Learning the lesson about copyrights

Gwyn Cloned

1.4 million users learned recently the lesson about what “copyright” really means. Or rather, they finally understood what it means for content creators who live from the royalties honestly earned through their hard labour on their own copyrighted work to see others profiting from those work — through piracy.

The “hot bomb” was dropped this week — a technology appropriately called “copybot” was suddenly seen for sale on several places (in-world and on the e-commerce sites for SL). It’s a pretty simple device that can basically replicate avatars (their shapes, clothes, skins…), objects, and even whole islands. With that technology you can basically copy anything and call it your own. I’m not sure how much the device costed, but the technology is not “rocket science” — it’s something any programmer can do, using something called libSecondLife, a set of libraries that are able to “talk” the “SL Protocol” defined by Linden Lab, allowing any programme written by any user to talk to the LL servers and basically get everything that’s on their servers.

Looking at the above paragraph, it sounds like a major catastrophe. This is the power of the media — turning something uninteresting and uneventful into “news”. But how dramatic can be the impact!

Shortly after this was “revealed”, people started to complain. Massively. They rallied towards the malls where this device was for sale, and tried to block access to it, with huge signs saying “shame”. They commented like crazy on the LL blogs. They arranged meetings and discussed it. It was seen on major blogs and even Reuters and C|Net ran stories on it. Google already shows 10,000 hits on “copybot”. So, yes, this became “major news”.

Then it became an inflamed war against Linden Lab, when they first started to explain that there is nothing they can do to prevent people ripping off each other’s creation, with this tool or any other. And finally LL announced that the use of any tool to duplicate copyrighted work in SL would be the reason for immediate suspension.

Now the witch-hunting began in earnest.

Anyone remotely associated with this tool was tracked down, meticulously investigated by the crowd, always so wise in defending their passionate views, and reported to Linden Lab for suspension. The circle widened. Now people who sold vendors to third parties who sold this device were given a warning. One can only wonder who comes next. Probably even the mischievous Gwyneth Llewelyn, who, although never using libSecondlife directly, which is written in C# and requires a lot of expertise she doesn’t know, certainly dabbled with the Second Life Protocol — using plain old PHP — to log in directly to LL’s servers. A long time ago. With a crude tool used only by 3 alts. But certainly the logs on LL’s servers are there (for the technically challenged, any application that talks to SL’s servers is deemed to be a “client”. All clients can send a cute string to identify themselves, and I made sure my own PHP “client” left my signature on LL’s logs). So I’ll probably be the next on the list 🙂 Oh, and I think I’ve also posted a mail or two to the libSL mailing list, so I’m certainly part of the Cabal to Destroy Second Life.

Let’s make a slow pause to digest all the above.

A technology is developed that allows people to make copies of digital content. This technology is misused by some that have made illegitimate copies of copyright content. All hell breaks lose. Or does it really?

Everybody knows that Microsoft’s Windows Media Player or Apple’s iTunes easily rip off CDs to MP3 with a single mouse click. Yes, that’s all it takes. Both Microsoft and Apple are the world’s largest manufacturers of tools that allow piracy of copyrighted content. I dare anyone reading these paragraphs to claim that they haven’t one single pirated MP3 on their hard disks. Very likely, even the Pope or the Dalai Lama have a few pirated MP3s on their hard disks. Oh, they will claim that they have gotten those by email from a friend and that they really didn’t intend to listen to pirated music anyway. Sure. But that is not the point. MP3 piracy is ubiquitous. It’s done all over the world. Even if you buy your MP3s from the iTunes Shop, you’re very likely going to send a copy of one or two to your best friends — thus becoming part of the piracy network.

Still, it’s not likely that you’ll get arrested for having a few scattered MP3s somewhere in your hard disk, iPod, or USB disk. At a small scale, nobody will notice anyway. Right? 🙂

Think again. Imagine that a musician gets around 1 dollar for each CD sold in the world. A CD holds 10-20 songs on average — not much. I could guess that most people in the world have, on average, 10-20 MP3s on their hard disks somewhere (on average — since many have now terabytes of ripped-off MP3s on their disks, with thousands of hours of music, which will offset the number that just have a couple of them around). There are a billion users on the Internet. This means that artists and song-writers are losing a billion US$ (the RIAA claims US$ 4.2 billion yearly). It’s not a “tiny sum”. It’s rather an impressive one!

