The gist of it is that the Guy Fawkes mask many members of Anonymous wear in public – known more widely in the U.S. as mask from the movie V for Vendetta – is copyrighted in the U.S. by global media oligopolist Time Warner, which is no friend to Anonymous.
Sooo, every time one of the Anonymi buy a legal version of the creepy mustachio-and-goateed shiny clown mask from within the U.S., Time Warner gets a licensing fee.
From the NYT story:
Indeed, with the help of Anonymous, the mask has become one of the most popular disguises and — in a small way — has added to the $28 billion in revenue Time Warner accumulated last year. It is the top-selling mask on Amazon.com, beating out masks of Batman, Harry Potter and Darth Vader.
“We sell over 100,000 of these masks a year, and it’s by far the best-selling mask that we sell,” said Howard Beige, executive vice president of Rubie’s Costume, a New York costume company that produces the mask. “In comparison, we usually only sell 5,000 or so of our other masks.” The Vendetta mask, which sells for about $6 at many retailers, is made in Mexico or China, Mr. Beige said.
Anonymi have been wearing the mask since they went to war with the Church of Scientology in 2008 and staged their first public appearance, standing in silent, Fawked protest outside the Church's Boston headquarters.
“It had a chilling effect. There were literally thousands of people standing silently in front of the Church of Scientology wearing the same Guy Fawkes mask,” according to Gabriella Coleman, an assistant professor at New York University’s department of media, culture and communication. “The photos and videos that appeared in the news from the protests cemented the mask as the symbol of Anonymous.”
Many Anonymi wear the mask, or at least acquired one as a symbol of the movement and virtual membership in something that's more a dissasociative mob shuffling in a roughly common direction, shrinking or growing as sub-groups spin off to attack things they find particularly odious before returning to the almost undefined maelstrom of the whole.
That the maelstrom unintentionally enriches Time Warner for use of the mask symbolizing its opposition to everything Time Warner represents is rich irony.
If I'd thought of that angle I might have written the story myself, though I'd probably have killed the joke halfway through by pointing out that if spending six bucks for a Guy Fawkes mask is an endorsement of Time Warner, paying $80 or $100 a month for Internet access and cell phone service from Verizon or Comcast or Sprint or AT&T are much more direct payments to Corporate America.
I did write one about the Guy Fawkes mask selling faster in the U.S. than in the U.K. and being mentioned seven times more often as the "Anonymous" mask than as "Guy Fawkes" mask, which makes for convincing evidence that Guy's new relevance is in U.S. digital politics, not traditional British bonfire nights.
Even more ironic would be the revelation that some members of Anonymous use Visa, Mastercard or PayPal for their personal finances, despite highly publicized attacks by Anonymous against those companies for refusing to take donations to WikiLeaks to help pay for the legal defense of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
It's possible some of the Anonymi and 4Chan trolls even enrich others on the list of companies it has attacked verbally and online by choosing to use Playstation3 consoles, playing Sony video games, ride public transit in San Francisco, live under the protection of the U.S. military, pay taxes that pay salaries of the FBI agents who investigate Anonymous hackers and even live in the same country as the U.S. Senate that was hacked by the particularly obnoxious Anonymous spinoff LulzSec earlier this summer.
Yes, it's funny that a primary symbol of a group opposed to the manipulation and exploitation of individuals would be owned by one of the companies most effective at using those strategies.
It's also ironic buying or using the symbol would enrich that company.
Copyrighted versions of a single image are not the only representation of that image, however.
There are dozens of other Guy Fawkes masks sold by British companies. Only one version of the 17th century anarchist's face is copyrighted by Time Warner, and that one only because of a movie that had nothing to do with Guy Fawkes, though its hero was also a doomed dissident.
Even copyrighted images only represent ideas, not encapsulate them.
No one has to pay Time Warner to think disestablishmentarian thoughts, or anti-disestablishmentarian ones, for that matter.
I'm sure members of Anonymous would like to avoid paying Time Warner for the image as much as I'd like to stop paying Verizon for the consumer-antagonistic policies it forces on the FCC, its inflated fees, its poor customer service.
Neither is going to happen.
That's why people object to oligopolies and monopolies and why both are supposed to be regulated.
With little or no competition, providers can impose their own prices and policies on consumers who have little choice but to continue buying no matter how much they resent the price or the exploitation.
Vendetta masks are a good metaphor, but they're not a big revenue stream for Time Warner.
Its real money – like that of most mega-corporations – comes from services and consumers who have no choice but to pay, whether they're Anonymous or not.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.