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Thursday, September 29, 2011


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Arwyn Quandry

Thank you Iris! Avatar morphs are so incredibly wrong, creepy and ugly, I don't get why people keep doing them. It doesn't add realism to your photos, it just makes them disturbing!

Shockwave Plasma

It's not art, it's just ugly.

Frans Charming

Hear hear. This has been bothering me as well.

Rowan Derryth

Spot on - but there may be a PhD in 'Avatar Morphs and the Uncanny'

Duchamp would have loved this.

Raza Lane

Great article Iris. I agree with your dislike for morphs, and have also noticed their increasing presence in "SL photostreams". Morphing RL pics with SL ones seem to take the very point out of using SL to create unique objects and human like expressions of ourselves.


It's not just "dangerously close to" IP theft, it is IP theft: it's copyright infringement of the photographer's copyrighted photograph; and, when the morpher uses a photograph of a celebrity (in California, for a commercial purpose), it's infringement of the right of publicity. Just because the photographers and celebrities in question aren't aware of the violations and aren't suing anyone yet doesn't mean it isn't infringement.

Hamlet Au

Vaki, is there a particular law which specifies morphs as infringement, or has it been tested in court? Since we're not lawyers, we weren't sure if morphs were straight up IP theft.

Kay Fairey

I totally agree. While I do respect how people who are into SL photography can have fun with the creative process or the outcome of morphed pics, it should be kept to their enjoyment especially for the reason you give as #2. They do not "own" the pics they use and it's illegal abuse of pics created by others.
But more than anything, what bothers me is how some SL models use morphed pics for their profile or portfolio. This is like a false advertising of the model and simply bad taste.
It's just wrong in so many levels and if an SL model can't see that, it just shows how she/he lacks in attention to creative rights, which is an important knowledge or awareness you need if you want to work as an SL model (or a RL model for that respect).

Kimberly Winnington (Gianna Borgnine inSL)

Morphs are definitely 100% copyright infringement.

Virtually all original works created (including photographs)are protected by copyright. The Copyright Act is federal law, not state law. Consequently, the law is uniform throughout the United States and since the United States has signed several international copyright agreements, copyright protection is effective essentially all over the world.

Generally, owners of copyright have the EXCLUSIVE right to use, copy, reproduce their works. While, copyright owners can authorize others to use their works, the use or copying of any work without permission from the owner of the copyright is infringement.

The only exception is "fair use." Under the fair use doctrine, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work for purposes such as commentary, criticism, and news reporting. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on the circumstances, however I cannot see any circumstance in which most SL morphs would be considered fair use.

And as Iris said.. they're just creepy.


Hamlet -- without trying to actually give anybody legal advice here: wrt copyright, they're a derivative work. Yes, the subject of derivative works could (and does) take up entire textbooks, but the important bit to understand is that even if you take a copyrighted work (like a photograph) and make a whole new picture from it (like a morph), the original copyrighted work is still protected. If the morpher didn't have permission to use the original work, the resulting work probably infringes the original copyright (unless the amount taken is negligible, or the change is total, etc). So...yeah. It's taking somebody's copyrighted work.

P.S., just because somebody has put an image on the internet doesn't mean it's public domain. It amazes me how many people assume that.

Myf McMahon

@ Vaki: a blanket statement that morphs equal copyright violation is flat out wrong. Since we're talking by and large about Flickr, it is worth remembering that Flickr does allow for publishing under Creative Commons licenses and there is room under such licensing for the creation of derivative works, if the copyright holder so allows.

A conscientious "morpher" will be paying attention to this, using only works that allow derivatives and always making sure they include attribution. Of course how many pay attention to the legal niceties, that's a different question.


WORD. Thank you for calling out this atrocious trend for the idiocy that it is.

I don't care as much that it violates copyrights, I just feel sorry for the people who do this. They make themselves look like such fools.

I feel obligated to link to the worst offender I've seen yet as an example of why no one should ever do this:



I've always seen this but never really thought much about what I was seeing. I think passively I've distrusted places, profiles and products I've seen this kind of stuff because it seemed odd.

I didn't know it had a name. I definitely didn't know it was a trend.

Great article Iris and I agree with your points.

Ananda Sandgrain

The word "theft" is getting thrown around in relation to copyright infringement again and so I feel I have to remind people again that IP is an artificial monopoly on the sharing of abundant goods, it is not theft in any sense of the word, outside the fevered imaginations of creators who think that somehow the sharing of their work has robbed them of some theoretical amount of money or reputation they might have otherwise gained.

In any case, the morphs I think we're talking about are a gray area. They are in the zone of derivative works or parodies of the original work and probably could not claim their own copyrights because of that, but that is very different from suggesting that they are clear copyright *infringement* or *theft*.

I felt I had to add a dissenting voice to this because I don't think people really think through how nearly *every* digital creation, in SL or elsewhere online, is a mashup, a remix, a collage of things that depend utterly on the free use of prior creations. Overly zealous copyright-monopoly witchhunts can turn into footbullets. For instance, how many bloggers of SL fashion or news got written permission from every avatar they took a photo of, every clothing, accessory, landscaping creator, to depict and make use of their work? At some point reasonability just has to win out.

That said, if someone asked me if these morphs had any merit on the basis of art, god no.


Let's assume that Ananda's right and all proprietary IP is the world's for the taking.

The insipid practice that is avatar morphing still sucks.

