Writings: Copyrights, Licenses, and Creative Commons

Okay, no, you know what? I've got five minutes and too much Sprite inside me. We're going to talk about Creative Commons and copyright, okay? Give me a second. This is an American thread because I am an American. Just to be clear. I do not know the nuances of international copyright law. I am also not a lawyer. I am very definitely not YOUR lawyer. This is not legal advice.

Everyone sorta knows what copyright is, right? If a corporation like Disney makes something, it's under copyright and they own it and you don't and it's an enormous pain in the ass. Because it means that if you want to use or make or sell anything based on Disney's work, you either can't or you have to pretend your thing is totally original and that's why these charms I bought for my resin work are called "Cartoon Princess Charms".

Clay charms designed to look like Disney princesses.

OBVIOUSLY that isn't Rapunzel, Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Merida, Giselle, and Snow White, and any coincidental resemblance is on you. Et cetera.

Now here's the thing: in America pretty much everything you make is automatically under copyright--YOUR copyright--when you make it. (That used to not be the case; you used to have to register copyright and people sometimes forgot and accidentally public domain'd entire movies.) "But, Ana, I don't want my work to be under copyright! I want people to be able to use it!" Cool! We do that with a license. A license outlines who and how someone can use a copyrighted work.

Big companies like Disney make licenses that are complex and targeted to a single person: For eleventy million dollars, Bob Johnson has a license to print Tangled beer steins. Or whatever. But you can also make licenses that apply to *everyone*, not just Bob Johnson. That's where Creative Commons comes in: some smart folks sat down and created a bunch of licenses that you can copy and apply to your work. Have you ever seen something like this on a webpage?

28mm Dead Male Villagers byCurufinis licensed under theCreative Commons - Attribution - Non-Commercial license

(That's printable dead bodies for your D&D table, by the way, in case the name worried you a bit.) The Creative Common licenses generally mean that people can use your creative work without having a lot of hoops to go through. Here's a page of theirs that actually helps you pick what kind of license is best for you.

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/choose/

Each license starts with "Creative Commons" and then adds on words (as needed!) that outline more restrictions. "Attribution" means you have to credit the author. You can use the work, adapt it, sell it, whatever, but you need to say who the original work was by.

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

"ShareAlike" means that if someone mods the thing, their new work (based on your old work) MUST be distributed under the same license as your work. This is a way of making sure that a big corporation can't take your design, modify it a tiny bit, and then apply a restrictive copyright to THEIR modification of YOUR work so that now nobody can use it freely.

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

"NonCommercial" means other people can't sell the thing you designed. They can use it for themselves, or give it away, but they can't sell it.

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

You might think that's a great one, but it can really suck for small creators like myself and it can limit how much your design is used. If you think about something like, say, dice: how many people can make dice at home, versus how many buy their dice on Etsy? If you came up with a real cool style of 3D printed dice that looked like, idk, the moon and the faces are all the lunar seas, then if people could print and sell it, it'd be all over Etsy. If no one can sell it, then only people with 3D printers at home can make and use 'em.

You might be okay with this! That's fine! Creative Commons is meant to be flexible! I just wanted to explain why you might want to think carefully about what you want for your design, rather than packing on license conditions thinking More = Better.

"What if I make a NonCommercial license but say that small businesses can still use them?" Well...that's really kind of you, but that's kind of tricky to navigate. What constitutes a "small business"? Does that include Etsy, who takes a percentage of sales? Most small business owners are very very risk adverse, so they're probably going to either avoid your design entirely OR maybe 1 in 10 will email you for clear and direct permission. EVEN WITH PERMISSION, small creators can still be harmed by automated systems. I have *explicit written permission* for almost all the material on my YouTube channel and I *still* get copyright strikes from bots.

Going back to Creative Commons licenses, there is also the "No Derivatives" license which means that people can use your design but not build on it in any way. No modifications!

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/

"Ana, what if I hate the idea of having my work under copyright, even implicit copyright that I didn't ask for?" I'm glad you asked! You can use a special Creative Commons license, the CC0, to place your work in the public domain!

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/cc0/

I have actually left instructions in my will asking that all my works be placed in the public domain upon my death, because I care so much about document preservation. By the way! My first novel, Pulchritude, is actually distributed under a CC license. You are technically free to copy and redistribute Pulchritude freely without paying me money! People pay me anyway!

Which brings me to: people LIKE to tip creators. So regardless of which license you feel is right for you, make sure to have a way for people to pay you money in gratitude for the cool thing you designed. Lastly: Artists need to eat and nobody should feel bad over what copyright license they chose to apply to their work. Don't harass creators for making difficult choices!

Thank you! Thread is over! Go home! Love you!

NOTE: Some, but not all, Creative Commons licenses are copyleft licenses. "Copyleft" has an actual meaning and isn't just "copyrights we like".

MORE NOTE: For the record, the Progress Flag is under a Creative Commons license which means it can be freely used and distributed! and that's a good thing! and the creator is nonbinary who uses xe/they pronouns and shouldn't be harassed or misgendered! AND if your favorite store doesn't sell that flag, it's not because they hate the flag, it's because they're nervous about the licensing issue. Etsy is known for taking down shops that are accused of infringement, even IF everyone is behaving. This is an Etsy problem, not a flag problem, and I only mention it here because I understand people are confused when they don't see a great flag they love among someone's cool online shop. Small biz owners have to make a lot of these decisions behind the scenes.

@EmbertheUnusual. Out of curiousity, what kind of license would it be if I want my works to be freely available *except* if you're using them for stuff like promoting hate speech or other creepy shit?

Oh! This is a really good question, okay, hang on, let me get my typing fingers on. So here's the thing: You can write a license to use your work that says ANYTHING. Now, not everything you write is enforceable and that's for the courts to decide. But you CAN write a license that says "if you use this software, you have to give me your firstborn child." (The courts will not enforce that license, but you can write it.)

