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Reader Comments (10)

Posted: Dec 15th 2009 6:11PM (Unverified) said

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Content ownership is the most difficult question I've had to deal with working as a professional designer in SL (and opensim). The fuzzy logic of LL's concept of ownership, and the tools they make available (let alone the tools they tacitly endorse) create an ethical and legal minefield.

Arguably LL never needs to deal with the complexities they have created as they blur the boundaries between licensing and ownership of IP. For content creators however this has always been a vexed problem. The confusion between implicit rights built into the permissions system and explicit rights one may write into informal licenses is confusing and messy.

For a long time I worked as the "authorised agent" of Arcadia Asylum, a popular freebie maker in SL. (I even have the notecards to prove it :) Mis Arcadia's licensing requirements were very simple: basically her stuff was full perms for free and could be used for anything (including creating new products which could be sold).... she just said it couldn't be sold as is. It should always be available in it's original form for free.

Here's where natural justice and moral rights come in. Many folk would argue: "I have a right to sell this freebie because i put it into a box, which makes it a new product." Now technically - perhaps legally - that may be true, but morally we feel that doesn't constitute "creating something new". Our sense of natural justice views such an act as: "putting an object in a box" and the nature and ownership of the object - thus any rights over the objects use - are undiminished.

There are of course legal precedents which effect these rights. The right of first sale for instance - that means if you get something you can sell it or give it away. The right to copy however is a different thing. First sale doesn't allow you to, for instance, produce unlimited copies of the item you bought and sell them protected by the first sale doctrine.

Due to the messy situation in regards to legal rights over content that LL has allowed to continue, even LL is unsure of the rights of an object. When I have asked LL for their position on an object (such as Arcadias) which is full permissions, but includes a notecard saying: "You may not sell this unmodified, and you may not remove this notecard that says what you just read here" their response has been non-commital.

Usually LL will refer to the perms as a statement of intent - which really doesn't wash legally. I work for a company which commissions lots of work "full perms" (or sourcecode delivered) yet sets terms on redistribution - we pay a premium for anything we might "own" and be allowed to redistribute. That's part of the contract.

Within the SL system however we are still in a situation where that granular control of rights is neither implicit nor explicit. It's not even catered for.

Arcadia's content is a case in point. In the real world removal of the license (which says "don't remove me") would be considered circumvention and a criminal act. In SL removal of that license is trivial and implicitly condoned by interpretation of intent by the floppy definitions implied by the permissions sytem (ie full perms means do what thou will.) LL predictably won't touch such things with a ten foot pole.

Unfortunately this lack of clarity makes a mess from all directions. Both Arcadia - a stoutly opensource "socialist", and Stroker Serpentine - perhaps a textbook SL capitalist.... in fact all those who have some investment in their intellectual property and how it is used... no matter which side they're on, they're all disadvantaged by LL's sloppy definitions of IP.

Understandably LL doesn't want to be sued. Even so I think they could do more to facilitate allowing better definition of who owns what. If anything it would indemnify them - as subsequent IP squabbles would be between the interested parties rather than between each party and LL.

But what would I know.... Just my two cents... Pav.





Posted: Dec 15th 2009 1:15PM (Unverified) said

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I think the relaxed stance LL takes indicates that they have no interest in the actual rights to content created in Second Life. In fact, the whole appeal if SL has always been that they don't impose their will on the creation process and allow you to be the primary if not sole beneficiary of its sale and distribution.

The reason they don't add a backup tool to their viewer is the same reason your inventory is stored on their servers and not your hard drive in the first place. It's not to keep people from getting their grubby little hands on *their* (LL) property. It's to stop exactly what has been happening over the months ever since such a tool was introduced... keeping *other* people from getting their grubby little hands on *your* creations and giving it out to anyone and everyone for free and the mess that ensues from that.

The legalese in the TOS is simply there to protect them from litigation over lost content. That's its real purpose. If you have a legal right of ownership of that data then they are legally liable for it should they lose it (which seems to happen ALOT). If they had to compensate everyone for lost inventory it would break them financially. That is something they realized from the start and why it has always been so in the TOS. It's to allow them to survive as the provider of the service while you profit from your creations made with their service.

Posted: Dec 15th 2009 2:03PM (Unverified) said

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I agree with you that the disconnect you mention between our perception of ownership and the TOS we click off on when registering is eventually going to become a key issue.

I hope that there will eventually be consumer-friendly laws requiring marketing language of virtual worlds and MMOs to be in sync with the legalese of associated contracts. Can you imagine if the kind of disclaimers required in the drug and finance industries were applied to Second Life marketing? Hmm. Good idea for a video!

