Kate Moss, Playboy and Harper’s Bazaar: Let’s talk about covershoot reporting

Playboy is suing Harper’s Bazaar publisher Hearst for $1.35 million over publication of nude photos of Kate Moss (that’s $150,000 per image).

The thing is that Harpers Bazaar wasn’t actually the site publishing the nude pictures. Instead it was linking to another site which had posted nine images from the shoot under the title “Save yourself a fiver. Here’s Kate Moss’ NSFW spread from Playboy”.

Kate Moss for Playboy

Kate Moss for Playboy

As part of the filing (I can’t find an actual copy of the lawsuit so these are quotes taken from the reporting of the subject) Playboy says that it “welcomed the media’s reporting and discussion of its images” but that “Hearst’s link to the Entertainment.ie website page cannot be justified by any suggestion that Hearst was reporting the news of Ms. Moss’s appearance in the 60th Anniversary Issue.”

It’s those comments which made me wonder whether the general public know how magazine covershoot reporting tends to work. It used to be part of my job so here’s a basic account:

A magazine will do a shoot and interview with its cover star. It will then send a selection of the photos and sometimes a few headline-worthy quotes out to websites and newspapers for them to use in articles.

The system has an obvious benefit for the magazine in terms of free publicity but what’s in it for the websites and papers? Why feature a competitor?

The answer is “quality” and “quantity”.

Magazines still set aside swathes of budget for photoshoots with production values and levels of access that a lot of websites and dailies can only dream of. Taking the magazine’s shots is a way to get premium images and juicy quotes into your publication without having to pay the production costs.

The Internet and the daily publishing scene are always hungry for content. Taking up these images and quotes can mean at least one extra news story or perhaps a picture gallery if you’re online resulting in more space filled and more page impressions for your publication. It’s why sites are constantly featuring tweets of the rich and the famous – there will alway be an audience for name recognition and the smaller you can carve up the news snippets the more articles (and page views) you can generate.

But the covershoot back-scratching above usually begins life as an email with a hefty dose of legalese attached. There are usually agreements to sign and return if you want the right to use those high quality pictures and they include a raft of stipulations regarding the coverage. Amongst the things I’ve seen magazines specify are:

  • How many images you can use
  • That the magazine title must be mentioned in the first line of the first paragraph
  • That no negative or critical language may be used in the article relating to the celebrity or the magazine
  • That the magazine cover image MUST appear in the article
  • That the magazine cover must appear no smaller than a certain pixel or inch size
  • That the publication date of the magazine must appear along with a link to the magazine’s website
  • How many thousands of pounds you will be liable for if you break any of these terms

To my recollection none has ever specified that you must not link to sites which contain the entire feature or shoot but that would clearly go against the spirit of everything I have outlined above – that is to say a mutually financially beneficial arrangement that can’t be classed as advertorial because it isn’t advertorial but sits in an advertorial-adjacent grey area.

In terms of the Kate Moss Playboy pictures, I’ve been looking at the initial reporting regarding the photoshoot. The articles are clustered around 2-3 December (likely when the embargo broke) and feature the same set of clothed/covered up pictures of Kate Moss all with similar credit lines.

I don’t work in that industry anymore so I can’t say for certain but comparing a number of different articles I’d guess Playboy seeded three photos from the shoot as well as the cover with the requirement that they were all credited to Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for Playboy. They probably also stipulated that the sale details for the magazine and a link to the Playboy website appeared and I’d assume they added in the standard clause regarding negative remarks about Playboy and Kate Moss.

In terms of the Harper’s situation, my guess is that the agreement with Playboy (if there even was one – after all, the article as it currently appears doesn’t use any of the images likely seeded by Playboy) didn’t make an explicit “no urls to people posting the rest of the shoot without our permission” clause and so Harper’s decided to take the risk, inflating the page views for the article by catering to those looking for the pictures of Kate Moss in the buff but not actually hosting the content themselves.

How the lawsuit develops and to what extent Harper’s Bazaar can be held legally responsible for an infringement conducted by another site will be of interest professionally but I would also be more than happy if this situation provokes a discussion of the practice of reporting magazine shoots. They’re not advertorial so legally speaking you don’t have to mark them as such, but you’re often posting content with restrictions imposed from outside in the same space you use for content which has no such editorial restrictions imposed upon it. To my mind that’s problematic.

