Friday, 27 September 2013

Bricks, Inc.

"The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES."

Extract from T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

When we were kids and played with LEGO® alone, naming an element was no issue; we had a mental image of what we wanted and we located it. But many of us also liked to build with our siblings and friends and this is where our naming issues began. I might have asked my sister for "a red two-er" but this did not guarantee I would be passed the red 2X2 brick I had in my mind - she may have given me a red 1X2 plate instead. More successful were our nicknames; if I asked for a "milk bottle" I would confidently get a white 1X1 round brick and an "empty milk bottle" would gain me one in Trans-Clear [BL] / Transparent [TLG]. Those were simpler times. Now milk is sold in all kinds of packaging by many different companies.

As the AFOL community formed on the internet in the 1990s, the need to name and categorise LEGO parts suddenly became very necessary. For example, this 1993 thread on rec.toys.lego (RTL), which was one of the first AFOL forums, describes tiles as one-third height bricks with a flat top. Catchy. In those days, TLG didn’t even recognise the existence of AFOLs let alone share information with them, and so inventories with the official names and numbers of everything were not available. AFOLs created lists of sets using the set numbers on boxes and names from sales catalogues, and as shown in the previous link they also created lists of part numbers (what I refer to here as Design ID, to match Pick-a-Brick) which had begun to be embossed on the undersides of elements from the mid-'80s. However TLG’s numbering systems weren’t fully known, failsafe nor wholly user-friendly and so adaptations or alternate numbers were created by the community. The major players here were the contributions to the sites LUGNET, LDraw and Peeron.

In June 2000 BrickBay was launched by AFOL Dan Jezek. Over the next couple of years this resale site for LEGO sets and individual parts became hugely popular; successful enough for the lawyers at eBay to make him change the name, which he did – to BrickLink. Despite this no-doubt frustrating setback the site went on to arguably become the most important AFOL resource on the web, thanks in part to the semblance of order it brought to the chaos of LEGO parts by naming and categorising them into the BrickLink inventory, which Jezek had always made freely available for anyone to download. The online community supplied much of the data and images and continue to do so to this day, and from what I have read online it seems that in those early days of the site many names, numbering systems and even images came from those co-existing sites LUGNET, Peeron and LDraw. BrickLink’s success grew and grew. It was rumoured in the mid-2000s that BrickLink’s sales were equivalent to a quarter of all LEGO purchased by AFOLs. Competitors appeared and disappeared, unable to match the quality and scale of BrickLink’s offering.

In recent years, however, things have changed. Sadly, Dan Jezek died in 2010 aged just 33. Despite rising popularity – these last three years have seen twice as many visitors than the site obtained in its entire first ten years of existence – it had never received the massive overhaul needed to remain competitive in today’s expectations of internet sites. Infuriated by the extensive security flaws of the site, it began to get hacked by person/s demanding these issues be fixed. Response from the new admins, Jezek’s family, was slow and rare and some fixes ruined finer details of functionality. Community frustration and fear grew and it became clear that not only was the time ripe for competition, it was possibly necessary. Indeed, competition began to appear in 2013 and of these it is Brick Owl, which launched in late June, that seems to be most successful and now has over 500 sellers. A proportion of this success is no doubt down to the “BrickLink Sync” functionality they offered, which utilised Jezek’s free-to-access data to allow sellers to maintain stores at both sites more easily.

Just a few weeks earlier, the announcement had come that Jezek’s family had sold BrickLink to Jung-Ju “Jay” Kim, the founder of a successful online game company based in Hong Kong, and that development of the long-mooted “BrickLink 2.0” was now to begin. This development was cautiously welcomed by most of the AFOL community, especially given Kim was an AFOL himself. Things have taken a sour turn this month however.