And who is to blame? Microsoft and Apple, since they have made those tools easily available with their OSes. A click away, available to any user who does not have the faintest clue on how a CD really works (some would be surprised to understand how incredibly high-tech a CD reader actually is — true science fiction, engraving a special polymer with a laser on a microscopic scale).

So Microsoft and Apple have, so to speak, placed the nuclear bomb for music piracy in the hand of clueless newbies. Is the FBI on them?

Of course not. Microsoft and Apple, obviously, claim that there are legitimate uses for ripping off your own CDs. They provide those tools to their users. They cannot be held responsible if people use those tools for illegitimate uses. After all, people are supposed to be adult and mature, and they know that piracy of copyrighted material is a crime condoned on almost all countries, and certainly on all western countries. They’re also supposed to know the law. Microsoft and Apple are not legal advisers (in fact, I think that they actually warn people that you should only convert your own CDs, not other people’s — as if we were suddenly all talented musicians).

So this is real life, where honest, solid companies, with a good reputation, arm common people with fantastic weapons to encourage music piracy. But they actually do more than that. It’s as easy to copy a DVD, or an application on a CD. All it takes is another download. More piracy. Yay! The world is full of those tools!

Why don’t people fight Microsoft and Apple and Roxio and Nero and all the others actively and aggressively, then?

Well… they do… they are simply powerless to prevent what is happening. A billion of people is a lot of people. Among those, there are dozens of millions of talented programmers who know the ultimate truth of digital piracy — if it’s in your computer, it’s easy to get a copy — if you know how.
What most people don’t understand is that once the pixels hit your screen (or the bits hit your loudspeaker), there is always a way to intercept them. You can have the best encrypted mechanism of the world to transmit and store that data. But at some point, pixels have to be drawn, or the loudspeaker has to be activated. And when that happens, you can intercept it.

Knowing this too well, the FBI (and all the legislations in the world, really) aren’t fighting the toolmakers nor the end-users — that would be as hopeless as trying to tax people for breathing air — but they’re focusing on two types of copyright pirates: the ones that point others to freely downloadable copyrighted material (example: Napster… but also Google!) and naturally enough the ones that profit massively from pirated material.

So in essence this drops us nicely into the matter of copyright law. Most people in the world have no idea on what copyright law actually protects — what they have is an opinion on what copyright law should be. But these are two completely different concepts. You can have an opinion on what things should be, but they’re not more than that — opinions. Bragging your opinion out and loud does not make them into “laws” just because you say so.

And this is exactly what happens when you mix three things into the same bag: utter ignorance of copyright law, utter ignorance of technical aspects, and the ability to loudly voice opinions. The net result, of course, is chaos, panic, and anger. Mass hysteria drawn upon ignorance.
The name “copyright” tends to be a misinterpreted with implying that “the right to copy” is granted only to the author of a certain work. This is, in essence, not far from the original spirit: the author of creative content should have a right to be identified to his work and to decide what others make out of it. Naturally enough, this was rather easy to enforce in 1889 when the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works first defined the concept and tried to get a large number of signing the convention. In those days, it was assumed that duplicating a piece of art and selling it massively required a huge amount of effort (and cost), and that large companies should be unable to rip off the poor musician or author in the street, just because they had the means to do so.

Discussing copyright law is always tricky, but for the sake of the argument, let’s see what happens in the digital work. Here, the reverse is true — it’s so easy to duplicate anybody’s work, that it is the “large companies” that are at risk, since copying — and distributing! — a piece of original artwork is incredibly easy using a computer and the Internet.