I have seen licenses that say "you can use this freely, but if you see me on the street you gotta buy me a beer." Big companies have to figure up how much beer they could be liable for in court before using that software. There are coders who have thought about how to implement licenses which promote the public good or at least can't be used for evil. One of these is the Do No Harm license. Here is the full license text. If you want to modify that license text to add/remove things that you feel should be on that list, you totally can!

>> LINK: https://github.com/raisely/NoHarm
>> LINK: https://github.com/raisely/NoHarm/blob/publish/LICENSE.md

Now, that's explicitly a software license and not an art license. But what you could do is merge the two with something like:

This work must not be used by any person or organization that:
a) lobbies for, promotes, or derives a majority of income from actions that support or contribute to:
[list of things]
b) lobbies against, or derives a majority of income from actions that discourage or frustrate:
[list of things]
When these conditions are met, the work may be used under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

I am not a lawyer but I think this would cover you. Mind you, if a hate group did use your thing, you'd have to pay to take them to court. Which would suck. But that's true for all copyright violations, really. But ultimately at the end of the day, you can license your work any way you want. Licenses like Creative Commons just make it easy for you to take a pre-written license rather than making one yourself from scratch. It's like... a boxed cake mix vs measuring out flour.

By the way: even if you want to give your work away for free, if you even THINK a big corporation might want to use your thing (and you're okay with that), leave an option for people to (a) email you and (b) BUY a license. "But, Ana, why would a corporation want to BUY something that's free??" License laws are complicated. A lot of businesses are risk adverse and would rather spend $25 per copy of your software than use it for free and risk a lawsuit later for reasons. Money = papertrail = safety. They don't want to worry that the license WAS free but then you changed it on your website and they forgot to keep a copy and the wayback machine didn't archive it and now they're in court and... so much easier just to throw money at a license and say "look, your honor, we paid."

There are also licenses that will explicitly say that something is free to use/sell/etc. for a company with less than 50/100/etc. employees. Things like that. (Like I said, you can write anything in a license. How it's enforced is up to the courts.) LAST BUT NOT LEAST: While I have you here, if you ever take a viral picture and CNN wants permission to use it, make them pay you. This isn't legal advice, I just want you to get paid.

Once again: I am not a lawyer, none of this is legal advice, I have drank 3 Sprites in 1 hour and my purpose is entertainment only and not education. I have a cat on my head as I type this. Good night.

Genderpocalypse: Into The Mist

Into The Mist by PC Cast


From the back of the book: "As men fall to the mist, the age of womankind begins to rise. The Power meets The Stand in this gripping take on female power and the inevitable destructive path of violent patriarchies.

The world as we know it ends when an attack on the U.S. unleashes bombs that deliver fire and biological destruction. Along with sonic detonations and devastating earthquakes, the bombs have also brought the green mist. If breathed in, it is deadly to all men--but alters the body chemistry of many women, imbuing them with superhuman abilities.

A group of high school teachers heading home from a conference experiences firsthand the strength of these new powers. Mercury Rhodes is the Warrior, possessing heightened physical powers. Stella Carver is the Seer, with a sixth sense about the future. Imani Andrews is the watcher, with a rare connection to the earth. Karen Gay is the Priestess, demonstrating a special connection with Spirits. And Gemma Jenkins is the Healer, a sixteen-year-old student who joins the group after losing her parents.

As they cross the Pacific Northwest, trying to find a safe place to ride out the apocalypse, the women soon learn that they can't trust anyone, and with fresh danger around every corner it will take all their powers to save themselves--and possibly the world. With timely commentary on power and community, Into the Mist delivers a thrilling and fantastical feminist future."

(Ana) Despite my reputation as the genderpocalypse-hater, I had high hopes for Into The Mist. Going into the reading, I believed that the author tries to be a trans ally (and I still do). She has stated very clearly on Twitter that the mysterious mist in her book kills based on gender identity rather than biology. I knew, too, that she has a reputation as a skilled genre writer.

Twitter: Malicious Compliance

Let's talk about what "malicious compliance" means under an oppressive government entity. This could be a historical entity (example: Nazi Germany or the American Confederacy) or a fictional one for my writer mutuals. Malicious Compliance is the act of complying with a law or rule in the worst possible way, out of protest for the unjustness of the law. The idea is to:

- slow down the process
- protect or hide a victim from harm
- inconvenience others
- tie up valuable time and resources

Many people were saved in Nazi Germany because certain people made a big fuss about the paperwork not being 100% correct. There are also outright acts of strategic disobedience applied in these situations. Slave populations have often "accidentally" broken critical tools.

Let's say you're writing a fictional dystopia wherein the government requires teachers and nurses to register all known queer children with the state, or with their parents, for discriminatory purposes. What can your characters do to stymie this process? Well, first, they're going to need to have a plan in place. Most people aren't good at coming up with malicious compliance on the spot, especially if they've been steeped in a dystopic environment that beats into them that their value is defined by their productivity as a worker.

Plans they could make include:

- Is the registration filled out in a paper form or letter? Can it be filled out and "lost" in a drawer?

- If computerized, can the character "forget" to fill out the relevant notes section on the child?
Can the character warn the child?

- Maybe tell the child about the rule and ask if they meant their "friend" is queer and they need advice for their "friend"?

- Maybe they meant queer as in strange, or gay as in happy. Kids don't always know the meanings of the words they say.

- Can the system itself be tampered with? Can the database be safely loaded with false data to waste the authorities' time?

- Can the child's data be lost in the system by using the wrong name or spelling or address?

- Is there a time limit by which the character has to turn in the child? Can they just wait indefinitely? Or leave it until the last minute, then take a vacation, and forget? These things happen.

