Critical LEPIN exhibit banned from LEGO fan show

Posted by on Sep 2, 2017 in LEGO | 0 comments

Critical LEPIN exhibit banned from LEGO fan show

The Christchurch Brick Show committee in conjunction with the Management of LUG 4×2 banned my exhibit at the Christchurch Brick Show 2017. I am seriously concerned about the decision, the process on how this decision was made, and shocked by the reason provided for the decision. I would therefore like to launch a complaint about their actions.

I will first describe the events as I experienced them before, during and after the show. I will then draw some conclusions and define my exact complaint.

On Friday 14 July 2017 during the setup of the show the chair of the CBS2017 show, Bruce Aldridge, gave me a warning that my LEPIN exhibit would need to go. It was not clear to me what this warning is supposed to mean. I interpreted it as that the committee might make the decision to ban the exhibit. I did not comply since I expected that some AFOLs might disagree with the exhibit. I seemed most reasonable to wait until the final decision was made. Other AFOLs were fascinated by the exhibit and congratulated me for setting it up.

On Saturday morning 15 July 2017, before the general opening of the show, Mark Griffin, Chair of BUG 4/2 approached me and commanded me in the most unfriendly way to take down my exhibit. I then engaged in a discussion with him to find out why the exhibit should be removed. Mark explained that the committee had decided that this exhibit was against the rules that are defined in LEGO’s Fair Play Policy. He told me that what LEPIN is doing is illegal and that I must remove the exhibit or there would be consequences for me. He intimidated me, threatened me with consequences, and even yelled at me. His son Nicki eventually took him away. I did not comply immediately since I first wanted to take some photos of the exhibit and because I was simply shocked by the situation. Never before has anybody treated me like this at a LEGO show. I know the Fair Play Policy well since I studied it for several of my other projects. It was clear to me that the reason provided was incorrect. I hesitated to take it down and instead engaged with Owain Bunyan, a LEGO representative from LEGO New Zealand. I asked him about his opinion on my exhibit and he explained that he did not like it but that he would NOT ask me to remove the exhibit.

I took down the exhibit a little bit later after I took photos. I emailed Jan Beyer, our responsible LEGO community manager, to ask if LEGO had any rules that would prohibit my exhibition. I sent him a photo of the exhibit that I had just taken. I wanted to verify what Mark had told me. There could have very well been some regulation that I had violated.

At no point did the committees consult with me or gave me the opportunity to respond to their concerns. They completely excluded me from the process and only informed me about their decision which Mark then enforced. Our Ambassador was absent from the event even though she was originally schedule to give a workshop at the show.

During the exhibition days, many AFOLs approached me and asked me to show them the LEPIN Ferrari. There was a keen interest in the community that was not considered by the committees. Several AFOLs offered to talk to the committee on my behalf.

In the evening, I read the LEGO Fair Play Policy again, reviewed the LEGO Ambassador Network 2017 Program Rules and the LUG 4/2 rules. None contains rules that would apply to the situation at hand. I wrote an email to Mark asking for the specific rules he was referring to. In the morning of Sunday 18 July 2017, I asked Mark in person again for the exact rules he was referring to. He said that he could not exactly remember where he read it and that he would look it up later at home.

In the meantime, Jan Beyer explained to me that LEGO does NOT interfere with what is exhibited at LEGO fan shows. There are no guidelines or rules from LEGO that would limit what would be exhibited. Neither would there be any negative consequences if the LEGO Company would become aware of an exhibit that they would not like. It is up to the show committee to decide what is and what is not appropriate for the show.

I did not receive any response from Mark and hence I emailed him again on July 19th to ask for the specific rules that he referred to in our discussion. He replied on the same day:

Hi Christoph,

The claim is that the CBS and LUG committee members deemed it inappropriate as originally explained, and asked you to remove it more than once. It was also explained we believe that displaying a direct copy of a LEGO model that LEGO sub licenses the design from Ferrari is in breach of the “RLUG IP Guidelines” and also likely to breach design, copyright and patent laws.

I have already requested our secretary and ambassador retrieve the document “RLUG IP Guidelines” as referenced in the “LEGOR Ambassador Network Program Rules and Guidelines” (attached) from the LAN as requested. They will provide this as soon as they have had time to do so.

As a brick show that is based on LEGO, you are not the first person to be requested to remove models with Non LEGO bricks at our show. The others complied without question.

Unfortunately your actions and not following the request of your committee have led to the instant being reported to LEGO, which we as a LUG must now await any actions that may be taken by LEGO, these options are also spelled out in the attached document.

