No, it is *not* your technique – it’s time for “open source” LEGO design [Editorial]

Merriam-Webster defines the act of plagiarism as:

to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : [to] use (another’s production) without crediting the source.

Unfortunately, plagiarism is something we LEGO fans witness all too often online. “Hey, some kid on stole my photo and entered it in a contest. And he won!” or “There’s this scumbag on eBay selling copies of a MOC that I designed!”

I think we can all agree that stealing photos or selling someone else’s design for profit are both damaging to the legitimacy of LEGO as an artform and to LEGO builders as a community.

(Some good news is that the Brick-Busters are doing a good job of dealing with the kids on, though the problem is much broader than their scope.)

However, accusations of plagiarism seem just as common between LEGO builders. “Dude, aren’t you going to credit me for combining these three pieces in this particular way?” or “Here’s a photo of an awesome technique I just thought up. I call it SNOT. Please credit me if you use it.”

I believe that claiming ownership or requesting credit for building techniques can have a stifling effect on the creativity we all value so much, and therefore doing so can be just as damaging — in different ways — as real plagiarism. I’m proposing that we embrace a more open approach to building techniques by abandoning the possessive attitude too many of us have about the way we’ve put a few LEGO bricks together.

copyleft symbolOf course, what I’m suggesting as it applies to LEGO isn’t unique either. Open source software has proved competitive with traditional boxed products. An increasing number of writers are embracing “copyleft” and open content philosophies as alternatives to traditional copyright.

Creative Commons logoBoing Boing contributor and science fiction author Cory Doctorow releases his work under a Creative Commons license — specifically, the same license under which The Brothers Brick releases our original content. (All of my own LEGO photos on Flickr are also posted with the same CC license.)

What I love about LEGO builders as a community is how collaborative we are. In most cases, someone who finds what they consider a new type of connection or an innovative use for a part shares it with their LEGO friends expecting nothing in return. It might be easy to dismiss my earlier examples as coming only from the sticky typing fingers of the pre-teens and early teens crawling all over Flickr these days, but I read those kinds of comments from adults all too frequently too.

This attitude is self-congratulatory at best, and has the danger of stifling others’ creativity. Before I had my “open LEGO” epiphany, there was more than one occasion when I paused while building to think whether I wanted to bother listing in my photo description later all the potential places where I might have first seen the technique I was using.

In a creative medium that values collaboration and innovation, I don’t believe claims of ownership for building techniques have any place.

What do you think? Are these claims just annoying, or worse? Sound off in the comments.

44 comments on “No, it is *not* your technique – it’s time for “open source” LEGO design [Editorial]

  1. Herman

    I see a lot of interesting ideas on the web, especially certain weblogs… I use some of them in my own designs. Changes are some features are thought of by multiple people. I am not going to gather all the names of the 27 people that I have images from on my harddrive for inspiration.

    There’s a difference in copying ideas and copying entire buildings/photo’s though. Copy-pasting an image as your own makes you a something-hole, and also you don’t get to actually build with Lego so where’s the fun in that?

  2. Starwars4J

    I completely agree that people should not go around expecting credit for every single combination they come up with, however I do believe that, if a feature was particularly inspired by someone else’s technique that they posted online, a mention (while not mandatory) would be polite.

    I also think that a lot of it stems from people wanting to be known and recognized in the LEGO circles. Unfortunately I must point to behavior of blogs like TBB for actually encouraging this behavior, and I hope very much that this editorial will, in the future, somewhat change the way creations are blogged.

    Many times I have seen techniques be the reason something on here was blogged, with something along the lines of “and look at this brilliant technique by so-and-so in their whatsamacallit MOC”. While it may be nice to share techniques (though we do have a Flickr group that does that brilliantly and really needs more attention and activity), I think that puts too much focus on people wanting to be credited for a technique, to get their name or their MOC highlighted, which then inevitably drives people to post “Hey, that isn’t new! I used that before!”. I have to admit, I have seen posts here where even I have had to hold myself back from saying “Well actually I used this technique two years ago…”.