A good fictional example of bureaucratic stalling is "Will Save The Galaxy For Food" wherein a Lawful character buys time by insisting that a squadron of soldiers are NOT allowed to "redecorate" the place they're invading and therefore MUST put on little paper booties.

Writers need to understand that if they want readers to like a character, that will NOT be accomplished by making them an efficient worker bee for fascists. You might think a "good" character would just quit rather than be complicit in a bad system, but there are other ways to do good: slowing the bad guys down, obfuscating the truth, redirecting their energies: Chaotic Good Trolls for the cause.

Let's say your fictional government entity is requiring "gender passports" so people can work and play and go to school. Your character is a doctor:

- Can you just sign the patient's paperwork and take their word for it? Will anyone really know if you didn't do an exam?

- The rule may say to perform certain tests, but may not specify HOW or ON WHAT (there's lab samples around here somewhere) or how to INTERPRET the results.

It is your character's ethical responsibility to protect the patient, not to follow an unjust law that puts them at risk.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Ana, I'm not a writer so I don't need to research this." But you do consume fiction, yes? You watch shows or movies or play games? This is a very common trope and it's important to understand it fully so you can appreciate the nuances. I think it's important to understand certain tropes so you can appreciate what's happening in fiction--otherwise you might not understand why a hero is "cooperating" with fascists rather than just passionately quitting in an act of useless defiance.

It's also very important to be able to tell the difference between characters who are complying willingly (collaborators) and characters who are complying maliciously (resistors). You need to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in your movie, right? So I'm going to strongly recommend that everyone, writers and readers and viewers alike, put some real thought and research into what malicious compliance and bureaucratic stalling mean to you personally.

Feel free to drop fictional or historical examples in the comments, for writing inspiration!

I want to expand some thoughts on this thread that I couldn't get to last night. We talked about malicious compliance: following the letter of the law, rather than the spirit, in order to slow fascism and help the innocent. Let's talk about fictional sabotage now. If you've seen a lot of action movies, you're probably familiar with the concept of, like, the Star Rebels blowing up the Death Factory where all the killdroids are made. But sabotage comes in all kinds of forms!

For example, did you know that most slave societies that we have records for were often deliberately "clumsy" and would break tools that would require the entire workforce to halt for a day or more. The sabotage was focused and directed, not willy-nilly, and it worked because the ruling classes wanted to believe that the slaves weren't smart. Especially if a tool was considered complicated or complex. Nothing takes me out of a story faster than an oppressed workforce that is working at peak efficiency. Even good workforces have accidents; your oppressed surly fictional District 12 or whatever should have plenty of accidents to their name!

Does your hero work with computers? Can he slow down the network with accidental Reply Alls to internal memos? Can he lose key patient data by restarting his machine before saving? Can he reboot his machine during an OS upgrade and ruin the entire image? Your character doesn't need to be a super hacker to do basic stuff like this; even computer experts make basic mistakes like these.

If your hero is a manager, she could confuse and stall cases by randomly reassigning workloads. Like, in the case above where the dystopian government is investigating all queer children, she could reassign their cases internally every week, bringing progress to a halt. Or by having assignments consolidated into a morning stack that everyone just works off of as they come in, sorted by priority, but she keeps changing the priorities. Maybe she uses the chaos as an excuse to create more chaos: daily progress meetings that last 2-3 hours at a time. Requirements for status updates that take an hour to fill out and are needed every day for every case.

Readers love to hear about creative ways someone mucked with someone else's progress; lean into that desire because it's a great source of entertainment. Well placed comedy can help leaven the bread of tragedy, if you will. Think of all those Shakespearean bumbling fools who were ever getting in the way of the other characters. They're audience-favorites for a reason!

Film Corner: Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe

The Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe

I'm in too much pain tonight to sleep, so I think it might be time for some more LuLaRoe documentaries, because I think LuLaRich didn't delve deeply enough. For example, I am hearing from someone in my DMs that LLR would sometimes terminate retailers if they sold other MLM merchandise from other suppliers? That seems an important counterpoint to all that talk about empowering women to start their own businesses!

This documentary we're about to watch isn't free with Prime, but it IS free with a 7-day trial of Discovery+ so there may be a few more documentary live-tweets from me in the coming 7 days. It's called THE RISE AND FALL OF LULAROE, which is a very nicely dramatic title.

We start with one of DeAnne's pep-talks about how great the retailers are for being entrepreneurs with their own businesses, and again I have to stress that they *terminate* retailers if they sell, say, makeup from another MLM company. That is not a normal retailer-supplier relationship. We have a lot of opening testimonials (quick shots) from former retailers who felt scammed and lost money. I do appreciate seeing more retailers from the "bottom 80%". LuLaRich seemed to focus on the top 20%.

Those Washington deposition tapes are just a wealth of DeAnne saying "I don't know" over and over to stonewall basic questions. I do enjoy that we get to see quite a few of the leggings and the early designs. They're bold, yes, but I do think they're cute. (Shame about the rampant copyright infringement!)

*presses finger to ear* Okay, I am hearing from someone else in my DMs that the "terminates retailers for selling from other MLMs" clause depended on whether the merchandise was deemed to be in 'competition' with the LLR merchandise? But, again, this is not normal demands from a supplier?

To return to my usual hypothetical examples, Hanes does not tell Wal-Mart that WM can't carry any Fruit of the Loom in their stores or Hanes will terminate the relationship. Or, well, they COULD tell Wal-Mart that but WM would tell them to hit the road. The fact that LLR could demand that their retailers "exclusively" sell their goods and no other "competing" merchandise indicates the extreme power imbalance here between the retailer and the supplier.

An expert walks us through the pyramid process, though they don't include the detail from LuLaRich that after 13 levels you run out of human peoples on earth. Another expert explains that the internet really expanded the concept of the Tupperware Party. You're no longer limited to neighbors for people to sell/recruit to; you can throw virtual "parties" on Facebook Live and so forth that can reach around the globe.

