Culture

by Timothy Geigner


Filed Under:
ai weiwei, art, china, cutlure, free speech

Companies:
lego



Lego Reverses Policy On Block Orders For Political Projects After Public Shaming

from the blockheads dept

Late last year, we relayed the story of Ai Weiwei, an artist who had previously used Legos to create political art in the form of portraits, being refused a bulk order of Lego blocks by the company. At issue was a long-standing company policy prohibiting its facilitation of blocks being used for political speech. As a result of Weiwei going public about the refusal, the story was Streisanded into the public consciousness, resulting in condemnation and shaming from more of the masses than would have ever been aware of the project otherwise.

And, in a classic example of how the Streisand Effect often culminates, Lego is now reversing course -- not only regarding Weiwei's project, but it's nixing the entire policy.

On Tuesday, Lego announced that it would no longer ask what the "thematic purpose" of a project is. Instead, customers who intend to display their creations in public will be asked to make clear that Lego does not support or endorse them.

Asked whether it was in response to Ai's case, the toy-maker said it had been asked whether it supports human rights and freedom of expression. In an email, spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek wrote: "We always have and continue to do — this is at the heart of what Lego play is all about. ... We hope the new guidelines will make it more clear what we stand for."
It would have been too much to hope for to expect Lego to come out and flat out admit the policy it had previously adopted was simply wrong on a moral level. Still, this is a lesson in the power of public shaming, particularly in an era where the internet has fostered wider connections than had been possible previously. Would Lego have revised its policy if Weiwei's story had not gone viral? I think we know the answer to that question, given that this isn't the first time the question over Legos being used in political artwork has come up, but is the first time the policy has been revised.

Oddly, after Lego had initially refused Weiwei's order, he turned to a Chinese competitor instead. This was done as many speculated that Lego had taken its actions in order to appease the Chinese government, as Weiwei is a Chinese dissident.
The Melbourne exhibition, which opened in December, was to feature 20 portraits of Australian pro-freedom figures made from Lego bricks. Instead, it used similar bricks from a Chinese company, Ai said.

"I couldn't tell much difference and the price is much, much lower," he added.
And now the Streisand Effect has multiplied to include the greater exposure of a Lego competitor. Perhaps that's the reason for the policy change.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Dan, 15 Jan 2016 @ 4:58pm

    Weiwei should have used those Chinese knock-off bricks (Cogo, Sluban, etc.). It would a bigger political statement since those fake legos are made in China and presumably has the support of the powers-that-be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      G Thompson (profile), 15 Jan 2016 @ 9:00pm

      Re:

      The so-called 'fake' lego's are NOT knock off's any more than Lego bricks themselves are a knock off of an earlier product.. oh wait.. Lego bricks ARE!

      Anyway the patent on Lego has ended so calling the new ones by the Chinese company a 'knock off' or 'fake' is wrong no matter what

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2016 @ 5:06pm

    Spin it like you want. You see this as a "reversal", I see it as a continued statement of neutrality.

    LEGO has always made it clear that it does not want to be seen as a supporter of any political idea. Not because some ideas are not worthwile, but simply because LEGO is a toy company and doesn't want to pick a political 'side'.

    Before, it did so by not allowing politically inspired projects (amongst others) to benefit from their discount program because that could be interpreted as an endorsement. Now they explicitly demand that these clients make it clear they are not endorsed by LEGO when they use that channel to buy LEGO bricks.

    Maybe the new policy is more clear and will avoid negative publicity for LEGO because political artists can no longer pretend to be discriminated because of their beliefs. They never were. They were simply not allowed a discount when they wanted to use the LEGO brand in their political fight since the discount could be interpreted as endorsement.

    Remember: Weiwei is not banned from using LEGO. He could have bought it without the discount, no problem, even directly from LEGO. Just like everyone else. For whatever purpose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      G Thompson (profile), 15 Jan 2016 @ 9:04pm

      Re:

      >>Now they explicitly demand that these clients make it clear they are not endorsed by LEGO when they use that channel to buy LEGO bricks

      no.. LEGO asks them nicely. The purchasers can STILL refuse to state whether Lego endorses them or not. There is NOTHING Lego could do to the purchasers if they refuse to make a statement.

      As for the discount.. Well LEGO is being looked at closely by the Consumer law powers that be in Australia for restriction on trade having an arbitrary structure on who can and cannot purchase at a discount. As for LEGO's politics?? Have you actually researched the History of LEGO and the Company behind it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2016 @ 2:09am

        Re: Re:

        Indeed. But I have a strong feeling that said purchasers would probably find it difficult or even impossible to buy additional bricks in the discount program afterwards.

        (As for the history of LEGO: yes, I have. Which episode or actions are you referring to?)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2016 @ 1:30am

      Re:

      "Remember: Weiwei is not banned from using LEGO. He could have bought it without the discount, no problem, even directly from LEGO. Just like everyone else. For whatever purpose."