On September 10 BrickLink Limited amended the Terms of Service (ToS) of the site with the stated reason: “to prevent our competitors from unfairly profiting from the database that the BrickLink community has painstakingly built over time”. (That is interesting phrasing on their part, emphasising the perceived harm to the community rather than the financial loss to their company.) Gone was the sentence in the ToS indicating that text and images are the intellectual property (IP) of their creators, and a new clause assigned usage rights to BrickLink Limited. (It’s worth noting these are “non-exclusive” rights, meaning the contributor is allowed to use the image anywhere else too.) Suddenly it seems information collated partially by unpaid AFOLs and initially partially based on data from other sites has been sold and is now thoroughly owned.

The other main amendment forbids using “any content or data you receive from or which is displayed on the Site” with “any third party”. The vagueness of this clause is especially disturbing. The intention is to stop competitors using BrickLink’s catalogue data but in its current catch-all wording, this clause could for example stop me providing reliable part availability information on this blog. It could even apply to you ringing up a mate to tell them a BrickLink store is selling a thousand Light Bluish Gray Boat Mast Rigging Long 28 x 4 for 5p each. (If indeed they were. Which they’re not.) I don’t of course suggest BrickLink Limited would ever take things that far, but there’s no guarantee of how far they will take it. But laying down vague confusing clauses like this and expecting the community to swallow them really isn’t the wisest piece of PR.

On Wednesday, Lawrence at Brick Owl published a letter purportedly from BrickLink Limited threatening legal action. The more understandable section demands that Brick Owl cease to use the “Bricklink Sync” functionality. It’s sad for Brick Owl sellers to lose this, however the very gray area is whether Brick Owl’s usage of it is more in their own good than the community’s. Lawrence will be disabling the functionality on Saturday at around 4pm.

The far stranger and vaguer sentence in the letter is BrickLink Limited’s claim that “you are using our unique numbering and naming systems for the Lego pieces”, a claim restated in their clarification post on BrickLink Forum on Thursday: “Bricklink’s intellectual property comprises amongst others its system of naming, numbering and classifying LEGO parts, set and minifigures.” That’s as much detail as they’ve gone into, and clearly more detail is needed because as it stands the statement is ridiculous – the vast majority of their part and set numbering comes from TLG and many of the other nomenclature stylings were adopted or adapted from earlier sites. For BrickLink to now claim them wholesale as their own IP is at the very least galling and at worst a breach of IP rights (by their own woolly definition). In the same post they sagely reminded us, “let us not forget the countless hours that BrickLink catalog and inventory admins have spent on shaping Bricklink’s catalog together with the support of our user base,” clearly forgetting the countless hours that admins and users spent shaping LDraw, Peeron and LUGNET data, and indeed LEGO employees shaping TLG data, which was then used by BrickLink… for financial gain.

The naming and categorisation of parts and minifigs are far more defendable areas of their claim. TLG’s part names and categories are very different and far less intuitive on the whole. BrickLink’s are by no means perfect and, as with any large and complex system, they take time to absorb. But their system is the dominant one and is far and away the closest thing we have to a community standard. And this is where I think BrickLink Limited are really shooting themselves in the foot. To force every competitor to come up with their own unique naming and categorisation system is compounding the nightmare for us, and if a competitor offers the guarantee of a new catalogue that remains freely publicly available forever, on which site will the community choose to volunteer their time in providing free data?

I don't wish to belittle the amazing work Jezek did and I think BrickLink Limited are right to protect their business, but when their business is founded on the work of the community, the situation is far more delicate than their current mishandling of the situation caters for. Do the community actually want this sort of protection? Reactions on the BrickLink Forum are varied; many welcome the changes but others are leaving BrickLink for good – some are even demanding their image and text contributions to the database be deleted. It will be interesting to see if BrickLink Limited ignore these requests and ride the risk being sued by an angry (and rich) AFOL.