In the case for the Flexo bricks, this was only allowed after a request to the CBS and BUG committee months before the show. This request was sent to LEGO to provide confirmation that its inclusion would be acceptable not place us in breach of the “RLUG IP Guidelines”.

Mark

I asked our LAN Ambassador for the RLUG IP Guidelines on July 20th. She was unwilling to send me the RLUG IP Guidelines as she was ordered by Mark Griffin not to talk to me and that I would have to deal with Mark directly. She said she would download the rules on that very night and send it to Mark. This indicates that neither the Show Committee nor the LUG 4×2 Committee had access to the RLUG IP Guidelines at the time that they made their decision.

I then asked Dave Woodbridge from AuckLUG for the RLUG IP Guidelines and he also informed me that he has been advised not to talk to me and referred me to Mark Griffin. It appears that Mark has been systematically trying to sabotage my reputation and to avoid me talking to my fellow AFOLs.

In any case, it would not matter, since those guidelines are again irrelevant to my exhibit. They only describe how the show may use LEGO IP, such as its logo or its Minifigures for promoting the event. It does NOT say anything about what exhibits may or may not be allowed at the show. Until now and even after requesting the RLUG IP Guidelines again and again Mark Griffin did not send me the requested information. He is withholding a policy which he claims I violated and thereby disabling me to check his evidence. Thankfully I have been able to obtain a copy of the policy.

The LEGO Ambassador Network 2017 Program Rules and Guidelines do also not have any definition on what may or may not be exhibited. It describes the process and operation of a Registered LUG (RLUG) and only states that the RLUG has to comply to the Fair Play Policy, the RLUG IP Guidelines, Novelty confidentiality policy, and the TLG Brand Values.

Many exhibits at the show, in particular the ones involving military themes, are not in line with the products that TLG is selling. Moreover, many shows offer 3rd Party LEGO compatible products, such as Flexo Bricks or BrickArms. Offering third party LEGO compatible products is legal as the many court cases between LEGO and MegaBlocks have proven. I also did not violate the Fair Play Policy since I did not copy any of LEGO’s designs. I only showed how LEPIN is imitating LEGO’s logo. I also never claimed that the LEPIN Ferrari is actually from TLG or endorsed LEPIN. I did not advertise for LEPIN products and I did neither promote or sell their products.

I did not violate any rules or guidelines set by LUG 4/2 or TLG. The show committee and the LUG committee have been unable to provide an exact definition of what exact rules I am supposed to have violated. Therefore, their reason for removing my exhibit was unfounded. Even if the LEPIN company is committing a copyright violation it must be considered as innocent until its guilt is proven in court.

Mark wrote in his email that:

It was also explained we believe that displaying a direct copy of a LEGO model that LEGO sub licenses the design from Ferrari is in breach of the “RLUG IP Guidelines” and also likely to breach design, copyright and patent laws.

This statement nicely shows the convoluted line of argumentation. First, it is factually wrong since the RLUG IP Guidelines make no statement about exhibits. It is likely that Lepin is violating LEGO’s Fair Play Policy, but questions whether LEPIN breached design, copyright and patent laws remains to be answered by the courts.

Second, there is a fundamental difference between what the LEPIN company is doing and what I exhibited. Reporting about a theft does not make the reporter a thief nor the report a crime. Brickset recently reviewed LEPIN’s Super Star Destroyer and they have to follow the exact same policies as our LUG does. My exhibit did clearly talk about how LEPIN is copying LEGO designs. Showing two Ferrari F40, one from LEGO and one from LEPIN, and challenging the community to guess which one is which is a playful and engaging method of stimulating a discussion. A discussion that we desperately need.

The public and the AFOLs need to be informed about what they are buying and how they can tell original LEGO products apart from copies. The two Ferraris showed how difficult this has become. Section 3.c of the LUG 4/2 rules even stipulate the goal to “Assist in education of the community through participation in LUG4x2 events, related workshops and increasing the capabilities of the community”. The charitable status of our club is based on its educational mission. We have to provide education to the community, including how to tell original LEGO models apart from copies.

I would like to emphasize with utmost sincerity that talking about a potential crime is not a crime. Punishing exhibitor in the absence of policies is unacceptable. Such retroactive ruling is illegal in New Zealand’s legislative system. Section 7 of part 2 of New Zealand’s Interpretation Act 1999 stipulates that enactments do not have retrospective effect.

