On Trump’s Assumption of Another Man’s Arms

Recently, the arms used by the Trump Organization has come into the public light. The New York Times, on May 28th, 2017, published an article by Danny Hakim entitled The Coat of Arms Said ‘Integrity.’ Now It Says ‘Trump.’. The article outlines the history of the arms, which were granted to Joseph Edward Davies in 1939. Mr. Davies was the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, who built Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort now owned by the Trump Organization. What can be inferred from the article is that Mr. Trump, in his acquisition of Mar-a-Lago, also believes himself to have acquired rights to the arms in question.

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Image courtesy of the New York Times

I’ll do my best to avoid being political in my response to the notion of assuming another man’s arms. As a gentleman should, though, I try my best (and sometimes fail) to stay above the political quagmire. This particular issue, for me at least, is not of a political nature, but a question of honorable action.

I am not saying that Mr. Trump is dishonorable. I am saying that assuming someone’s arms that have been granted by a heraldic authority such as the College of Arms is a dishonorable action. I realize that the College of Arms has no jurisdiction in the United States, or anywhere outside its very limited realm of authority, but its still bad form. The arms displayed on Mar-a-Lago when Mr. Trump purchased it were not intellectual property or a trademark to be transferred with the purchase of that wonderful estate (if estate is a fitting term for a resort), but the personal property of a past owner, to be transmitted to his posterity, independent of where he might have displayed them in his lifetime. On this issue, I find myself at odds with Mr. Trump.

I realize that as the de facto leader of the free world, Mr. Trump faces intense criticism, much of which is of debatable validity. I am not here to heap burning coals. Heraldry, anachronistic as it may be, is nonetheless a passion of mine, and I do not wish to see it diminished by anyone, especially by someone such as Mr. Trump who seems to enjoy its use.

In fact, in December of 2016 after Mr. Trump was elected President of the United States I sent a letter to him, that in part, made this petition:

Now, to the main point of my letter: I am writing to ask your consideration in expanding the role of The Institute of Heraldry (www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil) to include civic, corporate, and personal grants of arms. I have observed that you are an admirer of armorial bearings, and I think the expansion of the Institute fits in with your pledge to make America great again. America’s greatness is displayed in our symbols, from Old Glory to the Great Seal to the bald eagle. The federal government and the military make excellent use of heraldic devices, I would love to see formal recognition of personal coats of arms.

To date, I have not received a response to this letter. Granted, I sent it care of the Trump Organization’s address at Trump Tower in New York, before he had been sworn in as President. Maybe I should resend it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I went on to make the case for a republic to have a heraldic authority:

Like you Mr. Trump, I have a coat of arms that I have assumed [N.B. I was not aware of the controversy surrounding his assumed arms at the time], which is all that is possible in America since there is no equivalent of the Court of the Lord Lyon or College of Arms for the granting of private arms. The best I can do to have my arms recognized by a heraldic body is to provide genealogical evidence of ancestry from a nation with an official heraldic body and petition for an honorary grant of arms. This is a very time consuming and costly effort. I could also petition another heraldic body that does not have descendancy limitations, such as the South African Bureau of Heraldry, which is less costly, but also carries less meaning since I have no hereditary affiliation to South Africa.

There are a few notable examples of republics that grant arms: South Africa, which I have already mentioned, and Ireland. Both of these republics have historical ties to Great Britain, as do we, and they do not find heraldry incompatible with their republicanism. Likewise several prominent Americans have been granted arms: President George Washington, through his decent from an armigerous ancestor; President Dwight D. Eisenhower, assigned/assumed in relation to his investiture in the Order of the Elephant; President John F. Kennedy, who was awarded a grant of arms from the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland; and Secretary Colin Powell, who matriculated a coat of arms granted to his father, a Jamaican subject, from the Court of the Lord Lyon based on his mother’s Scottish heritage.

In amending the mission of The Institute of Heraldry, which would be well within your prerogative as Chief Executive, you would enable thousands of Americans to obtain formal recognition for their assumed arms.