Thus, the copyright laws on the 19th century, set to protect the individual author from being abused by the huge corporations, are, in the 21st century, used by the huge corporations to “protect” themselves from the nasty individuals with so many resources to easily and cheaply distribute pirated works. What an irony!

The snowball has become an avalanche. These days, futurists predict that the whole concept of “copyright” laws in the digital world slowly begin to fade (or at least to dramatically change), simply because they’re impossible to enforce. Music being the most quoted example — the number of pirated MP3s, compared to original music that paid royalties, is vastly larger, by several hundreds of times. The only reason the artists haven’t shut down their operation is because they make so much money out of related businesses — advertising, tours and concerts, merchandising and licensing brand names — that the cost of producing CDs, even knowing they will be massively copied around the world once they’re released, will still be worthwhile. But in the future, bands will not sell CDs any more — they’ll make their profits from concerts, and have the MP3 for a free download somewhere. Small bands already work like that. A few literary authors are also toying with this model — they’ve been lucky so far because it’s not so easy to get a computer to read a scan of a book when you’re in bed reading a book, on the bus or train, or even in a public toilet :). But digital paper will possibly change this, and the next ones to be hit by piracy will be the authors — although, of course, in this uncultured world, music will always sell far more than “words” 🙂

All this is much more a question of culture, mentalities, social norms, a rapidly changing world, different approaches, and models of making money out of creative content. There are far more questions than answers at this point. Nobody can claim to have “a solution”. Richard Stallman, of course, advocates that “information should be free” — and since all digital content is information, all of it should be fee. Creators should provide services — like bands performing concerts, authors giving conferences — instead of charging people for listening/reading their artwork. All of it is very., very polemic. I won’t delve into that. Like many others, I have developed a mixed approach myself — some content I give gladly away for free (and rely upon other means of income), other content is paid for. I’m not sure what system works best now, and much less sure of what will work in the future.

MISCONCEPTIONS

We come back to Second Life. Somehow, most of the very talented creative authors in Second Life have embraced “copyright laws” as their “holy book”, and, like unfortunately so many religions based on holy books, they never took the time to read what actually is written there. Their first misconception is usually the idea they have that once you have created something, nobody can copy your idea. Well, ideas are not copyrighted — just their materialisation in an object of art using a specific media. You can indeed hold a copyright to different media — thus, if properly done, you can prevent a scriptwriter to copy your book and use it as a script for a movie. However, what you cannot do is to claim you have firstly invented a concept and prevent others of doing similar things. If you design a lavender skirt, and someone does their own version of a lavender skirt, it’s not a breach of copyright. They’re two different things.

Even if someone looks at your lavender skirt, then copies the texture by grabbing it from the screen, and does something that looks very much like it, it’s still not a copyright violation — but simply a derivative work. This is the second misconception. Both creative aspects — the original lavender skirt and the derivative work on that lavender skirt — are copyrighted to their respective owners.

What you cannot do — legally speaking, but not technically! — is to grab that very same lavender skirt and sell it (or even give it away to your friends! — the issue of “profit” is not important here, only the act of unlawfully copying and distributing it) without the original author’s explicit permission.

In terms of Second Life, this is usually guaranteed if you place a “no-copy” and “no-transfer” permission on your content. It’s a technical “protection” that enforces your copyright. As we will see, this is as effective as encrypting a DVD to prevent it from being copied (ie. not effective as all).

However, Linden Lab does not claim anything of the sort on their sort. Just because people tend to interpret no-copy/no-transfer permissions as meaning that your copyrighted work cannot be copied without your explicit permission, it does not mean that Linden Lab is automatically bound to enforce your rights. Linden Lab is not an enforcement agency. They are subject to California laws. All they do on their Terms of Service is to recognise formally that all content created by you, the author, are indeed your copyright — but you also forfeit the right to charge anything to Linden Lab for their use of your copyrighted material in their marketing efforts. You also agree to allow Linden Lab to display your copyrighted material, free of any charges, royalties, fees, or any other types of encumbrances, in perpetuity and irrevocably, as long as that content is displayed on their grid. What this means is that you cannot held Linden Lab accountable for anything that happens with your content, once it’s on display on the grid.