    What I’m essentially trying to say is, that if we want ideas and techniques to be truly open source, where people donate them solely to further the art of building, then we need to stop attributing techniques to people in the first place, especially headlining them and their MOC as “genius” or “innovative”, since really that will only drive people to want to hoard the praise for themselves (it’s really human nature). Let’s make it more about how the techniques are used than who came up with them.

    I hope I haven’t stepped on too many toes in writing this.

  3. gambort

    Strange. I just had a long discussion about this on the weekend brought on by my highlighting of some genuine plagiarism.

    Briefly and pedantically I have to say that your open source analogy is flawed here, Andrew, as copyleft licenses usually explicitly require the source and attribution to be passed along with any derivative works. Most of them not only encourage but require attribution (although I believe some Creative Commons variants do not).

    I think that, where an idea has been copied and you know the source of it you should pass on the credit. Because of the medium the applied techniques are an integral part of the design process and can’t easily be separated. I don’t agree with Starwars4J that spotlighting techniques is any part of the problem. It is, as it always has been, a major part of the solution. We would not be here today were it not for people highlighting techniques.

    I agree that most SNOT techniques don’t need credit as there are plenty of examples out there and they’re a simple matter of geometry. Strange connections, clever parts usage and similar ideas are different. They are often an integral and non-obvious part of a creation and should be credited accordingly. Not always but when appropriate.

    Or in short: if someone did something tricky that was a major help you should credit it.

  4. gambort

    Incidentally I assume that “though we do have a Flickr group that does that brilliantly and really needs more attention and activity” refers to this one.

    I feel compelled to make it clear here that the group is quite tightly controlled (ultimately by me) so if you’re looking for somewhere to dump a bunch of pics of ideas you’ve had it may not be the group for you. If, instead, you are looking for a catalogue of useful and interesting techniques you may have found your match.

  5. Brad

    Although I agree with you, Andrew, I think there are many miles more to go in the copyright and intellectual property debates. Applying ‘open source’ or ‘cc’ labels might be jumping the gun. It seems a bit ‘buzzwordy’ to me. However, this could be a result of ignorance and wrongful assumption on my part. :) This doesn’t really change the fact that I think you are right to say that builders should not be proprietary when it comes to how they build the model.

    Besides, I don’t think a LEGO building technique is copyrightable. If it were, we might all have some issues (and I would imagine the LEGO Group’s legal team would have made some inroads in that direction!).

    To end this, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. I think the reason why this comes up is because HOW something is made is a large part of the enjoyment. I think this is makes LEGO different from some other plastic arts – other artists learn technique as part of their training. For LEGO builders, we learn by looking at other mocs and asking, “How did they do that? How can I do that?” In fact, I think this desire drives the purity debate! When someone modifies parts or uses a different sub-set of pieces, other people can’t copy or can’t even identify the technique. So, I think the propriety sense some people might have about their techniques also comes from this point. I don’t think it will entirely go away, but I think Andrew is right that we can try and lessen its impact by trying to foster more openness.

  6. worker201

    It’s wrong to steal someone’s photos and pass them on as one’s own, even if they’re not formally copyrighted, and I’m glad someone is taking the time to go after those bastards. But I think the issue of techniques lies in another dimension altogether.

    I’ve always felt that the point of sharing pictures of Lego models was to give away techniques and ideas. It’s up to the community to police itself, and we have to decide when something has been grossly misappropriated (stolen), and take the appropriate actions (blacklisting).

  7. akeldama1984

    I have been lurking for quite some time but i had to come out of the wood work for this. Now i know why people look at lego users like comic book nerds, D&D players, and cosplayers. Some one getting uptight over not being credited for something they may or may not have come up with made out of childrens toys is just asinine. People need to take a chill pill.