Of course BrickLink Limited’s intentions all boil down to not losing money to a competitor who is clearly worrying them, but I’d have hoped that they'd chosen to direct all faith into BrickLink 2.0 rather than altering the open nature of the catalog. The pressure on the new version to exceed every expectation of the community is now even greater, because they need to deliver a product so amazing it overcomes this increased distrust from the disenfranchised sections of the community and sweeps all competition away by merit, rather than with legal weight. In financial terms, Brick Owl are the David to BrickLink Limited’s Goliath and can’t risk an expensive legal battle. Consequently the intimidation has worked and Brick Owl are removing all their “BrickLink” names and numbers, despite the fact that the question of what constitutes BrickLink Limited IP is legally unchallenged. How interesting it would be if TLG played Goliath with BrickLink Limited.


I got a bit heavy there didn't I? Enjoy this unrelated brick owl built by alexhui0416, whilst I go trademark the phrases “milk bottle” and “Apollo stud”.


I'm indebted to DaveE for the fascinating link to RTL. There are plenty more on his AFOL History Project, including what is possibly the first use of the term AFOL, and Dan Jezek's announcement of BrickBay on LUGNET.

48 comments:

  1. If TLG would finally maintain a publically-accessible and complete parts database, this issue would go away. The reason that provisional part numbers and a separate naming system from that of TLG exists at all is that there was no other choice but to make one up at first, and now there is the momentum of that legacy. People are used to the BrickLink taxonomy and naming system. And in many, nay, probably most, cases, it has better mnemonic qualities than the TLG names that are known.

    Nevertheless, it serves nobody to compound the nightmare by multiplying it into a virtual Babel of conventions. And only TLG can bring order to the madness, as, at the least, their internal design and element numbering system is definitive. Now is the time to make the full catalog public.

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    1. The LDRAW team has access to the database from 1994 to present, and has had that for some time. Since Peeron and LUGNET draw from that source, and everything is opened shared with with BrickSet, this is set to leave BrickLink the odd man out, not the other way around. The community will have to adjust, but it's not like we haven't been slowing acclimated by TLG releases over time anyway.

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  2. When they said that bricklink had been bought by a korean , i didn't realise they meant north korean . It is disgusting that they now claim sole rights to the community createde catalog . I hope TLG crush them .

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    1. It took me about 30 sec to find out that a) his company is from Hong Kong -- which is ideologically VERY different than North Korea b) he is South Korean, not North. Whether or not we like BL being sold, please refrain from spreading incorrect information.

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    2. Yeah, it was pretty clearly hyperbole to say that he was North Korean. Fairly certain he knew that an internet gaming multi-millionaire wasn't from North Korea.

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    3. Wow have you ever heard of sarcasm , the fact remains that bricklink ltd have decided that all the contributions made to the catalog by the afol community are now the sole right of bricklink ltd . Orwells 1984 comes to mind .
      Off topic , who would have thought that the millionaire son of a billionaire businessman would knock down the twin towers .

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    4. I agree - you're off-topic. Let's end it here thanks.

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  3. Wow, I had no idea any of this was going on. I thought we were a creative community that was above this sort of nasty legal banter, but I guess I was wrong. Surely it would benefit both sites to have Bricklink Sync remain active, as it would relieve the sellers of all the extra work and allow them to use both sites more easily. But it seems Bricklink Limited would rather live in a world where sellers only use one or the other. This is starting to look like the console wars...

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  4. Of course, BrickOwl can still use Peeron's (slightly outdated) data. And any LDraw information that's useful. I don't know if they can use BrickSet or not, but I'm guessing probably yes. That doesn't get them the full breadth of the BL catalog data, but it's actually a big start.

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    1. They have a good relationship with Brickset and already use their set data. The Brickset parts database is not suitable however, as it only consists of TLG's online inventory which is incomplete. Also it is based on TLG's categorisation system but most parts sellers arrange their physical inventory by BL's category system, so switching so drastically would give sellers some headaches.