Linden Lab simply provides you a means to display your copyrighted material and asserts your right to claim ownership of that material. And nothing else.

They aren’t even allowed to do anything else!

We now enter the trickiest part. While Linden Lab is indeed committed to ensure that your copyrights are indeed set to your name, they’re not a police force or a judiciary where you can file claims that your copyrights were ‘stolen’. Indeed, Cory’s post was rather strong to appease the irate mob, telling that anyone found duplicating content of others (it’s irrelevant if this content is put on sale or not) would be summarily banned. Legally, Linden Lab does not really need to go so far. But it’s still very nice of them to show they’re worried and thinking on solutions instead of crossing their arms and hide behind their lawyers; I find that attitude very welcome, since one of the major selling points of Second Life is the way Linden Lab recognises residents’ copyrights.

WHAT IS THE ISSUE, THEN?

We all know that Second Life is slowly moving towards an open source model — something that will happen rather later than sooner. And this means experimenting with the code, letting people start to tweak with certain aspects of it, and see what the problems are with the way the “Second Life Protocol” works.

So when a group of clever programmers and system engineers started to reverse-engineer the SL Protocol — the communication “recipes” that allow the SL client application to talk to the grid servers — LL saw an opportunity here that they shouldn’t waste. Instead of routing a group of developers to document the whole protocol, they relied on a community of programmers to voluntarily do that type of work. A group of proeminent LL developers (including Cory!) soon joined the group.

Reverse-engineering is not illegal. Actually, in some jurisdictions, it’s even forbidden to forbid reverse-engineering — it is seen as a valid and legitimate way of understanding how things work, and allow people to create derivative works based on what they learned. While we’re already threading on thin ice again — on the “morality of reverse-engineering” — I’ll stick to the legal interpretation: it’s not forbidden. But to make sure that the project documenting the SL Protocol was not violating any known rules or standards set by LL, LL publicly endorsed the project. They don’t give them any hints on how the closed SL Protocol works, but people are free to experiment.

And LL watches them. We all know what they get out of it:

  • free documentation
  • a large group of talented programmers willing to tinker with it (which might be enrolled by LL at a later stage, specifically when the client and the server software goes open source)
  • debugging, bug fixing, preventing exploits

We have already been informed that this has already happened — ie. bugs were fixed, exploits were antecipated and patched, and a group of programmers are routinely working with Linden Lab to help them out — and we all know how much help they need!

Naturally enough, this is like having a group of junior researchers playing with nuclear technology. Soon, the “juniors” will learn on how to build their own atom bombs. And this was what happened, even in a controlled environment — information leaked out prematurely on how to duplicate objects, avatars, and terraforming information, without going through the permission system. This is not “rocket science”, by the way. Anything your SL client sees comes from the server. So, your SL client is able to visualise anything by requesting things from the grid servers. When these assets are retrieved by your SL client, it has built-in rules to deal with the ever-so-tricky permission system.

But these are not “built-in” on the protocol. So, a tool that simply retrieves data without bothering to look at the permission system is rather trivial to create.

Many, in fact, have been done in the past. This was just the first one that is “easily availabe” and able to be used by any resident without any knowledge. In a sense, the CopyBot tool is as easy to understand as Windows Media Player or Apple iTunes for ripping MP3s out of CDs — you don’t need a PhD in Computer Science to understand how to operate it.

At this point, we leave the critical boundary of “technical” aspects and enter the world of “legal” aspects.

Research, in the form of the libSecondLife project, allows people access to a tool that can be used for the illegitimate purpose of pirating copyrighted content. What to do?

The tool, by itself, is inoquous — it’s just a tool, like a gun is a tool. The researchers that created it are harmless — they need that tool to build their own, open-source, 3D SL-compatible client. After all, what that client needs to do is to retrieve things from the SL grid and display them on a screen! Linden Lab, on the other hand, wants to see how far this group of researchers/programmers can go in actually developing a full-feature, open-source, SL-compatible client — probably in much less time than LL required on their own.