    If someone is going to be that sensitive don’t post your pictures, some people keep great works of art locked away in private galleries instead of sharing them with the world. I wouldn’t shed a tear. I’m not some cynical guy trying to kick sand in the faces of lego fans, I myself am a huge fan of the medium and appreciate the amazing creations i see here and around the internet.

    When you start taking things to seriously it stops being fun. None of what i have posted is about taking other peoples pictures and claiming them as your own. It is wrong but hey its the internet, what can you do.

    If you want to always be the kid who never shares his toys, eventually you’ll end up playing all by yourself.

  8. Nabii

    For many years LEGO Designers were not allowed to say which set they had worked on – only the themes. This is because of the cross pollination of ideas/building techniques from the rest of the team means that often a LEGO set is a very collaborative effort. Also the rather Danish view that a Designer should not take credit for a LEGO creation as they did not invent the LEGO building system. (It’s a bit like telling Enzo Ferrari not to take credit as a car designer because he didn’t invent the wheel or the internal combustion engine, but that was the view.)
    This has shifted in recent years as now a Designer has to sign off on their sets and they take responsibility for any later issues related to design. But we still always feel it is important to point out how large a team of fellow Designers and LEGO Employees work to get ‘our sets’ to be a cool as I hope they are and into your hands. Even then to me it sometimes feels like I’m getting credit for doing the fun part while those who do the hard work get none!

    I guess I could make a similar ‘credit’ comment on my MOCs about how this “wouldn’t be possible without the creativity of the rest of the MOC building world”, but I don’t expect this from anyone else, it seems a bit creepy, and honestly if you don’t want your technique used by other builders then don’t put it on the internet. Keep the internal working of your MOCs secret! (Though I do have got a great idea for new SNOT technique – superglue! If you use it give me credit! :P)

  9. Josh

    Okay, here’s my thoughts:

    Taking someone elses pictures and posting them as your own is bad. ‘Nuff said on that.

    The Technique Issue is a volatile one that will probably never be completely resolved. That said, my take is very similar to Nabii. If you don’t want “your” techniques used…don’t post them.

    As for Starwars4J’s statement that TBB encourages people to hold onto “ownership” of techniques, I have to respectfully disagree. While we do state who built the creation and we say nice things about it and the techniques used…we have never said that the builder owns the technique. This issue is one of my personal pet peeves and I have come down on a number of people who have said things along the lines of “Hey I did that before”. If, in a post, I say “The technique that John Doe used was brilliant” I’m not saying that he was the first person to ever use it. I’m saying it’s a cool technique. Nothing more. TBB is not in the business of handing out patents to the builders we post.

    If being blogged on TBB drives people to get over-attached to “their” techniques, then those people need to re-examine their priorities. We are a Lego fan site, nothing more. Being blogged on TBB is not the equivalent of winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

    People need to start building for fun again and get over who thought of which technique first.

  10. The Mad Physicist

    I think there’s a difference between your legal obligation and what is actually the right thing to do. I can copyright my photographs (and I do), but I doubt I can legally copyright the construction techniques I’ve come up with. I wouldn’t want to either, because in my opinion one of the purposes of sharing pictures of our creations is getting ideas from each other. I feel that not being allowed to incorporate other people’s ideas in our own models would be a deathblow to that.

    We all pick up each others ideas. You can’t always attribute them, because it often happens unconsciously. There are also plenty of techniques that have been around for so long that it’s no longer possible to know who came up with them. Often different people independently came up with the same idea. I think the latter applies to a lot of SNOT techniques. Certainly the thirty-something (and older) builders among us were coming up with all kinds of techniques before there even was an on-line LEGO community to share them with.

    However, I completely agree with Gambort that if you knowingly copied a particular idea from somebody, giving credit is the right thing to do, even though it might not be your legal obligation. Fortunately, that is what a lot of people do. I don’t quite understand why this is even an issue. There’s no shame whatsoever in admitting that you incorporated ideas from somebody else.