      Yo, moron...

      He was blocked from using the discount. A discount that anyone else could use. He did nothing wrong to cause denial of that discount. It's no different than a store saying "Everything 25% off today, but not for you."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2016 @ 1:56am

        Re: Re:

        Hmm. Not sure who's the moron here. Namecalling never was my forte.

        I get the feeling you are under the impression that Ai Weiwei was the only person to ever get denied access to the discount program. You may want to get informed first.

        The discount program was NOT available for anyone. Sure, anyone could apply, but there was this policy about who got access and who didn't.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jan 2016 @ 9:14am

      Re:

      Nobody who doesn't work for LEGO cares this much about LEGO.

      Brick Joke: Particularly when failing to end comments with 'Not Endorsed by LEGO'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2016 @ 7:22pm

    Imagine if Crayola or a pencil or pen or keyboard manufacturer asked you what you were going to use your keyboard or pen or pencil or crayon for before selling it to you and refused to sell it to you if you intended to use it to express speech they disagree with? What if I criticize my keyboard manufacturer with this keyboard? Will they demand their keyboard back for using their keyboard for such purposes? Will my computer manufacturer demand their computer back? Or what if the video camera or camera phone was used to record police brutality or something horrible and to distribute said footage across the world? Will the phone or camera manufacturer claim that said use is against their TOS? Will the hard drive, memory, or film manufacturer claim you can't use film they sell you to store such content? Can ink, paper, printing press, and printer manufacturers tell a newspaper or other publication what they may and may not print? How is this any different? Why should manufacturers of devices get to decide what you can and can't use devices they sell you to express as part of their TOS?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2016 @ 5:30am

      Re:

      Well, it would indeed be a rather bizarre world.

      However, all the examples you give are quite different from the LEGO story: LEGO never refused to sell Ai Weiwei any bricks. How could they with their extensive retailer network?

      LEGO did, however, deny him access to a discount program for direct bulk orders because that could have been interpreted as endorsement for his political views.

      See the difference?

      Buying a box of Crayola crayons at retail is not exacly the same as asking Crayola to sell you 100,000 crayons at a discount so you can print the name of your political party on those items next to the Crayola name and logo and then hand them out during a rally. The first is a simple sale, the second could be seen as an endorsment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2016 @ 7:42am

        Re: Re:

        It's only an endorsement if they discriminate against some speech over other speech. If they are speech neutral then it's not.

        If anything giving lower prices to some speech and higher prices to other speech, as was the case here, is endorsing the speech with the lower price.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 15 Jan 2016 @ 7:59pm

    Given That You Don’t Personally Know Mr Ai ...

    ... it seems a bit forward to refer to him as “Weiwei”, does it not?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 16 Jan 2016 @ 12:59am

    Earnest wellthinking

    Isn't it interesting, the things well-meaning people will come up with?

    What they created: A thematic input field. Policies. Procedures. Employees to review requests. Committee to review refusals...and appeals. Communication policy. Form letters. Lawyers to fight cases.

    What they needed: "We're not responsible for what you make."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2016 @ 9:52am

    Barbara

    A Lego sculpture of Barbara Streisand is in order...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2016 @ 7:13pm

    Ridiculous

    When a bakery denied service to a same sex couple who was looking to order their wedding cake, everyone screamed about how businesses are not allowed to pick and choose who to deny service to based on such a characteristic.

    Now you have a company refusing to allow anyone to utilize a discount when the product is intended to be used in a project that has a political message. The intent and the outcome is to distance the company from being seen as supportive of any and all political messages.

    Tomorrow you're going to tell me that if you belong to $CURRENTVICTIMGROUP, it's against the law if you don't get a discount at the deli when you buy your sandwich and gas stations should be sued if they don't give you a discount for being a gold medalist in the oppression olympics.

    GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 16 Jan 2016 @ 8:06pm

      Re: Now you have a company refusing to allow anyone to utilize a discount

      No the article is about that company backing down on that refusal.

      You think it should have stood by its “principles” in this case? In which case, please tell us what those “principles” should have been for a large, profit-oriented multinational corporation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jan 2016 @ 9:42am

      Re: Ridiculous

      When a bakery denied service to a same sex couple who was looking to order their wedding cake, everyone screamed about how businesses are not allowed to pick and choose who to deny service to based on such a characteristic.
      Small difference being that this is a Chinese dissident who was working in Australia and using the product of a Danish company.

      Tomorrow you're going to tell me that if you belong to $CURRENTVICTIMGROUP, it's against the law if you don't get a discount at the deli when you buy your sandwich and gas stations should be sued if they don't give you a discount for being a gold medalist in the oppression olympics.
      Tomorrow I'll tell you that a deli offering 50% off Reubens to everyone except parapalegics because the owners don't approve of the 'filthy cripple lifestyle choice' might want to be prepared for a bit of a PR problem. Then again, this is a distinct issue from that raised by the LEGO policy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.