October 8, 2009

Good Things Can Happen When You Stand Up To Bullies

A company called PRL USA Holdings, Inc. apparently owns the copyright to an image of a model wearing clothing sold under the Ralph Lauren label. I presume "PRL" stands for "Polo by Ralph Lauren." Someone, somewhere along the way, thought it would be a good idea to use Photoshop to alter that image to make the model appear freakishly skinny. The result looks something like the image that appears to the left.

What you see on this blog is not exactly that image, however, because I have altered it.  I found the origianl image on boingboing. Boingboing, in turn, found it on a humor website called Photoshop Disasters. It would appear that when PRL USA Holdings, Inc. hired the Century City Office of Arrogant Expensive & Condescending, Attorneys At Law a big-shot law firm to issue a Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown notice, the publisher of Photoshop Disasters thought it would be a prudent thing to do to take down the photo despite the rather humorous line of "Dude, her head's bigger than her pelvis."

Boingboing, however, was not so easily intimidated:
So, to Ralph Lauren, GreenbergTraurig, and PRL Holdings, Inc: sue and be damned. Copyright law doesn't give you the right to threaten your critics for pointing out the problems with your offerings. You should know better. And every time you threaten to sue us over stuff like this, we will:

a) Reproduce the original criticism, making damned sure that all our readers get a good, long look at it, and;

b) Publish your spurious legal threat along with copious mockery, so that it becomes highly ranked in search engines where other people you threaten can find it and take heart; and

c) Offer nourishing soup and sandwiches to your models.

One of the reasons I like being a lawyer is that I do not like bullies. And that's exactly what these folks are. "Oh noes U maad funn uf uz so u gonna get SOOOOD!"
Now, I've gone and posted the work here.  But before you decide to sue me, do take a good look at what I've done with the advertisement. That would be what folks in the IP world call a "derivative work" and the additional elements to the work which I have added using advanced digital imaging software* contain criticism, commentary, and reporting of the original work's artistic content. I'll also use it as a "teachable moment" to help educate my Readers about perhaps the most critical part of copyright law. And the moral gravity of using the law to bully people who have done nothing wrong instead of promoting the benefits of our free society.  See, you can use someone else's copyrighted work to criticize it, and that, by definition, is not an infringement of their copyright.  Movie critics do it all the time.

Not to mention the evils of promoting a deadly mental health problem. Seriously, it was simply irresponsible to run an advertisement like this. There is nothing at all glamorous or even defensible about women -- people, really -- starving themselves to death to look like fashion models. To then artificially make the fashion models look even skinnier than their already-skeletal appearances may well lead to the death of some girl somewhere whose lack of self-confidence leads her into thinking she needs to actually look like that image in order to be beautiful. She'll literally starve herself to death before that happens.  Maybe you don't mind that blood on your hands, but you should.

So call off the lawyers (who are surely smart enough to know better than to actually file a copyright suit here) and step back to consider the ethics of your advertising campaign instead.  Which, to be fair, is something that the shot-callers at Ralph Lauren seem to have actually done.  Because here's the great thing about that kind of criticism -- sometimes, it works.  Sometimes, having someone point out that you've done something bad makes you stop and think, "Gee, maybe I have," and you do things differently.

So at the end of the post, I have to sincerely applaud the folks at Ralph Lauren. Somehow, the ad got approved and sent out, and that was a mistake. And then, someone overreacted when the company got called on the mistake and decided to sic the lawyers on the messenger. But when the heat didn't go away, it eventually got to someone with a cooler head, and that person got the company to turn around and do and say the right things. So there's no need to ban Ralph Lauren -- they made a mistake and now they're cleaning it up, which is all we could reasonably ask of them.  This, then, is an object lesson in the power of the new media.

* Well, how about we call it MS Paint and leave it at that?

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