  11. Ricardo

    I belive that creativity does not have an owner, but creations have… even if you use it for inspiration it was someone elses work that is helping you out, and you should always recognise that… i’ve been working for some time in a radial engine for a plane… and i’ve finally got to a perfect design for an 16 cylinder for one… i cant be credited for the invention of radial engines… that belongs to Charles Manly (or so says the Wiki =p) but id like to be credited for the hours i spent designing and perfecting my LEGO design… i dont mind people using it for making their own planes, but it would piss me of if someone said that they came up with the design themselves… (in some cases that could happen, hey i figured out the machanism for the maglev when i was 14 and i didnt know anyone else had come up with it yet… lol) simple technics involving 3 pieces are a bit hard to own, but complicated creations are much easier (my engine has around 400-500 parts so good luck comming up with it without seeing mine first)
    Dont confuse techniques with a creation. Creations are owned, Techniques not so much.

  12. gigahound


    The only reason this has become an issue is because in recent months (maybe the past couple of years) some people have actually gotten upset on Flickr when they were not credited for an idea that someone else used.

    I’ll echo what others already said, because it can’t be driven home hard enough.

    You can not “borrow” or copy other people’s pictures, but you can borrow and copy techniques that you see in those pictures. You should do the polite thing and give credit if the technique and origin of the technique are obvious, but you are free to be anal about too.

    I do agree with Starwars4J that some people see techniques pointed out on TBB and think to themselves “Dang, wish I could get my ideas noticed and blogged!” If you guys don’t want to change the way that you handle that, then don’t, but it does have an effect when some names are being associated with techniques (Lowell Sphere, Travis Brick) and newer/younger people don’t understand the stories behind them. All they come away with is, “Someone is a super star because they did something unique. I want to be a super star too!”

    Here’s a related question if anybody can/cares to help with. If I build something using some inspirational pictures, how best should I include the picture to give proper credit? Is it ok to include it as a subset within a model’s frame, can it be included by itself as part of the over-all set? I see people do both, but is either actually legal?

  13. The Mad Physicist

    IMO, legality has little to do with it. It’s a question of what is the decent thing to do. I’m fairly certain that if you post your MOCs online, you like getting some credit for the things you do. I know I do. Consequently, doesn’t it make sense to give credit to other people too? It’s a simple application of the golden rule.

    If your only goal is to get noticed and you’re willing to knowingly use other people’s ideas in an attempt to do so, this suggests you care a hell of a lot more about getting credit than you probably should and it might be time for a little reassessment of your priorities. Yes, getting a MOC blogged on TBB is a lot of fun. When Brickston Borough got blogged a few days ago, my flickr stats shot up and they still haven’t quite come down to their normal level. It’s fun to know people are interested in what you do. However, I was building before TBB and I would still be building if it weren’t for TBB.

  14. MV

    Hear, hear.

    I’m only a couple of years into this hobby and one of the main things that disappoints and discourages me from becoming more active in Lego fan/builder circles is when certain segments of the AFOL community fall all over themselves trying to take credit for this or that. I mean, I can see the value in protecting the creative rights to one’s FINAL creations, but to try and lay claim to one lego assembly or another is selfish and childish IMO. A real turn-off.

    Thanks for this post.

  15. Catsy

    The issue of stealing photos or selling whole plagiarized MOCs is, I think, settled as Bad–no need to add anything there.

    With regard to techniques, I will admit that this is something that has always bugged me: I get really annoyed when people get tetchy about a technique they think they used first, or a name for a MOC (particularly when the name is just a single word found in the dictionary). I have noticed techniques that I used (and may or may not have been first at doing so) show up here and there in MOCs. It tickles me–it’s a nice little ego stroke. Occasionally I’ll ask if something was inspired by something I built–not because I demand credit, but because I’m curious. And if someone comes up with a solution that I use, I’m happy to credit the source if I remember, because that’s just what you do. While the occasional piece or very memorable technique named after an individual probably has something to do with encouraging all this (e.g. Bram spheres, Travis brick), it really is universal across hobbies.

