Thursday, 11 February 2010

Paperchase vs HiddenEloise

It's clear as day that the one thing that Twitter shows us is that modern companies cannot keep up with fast paced events that threaten to harm their brand image. Not that Twitter is necessarily a poor place for brands, with some research suggesting that Brands tend to do ok in public image. Today's failure is by the company Paperchase who (at the time of writing) have left this rather defensive comment on their site (link is to a screenshot for posterity) concerning allegations of plagiarism by the company of an independent artist, known on Twitter as HiddenEloise.

It is, as with all these trending topics, easy to get carried away. Some have already accused those of us pushing Paperchase for a definitive action or even appropriate comment as being a "lynch mob", something that happens every time one of these "crusades" goes about. However while sometimes people might collectively get the wrong end of the stick, on this I'm not so sure the masses are.

The story was first blogged by the artist in question on her website, Hide n Seek, and painted a tale of someone at the end of their ability to deal with this problem.

Since I have written to them, Paperchase made sure to put up even more items for sale with my plagiarised art! I'm sure Paperchase think that there is nothing that can make them stop. Proof is that the albums in the link above are actually freshly listed after the notebooks that I had written them about have apparently sold out!

So please, if you are any bit angry or frustrated with huge n ancient vampires sucking the creative juice of indie artists, a simple e-mail sent to them here might save me from having to raise $40000 for court expenses!

Paperchase contacted the artist in 2009, at the beginning of December, with a message that as far as they were concerned the art they are using had been bought in good faith from an unnamed design agency. That, it seems, was the end of that.

Roll forward to today, and an opportunity for Paperchase to maybe search a bit harder, ensure that they were not using stolen artwork no matter how initially in the dark they were about the theft, and to generally make amends. As one twitter user put it, however...

@pauleec #paperchase today took a battering, then steadied themselves, stemmed the tide, got back on their feet then gave themselves a wedgy.

Indeed far from simply apologise and look in to it, they've briefly (in the space of an hour or so) questioned whoever they have decided to and come back with the snottiest and most insulting veiled "apology" I think they could have.

The illustrator who is making the allegation made us aware of her concerns in November 2009 and we duly responded to her in early December, since when we had heard nothing….until today. Back in November 2009, we spoke at length to the Design Studio in question and they categorically denied any plagiarism.

It is worrying that such an allegation can create such reaction and again, Paperchase apologises for any ill-feeling caused.

So from Paperchase's eyes the word of their design studio is better than this individual...that's not too hard to believe. But then they also try to insinuate that "the illustrator" is just making a fuss, trying to suggest that because she didn't reply to their December comments that she mustn't have had a problem perhaps? Furthermore they are kind enough to apologise for the "ill feeling", even though throughout their statement they absolve themselves and the design studio of any wrong doing. Essentially they're apologising that this annoying "illustrator" has caused such a fuss, it's the kind of apology an embarrassed neighbour might give when their neighbours kids defecate on her lawn, just to "play nice".

So is there any substance in their claim? They say they bought the design in November 2008. The small cynical part of me wonders about the coincidence of this date and the start of the archives on a site who's domain was registered in May.

But it takes less than a minute to take a look down the right hand side of the website and see some links to friendly blogs, Wildflours and Hanna's life is cool, both who reference this amazing work done by an illustrator they've seen online.

Clicking through some more we find the online shop where the design that is allegedly plagiarised was put on sale (and sold out) on April 5th 2008, a full 7 months before Paperchase bought the artwork from their design studio. Fellow twitterer TotallyToRA even found a Flickr page that shows the image tagged as having been created no later than March 31st 2008.

The timelines seem to add up, the work was created, and even sold in early 2008. It even had some minor buzz among fans of the style of work perhaps, and then later that year an amazingly similar design is sold for untold money to a company that makes profit off of the original illustrators hard work.

Right now they're standing by their story, as can be seen in the Telegraph, that they have "rigorously" investigated this claim and can't come up with any other answer than that they are right. It's an abomination of a stance given the evidence that is out there and the general common sense that can be applied to see the vast similarity of the two sets of work.

It's highlighting how powerless people are to back themselves up legally on these arguments, and it's likely Paperchase and their studio of choice knows this. When an individual has to stump up thousands to fight companies that plagiarise their innovation it's hardly likely that a company is ever going to be brought to justice. But in this age of "twitter mobs" there is more consumer power, to demand honesty and transparency, and given the evidence scattered around the web right now I think it is only just that we all call on Paperchase to name the studio that so evidently stole this work and to no longer use their services in the future.