But a “tool” that falls in the wrong hands is naturally not a good thing. SignpostMarv Martin has explained that, similarly how suddenly people started to worry about how easy terrorists can get access to guns, explosives, and airplanes, after they watched the horrors on CNN — which showed to the public how easily this can be done — now people suddenly understood how easy it is to rip off content from other residents. In a sense, something which has been known for ages (since beta!), but pretty much ignored by the public at large, is now public news.

And here is the issue really.

I have no idea on how many people have, indeed, started duplicating content and selling it on their own with this tool just because nobody cared to talk about them. But suddenly everybody was made aware that this possibility exists. The impact, of course, was extaordinary. The reaction, ironically, was quite interesting to follow, from a sociological point of view:

The ones yelling the loudest are the very same ones that rip hundreds of MP3s every day — and feel that they have the right of doing so, because if Microsoft or Apple have dropped a nice and easy-to-use tool on their desktops, it must mean that it’s not really “piracy”.

In a sense, the lesson that they are refusing to learn is that copyright piracy is something that is way common in the digital world. While they go haywire with hysteria because their L$200 lavender skirts are now in the hands of a few pirates, they fail to understand how millions of very talented artists get their work ripped off every day without getting a cent for it.

The very same people that brag about how many terabytes of downloaded MP3s and AVIs they have on their computers at home, saying how silly the RIAA or other agencies are, and that “information should be free”, and that “I can do it because Media Player/iTunes allows me to do so”, or that “copyright laws are silly and I’m going to ignore them”… are now the ones that rally together with signs showing “Shame!” in red letters. tool. Probably not many. Very likely, far less people that have been duplicating content for ages (using other tools, developed on their own, or gathered from less-known projects and sites), and who have been “mostly ignored” by the resident population…

This is really what it means walking in someone else’s shoes. People got the strange notion that, while everybody can rip off everything they see on the Internet, somehow Second Life was “different”. This was pure self-delusion. Linden Lab never claimed that their systems were hack-proof or free of digital pirates. Residents “assumed” it was — while ignoring the compelling evidence all around them, where digital copyrighted material is being pirated every day, and the fight against piracy is being lost on every front.

Who have these angry residents to blame — except themselves, for failing to grasp what “digital content” means? It’s so much easier to shift the blame elsewhere… and thus the witch-hunting, the rallies, the angry words, the “threats of leaving SL forever and never coming back”, the shops closing their doors, and all the usual drama an hysteria coming from people that somehow thought they were “safe” in this corner of the digital world.

AN UTOPIA IS DEMOLISHED

Second Life, once again, has proved that it is not “special”. There is no “magic” that can prevent piracy of digital content, when it enters your computer. Linden Lab is not a “wizard” that knows how to weave unbreakable systems, when conceptually, those are impossible to create. SL Protocol researchers and programmers are not Evil Pirates working to overthrow the world by endorsing chaos. Copyright laws cannot be enforced technically, as so many RL examples have shown us.

Instead, Second Life is exactly like the real world. Piracy exists there as in the real world, and it’s up to the people to defend themselves from piracy, as best as they can. In the RL, they gang together and promote their services and their quality — you can duplicate art, but you cannot duplicate an artist — in organisations like… the RIAA (!). I imagine that some of the residents have learned the lesson: Second Life needs “legal protection”. But this legal protection is not a checkbox that you can click and say “so there, now I’m protected”. Legal protection comes from a legal system, one that can actually be enforced. And, in democratic institutions (and states), a legal system that is fair is one that is designed by the people — who vote for their representatives to pass laws. This means “government”.