I think expanding the role of the Institute of Heraldry could solve Mr. Trump’s woes in his improperly assumed arms, and provide American citizens the opportunity to have recognized grants of arms. I realize that adopting arms that differ from those that rightfully belong to the male heir of Joseph Edward Davies would be very costly for Mr. Trump, but it is the right thing to do. It is not a display of integrity to reuse a man’s arms without difference, except for changing the motto on the scroll from “Integritas” to “Trump”. I realize in the United States this may be “legal”, but it is most certainly not “gentlemanly”.

Am I asserting that Mr. Trump is not a gentleman; by all means, NO. Mr. Trump was elected as President with the mandate to Make America Great Again. I support him wholeheartedly in doing so. I just happen to think that part of that making great also includes following tradition. I’ve prayed for Mr. Trump’s success as President in doing the will of God, just as I did for his predecessor Mr. Obama. I didn’t pray for their individual success, I prayed for God’s blessings on the Nation through their leadership.

Mr. Trump is not old money and he doesn’t come from an established line of American “aristocracy”. He is a self-made man. He doesn’t need the arms of another man to provide him standing in society. One of my favorite books is The Great Gatsby. Mr. Trump reminds me of Jay Gatsby. He’s got the money; he’s in the right places, yet the old money snobs will never accept him. Mr. Trump’s story, at the trajectory it is on, will end much better than that of Jay Gatsby. Most importantly, Mr. Trump has a family to carry on the great name he is making. They have the potential to be a leading family in the American nobility (I can hear the shrill liberal screams of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” as I type this).

I think that one thing that Mr. Trump could do to secure that legacy would be to adopt his own unique arms, or have conferred upon him by some foreign state with a heraldic authority unique arms. These arms would be differenced among his sons, and passed on to their sons’ sons. This legitimate armorial achievement might even be as enduring as those borne by General George Washington, which he had hereditary right to through an armigerous ancestor.

Even if wholly unique arms are a step too far, Mr. Trump should at least difference the arms currently in use enough that they then become unique. Add a bordure, a canton, or something. Put a bald eagle in chief. Just something. The brand recognition would be retained and heraldry geeks such as me wouldn’t be blowing a gasket.

 

 

Healthcare and the KISS Principle

One of the maxims I strive to live by is the KISS Principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid! It is based on this that I can accepted as fact that society doesn’t scale well, nor do its institutions and bureaucracies. Case in point, the federal online healthcare marketplace stood up at http://www.healthcare.gov. I point to the following excerpt from the non-partisan Starts and Stripes as case in point:

The HealthCare.gov website is a disaster — symbolic to Obamacare opponents, disheartening to supporters, and incredibly frustrating to people who just need to buy insurance. Some computer experts are saying the only way to save the system is to scrap the current bloated code and start over.

Looking back, it seems crazy that neither the Obama administration nor the public was prepared for the startup difficulties. There’s no shortage of database experts willing to opine on the complexities of the problem. Plenty of companies have nightmarish stories to tell about much simpler software projects. And reporting by The New York Times finds that the people involved with the system knew months ago that it was in serious trouble. “We foresee a train wreck,” one said back in February. (Virginia Postrel, 28 Oct 2013, Obamacare was fooled by high-tech glamour)

While I am on my luddite soapbox, I want to be clear that I do not oppose the excellent advances in medical technology in the past century. Had they not occurred, I would have lost my trigger finger due to a table saw accident (NB: Never attempt to cut out a pinewood derby car with a 14″ circular table saw… and never reach across the blade… with the guard off… to turn off the power) when I was eighteen. A very skilled doctor was able to reconnect nerves and tendons and keep me from what I fear might have ended my military career in its first year.

What I do oppose is the unnecessary administrivia associated with modern healthcare a la the insurance cabal. The best definition I have found for this evil institution was written by the sage Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary in 1906:

INSURANCE, n. An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table.

