conference was that this paper signified a shift in policy, and specifically a move towards the party promising overall tax cuts at the following general election. This caused a predictable outrage and equally predictable froth about Clegg having a “Clause 4 moment”. In fact, the policy motion going to conference said nothing specific about tax cuts but was sufficiently vaguely worded that it was open to interpretation. The result was an absolute mess, with people hopelessly confused over what the debate was even about and the official line changing on an almost hourly basis. It was possibly the lowest point in the party’s proud history of deciding policy in a transparent and democratic manner.

In the end, the motion was passed, but it was a hollow victory. While we spent our time debating the prospect of tax cuts in Bournemouth, in New York Lehman Brothers was falling apart. By the end of the conference, it was already clear that we were going to have to tear up our economic policy and start all over again.

It is important to recall that incident because we need to be clear about where the SLF was coming from. We didn’t set up SLF to be some kind of Tribunite vanguard of a fringe liberal left. Our concern was that the mainstream voice of the party was being sidestepped and bypassed. The social liberal majority within the party had grown complacent about its predominant position, assuming that the party’s internal democracy would prevent the party from going in a direction it wasn’t willing to take. The 2008 conference made it clear to a number of us that it was important we got organised. As it happens, with the formation of the coalition, the need for that organisation is now more apparent than ever.

Was SLF established as a ‘response’ to the Orange Book? Well, it is true that several of its founding members were involved in the publication of Reinventing the State, which certainly was a response to the Orange Book. But I don’t think that portraying tensions between “social” and “economic” liberals within the party is some kind of ideological schism is helpful or especially meaningful. Within the Lib Dems, the debate over how public services are delivered ought to be entirely pragmatic and evidence-based. That isn’t to say there aren’t disagreements, merely that such an internal debate ought to be something that can only be constructive – as long as that debate is conducted fairly and democratically. It is the dogmatic approach of Andrew Lansley’s health reforms that, above all, should cause us concern, not the prospect of reforming the NHS at all.

The real ideological struggle we face is not over how we should deliver public services but over the size and the role of the state. This is clearly a dividing line between the Lib Dems and Conservatives. Is it a dividing line within the party itself?

There is certainly a libertarian fringe, but it isn’t a grouping that any senior party figure has ever chosen to associate themselves with. And despite the fact that senior figures within the party have occasionally appeared to flirt with libertarianism, I have never got the impression that this is part of a thought through position. Indeed, in some ways, it would be less problematic if it was. Rather, this flirtation appears to have more to do with an anti-intellectual tendency to confuse policy making with posturing.

This anti-intellectualism is not limited to the top of the party; indeed I would argue that it is one of the biggest challenges we face as a party. For my job at Unlock Democracy a few years ago, I conducted a survey of Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem local parties. I was shocked when the figures came back to show quite how little policy discussion actually went on in the Lib Dems, even in comparison with our rivals.

For too many within the Lib Dems, party involvement begins and ends with winning elections. For them, policy is only a means to an end. All too often that leads us down the road of populism and all too often populist policy proves to not be terribly practical when it comes to implementation. We have a tendency to focus too much on what makes a good slogan.

There’s a very specific reason why, for me at least, we decided to call ourselves a Forum, and that’s because we wanted to foment debate within the party at all levels.

But what direction should future party policy take? Spearheaded by Tim Farron, and no doubt in response to the Big Society, there has recently been a flurry of excitement about the idea of reviving community politics as the party’s core strategy. I welcome this, but feel it will only be a worthwhile exercise if we can work how to prevent the hollowed out form of community politics, which exists as little more than a technique for winning elections, from predominating. Despite many of its adherents’ best efforts, community politics has been indirectly responsible for helping to form the very intellectual vacuum that we are now so concerned about. Somehow, the reinvigorated communicty politics of 2011 needs to avoid this.

What other policy challenges are there? In my view, we need to urgently come to some kind of understanding about what we mean by inequality, and thus fairness, as a party. We have to come up with a more compelling answer than “social mobility.” It isn’t that social mobility is a bad thing to aspire to, merely that it is hard to see how you can truly tackle it without taking on entrenched privilege, or recognising that it is harder for people to rise from the bottom to the top is the gulf between them is so high. I fear that there is a lot of talk about how to loosen up society at the bottom but very little focus at the other end of the spectrum. To me, you can’t seriously discuss inequality or social mobility without talking about wealth – and specifically land value – taxation, yet we continually shy away from it.

