Submitted as a point of discussion.
The Duesenberg MC Starplayer guitar has been discussed aplenty in these forums. The discussions have been mostly of a spontaneous nature but also stimulated by shared marketing information from the manufacturer. The guitar is a favorite of a number of members, and I know of one who even owns and plays one. There can be no greater endorsement by a guitarist.
I have seen Mike play this guitar several times and if I am any judge I would say that he rather fancies the instrument.
There is absolutely a legitimate place for Artist endorsement of products. Similarly there is absolutely a legitimate place for product advertising. But it may be that the best endorsement of all is the spontaneous positive chatter on internet forums. That is the kind of ‘buzz’ that is the envy of advertisers everywhere.
Should a line be drawn between spontaneous discussions and officially sanctioned Artist endorsements and Manufacturer advertising? That line can become blurry in the information age, even without ‘astroturfing’ on internet forums. I am proud to say that very little astroturfing goes on here at the Farm and it is absolutely not encouraged in my experience.
And so the positive discussions about the Starplayer guitar on these forums are heartfelt.
What happens if the line between spontaneous contributions and marketing becomes blurred? Well, for one you can’t be sure if you are getting the straight story, or are being groomed to hopefully purchase a product or service by someone with a hidden agenda. This may greatly undermine the value of the forum. Similarly blatant astroturfing may backfire on the perpetrator and generate negative PR.
I submit that we must be careful to draw a distinction between discussions originating from commercial and non commercial motivations – between spontaneous user contributions and marketing copy or submissions from an online army of astroturfers.
What are the IP implications?
Well, I’m sure everyone knows you can’t take someone elses work and use it commercially without their permission. We wouldn’t think of taking some of Tom Petty’s music (his IP) and re-selling it to others to turn a profit. After years of indoctrination from the record labels, we should also know that giving it away free is also a no no unless officially sanctioned. Instinctively we know all of that is wrong without prior permission. But lord does it go on.
Do the IP Laws work the other way around? (They are supposed to as well - sometimes)
Although it may fit the strict legal definition of ‘fair use’ to take internet forum contributions without asking and use them for analysis, research, data mining, etc. it can absolutely feel like an intrusion and violation to those whose words are thus harvested – if they discover it.
There is an ongoing situation like this on the official Tom Petty website involving text contributions of forum members – an area with little automatic protection as compared to photographic submissions which are imbued with a copyright starting the moment the shutter was released.
IP laws exist to try and protect the IP owners from unsanctioned or unauthorized usage. One tenet of these laws as applied to photography is that commercial usage requires approval from the IP owner (not to mention all kinds of other parties who may have an interest in the image).
These laws exist for good reason. You may have read about the Times Square Billboard featuring President Obama who happened to be wearing a particular manufacturer’s outerwear when a photo was taken. The photo was licensed from the photographer by the outerwear manufacturer, but the outerwear company did not seek a modeling release from the President. The billboard is coming down now that the President has objected since he is one of the stakeholders and he gets to make that decision. I am not mentioning the company name because viral marketing as a result of the incident was what they were seeking.
If a fan / photographer were to willingly upload their image to a manufacturer’s website – and agreed to its redistribution in that context – then the IP has been effectively ‘licensed’ by the manufacturer. Its all above board provided the other stakeholders sign off.
If on the other hand the manufacturer scoops up an image without permission and redistributes it in a commercial context, it is a breach.
The IP laws exist specifically to ensure that the photographer is OK with the proposed usage. In the information age, the line between astroturfing, legitimate spontaneous fan endorsements, and celebrity endorsements are in danger of becoming blurred. Adhering to these laws helps to ensure the continued equity of spontaneous accolades from fans and guitarists for the Starplayer guitar in online communities. It also helps to protect the sanctity of non commercial endeavors whenever and wherever they exist.
(I took the photos of Mike and Slash playing the guitar because the artists were passionately engaged in making music that I love - and I was moved. I thought others might be too. That they were playing a Duesenberg guitar at the time might have been coincidental, but I think the passion on their faces says something about these artists and by conjecture their relationship with the instrument. Thats excellent advertising whether its on a manufacturer tied site or a fan community. I would ask that this be enough as it seems a fair line to draw considering the source of those images.)