Amanda Montell (author of the book Cultish, which several of you have recommended) demonstrates the pitch of the "side hustle" in an extremely effective manner. I love her gregariousness. One retailer calls LLR an example of "the American work ethos on steroids" because, again, so many of these women were perfectly willing to work and hustle! This wasn't, like, the Monkey Jpegs where they just expect to buy a thing and sit back while it accrues value.

Montell talks about the overlap of MLM and Mormon (and, I would add, various christian cults) because they're raised to evangelize and witness, and that skill comes into play with sales/recruiting for MLMs. Another expert drops that DeAnne's family is basically descended "Mormon royalty", which I did not know. That certainly was not mentioned and did not come across in the LuLaRich documentary.

One of the interviewees actually grew up adjacent to DeAnne in her Mormon community and church, so that's an interesting perspective to be exposed to. There is talk about how enthusiastic and high-energy and visible (insta, social media) DeAnne likes to be. They discuss DeAnne's "origin story" selling maxi skirts out of the trunk of her car. Montell talks about how they frame the story such that the pyramid-style recruitment wasn't even DeAnne's idea, it just "fell upon her" as part of the "American dream". Innocent!

I must say, I am REALLY liking the interviewees here in this "Rise and Fall" documentary. I mean, I liked the interviewees in LuLaRich too, but these are adding a lot of sharp, interesting new points. I really appreciate that we're seeing more from the lower-pyramid victims. A lot of these women look like normal people I know and my heart goes out to them. They talk about relating to DeAnne's origin story.

"I feel like LuLaRoe's message was 'Every body is beautiful. Our size ranges went up to an 18-20, so I felt like it was really size-inclusive." *winces* Okay. Not everyone is deep into fat activism. But, uh. Yeah. For those not in the know or not familiar with American sizing, size 18-20 or 1x is the low end of "plus size". I have rarely seen stores go past 34-36 or 5x, but we need inclusive sizing that goes up even higher than that.

DeAnne tells people to go out and "find five people a day" and build a relationship with them to recruit them. The introvert in me is shrieking. As mentioned in LuLaRich, "trainers" with a certain number of underlings get a gold watch as a status reward. People were supposed to write down "50 names" of people you could recruit. I would not be able to do that! And they draw the point that in a Mormon community, it's much easier to make that list. DeAnne was drawing off that existing infrastructure.

Mark repeats that they're offering "full time pay for part time work". Vivian Kaye, a business advisor and actual entrepreneur, explains how much that is NOT the reality for most/all small businesses. Money doesn't magically just fall into your lap like that.

Even the "top 20%" at LLR who were making huge amounts of money were still hustling constantly to recruit, recruit, recruit, and were spending everything they made into direct marketing--travel, trips, ostentatious displays of wealth. So literally NO ONE was getting full time pay for part time work; even the early adopters who were making 6-figure bonus checks were hustling so much that they had to hire nannies, cooks, etc just to feed their families.

Vivian Kaye talks about how mothers are pressured to stay home in an economy where daycare costs more than most jobs bring in. But women long for fulfillment and community and stimulation, so the whole "boss babe" appeal is very strong.

Another retailer is talking about- they had 4 kids and adopted 7 more. Uh. Oh. Um. *hesitates* Look, she seems really nice but there are a LOT of issues with the adoption industry and foreign adoption, which is what they opted for ON A MISSION TRIP. *wince* That's... we're just going to move past that and talk about the LLR cruise.

DeAnne urges them to qualify for the cruise prize, with higher sellers/recruiters getting better rooms. To qualify for the cruise, a retailer has to sell $12,000+ merchandise per month for six months. Mark (and others) have repeatedly said they don't track sales to customers, so I'm not really sure how they verify those sales. Perhaps the tracking changed over time? The documentary notes that the basic startup kit for joining LLR has gone from the initial $5,000 cost to $499 now.

The cruises and parties, which are heavily shown on instagram and facebook, are designed to be aspirational and play on people's fear of missing out: they don't want to be left out of the community. Montell talks about how the MLM events are run like revival meetings: high energy, high community, a sort of group ritual that boosts your serotonins. "These are bonding events."

Vivian talks about how the person "on top" is talking down to the flock and demanding their tithe of time and evangelism: the followers were supposed to bring in more money and more people. An events team planner talks about LLR's mission statement and how everything was all about positivity, joy, a wonderland, and (most importantly) "this could be you" if you bought in. They were selling a life style, an aspiration.

...I love this man and his attitude. Bless him. They hired him to wear leggings and dance for the crowd. "The whole atmosphere was overwhelming joy and excitement. A wholesome party! No alcohol! I don't need anything to help me party!" Again, much like a revival meeting, people were asked to get up on stage and give a sob story--a "why"--for why they wanted to be a part of LLR.

Now we have a nice widow with white hair and purple edges who is living in and running a shop out of a formerly-LuLaRoe-branded Airstream trailer. I really do love how many more retailers we get with this documentary. LuLaRich had, I think, 5 that appeared regularly through the four episodes and it was nice to get their deep-dive throughout, but this is giving more breadth to add to their depth.

She talks about how LLR insisted that everyone hashtag "because of LuLaRoe" for every good instagram post. And bad instagram posts? You weren't supposed to even have those anymore. Delete those posts, and delete negative comments. A retailer talks about how she was reprimanded for "being negative" because she was trying to address customer concerns rather than just delete-and-block (and burn a customer connection!). That is stunning.

Purple Tips talks about how the "surprise" nature of the boxes was addicting, "like playing a scratch off lottery ticket". Unboxing would typically be done live on a facebook stream, with customers sharing in the enjoyment of discovery and scrambling to bid. "Once you start getting good boxes, you go 'oh, I'm gonna order another one because I sold half my box'." Remember from LuLaRich that retailers really shouldn't be ordering new stock until they've sold at least 70% of their old stock.