Closely linked to both the idea of community politics and the need for a more fair society is, in my view, the need for us to create a more dynamic, people-centred economy. It frightens me how the very financial corporations and institutions which took us to the brink less than three years ago have already reasserted themselves, and in such a way that appears to have achieved little other than the seizing up of the global economy. But it is about more than just banking; corporate culture has commodified everything. The mass expansion of intellectual property legislation has meant that our culture has been quietly privatised. Information technology has made our purchasing habits and even the friends we choose on social networks a commodity to be bought and sold.

I’m no Ned Ludd and this isn’t a plea to go back to a simpler age; I’m a great lover of technology and am deeply immersed in it in every aspect of my life. It’s capacity to liberate and empower people is something that inspires me every day. Nor is it anti-capitalist; in fact I’d go so far as to say that in wanting to challenge entrenched oligarchies and monopolies, this is very much a free trade argument.

Fundamentally however, I don’t think our politics has yet woken up to the implications of how the combination of information technology and trans-national corporations is changing society and making the very possibility of a fairer and more just society increasingly difficult. It links the drugs we take with the books we read and even questions about body image and low self-esteem which Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone have been doing so much work on recently.

How should we tackle this? It’s a good question and not one I have a comprehensive answer to. We need much stricter banking legislation of course and a vital aspect of it is to scale back our ever burgeoning intellectual property legislation. We also need to rediscover industrial democracy: a concept which the liberal party embraced and championed throughout the 20th century yet have forgotten in recent years.

But if we’re going to achieve anything over the next few years, we need to do more to build alliances, both inside Westminster and beyond. By holding the balance of power in both Houses of Parliament, we are in a real position of strength. We undermine that when we go out of our way to disparage and alienate the Labour Party. What’s worse, for many of the people who voted for us in 2010, it confirms all their worst fears. For a party which has always objected to a culture of two-party politics, we have done a remarkable job of reinventing it.

On a great many issues Nick Clegg is in a position to negotiate with David Cameron on behalf of the majority of parliament rather than on behalf of a minority third party. This doesn’t mean being uncritical of Labour by any means, but it does mean choosing fights with more care and positively encouraging Labour when does the right thing.

The Lib Dem campaign for internet freedom steps up a gear

If you haven’t already joined the Lib Dems Save the Net Facebook campaign, I recommend you do so.

Meanwhile, an emergency motion has been submitted to Spring conference. Bridget Fox has the details.

I’ve submitted the following questions to the Federal Policy Committee for the morning of conference:

1. What role has the FPC played in formulating the Liberal Democrat response to the Digital Economy Bill?

2. The Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party often finds itself having to respond to legislation that the party has little or outdated policy on. What does the FPC do to ensure that the eventual response from the Parliamentary Party is a) the result of as open and democratic a process as possible; and b) adequately consults the views of all stakeholders with an interest in the legislation?

And finally, I’ve written an article on Comment is Free about the Clement-Jones/Razzall amendment:

No doubt Clement-Jones and Razzall felt that making bad less awful was the only responsible thing to do. In fact, forcing us to choose between judges and lawyers having to interpret a bad law and ministers making it up as they go along is no choice at all. After five years of one of the most depressing parliaments in living history, the last thing the Lib Dems can afford to do is to present themselves as the nicer, slightly less unacceptable face of the establishment. Leave that to David Cameron.

Paperchase and Copywrong

A lot of my (mainly non-Twitter using) readers may be unaware of the controversy surrounding designer Hidden Eloise and greeting card giant Paperchase. In short, Hidden Eloise alleges that a design which Paperchase are using on a variety of products has lifted the central image of a girl from one of her own works He says he can hear the forest whisper.

It could of course be a coincidence but make up your own mind:

I have to say that the whole situation looks pretty cut and dried to me. Not so according to the Paperchase chief executive Timothy Melgund who, with the support of the Telegraph, manages to portray the whole incident as a case of a blameless, struggling company being bullied by a selfish designer, a cynical novelist and the lynchmob they have whipped up on Twitter (the whole article is a classic; even the headline marks a new low in Fox News-style values for the Telegraph: Paperchase forced to deny it ‘plagiarised’ British artist’s work after Twitter campaign):

“We bought the designs from a reputable central London Design Studio along with a number of other designs on good faith.

“We take all reasonable precautions when we purchase our designs from companies or individuals, because, to be blunt, we want to make sure they are entitled to sell it.”

