Many Second Life T-Shirts Use Unauthorized Copies of Real Life Art, Says Leading Fashionista
The cool T-shirt above, "Rabbit without a cause", was created by indie artist Niklas Coskan, and if you're in the market to buy a shirt for yourself or a friend, you should go here to consider getting this one.
There's a virtual version of the same shirt currently being sold to Second Life avatars, and it's being sold by someone else in the SL Marketplace. However, you should not buy that one, because it's not being sold by Niklas Coskan, nor did the seller (who I will not name or link to) seek Coskan's permission to use his art, nor is Coskan getting a cut of the revenue of the L$ sales. I confirmed all this with Niklas Coskan a couple weeks ago, and he expressed surprise that an unauthorized copy of his shirt was being sold like this in Second Life, and told me he wanted to have it removed from the SL Marketplace. At the moment, however, it's still available in the Marketplace. (Screencap below.)
According to OMGWTF Barbecue -- which is the wacky name of a well-known avatar in the SL fashionista community -- this state of things is fairly typical in the Second Life-based fashion industry:
Unauthorized copy of Nikloas Coskan's T-shirt design on the SL Marketplace
"99% of the time," Ms. Barbecue said in a recent Plurk thread (and many SLers following the conversation chimed in to more or less agree), "if you see a cool graphic tee in SL, the artwork is [unauthorized]. I can only think of a handful of people who draw their own." (She used another word than "unauthorized", but I'd rather use that word, than deal with the legalities of the one she did employ.)
"Some extremely successful/popular stores have [unauthorized] art and no one has ever questioned them," she went on. "Even when exposed, people don't seem to care." I've seen many instances of this myself. And while there's a fair use argument for non-commercial cosplay and other unauthorized reproductions of copyrighted material from large media companies, what we're talking about here is blatantly commercial appropriation of unauthorized works that wree originally made by indie artists who don't have a legal team to aggressively protect their intellectual property.
"I guess maybe a lot of people don't see a big deal in grabbing images from Google and slapping them on a T-shirt," Ms. Barbecue mused. "I've spent years of my life illustrating, so I can easily tell when something looks fishy, like if one store/creator is selling graphic T-shirts and all of the work is in varying styles." Then it's probably unauthorized." Which sounds like a good rule of thumb to me: If you see an SL store carrying a lot of different types of art designs, before buying, ask the owner if they got all the artists' permission to use them.
And while I'm at it, here's some advice for SL T-shirt sellers -- rather than just randomly copying and using someone's designs on the assumption that it's just a game, so what's the big deal, take the time to ask the designer for their permission, and offer them a revenue sharing deal. Chances are many will go for the opportunity to promote and sell their works in another medium, and can even help you with cross-promotion, so you can sell more. You're likely to make more money, while keeping your karma clean.