    An example: 15-20 years ago when I was tracking (writing electronic music) in the demoscene, it was samples. Some people tried to claim samples they’d ripped and demand you ask permission to use them, others more reasonably observed that more often than not you didn’t actually create that sample, just ripped it from the onboard memory of your GUSMAX or Korg or what have you. Any given song might have twenty-odd samples that came from FSM-knows-where originally, and while crediting a particularly unique instrument sample when you know the source was polite, it wasn’t necessary. There were a few who went so far as to claim they invented, say, the use of the Jxx arpeggio effect on a drum sample to simulate a drum roll. It gets tiresome. You may as well try to claim ownership of a particular application of drybrushing, stippling, or the use of a given F-stop.

    In agreeing with the comments above about how the open source analogy is not quite apt, I would add that this whole issue really ought to boil down to “don’t be a douchebag, it ain’t about you”.

  16. MV

    And let’s not forget that Art is completely and utterly DERIVATIVE, like it or not. Lego building is an artistic medium and is therefore no exception. In no other artistic medium do we see this kind of territorial behavior. Sure, artists study and practice techniques used by predecessors, but there’s no painter out there who will list off where she learned this brushstroke or that color palette, nor is she obligated to.

  17. proudlove

    There was one builder in particular whose only comments on Flickr seemed to be related to how others were using ‘his’ technique. He came across as a complete tool, whining about not getting credit. The problem with giving credit for any technique, even many of the unconventional ones we see, is that we would really only be giving credit to the people who were first to publish the technique, not the first to actually use it. My shelf is filled with many doodles and tablescrap techniques that I have never bothered to document on Flickr because I haven’t found an appropriate creation to use them in yet. So it’s frustrating when someone posts their own identical tablescrap, claiming ownership of the technique. I mutter curses under my breath, thinking how that person is going to claim I copied ‘their’ technique when I finally use it. I am confident that any and every technique that I use has probably been used by someone already. It’s actually quite relaxing, not worrying about ownership, then all those ‘proprietary’ (if that’s the right word) techniques simply become extra tools we can use to create a more accurate representation of whatever it is we are trying to create.

  18. Fred

    Stealing photo.. sure I see that but,
    Unless you start cataloging “techniques” with some sort of patent log flicker account, I see no way of keeping track of who did what when. It’s just silliness.

    Lego is more than a toy but sometimes… in the end… it’s just a toy. Unless you are loosing something more than pride I say, get over it. I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just not enforceable or logical to expect a real result here.

  19. Catsy

    In no other artistic medium do we see this kind of territorial behavior.

    This is not actually true. You will see this kind of thing in miniature modeling (“I came up with that method for using cotton to create missile smoke trails before GW did!”), video game modding (“I was the first one to think of using nested linedefs to trigger multiple actions!”), and in the example I used above, demoscene music–and the latter was almost 20 years ago.

    It’s not just Lego, and it’s not a new phenomenon. It’s just annoying and never manages to stop being annoying no matter the medium.

  20. Brad


    IANAL, but I think creating a moc falls under copyright*. Basically, if you make a creative work that is not derivative (based on someone else’s work that is currently under copyright), copyright is automatic. So, a moc is its own creative work, but I don’t think a building technique is by itself.

    Patents apply to inventions, and inventors have to file. Is a technique an invention? I’m guessing not, but I think you might. A building tech. would probably sooner fall under patent than copyright. From what I read on the wiki page, though, we’d have a huge mess if they were! I hope and am guessing that they are not!

    Some sites that I visited while writing this post:

    P.S. I am not Brad Templeton – we just share an awesome first name.

    *I’ve often wondered if the LEGO Group could somehow make trouble for someone who made something from bricks and then sold or displayed it as a piece of art. I assume that they cannot, given that there are a number of people currently making their own models to either sell or display in artistic venues.