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  5. This is ludicrous. Regardless of the community's contributions, If I start calling my iMac an eMork I should hardly be allowed to sue someone else who later uses that term, and I'm pretty sure Apple Inc. would unleash the fires of hell upon me if I tried.

    I'm not sure what TLG's stance on this will be. It's no secret they aren't a big fan of resellers so I doubt they'll open up their catalogue, but I would like to see them lay the hammer down if Bricklink Limited continues to enforce these changes. My guess is their lawyers are already hard at work.

    I am fairly certain of this period will be long remembered as the starting point of some monumental changes in how we buy, sell and trade Lego online.

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    1. Is TLG crabby about reseller? That makes no sense to me. Why would they be against that, its the biggest mover of their product after its been sold by them, it actually creates demand directly from them. How many Bricklinkers and resellers go out and buy sets or PAB just so they can sell it in their own stores? Lego isn't just a toy, its an art medium, and perhaps if they did a better job of providing elements to their customers, not just what they felt like printing and having in stock now, the could capitalize on the need for ALL lego element,

      But aye, I'd like to see the mighty hammer of TLG swing down on BLL and slap them into submission. This is very uncool of them. I had a feeling Bricklink would go all corporate Mentality once it was bought up by Korean what's his face.

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    2. The fact that he's Korean has no bearing on the issue people. No one would mention his heritage if he was American I bet. Get over it.

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    3. @Dave:

      Resellers also probably spawn a ton of irate phone calls to their customer service department. When new product hits the shelves, it tends to instantly get snapped up and split between eBay, Amazon, and Bricklink. Then when parents are trying to find one copy of that set for their kids, it's not there to buy. Even part sellers are a hassle for them at times, as you can tell by the fact that when a new part shows up one per set a lot of sellers will stock _hundreds_ of that part at a time. These resellers are often bypassing a lot of the rules that are specifically intended to prevent them from clearing out stock on new items. A known reseller may be banned from buying in LEGO Stores, but can simply place a phone call to have the ban temporarily lifted from higher up. Limits of 5 per customer clearly mean nothing when I've personally witnessed someone buying 10-20 copies of the entire Indiana Jones line in one purchase...with the store clerks helping her load it up on a cart (The Big Store at LLCA, not any LBR-run LEGO Store...but there _was_ a posted limit not more than five feet away from where this was taking place).

      They also circumvent local pricing by selling sets obtained in one region to people who would have to pay more in their own area than what it costs to have those sets shipped overseas. That hurts TLC's business partners in that region.

      On the flip side, walk into any AFOL convention, and realize that 99% of what you see there would not exist without Bricklink, and especially with the larger Cons it's stuff that's better advertising than any 30-second spot they've ever paid for, and you can see why it puts them in a difficult situation. They don't like what happens on BL, but they can't do anything about it without shooting their own foot.

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    4. On reflection Proudlove, I think you're right and have edited my post to remove the word "Korean". I included reference to "Hong Kong" because that's very relevant as the new legal home of BrickLink Limited, but you're right his nationality has nothing to do with what I wrote yet appears to be a topic of comment.

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  6. "I'm not sure what TLG's stance on this will be. It's no secret they aren't a big fan of resellers so I doubt they'll open up their catalogue"

    True, they may well prefer to see the reselling world mired in confusion and infighting. Maybe. But their position on resellers isn't exactly consistent, either. They seem to be OK with *parts* resellers, and even refer parts customers to Bricklink when it suits them.

    "I am fairly certain of this period will be long remembered as the starting point of some monumental changes in how we buy, sell and trade Lego online."

    You said a mouthful. Not just online, but in general. When you consider the combined effect of TLG's recent policies of "vertical price restriction" and the morass that Bricklink's behavior will spawn, we are entering difficult times indeed.

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    1. What are their "vertical price restriction" policies?

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    2. On a guess, I'd say their new policy of eliminating _all_ discount opportunities for 10xxx series sets. Turns out this policy is not limited to LEGO Stores and S@H, but has been handed down to any online sellers who carry those products, like Amazon. At least that's what Kevin Hinkle told me this past weekend at BWFW.

