intellectual property

Will Burns (SL username: Aeonix Aeon)

Will Burns (SL username: Aeonix Aeon)

Both in SL and in RL, I’m quite lucky in being honoured with the friendship of knowledgeable people who rise above the typical level of discourse and speak in a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact, manner, with arguments based on facts, logic, and knowledge, rather than fear and “common wisdom” – which, more often than not, is actually common myth. One of these people who have bestowed on me the honour of their friendship is William G. Burns III (SL username: Aeonix Aeon, SL display name: Will Burns), a published academic, and former Vice Chair of the IEEE’s Virtual World Standards Group. A published and respected researcher and professional in the field of virtual reality and virtual worlds in his own right, Will understands the potential – creative, cultural, and commercial – of virtual worlds that very few commentators in Second Life can rival, and he is not one to mince his words. His criticism of Linden Lab CEOs past has always been very severe and, although back then it might have seemed too harsh, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I can now see he was just calling things the way they were.

Now, Second Life is, as we all know, in slow decline. Many of its old users are gone, either because they no longer care, or because the ongoing global financial woes have priced them out of what is essentially a costly pastime for people with disposable income and time (two things few members of what was once known as the middle class still have), or because they died away. New user retention is, as has always been the case, disappointing, and more and more private regions sink into oblivion like the lost continents of myth and legend. However, SL still has a vibrant economy, which is based on the creation and sale of various virtual goods – from hairdos to cars and from clothing to furniture. And this economy supports a rather expansive ecosystem of merchants, regardless of whether their products are entirely their creation, or based on resources purchased from other markets like CGtrader.

SL’s merchants apply all sorts of different business models, but there is a common denominator: They are extraordinarily precious about their creations, even if they are nothing but very crude retextures of full-perm templates – sometimes even less than that. One look at most content creators’ dire, straight outta Bible, “fire and brimstone”, DMCA warnings is more than enough. In the past, many in-world shops had employed CS- and ToS-violating devices that promised (without delivering, but that’s another story) to “detect” potential copybotters. In other cases, store owners ejected and / or banned store visitors for idling, because they genuinely believed that, if you’re AFK in a store, then you are by definition a copybotter. Almost four years ago, a rather botched amendment to LL’s ToS got numerous content creators up in arms, claiming – of all things – that LL itself was “trying to steal their content”; much hilarity ensued, with several creators even ragequitting SL. It is, thus, an unfortunate fact of Second Life that it is very hard to have a calm, reasonable, and rational discussion on merchants’ intellectual property, on the implied and express licences they need to provide to LL so that the virtual goods can be displayed and sold to the customers, and – eventually – consumer rights. Unfortunately, much of the blame must be put on Philip Rosedale, who, regardless of whatever innovative ideas he may have had, has always been a bit of a demagogue. The promises given in 2003 have essentially been haunting SL ever since, often putting customers and merchants on a collision course, with very little – if any – room being given to the rights of the consumer. Naturally, things were further exacerbated, with the stance of many merchants going to full-on prokanoia with the Great Copybot Scare of 2006, which has never quite gone away.

In more recent times, the suspicion with which SL merchants have traditionally viewed customers has taken new forms: Mesh body creators demand that apparel, jewellery, shoes, etc. created for their bodies be non-modifiable, “to prevent copybotting”, even though permissions have exactly zero impact on a Copybot viewer’s ability to intercept and extract an object. We have the infamous “anti-rez” scripts, which are another form of “anti-copybot” snake oil. And so on, and so on. So, to have an honest, open, no-nonsense discussion on this risky topic, I needed to talk to someone who actually knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t mouth off based on false assumptions and blatant misunderstandings of web-based platforms like Second Life. Inspired by the licensing suggestions he made in this post on his blog, I invited him over to my always work-in-progress café, and we had a lengthy, but most enjoyable and productive, discussion.

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linden-lab-logoThis post is certainly going to be one of the most difficult for me. No, it’s not personal, intimate or anything. It’s just that what I see makes it very difficult for me to maintain a civil tone – and it’s not only about Linden Lab’s decisions, but also about the way things are affected by the appalling mode of discourse in SL forums and blogs on important matters. I’ll try to do the best I can, though.

