Second Life

So, our worst fears came to be. The legacy content lobby, using a lot of lobbying (read: bribes) muscle and about as much appeal to MEPs’ and people’s sentiment, as it always had, managed to pass the draconian EU Copyright Directive, in the name of “protecting creators’ rights”. Funnily enough, it’s the legacy content lobby (i.e. publishing houses, record, TV and film companies) that’s historically:

  • sought not only to monopolise and control what content you access, but also who gets to have his / her work published;
  • stopped technical and scientific progress through the patent system that’s always been rotten to the core from the very beginning;
  • made sure that the multitude of cases where perfectly legitimate content gets pulled down through fraudulent and frivolous copyright infringement claims goes entirely unpunished;
  • made sure artists get only a miniscule portion of their work’s worth – in many jurisdictions, an author gets 6% of his / her book’s shelf price and, more often than not, the publisher demands that the author foots the bill for the proofreading, copy editing, and publishing costs – in the music world, many record companies nowadays will tell you to pay for studio time, recording, mastering, and printing yourself, and then they’ll pay you a pittance from the sales of the record, if they even bother to promote it, that is.
  • scientific publishers like the Axel Springer / Elsevier / John Wiley etc mafia (yes, it’s a mafia) keep taxpayer-funded research out of the public’s reach by putting it behind paywalls, charging exorbitant amounts of money for article downloads and journal subscriptions. Interestingly enough, they don’t foot the bill for the research, proofreading, or peer reviewing of the scientific articles they sell. And they don’t pay the authors a single penny from the download price.

Yet, the fine gentlemen and gentlewomen in these “pillars of our culture” have convinced MEPs, EU commissioners, congressmen and congresswomen (in the US), senators, MPs, ministers, and – of course – you, the public, that they are the only ones who care about the rights of the creators, and that their interests are 1000000% aligned with the interests of the creators; the very creators that, as I’ve demonstrated, they’ve been ripping off for ages.

Read Full Article

NOTE: Post co-written with Odysseus Giacosa.

One of the most popular demands among Second Life’s community, and especially the content creators, has been the development, installation, and deployment, of technologies and technical means that would prevent the upload of content that infringes on their own intellectual property. Such a technology, which computer developers and internet experts call an “upload filter”, is supposed to work as follows:

When you attempt to upload something to an internet platform, the upload system analyses it and compares it to a database of copyrighted material. If it is found to bear any similarity with a copyrighted work, then it is rejected and you are told what a naughty something you are for attempting to rip off a poor creator. This is pretty much what YouTube’s Content ID system does: you upload some music, it checks it against its database and, if you can’t get an ad-powered licence for it to be uploaded, it’s rejected. You may appeal the automated system’s decision if you think your upload was rejected in error, but don’t hold your breath.

Read Full Article

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.

Read Full Article

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.

Read Full Article

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.

Read Full Article