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    3. Exactly. You can Google vertical "resale price restriction" and compare what you read to what they are doing in this regard. It is an accurate description of their new policies.

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  7. It's a lot less complex than it sounds. The majority of BL part listings use the official mold ID numbers that are stamped into the mold cavities and end up being reproduced on the parts themselves. The rest of the part numbers are split between the ones that Peeron/LDraw assigned, and the ones that Bricklink assigned. BLL _owns_ the numbering system used for BL-assigned part numbers, and they have full right to drop a C&D on any competitor that tries to use those numbers. They can't do jack about anyone who uses the other two numbering systems.

    They also have every itty-bitty shred of right to drop a C&D on any competitor that is purposefully allowing their own sellers to operate their non-BL stores out of BL servers. That's a blatant violation of BL ToS, and I'm actually shocked that it has taken this long to address that bit of dirty dealing.

    As for the naming, again, most of the core naming systems (bricks/plates/tiles/etc) predate the creation of Bricklink, and as such are not something they can go after anyone else for using. That whole area gets rather messy, though. There's no "official BL naming scheme". There's also no "official LDraw/Peeron naming scheme", and the official TLC naming scheme is garbage (both for colors and shapes). Look through the BL minifig head listings. Several have descriptions that specifically mention which version of which character they were produced for. Other heads from the same property (and indeed from a different version of the same character) have very generic descriptions. Some of those descriptions are so generic that they could easily be applied to half a dozen other head decos and make every bit as much sense (check the faces for regular Lex Luthor and Loki, and realize that the closed-mouth pattern on the comic-book Superman isn't much different from those two). That said, if your part descriptions (especially for decorated parts) are identical by listing to those in the BL catalog, it's pretty clearly a case of you lifting their database to save yourself the trouble of assembling your own.

    And that's a fair concern. BL didn't get their database handed to them overnight. It had to be accumulated over more than a decade by lots of volunteers. Those volunteers were not asked if it would be okay to farm out their submissions to BL to any entity that comes along and decides to compete directly with the site they submitted those descriptions/inventories/images to. Some of them clearly are, but that doesn't give a competitor the right to assume they _all_ are. As for requesting to have their submissions deleted from BL's servers, I guess that depends on whether the ToS allowed users to request unsubmissions, or if BL got perpetual rights to anything that was freely given to them by the copyright holders (most companies with smart legal teams make sure to cover that, as you can see happens with the annual holiday-MOC contest for the S@H catalog)..

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    1. BL's ToS before Sep 10 stated "All text (store names, item descriptions, About Me pages, messages, etc.), images, or trademarks on this web site are the intellectual property of their respective owners." Given that clause, #iamnotalawyer but I don't imagine it would be necessary for there to be a "request unsubmission" clause - if it is the IP of the owner they have the right to say BL may not use it.
      So no, BL didn't get perpetual rights pre-Sep 10. Yet it feels like they're behaving as though they own the lot, including images taken from Peeron at the beginning. This was apparently done with permission, but did that permission legally extend to the images being sold 13 years later and claimed as BL IP? We'll never know, as I don't imagine anyone is going to take BL Ltd to court over it. For me the important question is will BL 2.0 succeed.

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    2. No BrickOwl stores were ever operated out of the BrickLink Servers. the BL Sync was a manual operation where a seller would download THEIR OWN INVENTORY from BrickLink and then upload the file to BrickOwl. It is common practice for venues to allow for this. Amazon does. eBay does.

      This is a convenience FEATURE for sellers that sell in multiple venues. Sellers are still going to sell in multiple venues, this just makes it more difficult for BL to be one of those venues.