These purchases are almost impulse buys, not careful spending based on customer data! But just because you sold 10 shirts today doesn't mean tomorrow will be the same! If anything it's LESS likely, because your customers have fewer shirt needs now, thanks to today. God, I really am reminded of someone's story of a small comic shop that stocked based on vibes and predictions of which playing cards would go viral / rare / popular. That's not wise business planning! A reputable supplier, especially one with all the "mentors" that LLR claims to have, would be teaching these "new business owners" not to order stock based on vibes.

Like. Okay, hang on, this is important to me. I have an Etsy shop, right? That shop lets me sell my paperback books at a higher royalty than I get from Amazon, yay. So I have in stock:

- Pulchritude
- Poison Kiss
- Survival Rout
- No Man of Woman Born
- Cinder The Fireplace Boy

Just like an LLR retailer, I have to make decisions about how much stock to carry and how to store it. There's no point to buying 1,000 copies of a book that I sell 5 copies of every month, right? I'd have to store all those extras and the money would be sunk/gone. Nor would it make sense for me to just decide to keep it simple and keep 20 copies of everything on hand, because they don't sell at the same rate!

Pulchritude is my earliest book and is a raw little gut-punch of a book about domestic violence and living with an abusive husband. It doesn't have a happy ending and I'm upfront about that! I love it dearly but it doesn't fly off the shelves and that's okay.

Poison Kiss and Survival Rout are part of a series that I'm still working on. Because most people like to start with Book #1 and not just jump into Book #2, that means I don't sell as many copies of Survival Rout as I do Poison Kiss. (The first book in a series generally sells better than the second, third, etc because people buy and then the book languishes on the To-Read pile that so many of us have in this wonderful time of SO MUCH TO READ, NO TIME TO READ IN.)

No Man of Woman Born sells like gangbusters because a lot of people seem to like it and it's additionally on a lot of "what to read instead of Terfamort" lists that go around whenever the Terf Queen acts up. I used to see regular sales boosts whenever she went viral. And Cinder The Fireplace Boy is selling very well too (thank you!) in part because it's the newest of the group and you are all wonderfully supportive + a lot of you have kids who like fairy tales.

What I have to do is track sales data over time and use that to determine what to keep in stock! I usually keep about 3 copies of Pulchritude, 4 of Poison Kiss, 3 of Survival Rout, 20 of No Man, and 30 of Cinder. It takes ~2 weeks to get more from my printer. So those numbers are based on the maximum of what I think will sell every 2 weeks, i.e., the length of time to get more stock in.

Now sometimes--like when Cinder first released--I'll go viral and there will be a run on the store and I'll sell 30 overnight. (YAY!) Then I'll need to order 30 more right away. But what I don't do is think "oh! I'll order 60, since these are selling so well!" I don't do that because virality is a fickle mistress and usually doesn't last more than a day or two. Now, if I was selling out EVERY two weeks, for a month or two, I would seriously consider adjusting my stock numbers upwards.

To bring this back to LLR, it seems like a lot of these sellers didn't have that knowledge (and it's something I really only learned over time and with some retail training in my younger days) and a lot were just... ordering based on vibes. Note that this does not mean that these women were foolish or not smart!! A lot of this business stuff isn't something you're born knowing or just intuitively understand without training! People get *degrees* in this stuff!

Purple Tips underscores this point: if you sold half your box and turn around and buy another box, you haven't actually turned a profit in cash. (You have a "profit" tied up in inventory, but can you get money back out of it? Only if you sell or return in.) Vivian Kaye talks about how LLR created a sort of "collector hysteria" around the leggings, with people buying hundreds of leggings, more than they could wear in a lifetime. DeAnne tours the factory line, telling people to buy-buy-buy all these new limited prints.

We get to hear about how the Stidhams (Mark and DeAnne) flaunted their wealth with a huge house, luxury cars that broke a land speed record, and expensive accessories. The goal was to show that you too could become like them. An expert explains that the choice to hire all their adult children as executives meant that the business leaders would always be "loyal" to the family. (Which is not the best thing for the business!)

Ooh! One of the interviewees talks about prosperity gospel, which I previously mentioned in another thread. She explains that this view of God is that if you are good and favored, wealth WILL follow. Again: wealth is guaranteed to the retailer IF they just work hard. Mark: "You want to know if you're good to your fellow man? Check your bank account." My god. I really hate the prosperity gospel heresy, and the interviewee subject talks about how intertwined it is with the modern "American dream".

Purple Tips (I just cannot catch names with this documentary, they go by way too fast!) talks about how the trainings convinced her to buy way too much inventory. "If you buy more, you'll sell more, because people will come to you." Since a lot of the selling was done online, there was a lot of magical thinking about an audience that was just waiting to come to you. Without the internet, you would have been limited to in-person sales and would've had a more realistic idea of your prospects. By which I mean: You can't sell 5,000 leggings in a town of 1,000 people. But you think you can sell 5,000 leggings to an internet full of infinite people. And you were told to buy more stock because that meant the odds of getting good/rare leggings.

I find this "unicorn" talk very interesting. LuLaRich mentioned "unicorn hunting"--when you're looking for a specific print that you want--but made it sound like a cultural term that just reflected personal preferences. But here in "Rise and Fall", it's more insidious and makes the stock boxes seem more like "loot crates". The retailers are actively hoping for "unicorns" in their stock that are in high demand.

This is fascinating to me because, remember!, these leggings aren't being auctioned! They sell for a flat rate of $25. So a "unicorn" piece isn't worth more than a dud, except in the sense that it's a guaranteed sale that won't sit on your shelves for weeks. BUT. LLR is playing up the "unicorn hunt" by telling people that having rare prints will drive customers to YOUR shop. But will it *retain* them? If I'm looking for something and find it on Newegg instead of Amazon, that doesn't mean I'll go to Newegg first next time.