INSURANCE AGENT: My dear sir, that is a fine house – pray let me insure it.

HOUSE OWNER: With pleasure. Please make the annual premium so low that by the time when, according to the tables of your actuary, it will probably be destroyed by fire I will have paid you considerably less than the face of the policy.

INSURANCE AGENT: O dear, no – we could not afford to do that. We must fix the premium so that you will have paid more.

HOUSE OWNER: How, then, can I afford that?

INSURANCE AGENT: Why, your house may burn down at any time. There was Smith’s house, for example, which –

HOUSE OWNER: Spare me – there were Brown’s house, on the contrary, and Jones’s house, and Robinson’s house, which –

INSURANCE AGENT: Spare me!

HOUSE OWNER: Let us understand each other. You want me to pay you money on the supposition that something will occur previously to the time set by yourself for its occurrence. In other words, you expect me to bet that my house will not last so long as you say that it will probably last.

INSURANCE AGENT: But if your house burns without insurance it will be a total loss.

HOUSE OWNER: Beg your pardon – by your own actuary’s tables I shall probably have saved, when it burns, all the premiums I would otherwise have paid to you – amounting to more than the face of the policy they would have bought. But suppose it to burn, uninsured, before the time upon which your figures are based. If I could not afford that, how could you if it were insured?

INSURANCE AGENT: O, we should make ourselves whole from our luckier ventures with other clients. Virtually, they pay your loss.

HOUSE OWNER: And virtually, then, don’t I help to pay their losses? Are not their houses as likely as mine to burn before they have paid you as much as you must pay them? The case stands this way: you expect to take more money from your clients than you pay to them, do you not?

INSURANCE AGENT: Certainly; if we did not –

HOUSE OWNER: I would not trust you with my money. Very well then. If it is certain, with reference to the whole body of your clients, that they lose money on you it is probable, with reference to any one of them, that he will. It is these individual probabilities that make the aggregate certainty.

INSURANCE AGENT: I will not deny it – but look at the figures in this pamph –

HOUSE OWNER: Heaven forbid!

INSURANCE AGENT: You spoke of saving the premiums which you would otherwise pay to me. Will you not be more likely to squander them? We offer you an incentive to thrift.

HOUSE OWNER: The willingness of A to take care of B’s money is not peculiar to insurance, but as a charitable institution you command esteem. Deign to accept its expression from a Deserving Object.

As evidenced by the definition above, insurance violates the KISS principle. However, due to the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare), one cannot not participate in the scheme without paying a particular fine. There is much debate about the virtues of just paying the fine vice paying for insurance (and in fitting with the dialog in the definition), however, there is one major wrinkle in non-compliance in our modern world: technology. By our playing God in the realm of virulent and bacterial realms, we have intentionally or unintentionally uncorked many nasty little genies over the past century. And the pyramid scheme of insurance (augmented by frivolous lawsuits) has put us in a fine kettle of fish whereby insurance is required to offset the outrageous costs of healthcare.

Unlike many of my fine conservative friends, I do not see Obamacare nor this exchange nonsense as the problem. It is a symptom of the greater problem of the institution of insurance. It has made the means of paying for healthcare unnecessarily burdensome to the point of being unsupportable. It is a welfare state mentality whereby the collective is supposed to support the weight of the system. The problem therein lies in the fact that unless there are healthy people (with little service utilization) supporting the unhealthy (with greater utilization), the system shall collapse. It is inevitable, and expected, thus the mandate that everyone be insured.

That then begs the question, what to do after the system collapses?

Here is where I go off the reservation, or more realistically, back to it. In communities across America there are practitioners of traditional medicine, Native American, Far Eastern, African. Some of their methods have stood the test of centuries, possibly even millennia. We disregard these medicine men or shamans, or whatever term fits, as frauds, snake oil salesmen. Why, how can their primitive tribal practices even compare to our modern medicine? Tell me this: how many diseases has “Big Pharma” cured in the past fifty years with all our advances? Why does it take 95% of a commercial to speed read a pill’s side effects?

