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With mixed feelings, it is time for me to announce that I will not be producing a CULT shirt for the 2012 Lotusphere season and do not anticipate producing them in the future.
I've spoken to Rocky Oliver about this and he agrees that the time is at hand to end on a winning note. The CULT shirts were first created by Rocky Oliver and Henry Newberry more than 10 years ago. When Henry stepped away from the process in 2004, I took over the bulk of the production work and as Rocky became increasingly busy I took on the process as a whole. We had some great designs and a great deal of fun with the shirts over the years and I will always be grateful to the sponsors and to the community for supporting the effort.
Some of you are aware of just how much work goes into producing the CULT shirts every year. From gathering and coordinating sponsors to the graphic design work, subcontracting production, shipping, and distribution it was a matter of more than a hundred hours each year. In addition to the preparation work, it meant extending my stay in Orlando by two nights and dealing with renting trucks and driving around picking up dozens of boxes at the last minute as I was also finalizing presentations and preparing for other events around Lotusphere. It has been common for me to start Lotusphere exhausted. In the last few years while the community still appreciated the shirts, they have become something of an expectation rather than a treat, sponsors have been more difficult to find in these tighter financial times, and to be honest I just haven't enjoyed the process as much.
Lotusphere is still a fun and valuable event - at least so far - but it hasn't been the same atmosphere for me at all in the last few years. Many of the changes are positive overall. There is more business being done, the show floor is more successful, there has been a excellent balance of interesting content, and all the things you want out of a conference remain top notch. The mood, however, has changed. What was a fairly tight and highly geek oriented community is much more broad and business focused than the pure technical crowds of the late 1990's and early 2000 years. I think this is a reflection of the product line's direction and its trend in the marketplace but that's a subject for another day.
The final straw for me was a conflict I had while at Lotusphere 2011 with a fresh young lawyer who had been assigned by IBM to review the use of its logos and copyrighted terms on presentations and other materials. He had decided that my use of the "orange guys" from the old Notes Database icons which I had decorated with firefighting equipment and used as my twitter picture and on my presentations was "too derivative" and had to be removed. While his comments did not extend to the shirt itself, that was only because the shirts were outside his purview and because he didn't connect me with the shirts while reviewing the presentations. I sought assistance from some fairly high level IBM people, and while they understood that the use was reasonable and even positive there was nothing they could do because it was definitely derivative as well. As long as it was casually ignored, there wasn't an issue. Once pointed out formally, however, IBM could not let the use continue without risking losing the right to defend the same logo elsewhere. The frequently sarcastic nature of the shirts makes it a long step from anything IBM will issue a blanket statement permitting for the future, of course, so while the young lawyer was legally correct, his overzealous attempt to impress his bosses missed the point. He missed the obvious fact that he wasn't the first IBM person to notice the derived use -- surely every executive and marketing person who ever saw it had the same thought. The difference is that the rest of them were smart enough to allow a positive reference to continue while casually ignoring the obvious. By making an issue of it, this genius put me in the position of having to comply with the very specific request to stop deriving work directly from the IBM Lotus Domino logos. Unfortunately, images derived from the IBM logos have always been a large part of the design of the CULT shirts. Having now been officially asked not to make derivations like that, I do not feel it is appropriate to take the risk of ignoring that request for the future. The first time, a "friendly" request to remove the work is all that's necessary. Repeated use, however, can lead to things like lawsuits that even if I had a chance of winning, would be so far outside my ability to spend the money to fight as to be not worth fighting.
I do not want my decision here to sound like some kind of misguided free speech or editorial freedom issue. It isn't that at all. Of course we could produce the shirts without crossing the boundaries set by not using derivations of the the logos. It's simply that the more I thought about it, the more the remaining joy of producing the shirts was just sucked out of the process for me. A "last straw" doesn't have to be a big deal. By itself, there is nothing here that couldn't be easily ignored. Combined as it is with the other difficulties in producing the shirts, changes to the way I perceive the Lotusphere mood, and the general aging of the joke itself; it was simply time to call it a day.
Of course, if someone else wants to pick it up I'm happy to listen and to provide any advice I can. The first bit of that advice would be to suggest you try something else -- something new and fresh. There's room for someone else to step up and provide some fun.
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