Paperchase have updated their statement (and with it updated the dates they claim they first bought the artwork, always something concerning when dealing with official statements)...

Gather No Moss, the Agency we bought the artwork from, have asked us to post the following statement:

"We are the small design company that represents the independent artist who created the Paperchase design. We have contacted Hidden Eloise by email and are hoping to talk with her soon. We carry the work of designers who like Hidden Eloise are all trying hard to make a living through their art. We would never knowingly sell a design that infringes the copyright of a fellow artist. We have worked with Paperchase for many years and found them a great supporter of independent artists."

Hopefully HiddenEloise will be able to get some closure through all of this, and the support that she's received. It's annoying that Paperchase still can't address a concerned public reasonably, but clearly the pressure has opened up a door for HiddenEloise to make a more strident move towards justice.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Tories on electoral reform, a peak at the real Tories

It was interesting to read during yesterdays debate on allowing a referendum on electoral reform that Iain Dale thought that the Lib Dem's, of all people, were tying themselves in knots during the evening. One could only assume that he temporarily forgot which MPs belonged to which party. Having watched the majority of the debate, admittedly from a pro-reform stance, there were some very clear competencies being shown.

Labour front benches were very much doing this for opportunistic ends, Straw looked comfortable delivering the message but he didn't seem comfortable answering the accusations of his change of view on FPTP in such a short space of time. He flat out ignored questions that asked him how he would campaign come the referendum.

However, saying that, it was clear that there were back benchers in the Labour ranks that truly wanted AV. They argued with passion and conviction that is in my opinion rarely seen from the Labour party, and with a degree of humility to the situation that brings them to needing to consider this option. It was said more than a few times that it was a travesty that only a third of the house could currently claim to be supported by a majority of their constituents.

Lib Dems, far from being wound in knots, were the only party that stood with absolute conviction in it's stance. Not hard really since this has been one of their major points for god knows how long. Their stance was simple, they want PR but they'll take a fairer system that tackles tactical voting over FPTP if that's how it goes. Small steps in the right direction are preferable to staying in an awful situation.

But the Tories? The Tories really took the biscuit, like adolescents railing against an inevitability and doing everything they could to thrash out at the reality closing around them.

Firstly they argued that the £80m cost of running a referendum, which is in all terms a relatively tiny amount of money, shouldn't be spent on this. Apparently democracy isn't worth spending money on in a Tory world. Instead, for example, they said it could open rape crisis centers, which I suppose would certainly delivered under a Tory government given how keen their London Mayor is on Rape Crisis funding.

Then they moved on to the lack of appetite for electoral reform, which can only barely be backed up in part by a handful of polls that have come out. Completely mixing up the question of what is important for MPs to be doing right now, and whether they would welcome the opportunity to have their say was the order of the day. What is clear from the polls and less stated is that the public generally want to change the voting system, they seemingly understand that FPTP is in part to blame for some of the problems with safe seats and corrupt MPs as Mark Reckons went in to last year.

Yet if the Tories were able to they would try to sell you that FPTP isn't a problem with safe seats. See this exchange between a seemingly directionless Dominic Grieve and a more prepared Chris Huhne....

Mr. Grieve: There is no perfect system, although I am bound to say- [ Interruption. ] No, there is not: there is no perfect system, and I defy the Liberal Democrats to argue that there is. I do not put it past them to try to run such an argument, which I look forward to, but I am singularly unconvinced by it. First past the post delivers clarity; it is well established in this country; and it enables electorates to get rid of Members whom they do not want and express a clear choice. The alternative vote system, with which the Liberal Democrats are being seduced, skews the result towards far greater unfairness than anything that first past the post could ever achieve.

Chris Huhne: The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the existing system allows people to get rid of MPs whom they do not like, but they can do so only if they are prepared to change their party allegiance. Many people are not prepared to do so, and only the Irish system-the single transferable vote system-allows people to choose the party and the person. Indeed, one third of people who lose their seats in the Irish system lose it to members of their own party. That is discipline; that would get rid of safe seats; and that would ensure that voters' choice really did count.

Mr. Grieve: Voters can make up their own mind, and I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Voters are offered a clear series of choices to make, including whether they wish to vote tactically-something that Liberal Democrats specialise in. On the whole, that is not a major problem and, indeed, they benefit from tactical voting, as they readily admit. Their by-election literature is all about tactical voting. How often have I seen "Only the Liberal Democrats can win here" on election literature. The hon. Gentleman's argument therefore has no basis whatever.