Double Flawless – an interview with Danielle Meder

Fashion illustrator Danielle Meder has redrawn five of gaming’s most iconic female characters giving each of them a high fashion makeover. Princess Zelda, Chun-Li, Mileena, Commander Shepard and Lara Croft have all been gifted a designer wardrobe courtesy of Meder’s pen. But the makeovers are not designed to turn these women into passive clothes horses. Instead each outfit looks to reveal aspects of the characters while appealing to a predominantly female audience.

Co-founder of Gamercamp, Jaime Woo set up the Double Flawlesscollaboration with Meder after seeing fashion site Tom & Lorenzo critiquing Mad Men‘s costuming choices. “It struck me that nothing of this depth could be written about videogame characters,” says Woo. “It seemed interesting to me then to recontextualise female characters in high fashion, and [I] approached Danielle to collaborate. I was thrilled that she saw where I wanted to go with it and then she took it to some amazing places.”

[Full interview at Wired.co.uk]

Gone Home – an interview with Steve Gaynor

In Gone Home, The Fullbright Company has created a delicate coming-of-age tale steeped in nineties teen nostalgia and with a gloriously believable female protagonist. A positive critical response met the game’s initial release but far more interesting was the outpouring of smaller-scale personal reactions prompted by Gone Homewhich started to pepper Twitter.

Steve Gaynor, co-founder of The Fullbright Company told Wired.co.uk that as well as the steady stream of tweets, the developers have been getting private messages from players keen to share the effect of the game. “We’ve gotten a lot of very heartfelt emails and tweets from people who identify deeply with the game. It has been really great.”

In terms of particular writing, Gaynor cites response pieces [beware spoilers] by Merritt Kopas and Danielle Riendeau – “[they] really meant a lot to us.”

The story of teenager, Sam unfolds through a paper trail of notes, pictures and memorabilia scattered throughout a sprawling mansion and discovered by her sister Kaitlin. Some are plot-relevant and others serve to round out the characters of the family. At two points I laughed out loud — once when turning over a note written in class between Sam and her friend for a punchline I wasn’t expecting and the other when the game offered up a note telling Sam to stop leaving the lights on — “You’re as bad as your sister!”

[Full interview at Wired.co.uk]

Boob Jam – an interview with Jenn Frank

“I love tits — tits are great! But I think we can have different conversations. I think people are ready.”

Games writer Jenn Frank, whose voice you may recognise from Super Hexagon, is telling Wired.co.uk about Boob Jam, a game jam aimed at broadening the conversations we have about breasts.

Boob Jam came into being almost by accident. Frank describes the scenario as “a joke that got crowdsourced into so many good ideas and so many vantages that aren’t mine that I wanted this to happen.”

[Full interview at Wired.co.uk]

Dota 2, communication reports and the word “rape”

I have run out of reports in Dota 2.

It’s a problem you run into every now and again because you only get a limited number per week. They’re used to flag things like verbal abuse and bad conduct in other players.

The Dota 2 community is, speaking from my experience, a fairly positive environment. Some people are encouraging, friendly or offer advice, most keep to themselves, and a handful of others are offensive and awful. However, after the first time I hit the report cap and found myself unable to flag up some truly reprehensible behaviour from someone on my own team because I’d already reported something more minor, I started to view reports as a more valuable commodity.

From that point onwards it was a case of “Is this douchecanoe swearing and capslocking from another corner of the internet worthy of my report?” and “What if an even bigger jackass arrives in the next match?”

But there are a few words which send my mind in the direction of the report button quicker than others. One of them is the word “rape”. It’s a word which gets used thankfully rarely (or at least it’s been rare to my experience of Dota 2) but when it does it tends to be in mockery of another player when they’ve just had their ass handed to them in-game and I find that horrible and offensive. Whether I go on to report the incident comes down to context but any mention of “rape” means a report is instantly on the agenda.

Rape is one of the most disempowering crimes imaginable. It’s a horrific violation and an act of violence which trades on one person having power over another. It’s also underreported, hugely traumatic and comes with a hefty dose of social stigma. The disempowering nature of the crime is, I think, why I hate hearing the word thrown casually into conversation. I want the word itself to retain power and meaning. I want “rape” to mean something truly terrible and not get reappropriated for something irksome or trivial.