  21. MV

    ^Alright, I can agree that I was being far too general with that statement. What I had in mind I think were older and more established artistic mediums, like canvas painting. Mediums that have been around long enough to now transcend this type of behavior.

    So no, it’s not a new thing. New to Lego building, though, because it’s a new medium.

    Also agreeing that the annoy factor is high in this one.

  22. Fred

    Who first used ice cream cones as smoke? I have no idea. I have not used such a technique but, I know it’s been done before. want us to do research now?

    I’ll just post “Someone else probably figured out that the 1X2 plate stacked 3 high is the same as regular sized brick. dibs to them!” and so on.

    Let’s fix this people not using their blinker when the turn thing while we’re at it

    ok I’m done now. BTW I have not built in years. All my Lego is stuck in a walk in closet till next year when I put an addition on the house so I can pull them out to use. Still, I feel moved to say “grow up!”.

  23. Catsy

    Let’s fix this people not using their blinker when the turn thing while we’re at it

    Have you ever been to Virginia or DC? It’s not so much that they don’t signal, it’s that signaling is seen as a sign of weakness.

  24. Jargon

    The issue boils down, to me, to this:

    Why do you build? For enjoyment or for recognition? If you are building because you enjoy LEGO, somebody being complimented for for using a technique you’ve already used shouldn’t bother you. This is not a zero-sum game.

  25. Catsy

    Why do you build? For enjoyment or for recognition?


    This is not a zero-sum game.

    Inscribe on wall. Tattoo on forehead. Brand as necessary.

  26. Marc Nelson Jr.

    Thanks for pointing out your LEGO Techniques group, Tim. I think that collecting and disseminating techniques is the best way to avoid the “I invented that” problem. It was neat to browse through, but it seems like Flickr isn’t the best way to organize something like that. My dream project (that I would like someone else to spend thousands of hours undertaking) is a sort of all-encompassing manual of LEGO techniques, organized in ‘family trees’.

    It’s not that I’m bothered when a 13-year-old kid takes credit for “inventing” something that was done a decade ago. But why spend time reinventing the wheel? A carpenter isn’t expected to invent new ways of framing a house or building a cabinet. A manual like that would speed the learning curve and free builders to invent truly new techniques.

  27. Brickwares

    I agree with much of what’s been said here, that stealing/copying/post a MOC that someone else made is clearly wrong.

    As for techniques, I think if you got the idea from someone’s picture or work, you should note that somewhere. That person might not have even come up with the ides, but you’re acknowledging that work as an influence.

    For those disheartened with the community for this sort of thing, I can provide some hope. I was working on a corner that was difficult. Well, I’m a mosaic guy mostly, so I need all the help I can get. I posted a pic on Flickr of what I was trying to do, and had a lot of help and ideas suggested as to how to solve. That’s the community part!

  28. chrism

    It’s just not possible to claim copyright for a Lego building technique, no more so than a mason can claim copyright for his particular method of stacking bricks and mortar. The arrangement itself can be a work of art and retain some copyright, but the particular method of creating the art cannot.

    I agree with many other commenters here. It’s nice to note specific builders who have influenced you, but not entirely necessary. The AFOL community cannot get mired in a who-did-what-first mentality. And as some others have pointed out, if you don’t want other people to learn from your MOCs, then don’t post your pics to the Internet. Personally, I’d be flattered to see the one technique I think I came up with (for window corbels) used in other MOCs. :D

    As for picture copyright, wow, I wasn’t aware that kids were stealing pictures of MOCs and entering them in contests as their own work. That’s absolutely awful. Mind you, I’m accustomed to having my pictures lifted and posted elsewhere without proper credit. Usually I can track down the posters, explain that the images are mine, and they’ll apologize and add a link back to my flickr account. Unfortunately, there are still a few people out there who claim my images are their own, and who steadfastly refuse to either remove them or provide proper credit…

