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Friday, May 27, 2011

Plagarism in Lolita: a Teacher's Perspective on Milanoo and the Replica Debates

A recent post on EGL inspired me to write about this, and it happened to be a post talking about how the infamous Milanoo company is now using its own product photos in advertising (you can read the original post here: http://egl.livejournal.com/17350082.html#cutid1).

About Milanoo
Now, for those of you who are unaware of the Milanoo drama, Milanoo is a Chinese wholesale company that sells a wide variety of products: wedding dresses, zentai suits, cosplays, and lolita fashion. This company also sells these clothes at suspiciously low (we're talking "too-good-to-be-true") prices - the average lolita JSK looks to be around $70 (for reference, a brand-name JSK runs anywhere between $130-$250 on average). Now, what makes Milanoo an absolute no-no for lolitas everywhere is that they have established themselves as scammers in the community. They steal stock photos of brand clothing and photoshop their own background into the image, making it look distorted and wonky. The following is an example of a stock image from FanplusFriend, a company that produces lolita clothing inspired by brand designs (note: inspired =/= stolen), and the stolen Milanoo image:

Original JSK from FanplusFriend (photo taken from FanplusFriend.com)

Milanoo image - stolen FanplusFriend stock photo (from milanoo.com)

Looks just a bit suspicious, doesn't it? Don't worry, the fun doesn't end there! Milanoo also is known to create sock puppet accounts that post false positive reviews of the site (luckily they are easy to target for poor English). It wasn't long before EGL caught on to Milanoo's deceitful business practices and signed a massive boycott petition against the company.

Why it's Plagarism
Well, as if stealing stock images from both high quality brands (Baby, Angelic Pretty, etc) and lesser brands (FanplusFriend, Bodyline) wasn't enough, the deceitful business practices such as sockpuppet accounts surely are the icing on the cupcake.

From the Perspective of a Teacher
From the perspective of a teacher, the Milanoo ordeal makes me sick inside. This is no different than plagarizing sources for a research paper, but to worsen the blow it's like the "student" not only plagarized research, but went the extra mile to make up his/her OWN research sources to quote for extra padding (or maybe that's because there weren't enough legitimate sources that supported the "student's" case in the first place, eh Milanoo?)

The Replica Debate
Now, this is a topic in the lolita community that has been beaten and revisted multiple times: replicas - are they products of theft that should be boycotted, or are they valued opportunities for the lolita on a budget?

The heat of the replica debate seemed to kick off via Dream of Lolita, a Chinese store on TaoBao (the Chinese equivalent to Amazon) that takes the prints off of brand designs and makes cheaper lolita clothing from them. Recently one of the hot replicas has been Sugary Carnival, a print by Angelic Pretty:

 Original Sugary Carnival by AP (photo from hellolace.net)

Sugary Carnival replica by Dream of Lolita (photo taken from CLOBBAONLINE)

As you can see, the print design of the replica has been taken piece-by-piece from the original Angelic Pretty print, but it's not hard to notice that the dress is made from materials that are not as high-quality as the original Sugary Carnival. Regardless, many who are opposed to replicas argue that stealing every bit of print (including the Angelic Pretty logo), is plagarism and art theft.

Why It's Plagarism
The anti-replica community is right in this regard - stealing a print without making any modifications to it is indeed art theft and a form of plagarism. However, what sets Dream of Lolita worlds apart from Milanoo is that this company takes photos of its own work, and does not create fake accounts that praise the comapny's work.

From the Perspective of a Teacher
As a teacher (specifically an ART teacher), the replica debate is a challenge. I see the good and the bad in them. The good points are that replicas allow highly desired prints that may be out of stock or very highly priced to be available to more people. Another plus is that unlike brands, Dream of Lolita can do custom sizing, meaning that the plus-sized lolita community can comfortably fit into a dress with a print they adore. But then there is still the matter of art theft, which is, well, wrong. With these contradictory feelings going on, I had to sort through them (especially since I preordered the replica of Vampire Requiem!) and figure out where exactly I stood in this. This is the conclusion I came to:

I'm sure at one point in a class you were given the situation: "A man's wife is very ill, and she needs a specific type of medicine. The medicine is unreasonably expensive and insurance won't cover it. The man loves his wife very much, so he steals the medicine to save her life. Should the man go to jail?" Now, let's change things around a little: "There's a print a lolita desires, but this print is very expensive. Not only is it expensive, the dress will not fit her measurements. A company makes replicas of this dress that will fit the lolita and be affordable, however the print designs are stolen. Should the company be boycotted?"

**Special Note**: In no way am I saying human life is on par with niche fashion - I'm more or less using the first scenario as an example that is commonly used for ethical debates.

My Conclusion
From looking at the replica issue in this way, I was able to conclude that yes, stealing is wrong, but the type of stealing that was done made something available to more people, therefore more people can be happy. On the other side, Milanoo stole stock photos and claimed them as their own. They did not feature photos of their original products, replica or no, for the longest time, and sent people products that barely passed for costume quality. THAT is out-and-out wrong, whereas there's a bit more grey area in the Dream of Lolita replicas, which is probably why there is so much debate about it at all. In fact there is so much grey area that this more-or-less becomes an issue about personal opinion. I certainly believe "to each their own", and I don't look down upon those who are anti-replica, because I certainly understand their reasonings and rights to their opinion; it's just a challenging situation overall.

A Lesson Plan Can Come of This!
Since art theft is a topic that was brought up in this blog, I'd like to briefly mention that replicas can easily become a lesson in the classroom (this mainly applies to visual art but could probably be tweaked to fit other subject areas). When I was student teaching, as a project I had my painting students actually replicate some of my fractal designs in order to practice color mixing and matching as well as shading. Through this project I was able to give my students a mini lesson on copyright and art theft by explaining that I gave them permission to use my work, so it's okay, but it's considered theft to take something without the permission of the original artist. Feel free to use this idea in your own classroom and even take it a step further and pose the "Is it ethical if...?" questions that I had to pose to myself!

Hopefully this particular blog educated you on some debates and issues within lolita fashion, as well as inspired some lesson planning!


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