Wednesday 30 September 2015

Cheap Repops and the Ethical Dilemma

There's an industry that's been around for a long time. It's an industry that sticks a middle finger up at 'the man', and provides us with unofficial versions of things we want: that Ralph Lauren shirt that you can't really afford; that Hermes handbag that you wouldn't dream of spending 5 grand on; that Narin Predator sculpt that you've been dreaming of for a decade, but don't have £700 to throw at an a garage resin kit. That industry is based on illegal reproductions - knockoffs, or repops, and they're slowly killing our hobby, driving costs of production higher and higher until it's not viable to manufacture a garage kit.

Repops are a great way to get hold of out-of-production kits, and affordable versions of short-run resin masterpieces. The quality of the products coming out of the Far East has improved over the years. I'm not sure if I'd be able to spot the difference between a vinyl knockoff of an old vinyl kit any more. I have in my stash a repopped Geometric Ripley from Aliens, a Predator of some description, and a Jango Fett from Star Wars Episode 2. In my defence, the repops I have were bought before I understood the subject and I haven't bought any more. It doesn't excuse me, and I should have binned the lot when I learned what they were. I haven't. That's on me, and that's what I want to talk about here.

It's copyright theft. Plain and simple. Somebody, somewhere owns the rights to a product, and may or may not license that to certain distributors or manufacturers. When we buy a knockoff, we're adding to that cycle of theft. When we then sell that finished work on eBay, we're then breaking the law - we're distributing and profiting from infringed material.

If the copyright holder goes out of business, the moulds languish, and the product becomes OOP. The copyright is still held by the owner, even if it's not in production. Only the copywriter owner and licensees have the right to make money (or not!) from the product. Look at the Halcyon/Aoshima/Dragon story for 'how to do licensing properly'.

At some point during the life of the product, an original will be bought and copied. Moulds will be made from the copy and sold en masse at a discount. eBay doesn't really police it like it should, and you can find a lot of knockoffs coming out of Thailand and China.

Usually the knockoffs have an obvious tell. The price difference is the first sign - I saw a Narin knockoff for £40 years ago, where the originals were £700+. That's a fair indicator that it's a fake. Other things to look out for are packaging and colour of material. My Geometric Ripley came bagged, not boxed, and is mounded in white vinyl. The original is mounded in a pinky-brown colour. It used to be that a 1st-gen copy was softer in detail than the original - you can do this at home with a press mould. Once you've made a negative impression (the mould), and then create a positive (the copy), you'll see it's not perfect. Make a neg of the copy, and the 2nd gen will be even worse in quality.

This is a debate that has raged for ages. I remember discussing it 10+ years ago on a modelling forum. "Is it okay to use your own repopped pieces to beef up a model?" There's no 'fair use' policy in the law that I know of, so officially the answer would be NO!

I used to collect AEF Designs' 1:35 Aliens kits. They were perfectly scaled to go with the Halcyon APC, and were great little models. The Eggs packs had 4-6 eggs in the bag. The kits were long OOP. I needed an egg field, so I popped my own copies to fill up the diorama. Illegal? Yes. Unethical? Yes. Did I finish it and sell it? No. No real harm done, then.

I just the other day finished the repopped Jango Fett resin figure. I've sent it to a Twitter follower, who at random hit a milestone subscriber number for my account. I'm justifying this as "it's a gift". "I'm not profiting from it." and all the other excuses you make when you've made an ethical/legal boo boo, but don't want to be judged for your actions. "It's a practice piece that I've rehomed"

To be fair, I've learned a few things building that kit - the quality was poor, the resin was a pig to clean up, and I've learned kinda where I stand in my ethical grey zone.

What are your opinions? What would you like to see changed in the law? Do you care about IP and copyright? I'd love to hear your views. 

Text and photography copyright 2015 MiniModelPaint Studios. All rights reserved.

*disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer. Anything stated above is my understanding of the law, and is subject to being totally wrong

Thursday 24 September 2015

Spruecutters Union - a balanced view on scales.

We're all talking about scale this month. Which is the best compromise between available detail and storage/display requirement? Which do I feel the most comfortable painting? Even the wargaming POV: how large a space do I need to field the right army?

For me it's 1/9 for figures, 1/48 for planes, 1/24-25 for cars and 25/28mm for wargaming.

But that's a bit simplistic.

For diorama building, sometimes you have to pull some tricks. To give a sense of altitude, a 1/48 Spitfire looks great above a base with 1/72-1/76 figures and buildings.

Forced perspective is the name of the game, and it's usually employed in set-building for movies (Gandalf and Bilbo were not having tea at the same end of the kitchen table in 'Fellowship'), but it's also useful for photographing your models - a half-sized background object will give the impression of double the distance between it and the foreground subject. Light it right, and use a shallow depth of field, and you'll have a great shot.

Wargaming dioramas have their own challenges, though, and even at 'heroic' 28mm scale, there isn't really a sense of difference in individual size. For instance, an 8ft Space Marine is the same tabletop size as a 6ft Imperial Guard, and although you can transport 10 loaded Marines in a Drop Pod, not a single one fits within the harnesses inside the vehicle.

This is compounded by True Scale figures - either through conversion or with 3rd-party components, you can make your marines more realistic - longer limbs and better weapons are a good start. However, these guys have NO chance to be modelled inside a troop transport, so would you even want to try?

To be fair, the compromise is logical - playing a battle on a 6x4ft mat, and using Line of Sight shooting rules, means not having scale scenery or vehicles: hills would be ridiculously large, tree coverage  would make moving troops impossible, and buildings would rise through the roof of your house. For years we've pretended that we're sniping from the roof of a highrise ruined administrator's office block, except it's only 4 levels up, each at 1-2 inches apart, which equates to a 30-40ft high suburban home. Not quite as epic a concept as the game wants us to buy into.

Still, it's just another minor compromise to deal with (or ignore) - and thankfully, any water, sand and fire we have to depict will never have to move in scale. Gerry Anderson certainly had that problem with Thunderbirds and related shows. He compromised on scale, and we didn't mind at all.

Thanks for reading!