Politics and Interoperability Standards

Code-as-law works mostly within a scope — in this case, so long as LL is in control of all aspects of the platform (like Compuserve in the 1980s), they can enforce what they wish. As soon as aspects of the platform start to cross over to other parties, things get… messy.

So it’s not surprising that the first round of a very busy MMOX mailing list (I’m just a lurker there; to fully participate, you really need to have 24 hours of availability per day) is focusing along political and legal issues, and just barely brushes real technological issues. In essence, the major concept here is what should weight more: interoperability or digital rights management (DRM)?

I was not surprised to see Forterra’s stance on it. From their point of view, the technology behind There.com allows “grid operators” (a SL expression; for Forterra it’s just “clients”) to limit user-generated content anyway. The notion of “content creators licensing their digital content to other users” does not directly arise, because objects inherently are un-copyable in the way SL objects are. But of course Forterra worries if at some point their virtual worlds become interconnected with SL-like environments: what will happen to their closely protected content?

Linden Lab is somehow right in the middle of it. They are quite aware that Lessig’s insistence of granting every resident in Second Life the ability to license their content, and have the system enforce the licensing, is one of the major success factors of SL. While obviously a slice of SL’s content creators are free to give away their content — a lot of digital artists do the same on Renderosity, after all — SL’s success is mostly due to the fact that it enabled a marketplace of digital content. The lack of ability to “download” your content to your own computer in an easy way — content stays on the persistent grid, never to leave it — is what makes the SL marketplace (contrasted to Renderosity’s) so safe for content providers. There is no reason to doubt that hundred thousand digital content creators rely on the safety of SL’s licensing system (e.g. what we loosely call “the permissions system”) to work flawlessly and enable them to make money out of it. Like anyone knows, money is one of the strongest incentives ever devised by Humankind 🙂 and appealing to that incentive has been SL’s strength.

This means that Linden Lab has advanced a slight twist on their proposals. Instead of over-worrying about how to extend licensing schemes across grid operators, what they propose instead (but for some reason are not very clear about it) is a model of trusted interconnections.

What does this actually mean?

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