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    3. You don't have a right to stop other sellers from using your part numbers. Some legal language (i.e. "we are not affiliated with...") may be necessary, but I doubt even that. Auto companies are a good example. I work for an online retail company that has had some level of dispute with a few of the firms in the field. We use their part numbers, but in the one case it came up, it was concluded that we can use their part numbers.

      You seem to think that your own personal interpretation of the law is what matters. Just because it *seems* like someone can claim ownership over part numbers they made up - the legal industry standard is that they can't. The law is built to insure fair competition & the protection of brands, not some monolithic Intellectual Property doctrine.

      That is to say, it is illegal to be uncompetitive and also illegal to steal the brands of other companies. The legal language seeks to enforce both positions. In the case of part numbers, they are essential for describing compatibility, so you can't stop a competitor from using them.

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    4. @Troy:

      There are three possibilities here:

      1. BO does not interact with BL in any capacity, resulting in sellers who have the same inventory listed for sale on two different websites. The instant a BO sale is initiated, the seller is in violation of BL ToS, which require that all items listed for sale be available for shipment. Any seller that thinks they can pull this off in the long term is an idiot, and will likely be banned from selling on BL.

      2. BO inventory has to be paired to BL inventory in such a way that a BO sale results in a realtime alteration to BL inventory. This would also be a ToS violation, as it is effectively allowing someone to sell wares off of BL servers without doing it through the BL system or generating BL fees. This would likely result in direct legal action against BO, and would be very damaging to their longterm prospects. And any sellers caught doing this would again also probably be banned from selling on BL.

      3. Sellers learn to operate two independant storefronts, and take the risk that sales will be smaller due to not having their inventory consolidated in each store. If they're selling half their stuff on BL and the other half on BO, my Wanted List on BL can't find anything that they're selling on BO, and vice versa. In this scenario, sellers would not be in violation of BL ToS, but if it negatively impacts their sales, they'll likely take all of their business to whoever moves the most product. Given that BL has a very big edge on buyers, that doesn't bode well for BO, so their best bet is to sucker as many BL sellers into violating BL ToS as possible so they have no choice but to take all their business to BO.

      However things shake out in the end, I suspect it will end up damaging BL, but I don't think BO will ever be as successful as BL has been, regardless of whether it crashes and burns or manages to stick around for the long haul.

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  8. Bricklink Korea reminds me of Facebook; no matter how much you "pimp your page" and click on those privacy settings, "YOUR" Facebook page is NOT YOURS.

    I hope we AFOLs can find a way to be grateful in the midst of all of our top 1% First World Problems.

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    1. Totally agree; I mean any LEGO Problem is a First World Problem and we do need to be very thankful BrickLink didn't get hacked out of existence or left to die.

      Indeed the clause in BL's ToS is pretty standard these days for UGC sites, but they need to make the legalese much more specific if they want to stem the flow of departing contributors. Just adding 'clarifications' in the Forum isn't enough.

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  9. So long as you can still post stuff here and I can understand what you say, be it using someone else's or your own names for things, I'll be happy.

    I think for purposes of sites like BrickOwl, in which connections have been made that you can share Bricklink inventory, Bricklink is not totally out of its rights. It makes sense from a business standpoint because then they are not getting their fee from the same known seller. I do think though that forcing everyone who uses information such as part and color identification is completely ridiculous. If I had all the knowledge of every piece ever made, I'd want to set up a website that is only for parts and color naming and allow anyone to use it. It would be simple effective and everyone would be on the same page.

    I also agree with Anonymous from 2:12 on September 27th (First Comment) and it would just be so much easier for TLG to just make a web page/site which would be updated regularly that contained info on every piece created. Now there would be issues like redesigns of clips and jumper plates and 2x2 round tiles or all the times a 1xn piece has had the tube design changed from closed to open or any other additional support systems within, but then everyone everywhere would be on the same page. It wouldn't have to be a place to sell parts, just some place where all people could access all information on the piece they wanted. Have a system that had all parts that are currently being made or had the potential of still being produced like the 4x4 elbow with the 2x2 corner cutout without the need of a design change, and all parts that have been discontinued like all old grays and browns and their respective parts. And then there should also be a way for petition to change color names (If possible. TLG doesn't manufacture their own plastic pellets, do they? For a color to be named "very bright light blue" is annoying but if it's what they have to use in order to order all the pellets they need from another source, so be it.) or have a sidebar for popular terms used, and the same would go for part names as well since nobody ever calls pieces by their ID code.

