As a blogger who recently featured Hush skins and has featured Curio skins in the past, I feel it’s my responsibility to attempt to follow developments in the case of mutual accusations of thievery between Gala Phoenix, who apparently launched the first complaint, and Hush Darkrose, who apparently launched a counter-complaint. Rather than censor or reward either party before the truth is established, I have been waiting for a resolution, imagining, in the meantime, that I would remove photos of whichever skins were ripped. Having reviewed my photos this morning, I’ve decided that I am not going to remove any of them. Why not? Because they represent the work of many SL creators, not just the skin designers. The photos are also the fruits of my labour, and I don’t want to toss them out along with the ripped skins in my inventory. I have not used Hush or Curio skins since I heard of the battle last week, and I intend to continue to abstain from showing both lines until the dispute is resolved (if resolution is actually possible short of someone confessing). Instead of retroactively censoring my published blog posts, I may add a note specifying which skins are pirated. But honestly, I feel that the lack of transparency in these cases, and the bizarre inconsistency of Linden Labs’ actions on DMCAs, make any determination of guilt or innocence less than certain.
This crisis has me thinking about broader issues. I literally have no idea which skin creators are honest originators, which are unknowing victims of stolen template scams, which are using legitimately sourced templates, and which are out-and-out thieves. But judging from the one resource I’ve found, Papaverfield’s Flickr account, there are a lot of stolen skins out there. It’s devastating to hear that a skin line I like is based in stolen content. And that’s not just because I like the way it looks on my av or because I supported the line on my blog or because theft and lies are demoralizing. It’s also because skins are very expensive, and it’s painful to see thousands of Ls go down the drain. After this latest episode, I am extremely averse to trying any new lines of skin. Given that many commentators have judged Hush Darkrose guilty because she came out of nowhere with good skills, it seems that the only new skins we could safely buy would have to be bad ones. Only a complete absence of quality would pass the reverse litmus test of abstention from stealing. At times like these, I’m grateful that my badly drawn av looks like shit’s grandmother in most skins. Her stupid face has probably saved me from blogging a lot of scam skins.
It worries me that one consequence of the use of stolen content is the reenforcement of established skin creators’ monopoly on the market. Punishment meted out by established creators to bloggers or event organizers or publicists or agencies or customers who unknowingly wear/feature ripped skins also reenforces that monopoly because it discourages us from risking an association with a creator who has not been vetted. (How am I supposed to feel when I enter a store and suddenly receive a message telling me I will be banned for wearing stolen content? Paranoid, that’s how.) Meanwhile, having a reputation for honesty is not the same thing as being honest. How do we know that reputable creators have been properly vetted? How is the vetting done, by whom, how recently, and under what circumstances? I am astonished that the list of skin creators reputed to be wholly original is so very short. Time and again, bloggers and forum contributors identify only the big names behind Bellezza, Glam Affair, LAQ, Lara Hurley and League. Does this mean that every other skin creator is under suspicion? Or are we so satisfied with the brand-name associations of the big fish that we just don’t bother to vet the medium-size ones?
The fact that the consumer cannot verify the originality of skins without exporting content from SL, and thus breaking the TOS, makes it impossible for individuals to detect and boycott stolen content. It also makes it impossible for us to scrutinize and then confidently embrace honest new or less-exalted creators. At a minimum, I would like to see a much longer list of skin creators who are known for scrupulous creative and business practices. And I would like the compilation of this list to be free of snobbery, meaning that creators using legitimate templates will not be ignored because they supposedly have lesser skills. It may also be a good idea to ask creators who are making high-end products like skins to submit their works to an official body tasked with verification of authenticity. I make these suggestions off the top of my head and out of frustration, without thinking through the implications. I’m sure I’m on a slippery slope, if only because such slopes are ubiquitous. I’d love to hear readers’ responses to any of my thoughts. I know that some readers will take this post amiss, no matter how carefully it is worded. If it makes you angry, please consider that I am not accusing anyone of anything. I am instead worrying about everything.