It's like... they're using the new idea of the internet to promise retailers infinite customers, but using the old idea of brick-and-mortar stores to tell retailers to expect customer loyalty. If I'm an LLR buyer, then I'm just going to shop-hop to gather what I want. I'm not going to become "loyal" to one seller over another just because one time they had those Jack Skellington leggings I wanted. That's not how online shopping works.

In a recorded video, DeAnne tells them to "order every day" and "do not wait for things to be restocked". That is absolutely terrible advice and again feels like these stock boxes were designed to trigger gambling addictions--which I did not expect or see coming! I used to order inventory for a big box store and there is no reason to be ordering from the same supplier EVERY DAY. "Every dollar that we made, they would tell us to reinvest in more clothes." / "The more you buy, the more you sell." I am stunned by how blatant this is. Like, if I can just go on a side-rant about ethics here, it is maddening to me that none of the retailers are being encouraged to set aside a tithe of their income into savings for the business in case of a rainy day, pop-up expenses, and so on.

A designer (not the same as LuLaRich) talks about how they had 3 designers with a quota of 1,000 new patterns every day. Some of the prints are really cute! Those are the ones that make it into commercials. If this had been a sensible legitimate company (who owned their own IP and didn't steal images!) they could have tracked popularity and put out reprints. Reprints wouldn't even mess with the "FOMO" (fear of missing out) mentality because limited runs of reprints always snap up. But I don't even know how LLR would track popularity--they seemed to send returns right back out to other retailers rather than inventory them.

Without some kind of tracking to show that GREEN CLOVER sold out 0/3000 but that MARK STIDHAM FACE* was coming back and languishing in the warehouse at a stock of 2400/3000, how would they even know what to reprint?? (* Yes, they made leggings with Mark's face on it.)

I do wish I knew more about the refund policies that LLR had over time! Because if I were doing these facebook lives, I'd give a piece two (2) showings TOPS and then send it back for a refund. Some of these retailers talk about pieces they couldn't move for MONTHS. Given how shady everything else has been, I *assume* that refunds were heavily discouraged and that you were scolded for being "negative" or not trying hard enough, and we do know that the customer service dept was overworked. So I imagine that's why. But still.

This is, again, a way in which LLR is failing in their stated goal of training and empowering girl bosses. Big retailers do NOT keep ugly, unwanted merch on their shelves for 6+ months on end in the hopes that someday their prince will come. A warehouse worker talks about the moldy leggings issue and how "thousands" of leggings were left in the parking lot as overflow storage overnight.

Oh! Meg Conley is going to talk about the people who make the clothes! Thank you, Meg! I have been wondering about this since the beginning! DeAnne touring the factory: "We don't judge anyone. We just accept how they do things in their country." I can only assume she's preemptively fielding accusations of this being an underpaid sweatshop. She points out there is air conditioning. ...that seems to be all we're going to get on the workers. I wish Meg had been allowed to go on more about that. We're moving on to the manufacturing issues stage wherein the leggings developed holes.

MommyGyver talks about how new recruits were being urged to max out credit cards, borrow from children's college funds, and other risky methods in order to afford that initial $5,000 buy-in. A retailer talks about how she was pressured by LLR to pour all the money she made right back into inventory. This is maddening! They're being told to buy inventory with no thought for whether the *demand* will stay steady (especially as *supply* radically increases)! Even if demand would remain steady (despite the supply glut) it's unreasonable to tell business owners to pour ALL their profits back into the business. You're supposed to take a wage for yourself! You're supposed to set aside a savings buffer!

This entire business model of never keeping any money--of pouring it all into inventory and direct marketing (i.e., Louis Vuitton bags and markers of success)--is just so dangerous. One bad month and your electricity is cut off! "I really had enough inventory, but I bought more things. That's what gets you more in trouble." She has $25,000 worth of inventory in her garage and no way to recoup that money because no one wants to pay for those clothes. Another retailer had inventory that wouldn't move so she had to take out a loan to buy MORE inventory that would sell. So I guess this is one of the "no refunds" phases of the company's lifespan.

Ah! Vivian Kaye is a "business coach" in addition to being an "entrepreneur" (per the card title) and it shows: she's explaining that LLR was utterly devoid of safety nets, because "you aren't a business. You are a 'retailer' for another company."

*buries face in hands* LLR wasn't teaching them to set any money aside for end of year taxes. So now retailers are having to declare bankruptcy because you can't pay the IRS with leggings. I'm just so angry and sick watching this as someone with a tiny business of my own. This is stuff that... it's not HARD, but it's not INTUITIVE. People need to be taught this. LLR was making them attend mandatory 2-day training events and giving daily advice videos and they didn't hire a goddamn accountant to teach their retailers how not to end up owing everything to the IRS. That is so many levels of unethical and bad business. It IS bad business to let your retailers go under into crushing debt!

Montell talks about how the community would drop people the moment they expressed a desire to leave, and how damaging that is within cults and cult-like atmospheres. She explains that MLMs aren't like your average scams and work based on cult tactics. They use gaslighting tactics and community pressure and psychological tactics. Ultimately, the methods of manipulation between MLMs and cults are the same. They were even told to wear the same clothes, look the same, act the same. "Looking out into the audience... Everybody was twins."

Vivian Kaye says they're most likely targeting middle-aged white women in middle America, while using a lot of Black vernacular to appear diverse and relevant. "They're using the Black vernacular to profit...but we're only there for seasoning." The retailers being 95% white did not come across as clearly in LuLaRich, partly because 3 of the 6 interviewees were Black and brown women.

Oh, this was NOT made clear in either of the documentaries at all. There is a big difference between a "100% return policy" and a return policy that you can only take advantage of if you leave the company entirely.

