Let's talk about having a Big Name and one's reputation for a few.
People who read me on a regular basis know that I will watch a hot topic for awhile before saying anything, and then, when I do, I usually say what everyone else hints at but doesn't come right out and say, either due to fear or other reasons.
I also don't make a habit of speaking out on things unless (a) I've done some research and/or (b) I'm well-versed on the subject.
When you become a Big Name, you build a reputation in both the general community and business circles. You strive (or should strive) for a good reputation; in other words, you offer good products, excellent customer service - and here's something some don't consider - you don't make accusatory half-assed statements against individuals, groups, or companies unless you are dead certain of what you are saying and can back it up.
I put time in under the volunteer program of AOL, before they abolished it. Two and one-half years worth of time. During that time, I worked in the roleplay areas of the gaming division, and eventually I was put into a supervisory position which required that I know more about copyright and intellectual property than I'd known prior to that time. I took the time to do research, and, in turn, firmed up our guidelines on using material that other people originated. I did such a good job that AOL used my findings to firm up their own guidelines on such things.
Anyone who speaks to me on copyright matters knows I know what I talk about, so if I do speak out on the subject, I don't do so, lightly.
One thing that sticks a bone in my craw is to see a Big Name Creator from Second Life suddenly thinking they can point fingers, accuse, and say anything they want about others, and because they're a Big Name, they will get away with it.
Having a Big Name doesn't mean you're infallible; all it means is, up till this point, you've at least delivered on both product and customer service, and people have learned to like your company. Also, should there be those looking to poke holes in this post, it likely means you've done other things which have caused others to hold you in high regard.
All that can come tumbling down like a house of cards if you "rest on your laurels" then go on a tirade about something or someone.
I've recently traded words with Heart Botanicals, as many of you know. They are known for an excellent product and, as far as I know, good customer service. I own plants from their company myself.
The entire kerfluffle started, when the Heart Sisters (as I've come to calling them) saw some pictures from an up-and-coming OpenSim-based grid, and believed that they saw copies of their plants on that grid without permission. What makes the situation entirely ludicrous is not that there was a possibility that someone copied their product and transported it to another grid - but the way the Heart Sisters chose to handle the situation.
Instead of going to that grid and determining if those specific plants were copies of their work, they decided to sound off on their blog and in public forums, blaming the grid for the alleged copies. People did ask them if they pursued any sort of DMCA action, and were told that it was a waste of time. Translation: We feel we have the right to make baseless accusations in a public forum, but when it comes to doing the work to address the issue, we don't feel we have to and/or want to.
Why do I say they were baseless? Because the Heart Sisters failed to do what any Big Name Creator would and should do in a situation like this: Mark their creations in a way that they can identify, go to the grid in question and see if the plants involved were marked thus, and if they were found to be copies, file a DMCA takedown notice, and consider a copyright lawsuit against the INDIVIDUAL who did the copying.
If you're a Big Name, it's not wise to point very public fingers in the wrong direction without SOME sort of something to back it up. Wrong direction you say? That's right, the wrong direction. They pointed their fingers at the GRID who, incidentally, had a full DMCA policy in place and claimed "Safe Harbor" status under the law.
They expected everyone to just believe them, because, after all, they're a Big Name. Sorry, but making a decent profit in virtual worlds is as dependent on blind luck as it is on talent and connections. A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time, and taking advantage of the opportunities presented. You lend credence to your name by how you treat your customers and how you behave in general once you have become established. Going off on a wild hair based entirely upon a picture without doing your homework will erode your credibility and your perceived integrity.
I didn't say anything the first time. As with most people I hoped it was the only time, and I gave the Heart Sisters the benefit of the doubt. Then, they did the same thing with the Inworldz Grid and posted their screed to the Second Life forums, where they figured it would do the most damage to Inworldz's reputation. This time, there were many people - including one of the Inworldz Founders - who called them on it and pressed them to follow the wiser path rather than simply blame the grid. Nothing was said, but people, like me, remembered.
Third time I was witness to it was shortly after the debut of Kitely. This time, the Heart Sisters claimed they saw illegal copies of their plants in a picture posted by a prominent newsperson at Hypergrid Business. Rather than risk her own reputation, the newsperson removed the plants. However - yet again, for the third time that I am aware of, the Heart Sisters pointed fingers at the grid.
By this time many of us were wondering if they were getting "paid on the side" by Linden Lab to say such things. Why else would someone so obviously risk their public reputation libeling bona fide company-run grids, when anyone familiar with DMCA knows that it is not the grids that should be blamed, and definitely NOT in a public forum with no solid proof?
This time I called Heart Botanicals on the carpet, and demanded that they provide proof that the specific plants pictured were actual copies of their plants.
First I was regaled with all kinds of OMGWTFBBQ by staunch Heart supporters, who either do not know the basics of copyright law, DMCA, and IP rights, or are (incorrectly) assuming that Heart did their homework. That was easy enough to ignore, till I saw two things: One, an anonymous comment which, by the wording and condescending attitude, couldn't have come from anyone else but Lilith Heart, and two, a post to the Heart Botanicals blog which, by the way, does not allow comments.
By this time, in MY eyes (and likely the eyes of others) this was the third time that Heart went out on a limb accusing a new grid of harboring a copybotter knowingly. This alone substantially erodes their reputation since there is no legal proof that the plants were a direct copy and not simply originated using the same software Heart used to generate them. Then, to make matters worse, they turned my words around on their blog (and likely in public forums I have yet to discover) and claimed I was accusing them of somehow "faking" their creations. That isn't what I said, and it isn't what I alleged.
I used to be their customer, but I won't be, anymore. I staunchly refuse to support a virtual world merchant who flies off into wild tirades without any solid, legal proof. I much rather make my own than ever touch one of their plants, ever again. Now are they going to run a fine-toothed comb over MY stuff and find some reason to claim that *I* copybotted them? If not them, then perhaps their "blind faith" supporters...and this is how these insanely infantile things start.
Heart didn't think they needed to take the High Road, and they, too, will lose ground because they rather spout off than take the steps which would enforce their credibility. They are a lesson to be learned from.
Don't automatically assume you can get away with anything just because you have a Big Name. How many concrete-world corporations, once highly respected, crashed and burned because the management was doing something entirely foolish? A look at what happened with Wall Street in 2006 will give you plenty of examples of what NOT to do if you want to maintain a good reputation.
Rising to the top and getting enough income to pay concrete-life bills in a virtual world - in other words, getting a Big Name - can be an incredible feeling. Being so recognized for your work is what most creators strive for...but the moment you let your ego get in the way of your common sense, you can lose it all in a heartbeat. Don't be careless and foolish.