The reason we eschew traditional/ folk/tribal treatments is because we have been slowly indoctrinated into the fallacy that Western medicine has all the answers. That the FDA knows best. That 200 years of science trumps 5000 years of practice.

Maybe I am naive, but history tells me that complex, “civilized” systems collapse, and basic, tribal approaches have a way of surviving. They may not be the most advanced, but they may just be enough.

So here is where I propose another healthcare exchange. An alternative healthcare exchange where practitioners pushed off into the shadows are able to offer their treatments and services, outside the confines of the insurance quagmire. It’s called Word-of-Mouth. Reputation. Trust. And a website might not be that bad, either.

In deference to true heraldic artists

I recently stumbled upon A Message from Andrew Stewart Jamieson in which he contrasts true “heraldic artists” with “fraudsters, amateurs, and con artists who, calling themselves heraldic artists, offer substandard, commercial services to unsuspecting clients and patrons”. On the same site was a post titled Heraldic Art and Copyright Infringement, both of which are written on the premise of the existence of amateur hacks attempting to exploit the desire for heraldic designs.

Mr. Jamieson is the Scribe and Illuminator of HM Queen Elizabeth II, and has a well-documented career in heraldic arts. Given his reputation, I give much credence to what he has said in the aforementioned article. In it he stated he “began to notice a pattern emerging and to me it was a danger signal which warned of the very demise of the art form I love.” This was related to individuals on web forums offering services as heraldic artists, but without a background and portfolio of works commensurate with the services they were looking to charge others for. In Mr. Jamieson’s words:

Many of these amateurs have little or no idea of the craft of heraldic art or of its long tradition and development from the techniques of medieval manuscript illumination. They have no sense of design and, most importantly, they cannot draw. 

This statement, to me, sums up much of modern art, but I suppose in that realm I am just not cultured enough to appreciate it. Many an artist has splashed paint against a canvas and sold for profit what would earn my children a severe scolding, were I to find it on my own wall. Alas, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Mr. Jamieson’s heraldic works, though, truly are objets d’art.

In the past, an artist would master his craft by mimicking the works of those whom he admired, and spend many years working toward his own style, but as was stated in the articles referenced, modern technology has short circuited the process. One now only has to obtain a digital copy of an image to begin manipulating it to his own designs. With a little practice, one could become proficient in taking a cookie cutter approach to emblazonment, and output decent quality (digital) work. It is my uneducated opinion that a vast majority of heraldic consumers would never know the difference. With the anonymity afforded by the Internet, one could easily build a pseudo-reputation as an heraldic artist. And as stated by Mr. Jamieson:

These fraudsters are often retired or are employed and have careers and receive a regular wage; to them heraldry is just a sideline. I have seen young professionals for whom heraldry is their only career, fall by the wayside no longer able to support their families. This is morally wrong and it is delivering a death blow to this field.

The problem here seems to be whether a patron is willing to pay for true art put down on canvas by a steady hand in quality inks, or is the patron satisfied with a digital work? As an anachronist, I do not even consider the two to be on the same level. The physical artist makes an heirloom to be passed down for generations, the digital artist creates a work that lasts so long as it is electronically available[1]. One cannot be duplicated without retaining the hand of the master, the other can be duplicated en masse with the click of a button. Anyone can own a “Renoir“, but only one can possess the original[2].