He added: “We have not done anything wrong. Our reputation is of course very important to us. We spoke at length to the Design Studio in question and they categorically denied any plagiarism.

“What upsets us as a whole is that a lot of our good customers have been angered by this and there is no reason for it.

“We spend a long time building up our reputation for creating dynamic and interesting stationery and then something like this happens.”

Mr Melgund said the issue raised serious concerns about the “powers, and there in the danger of Twitter”.

“I am sure it can be beneficial but if you get an untruth (on it) it can be very dangerous,” he said.

As brass necks go, Timothy Melgund must be in for a shot in the 2012 Olympics. Indeed, it made me wonder: why would they mount such a robust defence unless they were absolutely sure the design was not only copied but that Hidden Eloise herself might have been the one doing the copying? The wheels on that hypothesis have now fallen off by the admission by the designer of the Paperchase design that she did, in fact, copy it from Hidden Eloise:

When creating the group of designs bellow I used the outline pose of your Hidden Eloise Girl in one of the designs to create a new pose for my princess. I did not intend to copy your character but use its pose to create a new design for my own character, my intention was not to copy your character, I now realise the pose was too close to your Eloise and apologise to you for this, I also apologise to paperchase for the trouble this has caused.

What is disturbing about this whole incident is that Paperchase have left it to both the freelance designer and the design agency who commissioned her to take a bullet on their behalf. Throughout the whole process, Paperchase have insisted that they had reassurances that it wasn’t a copy and that settles the matter. But it doesn’t because it is blatantly obvious that one design is based on the other. They didn’t need lawyers or reassurances to confirm that a wrong had been committed; they just needed eyes and a conscience. Let’s not forget that Hidden Eloise originally raised the issue with Paperchase in November; they had three months to avoid what is now a public relations disaster for them. Their calculation must have been that there was very little that an independent designer of modest means could do to them. Timothy Melgund’s comments on Thursday only reinforce the impression that his primary motivation was to dissemble rather than right a wrong.

That he went running to a rightwing newspaper to give him a sympathetic hearing and trotted out the usual line about Twitter inciting the mob (© 2009 Jan Moir) only makes him even more despicable. This suggests not only contempt for Hidden Eloise but for his customers. Frankly, I would describe it as a Gerald Ratner moment were it not so unfair on Ratner: at least he was only telling the truth.

Whoever lied to who, Paperchase are the big guys in this incident and they are the ones who should have been big about it. To not do so speaks volumes about their ethics and values. I’ve used Paperchase quite a lot over the past few years; they’ve just opened a new shop near where I work and assumed I would go on doing so. After this week, I’ll be making the strenuous effort of walking around the corner in future. Spread the word.

A final thought on copyright: this is yet another example of how existing copyright laws appear to do more for protecting corporate interests than in protecting the rights of artists. The costs of Hidden Eloise bringing forward a court case on this would have been prohibitive, yet record companies feel they can go around threatening their customers with jail – and in some cases pursue court cases against them – merely for downloading a song on a non-commercial basis. Isn’t it time we reassessed this?

PS I’m bookmarking this article in several places not to self-aggrandise but to ensure it is given wider coverage.

UPDATE: For completeness, and because I don’t think it will remain up on the Paperchase website for much longer (it only appears on the “contact us” page), here is Paperchase’s latest – and possible final – public statement on this matter:

Hidden Eloise / Kitty Mason / Gather No Moss

In an attempt to do the right thing and end this episode we want to briefly set out what happened here, offer our sincere apologies to all involved, and go back to operating our business as we have been doing for many years – albeit with a few lessons learnt from this incident. So, please bear with me.

By now, those of our customers and the social networking community who have been following this story, will know the basis of it. However, for the record:

• Paperchase bought a number of pieces of artwork from Gather No Moss in October 2008.
• By the end of November 2009 four items that contained the ‘copied’ image were on sale.
• On 27 November, Hidden Eloise contacted us saying that her work had been plagiarised, and we – as we would always do – went immediately back to our source to verify the claim. In retrospect we should have withdrawn the items from sale while the claim was investigated – our mistake.
• The studio, Gather No Moss, wrote back to us on 1 December stating that the image we had bought “was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s”. Again, in retrospect we should have withdrawn the items, but this was categoric confirmation that we had not been sold a plagiarised image. We assumed we had been told the truth. Another mistake.
• We advised Hidden Eloise of this confirmation on 2 December and heard no more until last Thursday when the accusation on Hidden Eloise’s blog gained worldwide coverage. While we established the “real” truth, we immediately removed all potentially offending items from sale and retraced our thinking. Press reporting could have been more accurate and our attempts to calm the situation through our web announcements met with limited success. Our communication could / should have been better.
• By Friday the truth emerged, and you can read the two statements from Gather No Moss and their freelance illustrator, Kitty Mason, below. This is not about blame, as some have suggested, but a genuine attempt to discover what went wrong. You must decide for yourselves where the faults lie. In retrospect we, Paperchase, are certainly not without blame.

So, we have been chastened by this experience and offer Hidden Eloise, our customers and those from the social network community our sincere apologies that we were not more rigorous in establishing the truth in the first instance.

Finally, please do not take some of the wilder accusations you might have read about our business too seriously. We are absolutely committed to design and independent illustrators alike. We are lucky in that the available artistic skill is so vibrant that it has allowed us to build our business, along with our loyal customer base, to where we are now.

Timothy Melgund
Chief Executive

Gather No Moss and Kitty Mason wish to make the following statements.

Gather No Moss
“Gather No Moss purchased the design known as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ from Kitty Mason in September 2008.
Paperchase bought Kitty Mason’s design from Gather No Moss in October 2008.
At the end of November 2009, the Artist named Hidden Eloise, contacted retailers Paperchase accusing them of plagiarism.
Paperchase contacted Gather No Moss and asked them whether there was any truth in this allegation.
Gather No Moss then asked the designer, Kitty Mason, whether she had copied Hidden Eloise’s ‘character’ (called – He says he can hear the Forest Whisper) in her own design.
Kitty Mason clearly stated to Gather No Moss that her ‘character’ was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s” ‘character’ only the pose was the same. Gather No Moss then conveyed this to Paperchase.

We are issuing this statement, to clarify our position and to hope to clear Paperchase of any direct fault.
We apologise unreservedly to Paperchase, their customers and to the artist, Hidden Eloise for this very regrettable sequence of events”.

Kitty Mason
“I created the design known as “Alice in Wonderland” in September 2008. I copied the outline pose of the Hidden Eloise ‘character’ (called – He says he can hear the Forest Whisper) to create a new pose for my ‘character’. I did not intend to copy the girl but use her pose to create a new design for my own ‘character’, I now realise it was wrong to do this.
In November 2009 Gather No Moss contacted me regarding Hidden Eloise’s allegation, I told them that my ‘character’ was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s ‘character’ only the pose was the same.

I would like to offer a full and unreserved apology to Paperchase, their customers, Hidden Eloise and Gather No Moss”.

Avatar: did Jim Cameron rip off 2000AD’s Firekind?

firekind2Heavy.com has illustrated the uncanny similarities between 2000AD strip Firekind (1993) and Jim Cameron’s Avatar (apparently in development since 1995). I have to admit that when I first saw the trailer for Avatar I did notice the similarities, but dismissed them on the basis that a few superficial resemblances could easily be down to coincidence and as the hype for the film began to build I forgot all about it. But the list on Heavy.com was intriguing enough to make me sit down and reread the thing this morning (while it was originally printed in 2000AD progs 828-840 it was reprinted in a collected edition in 2005).

Despite Heavy.com’s table of similarities being quite extensive, they actually missed a couple of things out. In both stories the indiginous population have a profound ancestral link to certain trees and in both they don’t merely ride dragons but are psychically connected to them. The plot also has a remarkably similar structure Firekind even features something which is described as “the avatar of violence and retribution” (although the Hronoth is a very different beast compared to Sam Worthington). In many respects however, Firekind contrasts strongly. It could be described as the Anti-Avatar, a peek of what might have been if Cameron hadn’t stuffed his film full of Hollywood conventions and Western chauvanism.

firekind3Aside from the blue skin and hunter-gatherer nature, the Kesheen are very different to the Na’vi. The former are small and weak and no match for the average human. Yet they are also more in control of their own destiny. Protagonist Hendrick Larsen doesn’t lead a rebellion against the human invaders but merely helps. They also don’t fit quite as snugly into the noble savage stereotype; Hendrick is at one point saved by a colony of Kesheen who have been exiled from the tribe for their ‘deviant’ sexual practices (writer John Smith states in an interview in Thrill Power Overload that he was disappointed by the lack at outrage to the fact that in Kesheen society incest is considered normal and anyone who doesn’t indulge in it is cast out). While both stories feature kinky sex (in the case of Avatar we’ll have to wait for the DVD for the full USB-on-USB action), Firekind is devoid of romance. And while Avatar ends in victory, the survival of Larsen and the remaining Kesheen at the end of Firekind is far from assured.