The call for “government in SL” (another nice utopia which very likely will never become true, in spite of my earlier hopes for it) has been raised once or twice. If we had a legal system in Second Life, we might not stop the technical aspects of a CopyBot, but at least we could sue the ones using the tool. If we had a legal system that protected us, we would have a place to submit our complains. If we had a way to vote for our representatives, we would have certainly have demanded for them ways to deal with copyright piracy. But we have nothing of the sort — we have a “benevolent dictatorship” on the SL grid with very un-interfering Lindens who rarely step in for the reasons that interest us. (Well, this is not really true, but many tend to think it is.)
But again, this is once more wishing for Utopia — when nothing of the sort exists. Residents in SL are “on their own”, and always were, and very likely always will be. Yelling, protesting, crying, tearing out hairs, will not make any difference long-term. Sure, some content creators will abandon Second Life now and go back to closed-content systems. But for every content creator that leaves, 20 new ones will come into SL every day. The difference, now, is that these will know that SL is not different from the Web, where piracy grows rampant and unchecked. They will come prepared — psychologically — to deal with Second Life as it is, and not as they think it is.

For many residents — perhaps even the majority — this event was a major eye-opener. Some have been shaken loose from their letargy. Yes, it’s about your money, friends. It hurts so much when your pockets are emptied, and there is nowhere to turn for help. Such is the fate of all who have experienced Internet piracy.

On the positive side, of course, at the very outskirts of this virtual world, a tiny group, fully aware that the issues at stake are not technical but legal, have been slowly, over two years, building up their enforceable legal system under a democratic government. They have been laughed at, scorned, and mostly ignored. But they were antecipating that all this would one day hit the news. It’s almost a miracle that SL managed to keep this “secret” for so long from the media. Well, the “good old times” of “ignorance is bliss” have gone forever.

Digital content piracy is here to stay — like on the whole of the Internet. You better get used to it soon. It is as unevitable as taxes and death. And there is nothing anyone can do to prevent that from happening, since the solution is not technical, but legal.

Edit: For a good primer on the technological aspects of libsecondlife and how it works, read Tao Takashi’s blog entry.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

  • Stephen Zenith

    Great article, Gwyneth. You’re right, just because people have the technical ability to infringe on somebody’s copyright, it doesn’t make it right for them to do so.

    The whole situation reminds me of a piece of open source software called DeCss, written a few years ago to allow Linux users to play encrypted DVDs, which the powers that be had decided should only be viewed on Windows and Macs.

    People realised that once they had access to the underlying video stream, they could share it or burn it onto a blank DVD. And worse, some people realised they could sell those copies.

    Now, does this mean it was wrong to write DeCss? It’s creator was dragged in front of the Norwegian courts twice and both times was acquitted, much to the annoyance of the MPAA. Does this mean it’s wrong to use DeCss? I’ve used it from within media players to watch DVDs on my Linux machine. Does this mean it’s wrong to be able to save the unencrypted video? I’ve copied DVDs I own onto my Linux machine so that I can watch them without having to get up and get the physical disc.

    Is it ok for me to burn copies onto blank discs? For my own use, yes. DVDs as a physical medium can be fairly fragile at times and having a backup isn’t a bad idea.

    Is it ok for me to sell those copies? Absolutely not, despite the fact that DeCss makes it technically possible.

    Copybot is similar. It was written with an honest, and to be truthful, rather mundane purpose in mind. That people have been able to use it to profit doesn’t mean Copybot is totally wrong or that its developers should be vilified in the manner in which they have been. It only means that people can do things they couldn’t before, which includes infringing copyrights where they couldn’t before. Does that make it ok to infringe on those copyrights, especially with the intention of profitting? Absolutely not.

    So the hysterical content creators are now in the same position as the RIAA and MPAA, and Linden Labs now finds itself in the same position as many courts around the world. The Lindens stance is similar to the Norwegian courts, asked to prosecute DVD Jon, as he is known nowadays. Which is to say that these tools are acceptable in themselves, but some things you can use them for are definitely not acceptable. People using them for unacceptable behaviour can and will be punished accordingly.

  • Great post, Gwyn.

    Deeply concerned about: The venom of crowds, regardless of position and right or wrong, is on display for people to see. I’ve seen people who say things like “Ban them and all who support them” and other various things that illustrate gross prejudice and discrimination.

    Is this because they are anonymous?

    Tragic, but human, nonetheless.

