Spam or Scam – or a review of ‘visual tarot’ activities
by Jean-Michel David
Some time back, I was alerted by other Tarotpedia users that a new contributor to our wiki-based Online Encyclopedia of Tarot was replacing entries – and at times a whole page – with simple links to the ‘Visual Tarot’ programme site. Such can be rather annoying, but we took the event with generosity and assumed that it was no more than an error or unfamiliarity with wiki-based entries when a page’s entry was being replaced, and that all the other pages with links to their programme were but misguided but honest enough ‘advertising’ (though contrary to the intent of Tarotpedia).
Such is the lot of having editable web-based pages that encourages community participation. What is hoped is that intentional damage remains rare and that once the IP of the user and the username is blocked (after requests not to post what is basically spam), he or she simply moves on.
Unfortunately, things are not always so simple…
Image usage abuse by Visual Tarot
What was brought to the attention of a number of tarot folks was the intentional inclusion of various creators’ tarot decks. We probably have to recall here that to create a deck is no small feat, and that the artist(s) usually make, at most, a very small income disproportionate to the artistic endeavour. Despite this, most – actually, all the ones I have met or know about – are also quite generous with their creations, allowing the card images to be used subject to some pretty normal considerations. In some cases, the legal right rests with a larger publisher who is also, in many cases, quite ready to grant permission for reproduction subject to reasonable constraints.
The folks at Visual Tarot Programme seem to not only care little for such, but have either dis-regarded requests to remove electronic copies of card images from the site, or, in other cases, simply moved them to a peripheral site for download therefrom. Decks such as Ma Deva Padma’s Osho Zen, Kat Black’s Touchstone Tarot, and Karen and Alex’s Tarot of Prague can each, despite either explicit request to remove such of, in the case of the Osho Zen, the copyright holders not knowing of its usage, be downloaded.
But does it breach copyright?
The question is actually far more ‘thorny’ and unclear as what may at first be assumed straightforward – depending on one’s location in the world. It seems that – from what I have been told – the copyright laws in the country of the programmer’s origin are perhaps not ‘actually’ breached… even when those folks decide to make available, by simply electronically copying from existing online copies, as long as there is a nominal amount of ‘editing’ (which may consist of no more than adjusting the size or resolution at which images are displayed). Having said that, the Russian Federation is signatory to International Copyright treatises, and changes may be afoot to rectify the current situation.
For the user, on the other hand, using and downloading those same images in most cases would breach copyright laws. In other words, Visual Tarot makes available images that it may legally be allowed to display without the warning that no likely user (targetted at the English-speaking world) is likely to be able to legally use these. A case of deception by deliberate oversight at the very least.
Pricing of Visual Tarot Software
It seems that the price of Visual Tarot may fluctuate according to the whims of the programmer or his resellers. Prices I have seen range from $7.77 to $250. That’s, by the way, US dollars. In one caseof which I was made aware, their site changed from $35 to $250 overnight… and then dropped back to $55 a couple of days later following some comments on a thread on Aeclectic Tarot!
This was the first instance which raised my concern… Could this be, rather than simply poor observance of ambiguous copyright laws an instance of a deliberate scam?
Scam or Spam?
Given the above concern, and the publically available correspondence between the creators of various decks and the programmer – and also being fed up with having to repeatedly undo what I can only describe as spamming Tarotpedia – I checked their site again.
One of the payment options (for the few that are unlikely to use something other than PayPal) is by making a Bank deposit at the London branch of the German Dresdner Bank, the beneficiary being a Cologne-based company located at Vogelsanger Str. 78 in that city: Digital River GmbH. From other searches, the company appears to be heavily involved in providing ‘services’ for online gambling and other software ‘promotions’… with what possibly appears to be more nefarious eastern European links.
Could it be that, in addition to directly charging for a developed programme, there is also therein Phishing for Credit Card and/or PayPal information? Can the Visual Tarot programme be trusted? Does it possibly contain a command sequence therein that collects and returns to its creator or to Digital River banking, credit card or PayPal information that should remain confidential?
None of their activity, whether it be their ongoing disruption of Tarotpedia, their connection with Digital River, or their ongoing breach after creator requests to remove usage of their decks, leaves much confidence in the honesty of either Aleksey Lapshin (the credited programmer and owner of Visual Tarot) or his connections.
Damage to Tarotpedia using various IPs (or masking their IP by various all-too-common techniques used by spammers) continues. As I write this, three repeated major alterations to pages in the past two days have had to be undone.
As a consequence, we may have to temporarily lock alterations until installing additional add-ons to minimise damage. I personally hope it does not get to that.
Visual Tarot Program – Spam of Scam?
VisualTarot.com – Caveat emptor
Visual Tarot is not the design of someone who seeks to support or be supported by the tarot community, nor of someone that appears to have a genuine interest in providing and supporting software written for those interested in tarot. Rather, it unfortunately displays the hallmarks of untrustworthiness at the very least.
If the entries on Tarotpedia was simply unwelcome spam that stopped following requests to do so, it may be considered as no more. Given some of the above, and given the discussion in the thread ‘Is This Legal’ on AT, I am drawn to the conclusion, perhaps inaccurate, that there is far more to it – and I personally remain wary lest it be a genuine scam specifically targetting the tarot community.