Firekind isn’t perfect by any means; much of it doesn’t quite hang together and a great many of the ideas in it end up trailing off. The eponymous dragons barely feature and they certainly don’t breathe fire. But it has a freshness which still holds up 17 years later and it is certainly less clichéd.

firekind1Are the two stories similar enough to suggest that Firekind has influenced Avatar? I certainly think there are more than enough similarities to suggest it may be the case. The killer, for me, are the flying stones (which admittedly look quite different). There is also the fact that Cameron is a known comics buff (he spent most of the 90s trying to get his hands on the Spider-Man license and is now working on Battle Angel Alita) and has past form in terms of being caught out ‘borrowing’ his ideas from elsewhere (Harlan Ellison successfully sued Cameron for lifting ideas from Ellison’s Outer Limits episodes for The Terminator). Indeed, 2000AD has been successful in pursuing court cases of its own, with the short strip SHOK! now acknowledged as the main inspiration behind the film Hardware. And no-one disputes the influence Judge Dredd had on Robo-cop.

I wrote back in 2006 that I’d like to see a Firekind film “before, hopefully, someone goes and makes an Anne Macaffrey film (God help us!).” With Avatar now out, that would appear to no longer be a commercial proposition. So it might be an idea for Rebellion, who are indeed moving into the movie making business, to at least have a quiet word with their lawyers about whether they have a case.

Will Lembit have me arrested?

I’ve just updated Prawn Free Lembit with Mr Opik’s latest column from the Daily Sport and it has put me in a bit of a quandary.

You see, by posting that column, I’m breaching copyright. I’m a pretty good boy when it comes to copyright violation generally – unusually for my generation even where music is concerned – but I set up Prawn Free Lembit because I thought these columns ought to see the light of day outside of the confines of a porn-infested and frankly medieval website that doesn’t even have RSS feeds. He’s an elected politician and I think we all have a right to know what he has to say without having degrading images of women shoved in our faces, don’t you think? I don’t editorialise and let Lembit speaks for himself. If it leads to people asking awkward questions about why a man in his forties who owns a pair of trousers would spend a significant part of his working week perving about which “Sport Stunna” he’d like to “elevate” to “high office” (f’narr!), then that’s on him.

However noble my intentions may have been however, it is clear that Lembit has a very black and white view of the matter. Breach of copyright is “theft”, pure and simple. He has lent his support to Peter Mandelson’s plan to cut off people who are caught filesharing illegally and presumably the rozzers will be knocking on my door any minute.

The arguments about why Mandelson’s plans are utterly bogus have been well rehearsed. While I wouldn’t go quite as far as those who favour legalising peer-to-peer filesharing in all circumstances, the government’s disconnection plans would punish the innocent, be impractical in practice and fundamentally miss the point.

The music industry is in the mess that it is in for a very simple reason. It has filched the public and recording artists for decades. This was possible to get away with 20 years ago because technology and IP laws made it easy for them. As a result they could live it large, ply their musicians and useful dupes with drugs and alcohol and indulge their megastars. When the internet came along, instead of waking up to its potential threat to them and adapting, they pretended it didn’t exist for decades. The result was utter contempt by the general public which fuelled the rise of peer-to-peer once the technology came up to speed.

The death of the music industry – which is a real possibility – will not mean the death of music. Music existed before copyright laws and it will exist long after them as well. People won’t suddenly stop making music. What it will probably mean is the death of the superstar. Your online music store will resemble a public library more than HMV. Instead of having a middle man around who decides what music is worth listening to and what category it should be wedged into, we’ll be able to choose from a much wider source. Technology will (has) made garage bands sound as professional as the big labels and marketing costs have levelled out. The Simon Cowells of this world are utterly fucked, which is why his himself has already jumped ship and moved onto TV – and even then the X-Factor band wagon won’t keep rolling forever.