    Why do things have to be so difficult?

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    1. TLG used to get pre-coloured ABS pellets but recently switched to dying white pellets... hence the colour variation nightmares we've been suffering these last few years. They are addressing this, but it's a very complex problem apparently with an immense number of variables that affect things.

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    2. Well, dying beige-colored ABS pellets, at least. I've actually seen what natural ABS looks like, and it's not even close to being white. Or clear, which a lot of people seem to assume (all LEGO parts being made solely of ABS, all trans parts being LEGO parts, thus ABS can obviously be used to make trans parts and must be transparent in its natural form).

      And yes, that's why LEGO white is never pure white, and it's almost certainly related to why it yellows so easily.

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    3. Hey caperberry, is that why the dark reds from when that color was first released look so much more different than what they look like now? Had they not discovered the correct mixture now? I've found quite a few of the old ones being a bit of a lighter shade than the new ones. Of course, with the exception of black, or any other really dark colors, the rest of the pieces appear to be a little more transparent or sometimes even milky; it must be because of the pellets being dyed.

      Anyway, at least TLG is trying to put some effort into creating a public record. In fact, I bet they wouldn't have to get every piece. If they did go with a 3D models, they can just map a printing design on instead of finding pictures and have to pay Bricklink a fee to get everything. I know they have copies of every set, but they're all sealed and should remain that way. They could probably even recreate old baseplate designs without printing just through the computers. Again, at least they're trying.

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    4. No, that was a deliberate colour change on their part. TLG actually gave it a different name - New Dark Red - which BrickLink & Peeron did not. Consequently the change is not as well known and I don't know what year this happened. I much prefer the new one, the old one feels a little transparent.

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    5. Fascinating! I thought they looked weird. I've got Dark Red hair from an old Underwater Alpha Team set and it's practically a transparent color. You can see the minifig head through the hair. Definitely a good change.

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  10. Great article... I really appreciate all the detail.
    I shared you article here:
    https://www.facebook.com/AdoptABrick/posts/585229011543853

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  11. It is up to the community to start a new open source database of parts and set inventories and stop contributing information directly to bricklink. Any parts vendor like bricklink or brickowl would be free to synch with it.

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  12. As a usability consultant and web developer, I would like to get the message to the new Bricklink owner that the way to dominate the market isn't to try to own the labelling system for LEGO, it's to provide the best, easiest to use marketplace. Competing schemes for describing LEGO parts benefits nobody. ("Standards are great! Everyone should have one!")

    Appropriating and defending something which the community has worked to build is only going to destroy goodwill, and since aftermarket LEGO sales is very much an enthusiast endeavor, goodwill is the magic ingredient for success, not legal defences.

    Without the community working to keep the database up to date, it's either going to be very expensive to maintain (remind me, how much does an army of detail-focused fans cost?) or eventually erode away into irrelevance.

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  13. Something that I find interesting (and I don't know that I've seen it mentioned on any of the discussions online) is that the letter BrickOwls posted (http://brickowl.com/docs/bl_letter.png) predates the TOS update -- the letter is dated July 30th. The TOS update was posted on September 10th (and apparently comes into effect on Oct 1.)

    So, assuming the letter is legitimate (which I don't believe is in dispute), then BrickLink believes that it had all the rights to the catalog even without the TOS update.


    Anyway, I do want to say that BrickLink Admin replied to me in email based on my "Please delete my catalog contributions" request, and he agreed to remove them if I still wished to do so. Presumably, this is still the case for anyone who submits such a request through the helpdesk prior to October 1.