So what of the aspiring heraldic artist, the rank amateur, or (in my case) the novice? Those of us who want to dabble in heraldic design and entertain ourselves with our handiwork? Mr. Jamieson has words for us as well:

There is, of course, no problem with amateurs and hobbyists doing heraldic scribbles for their own amusement. I positively welcome this

As illustrated by my assumed arms as emblazoned, I am amongst the ranks of heraldic scribblers. I think in putting my illustrations together I violated nearly everything spoken against in the two articles. First, I pulled down SVGs of heraldic examples from Wikipedia. I cut and pasted elements to suit my needs. I traced over jpegs of lower quality so that I could make scalable vector images. I did my best not to use copyrighted images, so as not to violate anyone’s copyright. I bought several books on heraldry and heraldic art so that I would have examples to follow, but I have not developed my own style, nor likely will I. I simply reached a point with my “work” that I was not ashamed to post it to my own website. I sat back, satisfied (but not content) with the “quality” of what I had created. Would I do the same for someone else? Sure. Would I charge them for it? Absolutely not. One should not pay someone else for amateur quality work. Would I ever endeavor to become a professional heraldic artist. Never. This is not my forte, and as quoted above from Mr. Jamieson, it cuts into the livelihood of true artists.

All this hearkens back to the notion that technology undercuts talent. We can call this luddism if we like, but the fact remains that skills are lost when the means of creation are taken out of human hands. This is especially true in the arts. Where once a musician was required to perform great melodies, nowadays, anyone with Garage Band and a sufficient supply of instrumental samples can put together a song. That song can then be replayed in its digital “perfection” as many times as the listener desires. Likewise, the Renoir referenced above can be reprinted to exact tolerances as many times as it can be sold, always “perfect”. And this perfection can be obtained in anything reproduced digitally, but the element lacking is “soul”: that imperfect and one-offness that can only be imparted at the moment of creation by a human hand. The fingers strumming a string or grasping a brush. The pressure applied by human hand to create that which is truly unique.