Those who have experienced sexual assault already have a gauntlet of disbelief and trivialisation to run as they deal with what has happened. It’s part of the reason rape is underreported. “Rape” as a casual term of insult mirrors that same attitude.

I feel like the report button with its tiny text box for a brief explanation allows me to actually do something about the problem when it angers me, no matter how tiny. It’s not as good as discussing the problem calmly and directly, but in the middle of a heated game, calm and direct discussion isn’t always possible.

Keeping the power of the word “rape”, despite the fact it can then be used as part of a nasty threat somewhere like Twitter, is a massively important part of improving how we deal with rape as a society. I want there to be as little excuse as possible for people to dismiss rape and rape threats, to trivialise them, to back away from them and to keep them unreported.

Maia – an interview with Simon Roth

“The chickens are self-immolating at the moment.”

Simon Roth is describing a problematic scenario in his space colony simulation, MaiaMaia is hard science fiction meaning it boasts scientifically accurate systems and ideas rooted in current scientific research. But when you have lots of interacting systems you get some surprising results. In the case of the chickens, they seek out warm, bright places to nest. These places are determined using atmosphere and lighting data. “Problem is,” says Roth, “the lightest, brightest places are usually in the process of being doused liberally in lava or in the innards of a fission reactor!”

The concept of Maia is that you are trying to colonise a primordial Earth-like planet. You arrive with British Army style ration packs and non-showy weaponry and gradually try to tame, or at least utilise the hostile environment so you can build a functioning colony. “Dwarf Fortress in space” is how Roth sums it up.

[Full interview at Wired.co.uk]

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

At the beginning of Splinter Cell: Blacklist you walk along a corridor littered with dying men, your colleagues finishing them off with occasional bullet fire. The men die and the narrative strides on into a different space. But in that corridor there was a rare, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it twinge of discomfort over the actions onscreen.

I decided to ask Ubisoft Toronto game designer Maxime Béland (who worked on Blacklist as well as three of the Rainbow Six franchise) about how he approaches making a game that involves shooting representations of other human beings.

“I think the number one thing is respect,” said Béland after a taking some time to think. “We’re not giving you $5,000 more if you do a headshot and there’s blood everywhere. We didn’t go in and put blood everywhere. We’re doing it realistically. I think what’s great with our game is that it’s up to the player. When you’re playing Sam [Fisher] if you want to kill no-one you can.”

[Full interview at Wired.co.uk]

Instagram video: La recherche du temps perdu*

*This is my blog and I can be as pretentious as I like.

Instagram now has the capacity for sharing video. Because why have one image when you can have loads of them per second. I’ll explain a bit about the service first but the interesting thing to me is what one of the technical constraints says about meaningful communication.

The interface is kind of like vine in that you touch the screen to film and let go to stop. The movies don’t loop like on Vine, though, and the video can be up to 15 seconds long which is over twice that of a Vine.

As you might expect, once you’ve filmed your video you also have a number of filters (with names of varying degrees of sense) to apply. I’m sad that the makers didn’t experiment further with filters. Where was the one that made it look like a black and white movie from the thirties? What about red/blue 3D-ifying footage? The point of Instagram is nostalgia at the touch of a button so why not explore how that differs for video.

ANYWAY, the meaningful communication observation is tied to the requirement that video on Instagram be at least 3 seconds long. Any shorter and it simply won’t publish. When I noticed this (there’s a bar at the bottom of the recording screen with a notch to mark off that limit) I started wondering why.

To me, a child of the gif generation it seems obvious that some video sentiments benefit from brevity. Two seconds is technically all the time you need for a cat in a bee costume to fall off a couch. For example.

I wondered whether the three second rule (the Instagram one not the food one) might be a tech issue or a concession to functionality. Maybe it’s to do with storage space or perhaps shorter video without a loop function would just look glitchy and broken on the feed.

Curious, I emailed the PR who responded:

“Instagram is about capturing moments – we believe the constraints in place help create compelling and simple videos for everyone to consume in a mobile setting.”

So the three second rule is about capturing moments. But no fewer than three of them. Compelling and simple videos as defined by Instagram and parent company Facebook only exist in the range of 3-15 seconds.

In that tiny three second gap between still photograph and Instagram video is a hinterland of lost emotion and communication. I can’t imagine it’s a space which matters to many people but for me it represents a fifth less communication, a fifth less exploration and a fifth less ambition.