It’s already well-known to pretty much everyone that follows SL-related news that the changes incorporated to LL’s ToS on August 15th, 2013, caused significant controversy among SL users, most notably certain content creators. They also spawned two controversial announcements by CGTextures and Renderosity, which I have covered rather extensively here. It’s been nearly a year since then. Throughout this time, much was said, and very little was done. On Wednesday, the Lab announced (in an almost self-congratulating way) that they amended Section 2.3, which caused the controversy. For comparison’s sake, in my previous post, I covered the announcement and also linked to a Google document where I present both the post-8/15/2013 ToS and the new ones side-by-side.

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linden-lab-logoLast August, Linden Lab revised its Terms of Service. The most important changes were made to Section 2, which governs content licences and intellectual property rights. While the entire section was overhauled severely (you can read about the changes in greater detail here and here; I have also covered the issue as exhaustively as I could), it was the changes to Section 2.3 that caused certain content creators to protest in various ways, and led to two controversial announcements from stock content providers CGTextures and Renderosity – for my assessment of these two announcements, please read here. Today, July 16th of 2014, the Lab announced that it has amended the offending section.

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Allegations of IP theft and copyright infringement are extremely common in Second Life; all you need to do is have a look at social media used predominantly by Second Life users. Personally, I’ve lost count of the often heated discussions regarding who has copied or ripped off whom, what, how, to what extent etc. Oftentimes, the allegations and claims made in such discussions are wide of the mark. Sometimes they’re correct. This, of course, shows that there is a certain degree of confusion regarding fair use and copyright as they are applied to Second Life and similar virtual worlds (most notably OpenSim).

Thus, someone with actual knowledge needs to step up to the plate and inform people. Personally, I can’t really think of anyone more suited for this task than Vaki Zenovka. People who watched the ToS debate closely will remember that, back on October 19, 2013 Vaki (through her alt, Agenda Faromet), an RL attorney, along with other RL lawyers active in SL, held a legal panel to provide proper, precise and concise information on how LL’s new ToS really affect users and content creators. The panel was very successful and answered crucial questions, thus helping to counter a number of widespread misconceptions. This, however, is not the only informational initiative that Vaki has participated in. Last year, together with Tim Faith, another RL attorney (SL username: Yoss Kamachi), she held a panel to inform and educate SL content creators on the topic of copyright and fair use for SL content creators, and they are going to repeat it this year.

As she comments:

We did this last year and it was really successful, so Tim and I are doing it again this year. Are you interested in learning more about what we mean when we talk about “fair use”? Would you like to hear some actual lawyers talk about what it really means, what the current state of the law is, and how it applies to content creation and use in SL?

Of course you would.

So, tomorrow, Saturday, March 1st, 2014 and at 10AM SLT, Vaki/Agenda and Tim Faith will host this legal panel again, offering a great opportunity to those who missed last year’s panel and/or need clarifications on issues like LL’s current Terms of Service, Intellectual Property and Fair Use. The panel will be held at the Justitia Legal Resource Village. Of course, questions are welcome.

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Mona

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-ro

As everyone who hasn’t been living under a sculptie rock knows, LL has changed its Terms of Service on the 15th of August. This change has been met with a copious flow of virtual lachrimal fluids and pretty much equal amounts of drama w.r.t. the modifications to Section 2.3 of the ToS. I’ll be honest and blunt from the outset: I don’t like the wording in Section 2.3 at all, because it’s reaching too far; much farther than necessary or meaningful.

However, this is no excuse for drama-whoring. Drama-whoring is, to put it politely, counter-productive. To effectively oppose something, you need to have arguments based on solid logic and not on false assumptions. You need your arguments to be structured and well-supported by facts. And, if you are given a chance to negotiate a change in what you don’t like, you need to go to the negotiations with a number of proposals that are likely to be accepted by both parties. At least that’s what real professionals do. That said, I am not even going to pretend that I’m satisfied by the SL community’s response and the coverage of this issue. Honestly, most of what’s been written is complete and utter hogwash.

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