@DefectiveBecca. Oh no, you could not return anything unless you went out of business. Even bigger issue, you could not discount anything by even $1 unless you quit. Your only choices were sell at the very overpriced full price or give it away for free.

*primal screaming* People were burning their onboarding packages ceremonially when they left LLR, and in doing so were accidentally destroying important evidence of the company's false claims. So they had to be told not to do that. As part of the Washington state case, LLR had to pay $4 million back to Washington resident retailers.

That's quite a string, especially if a refund option hadn't been available prior to that!

@DefectiveBecca. Yeah and once they got rid of the 100% buyback and went to 90%, one of the strings attached was that it could only be product purchased in the past year.

Meg Conley explains that pyramid schemes are actually built for people to fail, that failure is an integral part of the system, because that's where the money comes in. (If people had taken their profits and stopped buying new stock, LLR wouldn't have that money.) Vivian Kaye points out that the system is built to funnel money up to the top. "Capitalism is the root of all evil." LOVE HER.

I really enjoyed that documentary. I do think it was worth watching, especially for Conley and Montell. I feel like in some ways it did better than LuLaRich in terms of showing the damage, but I felt LuLaRich laid a better foundation of timeline and events. One of the ex-retailers is already in another (better?) MLM company. Another admits to ambivalent feelings about MLMs but she buys from them. Purple Tips advises staying far away from MLMs as both seller and consumer.

Final slides say that LLR's 2020 income disclosure statements listed average retailer gross yearly profit as $10,000 and median gross profit as $1,444. "Retailers must cover their startup costs, including racks and hangars, ongoing costs like shipping and packaging, or professional services like a bookkeeper or attorney." The American dream: an 80-hour a week job that pays an average of $10,000 a year. When I think of how many hours those women worked, just to work themselves into bankruptcy... it's really tragic.

I think that's all for LLR, at least on this timeline. Big big big thank you to @DefectiveBecca for all her information that she's given to us during this live-watch!

June Newsletter (2022)

Hark, a newsletter! This one is late but that's on purpose: I have been hyper-focused on finishing my Snow White story for my Patreon, and on collaborating with my new narrator as we work on getting a Cinder audio book out the door for everyone! I got to receive his first draft samples of the first 10 stories this week and I love them so much! He has a great voice for fairy tales; I feel like I'm back in the library as a kid, listening to a librarian read. Or like I'm curled up by the fireplace while a fictional father reads to us and we sip hot cocoa.

This has been a busy month so far. I had a couple twitter threads take off that I'll probably preserve here for historicity. Kissmate has gone back to school for the summer semester and is doing homework from dawn until dusk. I'm so proud of how hard he's working; we both want to get out of this state as quickly as possible, and finishing his degree is a huge step towards that goal. In my own little spurts of free time I work in our resin workshop, as the little income we get from that goes entirely towards our moving fund.

That's all I have for right now! I've got to get back to writing on The Golden Bird, which features the most foolish protagonist in a Grimms story that I have ever encountered.

Content Links
My Patreon: Here.
@KissmateKittens: Here.
My Ramblings Deconstructions: Here.
My YouTube Let's Plays: Here.
My Favorite Tumblr Funnies: Here.

Film Corner: LuLaRich (Ep 4)


Today we're finishing the LuLaRich documentary with Episode 4. Becca explains that in 2017 LLR changed the bonus structure to revolve around sales-to-customers (which LLR wasn't tracking, according to Mark, so was that all self-reported?) instead of sales-to-retailers. Bonus checks plummeted. While this certainly saved LLR money in the short-term, I suspect the motivation behind the change was to make the company seem less pyramid-schemey. I do wonder if a lawsuit was closing in at this point.

Another change around this time is the refund/buyback policy. LLR initially creates a forever 100% refund policy. Two things happen: (1) New people on the fence flood in because now there's no risk. Your investment is safe! (2) Older retailers flood out, seeing perhaps the writing on the wall after the stinky leggings saga. LLR pays out a million or so dollars in refunds, gets nervous, and yoinks the policy about 2 months in. They go back to the old refund policy with a bunch of new stipulations: original packaging, no seasonal, no elegant, and leaders' refunds are handled differently.

The "original packaging" stipulation is particularly insidious because you have to open the leggings to see that they're moldy and sun-damaged! A leader explains that her $15,000 inventory could not be returned. (A lot of retailers were encouraged to display clothes on racks, outside the plastic packaging.) The help line employee talks about how painful it was to field calls from people being ruined by LLR. Employees would cry in the bathroom. Those who do send in for refunds are left dangling, being told "that the accounting department doesn't have phones" and being given the run-around with money they need back.

Already I'm seeing a clear line in how cults treat ex-members: they become fair game to abuse and harm. A reputable supplier would treat leaving retailers better than this, to encourage future business if the retailer changes their mind. Now we get lawyers involved. Kelly has $20,000 worth of inventory to return but LLR isn't producing the money (seemingly because she missed the shipping deadline due to a miscarriage).

I strongly suspected that LLR was sending the returns back out as "new". Here is confirmation.

@DefectiveBecca. So as if it wasn't bad enough that the design team was being forced to crank out ugly prints, the deck was further being stacked against the retailers because unsellable returned merchandise was being shuffled in to new orders.

What is fascinating to me is that LLR could've gone back to older designs that had been popular and ordered re-prints! A new run, like when a book run sells out! But they were so convinced that fashion exclusivity and FOMO was the only way to sell. Lawsuits pile up and now we get to the copyright infringement. The designer explains that they were told to take art from Google and then "change [the art] at least 20%". I want to scream. That isn't- no. No.

That's not how copyright infringement works. That's not how intellectual property rights work. I can't just take Harry Potter, replace 20% of the text with my own words, and publish the result as my own! But the designers aren't even doing that much at this point and designs are just being ripped directly off the internet willy-nilly. I feel like the documentary is NOT forceful enough on this point. No company is "forced" to steal art. That's a choice that was made at top levels and filtered down. They could have bought the designs from the artists, or hired them for their creative vision. They choose to steal instead.