Moreover, we do need artistic freedom to live out LEGO’s brand values of Imagination and Creativity. Not everybody will like every model. The World Trade Center in flames MOC after the 9/11 attacks might not be everybody’s cup of tea. I am personally bored by yet another display of original LEGO sets since they only show that the owner could afford it and was able to follow the instructions. But I do not exclude them from the show for this. Limiting artistic freedom is a very dangerous direction. We might end up with a pure advertising show for TLG. True innovation happens when we dare to do new, unexpected and controversial designs. We do not need a product showcase. But more importantly, in a time where governments and companies around the world are trying to censor and manipulate the media we desperately need free critical thinking and free artistic expressions.

Let’s consider the case of Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist famous for his critical and controversial work. TLG initially declined a bulk order he made since it would exhibition would contravene “corporate policy”. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen later revised this decision and in January 2016 In LEGO dropped its restrictions on bulk orders, saying it would stop asking people why they wanted its bricks. Customers wanting to build public displays out of Lego bricks would now only have to make clear that the company does not endorse the project. This clearly shows that LEGO is embracing critical art work and does not censor artists. We should be encouraged by TLG and use our freedom to find meaningful expressions for our art, no matter if it is controversial or not.

Yes, there needs to be limits to what can be shown at a show marketed toward children and the show committee needs to have the authority to intervene. Designs that show extreme violence or sex should not be shown without warning the parents. Our LUG does, however, not seem to be concerned about demons holding the still beating heart of their opponents in their hands or bloody murder scenes in bathrooms. The killing of hundreds of Imperial Troopers is no problem, neither is the display of weapons and military equipment. It is unclear by what standards violence and murder is acceptable and educating consumers is not.

It is safe to assume that my exhibit had not negative effects on children. Would it have had negative consequences for the club? Most certainly not! Jan Beyer confirmed that TLG does not interfere with what is exhibited at fan shows. Mark emails claims that:

Unfortunately your actions and not following the request of your committee have led to the instant being reported to LEGO, which we as a LUG must now await any actions that may be taken by LEGO, these options are also spelled out in the attached document.

I asked Owain Bunyan from LEGO New Zealand about the report that Mark claimed has been made to LEGO. He replied on July 24th letting me know that he is not aware of any such report. Jan Beyer was also unaware of any such report. Mark’s concern about a report being filed is edging on paranoia. My exhibit showed an inconvenient truth that all consumers and the TLG itself have to deal with.

Allow me now to formulate the core of my complaint. I am dissatisfied that the show committee and the lug committee did not include me in their discussion about my exhibit. I was not given the opportunity to explain my views. Moreover, the committees made their decision with an incorrect understanding or in complete ignorance of the TLG rules. Claiming that my exhibit would violate rules set forward by TLG is either a proof of ignorance or a straight lie. Ordering fellow AFOLs not to talk to me and withholding critical policies are indicators of a high degree of incompetence in managing exhibits and exhibitors. I do not think that the committees have adequate processes in place and that they do not represent the interests of the community.

The events have been emotionally exhausting for me. Mark’s behavior damaged my reputation and isolated me from my fellow AFOLs. I do expect a public apology for the exclusion of my exhibit. This should occur through an email to the LUG mailing list and a post on it’s the club’s Facebook page. Furthermore, I expect a direct correspondence from the committee to all the people that have been advised not to talk to me and fully reinstates my reputation. I expect to be cc’ed in those emails.

To avoid the reoccurrence of such unpleasant conflicts I highly recommend that LUG 4/2 creates a policy of what is an (un)acceptable exhibit. This needs to be done in consultation with the whole community and cannot be limited to the committee itself. The views on this topic are likely to differ substantially. We have to ensure that the discussion is not dominated by the few loud and shrill voices. Furthermore, in the absence of specific policies, the committees should not make up ad hoc rules. Instead they should note the need for a new policy and then prepare the policy for next year’s show.

Christoph Bartneck, Christchurch, July 25th, 2017

UPDATE 2 SEPTEMBER 2017:

Shortly after submitting my formal complaint to LUG 4/2 we agreed on a mitigation process. The LUG 4/2’s secretary was supposed to define a process and work with another LUG member. On August 17th I asked for an update and received no answer at all. Two weeks later I decided to go public with my concerns only to find out that all communication channels of LUG 4/2 are now moderated by the LUG 4/2 management. My attempts to make a post on our Facebook page or to send an email through our Google Group has been blocked. It is a pity that LUG 4/2 seems unable to manage the concerns I voiced.

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