  • Not everyone that defends their right to have their content protected is a music pirate Gwyn.

    It’s certainly likely, due to the spread of P2P technologies from the late 90’s onwards, but there shall still be those rare few who have yet to “try before you buy, but don’t bother to buy/forget to delete the track”

  • The Utopia was Linden Lab’s enforcement of the inworld permission system and you’re correct to say that it, along with the general population’s trust, has been thoroughly destroyed.

    What blows my mind is that people are so shocked and hurt by the revelation of LL’s owners’ and employees’ true intentions. Granted those misconceptions were based on official verbiage; but actions have far outweighed those words over the past two years.

    Still, the users need our sympathy more than explanations and toldyousos. We need the practice to be able to work the public through the horror of not being securely anonymous when using a Second Life account. Wonder when that one’ll hit the fan?

  • Ashcroft Burnham

    A well-written, thoughtful and compelling explanation of why the enforcement of rights (and duties, privelidges, powers, immunities, liabilities and disabilities, too) will, for the foreseeable future at least, require not only human intelligence, but the sophistication and machinary of a government and legal system, and why computer code (at least, until computers advance to human-like intelligence, which is not inconceivable, but is, at the very least, an extremely long way into the future) a prerequisite to any soceity, whether its physical environment is real or virtual, in which anybody expects to have any rights (privelidges, powers, etc.).

  • Extropia DaSilva

    It seems to me that this business of stealing other people’s intellectual property comes in more shapes and disguises than the copybot scandal.

    How many avatars have you seen that look like iconic figures such as Nintendo’s Mario or LucasLimited’s C3P0? Have these people obtained permission to use these copyrighted images? Does the fact that these replicas obviously were a labour of love (or maybe the owner paid one of the remarkably skilled AV designers to make it for them, but the expertese is still there) make it OK for the creators to go ahead and use someone else’s IP?

    What about the nightclubs that stream music inworld? Do they need the consent of the artist to stream their work? If they do not have permission and they are not copying, only streaming, is that copyright theft?

    What about my own writings that rely heavily on essays by people more knowlegeable than me on certain topics (such as Gwyn Llewelyn) who I never credit? Where exactly does scholarship end and outright plagarism begin?

    On a different note, Gwyn’s comment that Sl is not Utopia is correct. It never can be, since utopia is a static society whereas SL is heavily dependent on technology. Technological development is an evolutionary process, and every change that is introduced into such a process (which also includes the choice to do nothing) inevitably improves life for some and makes it more difficult for others. Evolution simply cannot ocurr under any system that makes life uniformly good or ill.

    The founding father of the extropian movement, Max More, once commented ‘in place of the static perfection of a utopia, we might imagine a dynamic “extropia”- an open, evolving framework allowing individuals and voluntary groupings to form the institutions and social forms they prefer’.

    You could argue the case for Sl to be a shining example of such an extropia. Then again, you could equally argue that this is just my ego trying to get Linden Lab’s world renamed in my honour;)

    Extro DaSilva- still rather egocentric.

  • Excellent insightful comment, Extropia. Indeed, I had completely forgotten that. In some cases, it’s the ones that rip off textures from web sites, inspire clothes on RL brands, copy skins from others and use Photoshop to do, uh, “derivative works”, create their houses, furniture, vehicles or weapons to be reproductions of RL ones, as faithful as possible, who stream music copied from several sources, who are now suddenly in the limelight as “victims”…

    One very intelligent person told me recently that only the “mediocre creators” (or those lacking confidence in themselves) are truly worried. The good ones — like in real life — will not worry: their most important asset is their minds and their ability to *create*. And these cannot be reproduced 🙂

  • Extropia DaSilva

    Gwyn asked me to include this poem so here it is…

    ‘Twas another day in Second Life,
    and residents were shopping,
    the linden dollars flowing free,
    from peer to peer were swapping,
    when from 1st life a voice did cry,
    “I can’t afford a lot,
    so I shall bestow onto this land,
    the gift of copybot”

    The residents soon cloned and cloned,
    with child-like passioned glee,
    no builder was safe from the evil code,
    that ran off with their IP.
    They all shut shop, they would not sell,
    if we would copy things,
    that they themselves had nicked wholesale,
    from Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings.