So back to the premise of supply and demand. Are we who desire objects willing to pay for the quality of masters, or are we satisfied with a third-rate knock-off? I fear I know the answer. Will we see the demise that Mr. Jamieson fears? Let those of us interested in heraldic arts hope not.

~~~

[1] I am purposely ignoring arguments for the loss or destruction of the physical work and I realize a digital copy may be archived, replicated, recreated, &etc.

[2] What if the artist created two originals? They are still going to be two unique works, and not identical.

[UPDATE: 22 July 2013]
Here is another example of a truly talented heraldic artist:
http://www.rochdaleonline.co.uk/news-features/2/news-headlines/81516/rochdale-man-carves-oldham-coat-of-arms

Is a degree worth it? Part II

One of my favorite rants, the debasement of educational currency:

5 Reasons Why Your New Bachelor’s Degree Is Worthless:

With the increasing cost of college tuition, student loan debt, job scarcity, and opportunities for entrepreneurship online, is it any wonder that grads are wondering: “was getting my degree worthwhile?”

Well, that’s up to you do to decide.
5 Reasons Why Your Bachelor’s Degree Is Worthless

1.) Academic Inflation
In 1970, only 26% of middle-class workers had education beyond high school. Today, almost 60% of all jobs in the US require a higher education. Your new bachelor’s degree is becoming increasingly worthless as more and more people graduate from college, as jobs that used to need only a bachelor’s degree now prefer master’s degrees.

If the excess of bachelor’s degrees wasn’t enough, now we have an increase in master’s degree students who have decided to stay in school to wait out the recession: not only have you gone to school to earn a commodity, it’s now a sub-standard commodity.

It’s only a matter of time until you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a certification to mow lawns—there go all the summer jobs for kids.

2.) The Illusion of Safety
What used to be a guarantee of safety and stability has recently turned into an exercise in musical chairs. There aren’t enough jobs for everyone, and you find yourself scrambling to not be the odd man out.

According to a CNN article, less than half of college graduates under the age of 25 are working at a job that requires a college degree. The same article mentions a 2012 study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce titled “Hard Times: Not All College Majors are Created Equal,” showing that bachelor degree grads have an unemployment rate of 8.9%.

3.) Drowning in Debt
On average, the cost for one year of attendance at four-year public college or university costs 40% of a family’s income, and on average, approximately 40% of students leave school with a debt of $22,000. If you’re from a family that earns between $40k and $50k, that number jumps to $28,000.

Middle-class families will have more debt from student loans than their upper-class peers, who can pay for their education outright, and their lower class peers, who often qualify for grants and financial assistance. You might even end up being the one paying $1,000 a month for 20 years just for four years of school.

4.) The Source of Creativity
People seem to think that the simple act of attending college makes you more innovative and creative. That’s simply not true.

Creativity and innovation don’t come from what people teach you: new ideas come from your personal experiences, and your interaction with your environment.

5.) Your Professors Aren’t Concerned About Your Education
I know people who graduated with a degree in engineering who couldn’t do a derivative. I’m not joking.

Many professors are far more interested in tenure and their research than they are about making sure you get the best education they can possible give you. They grade you on curves so you can’t possibly fail, and the curriculum never changes. In fact, one study showed that 45% of students are no better at critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing after their sophomore year than they were when they began.

5 Reasons Your New Bachelor’s Degree Was Worth The Effort

1.) You’ll Be Better Off With One Than Without One
Although getting a degree isn’t the golden ticket to success anymore, it’s still a rite of passage in America. If you do need to get a job, having a degree can only help you—not only will you have more options to choose from, but you’ll also get paid more. It’s estimated that a degree is worth $1.3 million in additional lifetime earnings.

2.) Head-Fake Learning
College is about more than book-learning: it also teaches you how to think. It’s about learning how to become a leader and how to make impossible deadlines work on 3 hours of sleep.

If you take advantage of everything higher education has to offer, it’s an opportunity to learn how to initiate change, negotiate and experiment in life without any dire consequences.

3.) Experience
Going to college really is a once-in-a lifetime experience: living in a dorm room, having all-night study sessions…it’s not something that you can put off. Education you can get at any time, but this experience you can really only get once. Once you’re older, you mature too much to take the kinds of risks that are taken in college.

You fundamentally change as a person during the course of those four years. Anyone who’s gone to college and has friends who haven’t know what it’s like to go back home and realize that their old friends are exactly the same as they were four years ago. I’m not saying that people who haven’t changed are somehow worse off in life, I’m saying that if you want to experience that kind of world-view change, college is the best place to do it.

4.) Intellectual Stimulation
It’s not until after college that you realize how mentally stimulated you were every single day. You were learning new concepts from half a dozen different subjects every single day; you could pick what you wanted to learn about next semester using electives, and at any given point, you could meet someone on campus who could completely alter your world-view with a single conversation.