  29. Ricardo

    i’ll leave you with a question then… if i do a mosaic of a famous painting, i recreate a real building, or something of the sort, is it copywrite infrigment? If it is (or is close to) why cant that happen in LEGO? as i said above techniques are hard to copywrite, but even in real life they tend to make that for various fabrication processes (building techniques anyone?), and if as so many people say LEGO is an art-medium, why cant i take credit for my creation and even a very complicated techniquei had trouble perfecting?
    Besides technic and engeneering stuff i love architecture, and i have a few books, i love them for the inspiration, i might “take” something i saw and put it into something i’m building, but if someone askes i think i would be a d!ck not to say i saw it someplace else…

  30. Brad

    Ricardo, I think your questions are probably most appropriate for a copyright expert, which I am not.

    To your first question: A great number of famous paintings are in the public domain, so you’d be in the clear there. However, for work that is not in the public domain, a reproduction in LEGO might be a violation. On the other hand, U.S. copyright law allows for fair use under certain conditions. I don’t have an answer for this would affect a LEGO builder who wanted to make a mosaic of a current painting or a build a model of a copyrighted building.

  31. thwaak

    Let’s not be hypocritical about it…I was recently blasted by a blogger on TBB precisely because I pointed out a technique being used on a blogged MOC was previously used by myself (and also blogged on TBB). However, the MOC in question was being blogged precisely because of the uniqueness of the technique. So if you are going to blog and say, “Lookee here, something new!” you can’t get up in arms and indignant if someone comes along and says it’s not new whether it’s to (however misguided) claim ownership or credit…or even simply to point out an error.

    To this end, I’ll have to agree mostly with Starwars4J and others who share his sentiment, but also expand the idea. Consider how many times you (and by ‘you’ I mean everyone) leave a comment on a MOC about nice techniques. Consider how many MOCs get blogged here or elsewhere precisely because of the technique being used.

    It would seem that on some subconscious (or maybe conscious) level, that inventing a technique is a rite of passage for FOL regardless of age; the doorway to fame in our little community, precisely because you get noticed for it. The result is a race to reinvent the wheel each and every time, which of course creates a sense of pride and then ownership.

    Personally, I don’t like it when someone tries to take credit for technique, but I also don’t like it when someone is given credit for a technique. The street goes both ways my friends.

  32. Catsy

    Transformation is, to my layman’s understanding, exactly what you want to be looking at. IANAL, but when you take an original, protected work and reinterpret it in such a dramatically different medium, I believe it is sufficiently transformative to survive an infringement claim.

    Were this not the case, pretty much every single Lego creation ever created of a subject from, say, The Matrix or Halo would be infringement. Moreover, the fact that all of these IP holders–particularly the more litigious ones like Microsoft and Lucasfilm–do not aggressively pursue infringement claims for MOCs weakens any case they might eventually decide to bring, and strongly suggests to me that they have no case and recognize the enormous PR blowback that would come from suing the kid who built the 3,972nd Lego Warthog on the net.

  33. Magnus

    I must be avoiding most of these incidences of builders claiming credit for whatever building technique they came up with on their own. I didn’t realise this was so prevelant. I’ve heard the tank suspension system I use refered to by others as “Lauglo suspension” one or twice and it’s a nice little ego boost to know that something I came up with has inspired others, but I wouldn’t kid myself that I’m the first person to come up with it.

    Anyway, I think there may be a gray area we’re ignoring in between the obvious plagiarism (bad) and simply becoming inspired by each other (good, and quite inevitable).

    When building in someone else’s subtheme for instance, I think to do that subtheme justice you should aspire to a similar vision and quality (broadly speaking) of that theme as the subtheme creator. I remember Nick Dean’s RAMM theme became very popular for a while, and not all the people building in it were really seriously trying to follow the building style or the idea behind it. There were some younger builders who just weren’t using the right colors – they weren’t even making a serious attempt to build in Nick’s style. And a few of the veteran builders decided it would be fun to poke fun at this in various ways (some more clever than others). Of course, a bit of good natured humor is one thing, but it went a little far as I recall.