Will it be possible to make money as a musician in the future? It all depends on what your aspirations are. Any halfway successful musician will be able to make several multiples of what I’ll earn in my lifetime, but there’ll be a lot fewer multi-millionaires. You probably won’t ever get that private jet I’m afraid. The simple fact are only so many punters out there and talent is nothing like as hard to come by as Smash Hits and NME led us to believe. They lied.

But is rendering musician to the status of mere vocation such a terrible thing? Money has destroyed so many talents over the years that it is hard to shed a tear for the decline of the superstar. Is it really so wonderful that popular music has become so strongly associated with excess, mental illness, vanity, self-abasement and violence? More musicians earning less money is a scenario in which 99% of us win. It is no coincidence that Wilkinson and Pickett considered a move towards less restrictive IP laws as a crucial step towards engendering a more equal culture in The Spirit Level.

The reason I suspect Lembit does not see it that way is that it is not music he is really defending but the industry which he has courted and been courted by (and indeed courted within) for the past decade.

Oh, and as I have thus far forgotten to post the latest edition of The Show, courtesy of EyeSeeSound.tv, allow me to do so here. It’s the future!

Nine wishes for 2009 #4: An end to “money for nothing”

I’ve spent days resisting blogging this wish because, quite frankly, I don’t think it will happen. But it certainly is a dearest wish, so it makes the cut.

What I mean by “money for nothing” is the tendency of the late 20th and early 21st century to look at everything as if it were capital to be exploited, and yet at the same time to think that capital doesn’t behave like capital any more. When the classical economists wrote about capital, they were, in the main talking about widgets – things you build. They can make you a lot of money but they always break, rust or wear out in the end, and then you have to buy new widgets. Stocks and shares were part ownership of big widgets, and ultimately behaved by the same laws.

(As an aside, my reading of Locke’s definition of “property” is that it informed and is essentially the same as the classical economist notion of “capital” – it is one of the reasons I despair about this modern vogue for rightwing libertarianism in which people invoke Locke only to insist that when he talked about “property” he was referring to everything you might happen to “own” even though it contradicts his whole argument about rights to “property” coming about due to self ownership.)

We’ve been moving away from that model for 200 years, but in the last two decades it accelerated. Everything, from homes to public services to loans, became capitalised. Intellectual property, at the same time, has become less like capital as the limitations of copyright get extended and patents become renewable (I ended 2007 by declaring the 21st century to be dominated by IP Wars – we ended 2008 with the government capitulating and agreeing to extend recording copyright). Speculation, speculation on speculation and even speculation on speculation on speculation has become a central part of our finance system. All talk about “value” – financial value never mind ethical or social value – has become lost.

I’m not convinced that much will happen to change. The Lib Dems’ Green New Deal is very welcome indeed, but we don’t appear to be saying very much to ensure that the economy changes course – we aren’t arguing for much more than a greener, kinder version of the status quo. Brown just seems to be firing off in entirely random directions and even though I’m not convinced that piling up the national debt is the big problem the Tories keep claiming it is, my mind does boggle how he can keep coming up with more and more spending commitments with no idea how he intends to pay for it all. As for the Tories themselves, well, they appear to have looked at Japan in the nineties and said to themselves “we’ll have some of that!” Having got us into this mess, dragging the rest of the political class in the mire with them, their new approach seems to simply be to wallow.

Like I say, I don’t expect this wish to be fulfilled. Yet strangely, almost every day I seem to hear a new person expressing it. Are we looking at a longer term shift in attitudes? Either way, we won’t know for sure by the end of 2009.

EXCLUSIVE: A minor victory in the IP wars

Credit: http://hightech.blogosfere.it/
Credit: http://hightech.blogosfere.it/
I’ve only just spotted this, and feel a bit foolish for not noticing it earlier, but have you noticed that the new Lib Dem website is Creative Commons? I’ve just checked and neither Labour nor the Conservatives have gone down this route. The Green Party has an inconsistent policy: a Google search shows that a lot of local parties are CC, but their (also new) website has a little, ugly copyright symbol at the bottom.

It makes a lot of sense for political parties to be CC. They are in the business of connecting, so why get precious about intellectual property? By going CC, members are free to use the resources on the website how they want and this of course fits in with the new ethos of the website which integrates FlockTogether (resulting in me receiving a phone call about Liberal Drinks yesterday – it works!).

And of course, to a small but growing hardcore, it also says something about the party’s values. We aren’t always as consistent on IP as some of us might like, but it certainly puts down a marker.

All in all, a job well done by the Innovations Team. Onwards and upwards!