5.) It’s Really Fun
You have your entire life in which to work: even if you end up being self-employed, work is never going to be as carefree as college was.

A college degree doesn’t guarantee security, just as not having a college degree doesn’t guarantee failure. When making the decision whether to attend or not, check the facts as they pertain to your individual situation. If you do go to college, it should be for more than just getting a good job and making money; that may not happen for you. It should be for the experience, intellectual stimulation, and all the things you learn in tandem with your classes. Don’t depend on a company to save you—save yourself by getting the most out of your four years at school.

Featured photo credit: Students throwing graduation hats in the air celebrating via Shutterstock

Related posts:
17 Back to School Lifehacks to Start Your Semester
Why You (Probably) Shouldn’t Take out Loans for College
Back to School: How to Graduate from College with a High GPA

I’ve previously posted on this topic, and on the occasion of having finally been awarded a Master of Science in Management, I think that part of the problem is a simple matter of supply and demand. We have told at least two generations now that everyone needs to go to college and get a Bachelor’s Degree, thus flooding the market with degreed individuals, when in all honesty, the positions requiring degrees on paper don’t really need a degree in practice. Employers list a degree as a requirement because it shows a commitment to follow through and complete something. Whether or not the applicants did or not cannot be readily determined.

We have debased the value of a degree in the same way the Fed debases the US Dollar by going on “printing sprees” (nevermind that physical dollars are not made, just zeros added to accounts) that inflate away federal debt. The losers are the ones who must pay for this education that often unfortunately does not have a good return on investment.

At the same time, we have placed trades in a negative light as not as prestigious as white collar jobs, but tradesmen often must display much more intelligence and ingenuity in accomplishing their challenges. Not to mention that having done something with one’s hands is often much more personally rewarding than the outcomes of thinking jobs. Trades teach real-world job skills, not just abstract concepts that one may have opportunity to apply in his or her career, IF one can even recollect the concepts when the opportunity for application arrives.

Being a Gen-Xer, my generation will probably be the one that has to first deal with this dilemma with its kids, and I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about it for at least another ten years.

Blog Commentary and Fair Use

You wouldn’t be able to tell it from my utter lack of fashion sense, but I read a couple fashion blogs (manly fashion blogs, have you) and the post below stirred me to post on a topic that affects the way I pull a lot of content into my site:

Friday Question: U Mad?:
Senior year of college, I took a Comm Law 100 course. I had no daydreams about delivering Law & Order-style closing arguments dancing in my head; I just needed to fill some credits and thought it might be interesting. To this day, all I remember are the name of a few cases and the distinct memory of my father telling me never to be a lawyer.

I wish I’d listened a little better in class, though, because the question of content rights has been swirling around my little menswear world the past couple days, and it would be nice to be a bit better informed.

The gist of it is this:
StyleSeek, the new men’s style curation and discovery site, launched at the beginning of this week. I talked about it on Style Girlfriend a few days ago, as did a few other outlets (a little-known pub called GQ among them).

It came to my attention after the launch that some menswear bloggers (I don’t know how many – could be a handful, could be a whole bunch) weren’t contacted about their work being featured on StyleSeek. If their articles could appear on the site, if they wanted to be affiliated with the site at all.

As for me, I was asked to be a part of the endeavor by Ryan Plett, the creative director of StyleSeek. We had a lovely brunch a few weeks back where he told me all about the site and asked me to be one of its “influencers.” Send them a picture, a bio, and fill out my styleDNA.” Easy enough. I said yes.

So I knew. I knew content from Style Girlfriend would be pulled in. At the time, I didn’t question the legality, morality, or the fairness of my words being repurposed on another website, all for free. At all. To be honest, I didn’t think much about any of it. I was given a log-in and played with the site a little bit pre-launch but figured things would change, as they always do once a site goes live and users are able to kick the tires a little. Like when URL shortener bit.ly debuted a new site; there were a few glaring user experience issues, all of which were fixed in about two and a half days. I’d wait for the site to be up for a minute, I figured, before paying the whole thing too much mind.

Then the site went live and a firestorm erupted. A few of my most eloquent – and unabashedly vocal – menswear blogger friends took to Twitter and their respective blogs to say, hey, our content is up on this site called StyleSeek. We’ve never heard of it and we don’t want the words we’ve written used on some other site without getting paid for it. That is stealing.

You can read more here and here.

Then, since I had written about the site earlier in the week with only good, non-lawyer-y things to say about it, I had people asking me, “Megan, did you know about this? Did you know your content was on this site? Aren’t you mad?” The answer was yes, yes, and well, no, not really…but maybe I should be??