    Naturally it doesn’t come down to legal rights so much as simply doing the right thing. (And these things often get confused these days.)

    If someone wants to build a RAMM MOC in red and yellow instead of in dark blay, or perhaps a RAMM MOC that basically mocks the whole RAMM phenonemon, there is nothing Nick can do to stop them. But that doesn’t mean that every last MOC like this should be encouraged either.

    It’s a bit like when artists cover each others’ songs – you try to add something of your own without the disrespecting integrity of the original. We may not be artists, but we’re creators. Let’s see a little common sense and “good creativity”.

  34. Brad

    I’d be wary of that interpretation of transformation. I think that LEGO creations of Star Wars, Matrix, HALO, etc. are actually infringing on copyright (assuming they aren’t doing something like parodying the material). Just because the copyright holders have not pursued claims does not mean that they cannot pursue them in the future. Copyright isn’t lost like a trademark (I’m paraphrasing one of Brad Templeton’s copyright myths, #5). And just because builders aren’t selling their work doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe from an infringement claim.

    If the IP owners are so inclined, I am fairly sure they could send a cease and desist (it certainly happens to fan fic writers). In order to really get an answer, we’d have to have a court case. However, most of these issues never get that far.

  35. Catsy

    Thwaak, I think there is a nontrivial difference between these things:

    1. That is a nice technique Mike used to make the bars on his Fooglider. I haven’t seen it before and it deserves to be noticed.

    2. That is a nice technique Mike used to make the bars on his Fooglider. It is his and he deserves credit for inventing it.

    I see a lot of 1) on TBB. I cannot recall seeing 2) outside of random comments on Flickr.

    There is no contradiction between regularly calling attention to a nice technique you haven’t seen before on the one hand, and decrying the need to attribute ownership of a given technique on the other.

  36. chrism

    I think it’s important to point out that a building technique is not a patentable industrial process. Each time you build with Lego, you’re doing exactly what the product was intended to do, even if you come up with a clever way of assembling it. A building technique is also not something that can be copyrighted because it’s a process and not a work of authorship.

  37. thwaak

    Catsy, I agree with you…it is a major difference, and although I also cannot recall anyone coming out and saying MOCer X invented technique Y and has ownership and credit….when a MOC does get posted for a technique, it does imprint on the viewer an association between the two…which then causes problems later

    Which is not to harp on TBB (my favorite Lego Blog), because it’s a problem everywhere, and I’m just as guilty of sometimes recognizing and rating echnique over the complete MOC.

    Interestingly this does bring up another issue which I think is part and parcel. Where does technique end and the MOC begin?

  38. The Mad Physicist

    There’s a big difference between claiming an idea as your own and demanding credit if other people use it. I have plenty of MOCs incorporating ideas that I haven’t seen anywhere else before and I do claim that those are my ideas, quite simply because they actually are!

    That doesn’t mean, however, that I feel I should be getting credit every single time somebody else does something similar. IMO somebody using an idea they picked up elsewhere without attributing it to whoever came up with it (if it is at all clear who did) isn’t a big deal, although it’s certainly a nice thing to give credit where credit is due, quite simply because it’s also a nice thing to get credit. Fortunately that does seem to be the norm.

    What I don’t like is people explicitly claiming that something is their idea when it clearly isn’t (and you can tell at times) or building an outright copy of somebody elses MOC. Dishonesty pisses me off, even if it isn’t technically illegal.

    We can talk about the legality and copyright law, but it comes down to decency and honesty.

  39. David4

    LEGO fans really just need to grow up! I understand if the model looks very much like something else that a fan made, but as a City fan there are only so many things i can think of that don’t all look the same.

    So grow up, shut up, and just build.


Comments are closed.