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    1. Thanks for letting us know Marc. I'm glad to hear they've been responsive.

      I do actually wonder if they were as fully aware as the community are about the nature of the database, i.e. to the extent that it was originally based on the "community catalogue" of the era. I also wonder if the Jezek family really fully understood, and whether it was truly in their full legal rights to sell the catalogue at all.

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    2. From a moral point of view - it is not.

      ...from a legal one... I am not sure :( you know the old saying: "justice is blind" Legal system can be blind, deaf and from another planet.

      In any case, profit is the main driving force for both Bricklink, BrickOwl and TLG. If they make us happier helping us by making everything easier, we spend more money. If we agree to do something for any of them and we are not legally shielded, that work could belong to them now. I am sorry, but legal system is quite clear, so, there are only to possibilities: naming system belongs to Bricklink, or not. If it does, we must learn from this experience, make another base (ouh) and punish bricklink for making us do this. If it does not, than everything is just bulling for money, and it should be stopped immediately.
      Fans and enthusiast shouldn't suffer because somebody is loosing money because of someone else. And they should be protected, and be on the first place, as customers bring money - customer is always right, unless you have monopoly.

      This is sheer terrorism: either you are going to buy only on bricklink, or I am going to take all the names you use and make it a nightmare for you to buy on some other place. If you do not do what I say, I'm going to destroy something dear to you. And I have legal rights to do so, so I won't be punished (evil laugh:)

      note: it is not important from which country is the buyer, or where is his firm from; If TLG choose to do this, they would be right within their rights, both moral and legal - this is their product. But they understand the importance of the satisfied customer, and a happy fan.

      I think TLG should react and protect us. There is always a bigger fish. And I think TLG understand MUCH MUCH better that fans, enthusiasts and their activity is important for business. Like someone said: "how much does a fanbase costs?"

      Delete
  14. While I initially thought this would be a fun article on the cats TLG has produced, I do appreciate this BrickLink news being brought to my attention via your blog.

    This blog has been exhaustively thorough, but also clean and concise in it's articles. I love it. There are few blogs I subscribe to and trust to bring me solid content, and this one is a gem.

    Please keep up the good work.

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    Replies
    1. I wouldn't mind a fun article on LEGO cats. Haha.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Nate, very kind words. I'm glad my sneaky kitty fooled you.

      Delete
  15. The BL catalog was mostly created by people who receive very significant credits to their monthly fees for adding set inventories and pictures of new items. To say that it was created by the BL community for free isn't even remotely accurate.

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    Replies
    1. Wow, wish I'd known how to cash in on that. I've got hundreds of credited submissions to the BL catalog with nary a cent in credit to ever show for them.

      Delete
  16. I shall be directing future business where possible to BrickOwl I think. I'm not a huge buyer but I don't like this sort of bullying tactic. I would recommend others to do the same and hopefully brick link will learn their lesson.

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  17. This kind of shi(f)t happens every time the focus in providing a product or a service goes from the items produced themselves to the sacred "bottom line" before all. We have seen the same Gekko-thing happen zillions of times: going from getting a sensate monetary return for providing society with something needed/wanted to maximizing the profit for the sake of the profit itself. This is the reason for the civilization wrecking financial crisis in which we are drowning: squeze the poeple for every cent using lawyer instead of workers, with no regards for what you destroy as long as, on the short run, your actions maximize the sacred shareholders return, ingnoring the fact that ON THE LONG RUN (now not so long anymore...) this will only create more entropy FOR EVERYONE. This is the corporate capitalism, baby... :-(

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  18. Perhaps TLG will step in and provide a service to rival BL? If they did, they'd benefit from resellers rather than worrying about it hitting sales of new parts / sets.

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  19. It's CDDB all over again... A lot of community goodwill will be destroyed if this continues.

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