I started Style Girlfriend not as a way to make a living but as a means to getting to where I could be making a living. I wanted to increase my exposure at a time when I wanted to write for a living but didn’t, to communicate with an audience who I thought wasn’t being addressed enough, to engage a reader who I wanted to entertain and educate. I’ve done that, hopefully well, in the past year and change. Now, SG takes up more of my time, and there are ads on the sides and I do in fact make a little pocket change from it, but I’ve stayed frozen in the mindset of “Must get exposure. Get paid in exposure.”

Would I like some of this $1M of funding that StyleSeek has to kick around? Sure. Yes. Of course. Did I settle for the hope that my mug and my words living on their site would increase traffic to my own site, indirectly resulting in a (paltry) bump in ad revenue and potentially more paid content opportunities? Yes. Because as I said above, the nagging voice in my head tells me I should just feel lucky to be asked to the party, as it were.

I wish I could be more of a drum beater for the rights of content creators, but 1) the aforementioned intro-level law survey course under my belt does not embolden me to speak on these matters, and 2) I knew what I was getting into so it would be insincere to express outrage now. And I have gotten some new readers from all this (Hello, by the way! Welcome! Go visit this post; fellas seem to like it). So I got what I was promised by Ryan at brunch so many moons ago; it’s just now that I realize what I was promised wasn’t what I should have settled for.

Yesterday, Ryan announced that StyleSeek would begin shortening blog posts on the site, and link out to those bloggers’ sites. That’s certainly a step in the right direction. Because ideally, I want people to read my content on my site, bouncing around through my archives for a few hours, and finding me so generally delightful that they feel compelled to PayPal me a million dollars on the spot.

But I also want people to know me. To know about Style Girlfriend. To think about it a week from now and visit it. A month from now and visit it. I want brands who show up in my styledna to say, “hey, we want to work with that pretty lady” (I hope that’s exactly what they say) and get in touch and offer me money to write words. I love writing words. I also love paying my rent each month. There has to be a way to be a content creator and a grown up who not only understands but demands for themselves the respect that comes from work-money, money-work.

So for my Friday question, I’m crowdsourcing my reaction: Should I be upset about all this? Should I pull my content from StyleSeek? Should I have asked for compensation up front? I’d love to hear what you have to say on the question of content creation and compensation on the internet. Maybe you think we’re still in the wild west phase of the web, and I should just be happy they attributed my words to me at all?

And heck, while we’re at it, who would you like to see me work with? Blogger collaborations? Brands? I want to maintain the integrity of this site by only partnering with brands I believe in and think you guys would want to hear about, but I also want to keep my lights on and my stove running, and it would be awesome if the time I spent on Style Girlfriend contributed more towards the foundation of ol’ Maslow’s pyramid. Who could i partner with (on sponsored posts, say, or giveaways) that you’d be interested to hear more about? Let’s help keep style girlfriend going, the right way.
And as always, thanks for your support. It means the world to me.

I can understand the bloggers who feel like the site mentioned above has misappropriated their content for profit, which would be unfortunate, but for my purposes, I’d like to look at the doctrine of Fair Use. Fair Use has a long history in common law, but is only as old as I am in codified US law:

17 U.S.C. § 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

 So let’s look at the way I use other people’s content on this site. It usually happens like this:

  1. I have Google Reader configured to pull in RSS feeds from sites I like.
  2. I have Google Alerts configured to pull in stuff from all over the Web with certain keywords and dump them into an RSS feed in Google Reader.
  3. If I see something I like that I want to share, I import it into my site from Google Reader.
  4. I try to attribute the site I pulled the content from and always leave their links in place.
  5. I either say “look at what I’ve found”, or I provide some type of commentary on why I shared it.
  6. I don’t attempt to make any money off of other people’s content. In fact, I have had Google AdSense account for as long as I’ve had this blog up, and I haven’t made enough from it to buy a good cup of coffee, nor did I expect to.
  7. I license my original works under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. This allows:
  1. You: 
  1. to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
  2. to Remix — to adapt the work
  • Conditions:  
    1. Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
    2. Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes. 
    3. Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. 

    I take an “Information wants to be free” approach to my own writings, but I don’t want to misappropriate other people’s efforts, nor do I want to profit from them. I don’t have a right to determine that other people’s “Information wants to be free”. My goal in running this site is to patch together a quilt of topics that interest me. If they interest you, too, then great! We both benefit.

    Furthermore, I think the way I am using other people’s content fits within the fair use doctrine. My work is not commercial. I don’t attempt to diminish the value of the content in question. I hope that when I post something from someone else’s site, that those who find it on my site will follow the links back to the originator’s site. If they had one snippet worth reading here, you know, they probably have even more gems back on their own site.