    And when a cat sold copybot,
    a riot soon broke out,
    with placards galore, the crowd did roar,
    “Cast that kitty out!”
    And this being the land of Second Life,
    our furry fiend was smitten.
    A giant boulder was conjoured up,
    and smote that naughty kitten.

    And now I come to Second Life,
    but what is this I see?
    Twenty Thousand avatars,
    all of them like me.

    In unison the clones exclaim,
    “Extropia is hot!,
    We look like you, it’s a dream come true,
    HORRAY FOR COPYBOT!”

    Of course I say,
    “You go to hell,
    for what you do is stealing,
    people work hard to build in here,
    where is your sense of feeling?”

    And of course I condemn copybot,
    to steal is just not groovy,
    now what was the name of that site that lets you download the latest movie…!?

    Extro Dasilva- will comment further on IP theft after she finishes her album ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’.

  • One thing that bothers me is how you frame copying for personal use as illegal.

    With DVDs, yes, it may be technically illegal, as ripping a DVD violates the license granted you by the movie distributor. In more cases than not, you are paying a set fee for the right to watch the contents of a given disc using an endorsed medium. In other words, you are not buying the right to watch the movie. Ripping the disc or playing it on an unsupported player is a contractual violation, as is downloading it from an alternate source, having already purchased the DVD.

    However, DVDs are unique in this regard. Where such a specified license is absent, the Betamax decision or the DMCA is in force. I believe the DMCA is relatively restrictive (though I’m less familiar with it) but the Betamax decision permits personal, non-distributed copies under fair use. This idea is what allows iTunes and Windows Media Player: you are allowed to rip CDs you have legally purchased, with the purpose of listening to the songs from your computer, and iPod or some such device.

    What is illegal, of course, is distributing said ripped songs. Unauthorised distribution is copyright violation in the case of intellectual property. A situation where mere copying is prohibited under an unarticulated license is with actual property, where someone is copying from the original medium. (This all gets very complicated when the original medium is digital.)

    Unauthorised downloading is illegal in a situation where the downloader is not licensed to a copy of the asset in the first place. However, if, for example, you would rather download a ripped copy of a CD you own than rip it yourself, there is no functional distinction under fair use. [note: I have, on occasion, downloaded music illegally.]

    The restrictions in SL of “no copy” or “no transfer” are not so much technical limitations as they are directives. If the author has restricted copy or transfer, then you are not allowed to do so, whether or not it is technically feasible. However, in a situation where the author has restricted both copy and transfer rights, I feel they have violated the spirit of fair use. A “no copy” asset follows the analogy of actual property, which you can give away if you no longer require it. A “no transfer” asset follows the analogy of intellectual property, which you can copy for your own use, but that represents a non-transferrable license.

    If these two typologies were fully elaborated, “actual property” should be both transferable and modifiable, as it represents a physical object over which one actually has ownership, rather than a license. However, because there are no manufacture costs, all SL assets are unlimited editions unless the author artificially shortens supply–further limiting the RL analogue.

    I think your analysis of CD ripping is inadequate as an analogy to SL assets. Similarly, I think most SL content owners do not understand the RL analogues to their permission schemes. Some creators want to have incredible control over how their content is used, but actual property passes out of the control of its creator once it has been sold. A dress that is sold no copy/no mod/no transfer is undesirable because has no RL analogue. If you were to buy an actual dress from Nordstrom, you would be allowed to raise or lower the hem and give it away to one of you friends if you so desired. Alternately SL dress sold copy/no transfer would be analogous to an intellectual property license, as dictated by the Betamax case.

    In short, the SL permissions system does not explicitly lend itself to RL copyright precedent, and your analysis of music copyright suggests that SL rights-management is too disconnected from other media.

    This all begs the question: should SL be an analogue of real life, of the internet, or a combination thereof?