(Plus, Ananda's wrong, both on the legal and the ethical front.)

Connie Arida

Always never liked them myself. A personal opinion.

Ananda Sandgrain

@Kim I never asserted anything of the sort (that all IP is free for the taking).

As for wrongness - up until the digital age and our mind-warped notions of when someone has purchased something they bought or simply "licensed" it - copyright was not about *use*. If you bought a book or a painting you were free to use it however you wanted, copyright was about *distribution*.

And, please, there's more to ethics than an individual's divine right to profit at everyone else's expense for all time.


I am glad that the IP theft argument comes up in this connection. I always disliked photo-sourced clothing in SL because of this reason. And essentially there is no difference between a morph pic and a 'morphed' pic onto a SL clothing template. But unlike with morph pics photo-sourced clothes are highly popular in SL from renowned shops like emery, fishy strawberry or mon tissue who base their entire collections on images taken from online-shops. If one does a quick search for example on www.net-a-porter.com everyone will find something from there in their SL inventory.
But saying that out load you will get trashed by the SL fashionista community.
And i have to repeat it again: its the same technical procedure as in morph pics, for both you need some time, skills and tweaking. But if one brings in the argument people should not earn money with morph pics because of the copy-right infringement, even more one would have to say that about photo-sourced based SL shops.

Arcadia Codesmith

Most of us know intuitively that taking somebody else's work without permission is wrong.

The word for somebody who doesn't know that is sociopath. Or criminal. Or both, take your pick.

Harper Beresford

If we're going to call fair's fair, how about SL photos that are superimposed on backgrounds people got elsewhere? Morphs are simply a very blatant (and yes, creepy) example of mashups of different pieces from different sources. Are we going to nail people for not attributing the skin, shape, etc in every single photo? Lots of people calling the kettle black when they gripe about morphs. I say let creepy exist alongside the rest. Someone wants to show a morph in their profile, pfff.. let them do it. They look like dorks to ME but that's my taste. Someone wants to do it in an ad, chances are I won't purchase.

As for photosourcing, many creators use photo bases, a lot of them legally obtained (as in they paid for access to the images). And a lot more in SL is photosourced than people realize.

gnu man

The idea that information can be *owned* is a hegemonic assumption that most people have been conditioned to accept. A lot of us think it is immoral to pretend that information can be owned by anyone, and we aren't "sociopaths" or "criminals".

There is no moral obligation to ask permission -- the only moral obligation is to give credit. And that is what I regret is not happening in this case, or in-world more generally with photo-sourced materials.

Galatea Gynoid

@gnu man: The fact of the matter is, information can be owned. This is not an assumption, this is not pretending, this is a legal truth. It may very well be a moral outrage, but it's a legal fact regardless of what you think of it.

Adeon Writer

I wonder if it's just as bad to take vendor art photo with 16xAA, full shadows, SSAO, global illumination... It's still SL after all, but only the way 0.02% will actually see it.

Zenny B

Morph images are vile in my opnion and people who use them..should be taken out and shot...they are usually badly done and overpriced.

Unicorn Vendetta

this always makes me laugh: http://www.flickr.com/photos/poorang/4765333620/in/photostream

Gwyneth Llewelyn

There is art, and then there is kitsch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitsch). Assuming that the "morpher" has used images with permissions from their IP owners (or taken the pictures themselves!), assembling a digital image out of bits can be considered "digital art" and is as valid as any other form. I have no problem with that. I just don't accept that all morphs are actually "art"; most are simply kitsch and worthless as an art form. I'm also not aware of "good" examples of artistic images using morphs, so I might be biased against them as a rule just because, well, for every artist there are at least a thousand skilled designers who just produce worthless kitsch.

The use of morphed images (as well as images done with Maya, Blender, etc.) to sell a product in SL is something more complex. Of course the consumer feels cheated. But this is nothing more, nothing less what the industry — specially the cosmetic industry — has been doing for years. Only very recently some consumer organisations have managed to complain and get some ads removed that were so outrageously photoshopped that it was really going too far (read http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/27/loreal-julia-roberts-ad-banned). Of course Julia Roberts is a well-known celebrity and nobody believes she can look so good, but what about the hundreds of thousands of models posing for other products whom we don't know but which get an intense "Photoshop treatment" to allure consumers to buy those products?

It's a complex ethical question. The truth is that even before Photoshop, photographers would use a lot of tricks in the developing chamber to get the image "just right" and subtly different from "reality". Reality, in effect, is just a perception we commonly share, it doesn't truly exist intrinsically. Those heavilly-photoshopped images just reveal to us this simple truth and we feel uncomfortable about them.

One might argue that even makeup is an artificial enhancement that doesn't show one woman's "true beauty" — and that's why some radical fashion creators are putting their models on the catwalk without any makeup to show the world how truly beautiful they are. But, again, how far can this go? Those models are also not "everyday persons" but handpicked from a rare selection of conventional beauties. But certainly the fashion designers want to pass the image that any woman can look as gorgeous as those models if they just buy their creations... which obviously won't be the case.

I know I'm sidetracking the issue. It's a rather complex ethical question. But at the end of the day, I guess that what matters is if you like a morphed image or not. I'd say I'm in the group that dislikes them because, so far, I haven't seen any image that was convincing enough, and so the illusion was always dispelled by some minor detail — but perhaps I just didn't watch enough images :)

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