This brief exchange exemplifies the reality of the debate throughout it's length, and is why Dale's view on who was talking sense or not is laughable. When talking about giving voters choice the Tories are happy to pretend that die hard Tories (or any other party members) would readily swap their vote to a different party just to dethrone their local MP. Rather than admit that real voter choice is about being able to keep your party allegiance but swap your representative, a practice that would clearly allow corrupt and entrenched lame duck MPs to be removed from the house, his response is that "voters can make up their own mind". Of course in a Tory rule what you'll be able to make your mind up on will be the same narrow field of options you've always had that have led to MP after MP abusing their position.

Where the Tories involved really tied themselves up was in their arguments about the reform options themselves. Clearly unable to simply argue that actually they like the status quo (this was only mentioned a couple of times) they instead attacked Labour for wanting to use AV because it was "less proportionate". There is, of course, no hard evidence that it WILL be less proportionate, but their argument was based on some highly presumptuous studies performed by Straw and his team at a time when Labour were trying to quash electoral reform.

Yet when the more proportional STV came up suddenly that was too proportional for them and would lead to chaos. They would have at least had some integrity if they'd have just came out and explicitly said they like FPTP because it's the one system that delivers them more seats than they should have above any other, instead they chose to attack the other parties in reverse, seemingly oblivious that any bashing of Labour or Lib Dem for wanting systems that give them more seats and Tories less means, in reverse, that they are supporting a system that gives them more seats and Lib Dem's and Labour less.

Fairness? Not in their vocabulary, even if it isn't in the other parties' either.

How they can be trusted on the issue of which system was best came under scrutiny anyway. Citing systems that are used in other countries that were neither AV or STV so they could promote FPTP, claiming in the most bizarre fashion that minority parties would be given more power under AV (something that is less possible than under FPTP), and also claiming that parties would continue to operate in the same fashion they currently do under STV, hence why it would fail, despite all evidence as to how parties in other countries operate in practice over delivering manifesto commitments. The bottom line is that the Tories arguments over electoral reform were all over the place, inconsistent, and even patently false.

But by and far, as perhaps shown by the new and distastefully false tombstone poster campaign, the tactic was to attack Gordon Brown, to attack him as an opportunist, and to attack him as a man without any real plans so needing to come up with "gimmicks" like this referendum. Quite as insulting as that insinuation is to those of us that believe it's time for our parliament to be made more accountable through our voting processes, it was even more insulting that the Tory party should use so much of their time intended to debate the idea of a referendum to attack the leader of their opposition.

Not that it was solely Gordon Brown that bore the abuse, they also made multiple digs at the Lib Dems, something that Labour managed to keep from doing in more than the "playful" manner you'd expect rather than pathetic point scoring manner that the Tories displayed. Even when the Lib Dem's approached the issue of why this was happening it was limited to a single paragraph of rather tame questioning about motives. Dignity and honour, it seems, is not something the Tories care about showing at this stage in an election campaign.

If that weren't enough, as if they hadn't worn themselves out flip flopping between differing arguments that were superfluous to their main point (that they like FPTP, and they don't like either of the alternatives that would rightly reduce their inflated share of seats), come the end it was up to Grieve to offer a point of order...

Mr. Grieve: On a point of order, Madam Chairman. The reality is that, without the debate having been long-winded, yet again we have failed to consider a large number of clauses, including on questions of mental illness of Members of Parliament, the role of the Attorney-General, war powers, code of conduct for publicly funded bodies, royal marriages and succession to the Crown, complaints to the parliamentary commissioner, and parliamentary constituencies and elections. Is it not making a mockery of the House that yet again we show ourselves utterly unable to consider and scrutinise legislation properly?

After hours of them using their time to attack Brown, to make false statements about AV and STV, to attack the Lib Dems, to attack Straw, to snub voter choice, to argue both against disproportionally and against proportionality simultaneously, to argue about whether the vote on allowing money to be spent on a referendum should come before or after the vote on having a referendum (like it even bloody matters) and to bring up references multiple times to Israel, a country that doesn't even use either of the systems that were being proposed to be put to the public through the referendum, all in a futile attempt to stop the pubic getting their say on this matter...after all that time wasted Grieve still had the audacity to stand up and claim that it was the whole house's fault, rather than just hot air filled, filibuster-esque Tories, that they didn't get to discuss their preferred parts of the bill?

Are these people really the ones we want in power to supposedly give us, the general population, more power and choice over our representatives...because on this evidence we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot if this is the "change" that the country would get. Indeed, when it comes to how our rights and powers over MPs, "we can't go on like this" with a Tory government standing in the way of reform and progress.