There's a Facebook group that @DefectiveBecca posted in the comments which hunts down LLR infringement. It's fascinating.

A copy of The Last Unicorn movie and an LLR print with a very similar looking white unicorn with blue hair and heavy lidded eyes.

In each case of stolen art, the original looks so much better than the hastily ripped version. They could've licensed these images! (So much seems to be ripped off of Shutterstock! You can buy distribution rights RIGHT THERE ON THE SITE.) I'm sorry, but I just have to post some of these because I think it's important to understand just how much of this company was built on theft. This is NOT appropriate!

Multiple unicorn designs, just ruthlessly butchered.

DeAnne holding up LLR merchandise on the left, the suspected original on the right.

Closer view of the original: a colorful unicorn head made from clever paper-craft work.

DeAnne holding up a design on the left with the suspected original on the right.

Picture of LLR leggings with a unicorn and memey sunglasses. Suspected original on the right.

There's just so many.

LLR merchandise on the left, suspected original on the right. Image is of a geometric raccoon face.

LLR merchandise on the left, suspected original on the right. Image is of a fox curled up like a cat.

LLR merchandise on the left, suspected original on the right. Image is of an elephant with stylized henna designs inside.

LLR merchandise on the left, suspected original on the right. Image is of two betta fish with long decorative fins.

This is an image of a smores snack. It very clearly says no commercial use allowed.

This is an image of a watercolor flamingo. The LLR print loses all of the fine detail and just makes the beautiful art look smeared.

This is an image of cartoon ninjas bearing colorful headbands and waist-sashes.

This is an image of a camera with floral details on the body.

This is a tattoo of a triangle flanked by two roses.

That last one is a tattoo of a triangle flanked by two roses. Tattoos are covered by copyright protection! In addition to the copyright lawsuits, and the refund lawsuits, suppliers begin to sue LLR. Their dyer/cloth provider claims that LLR placed orders they knew they couldn't pay for, if I understand correctly. MyDyer alleges that LLR was spinning off dozens of fake LLCs (limited liability companies) to hide/protect money from incoming lawsuits. "Seventeen LLCs were set up in December 2017 alone." I can think of no reason why LLR would need that many!

This part is interesting because the party line has been that LLR leadership just didn't know what they were doing, that the whole debacle is incompetence and not malice, that they just grew too big too fast. But *someone* knew how to shuffle money around in LLCs!! That's not something you're just born knowing how to do. Standing up an LLC is tricky and kinda complicated. I have one for my indie author business! I couldn't set up a second one on my own to save my life; I needed massive amounts of help to do the first one.

One of the retailers quietly resigned, didn't burn any bridges. LLR still owes her $100,000. Despite her gentle handling of the situation, other retailers were told not to talk to her. This is VERY common in cults. Shunning former members makes it harder for people to leave. If they leave, they lose all their friends and even family! Also, it means that people still in the cult can't hear from the leaver why they left and/or if their life is better now after leaving. One retailer was "terminated" as a retailer (she found out privately 4 hours *after* a company announcement that "someone" had been terminated, no specifics on who) and was left with a massive amount of merchandise she couldn't return.

Washington state files suit alleging that it is impossible to make money from LLR just by selling clothes, that you have to recruit others in order to profit: I.e., a pyramid scheme. This Washington state suit is presumably the source of the deposition footage that so thoroughly contrasts how open and forthcoming Mark and DeAnne are in interviews vs. how closed and obstructed they are under oath. It's a WILD contrast to see them blank-faced and saying they don't know anything, they don't know their own job titles, they don't know the Instagram hashtags, they don't know company bonus policies, they don't know their own nephew, the former event coordinator.

The son (?) being deposed with them comes off as that special sort of smirky Republican who thinks they don't have to take the law seriously. When asked what he did at the LLR events, he smugly replies "danced my butt off." I again am reminded so much of the cultish "bleeding the beast" mindset and the insistence that the government exists to be defrauded, mocked, and treated with irreverence to be used and ignored.

An attorney explains that a legitimate MLM company must have a refund/buyback policy, a 70% rule wherein retailers don't buy new stock until they've sold 70% of their old stock, and that sales are going to 10+ customers and not just other retailers. The MLM expert explains that successful prosecution is very difficult and rare, and that a lot of this is "political theater"; LLR is still in business.

Most of the individual suits seem to have gone to arbitration, which doesn't surprise me since the *monetary* damages haven't been much more than $100,000ish. Not surprising but disappointing. I think a more punitive punishment would've been better, to shut down LLR and send a message to other would-be MLMs. And there are so much more damages here than monetary. The emotional abuse, the careers ruined, the years lost, the houses and cars repossessed.

At least two of the retailers have divorced from their husbands. One lost everything and is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy, which is just really tragic. I feel for her. All the former retailers stress for the viewers that failure at an MLM is NOT the fault of the person. It's easy to tell that's an emotional raw spot. One of the interviewed retailers is still with LLR. She's found a system that works for her, apparently. She says she wants to stay with LLR forever, or at least until/if they go out of business.

Thus ends LuLaRich, not with a bang but with a whimper that the LLR company is still alive, still recruiting. The MLM expert laments that MLMs never really go out of business, they just morph and change their names and practices. Troubling. If we had UBI, it would be much harder to exploit vulnerable people into MLM schemes. Most of these women lost money because they needed to make money and didn't know this wasn't safe. They believed the lie that hard work would equal success. It didn't. It couldn't.

I won't denigrate these women as fools. They were ambitious, hard-working people who wanted to turn their blood, sweat, and tears into a better life for their families. They deserved to be protected from fraudsters and predators. And while I have you here: artists deserve better protections from having THEIR blood, sweat, and tears stolen by companies selling apparel.