Anyway, I posted yesterday and today on this topic at http://botgirl.blogspot.com

Posted: Dec 15th 2009 2:22PM (Unverified) said

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There is an even greater disconnect between what Linden Lab posts all over their website and in-world about "Buy Land" vs the reality of what you get. What you actually get is approximately "limited editing of a region's data and limited control of how people access that data and the host server"

To explain more fully, a map region consists of one or more data files describing what items are located there, the terrain heights, etc. When you "own" SL land, you get to edit that data by adding and removing stuff. If you have a full island region, you can limit who can access the data at all.

Posted: Dec 15th 2009 3:46PM (Unverified) said

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However - this brings to question the issue of Sculpties, where the "facet" data is created outside the grid, and imported into the grid. Linden Lab owns the actual prim the sculptie is made-of, but what about the original depth descriptor (the sculptie image itself)?

Of course, since you've uploaded that image, it is now data hosted on LL servers, now LL owns that data. However, if there ever is some other system that can use sculptie images to create shaped prims - then you are free to do whatever else with that image file. Otherwise, it's just a pretty (useless) picture.

I would think as a content creator, what you own is the design of your creation. The copyright to it. The same way an author owns the copyright to their story. That's about it.

Posted: Dec 16th 2009 11:13AM (Unverified) said

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"The design might be your own, but the data describing their arrangement and positions is Lab property"
I don't know that this is necessarily the case. A creator is describing the arrangement and positions (this is the design) to the Linden Lab Software which stores it. How it is stored, managed, processed, and accessed is all owned and controlled by LL

Consider if I wrote down all the properties on paper, and then transferred it to SL. That doesn't invalidate who owns the design data (me) just because I entered it into SL.

Similar too, are images. If I create an image on my PC, and then upload it to SL, all the data describing the image is now on Linden Lab's servers, but still owned by me because I am licensing my design to them. In order for their system to work, you give them and all other users bunch of rights when you upload the image, but it is still yours.

That leads me to the point that backing up your own stuff is completely and legally within your rights and within LL's TOS. Backing up anything else would be restricted to any license you have with copyright holder (designer) for that design (of which current permissions system does not describe, though notecards could expand the license).

The difficult part of interpreting the issue is the design of something and how it is defined. I can draw a picture of my design. I can write steps how to draw my design.

A better book example is if the author created the ebook files using some software (whether the publisher's or not) and then uploaded those files to the publisher's distribution center akin to iTunes hosting songs for sale. If the author wants to copy text from his book, he still could (provided it wasn't signed completely away) even if it was text he was accessing through the publisher's distribution (say reading online through a browser).

Posted: Dec 16th 2009 11:25AM (Unverified) said

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Indeed you've got some good points. The core of the ownership issue is that whatever data is stored by the Lab about prim positions, texture-data, scripts and so on, belongs to the Lab -- and it is not required to release it to anyone, including the original creator.

We agree to that, and for its part they agree not to misuse it. Aside from that, they permit that data to be accessed only under authorized circumstances, which doesn't include making backup copies. Even if you've got all the same data stored locally, the Lab owns its copy of it.
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Posted: Dec 16th 2009 1:52PM (Unverified) said

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As a scripter I have relied on Backup Inventory software for a long time simply due to the fact that Second Life is VERY unreliable. Any scripter or creator knows you will loose your content sooner or later which forces you into finding alternatives to backup your creations. Copy and pasting source code into an editor just didn't cut it for me. Should you have the option to backup your own creations in Second Life? Of course you should! If you can do the backup with a third party tool, then why can't I do it within my Second Life client. This logic doesn't make any sense whatsoever. You only need to loose all your source code once to realize that that inventory backup isn't a nice to have feature, it's an absolute must.

Posted: Dec 26th 2009 2:42PM (Unverified) said

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It's an interesting discussion. In effect, LL does never "own" your content, but the description of your content, while it is being displayed inside Second Life. You might argue that the difference is too subtle to be noticed, but in truth it means that they can't prevent you to use your own content elsewhere — either on OpenSim or any other virtual world. So LL cannot sue you if you use your own content somewhere else (or claim a percentage of the sales you make from your content on, say, IMVU or BM ;) ).

Posted: Dec 28th 2009 3:41AM (Unverified) said

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Oh, and this is always clear if you do it the other way round: create your content first on an OpenSim box (it can be even your own computer) and then upload it to the Second Life Grid. Your IP rights will be retained, and the data representation is different anyway. From the "original" content created on OpenSim you can then proceed to upload it to any grid you wish.

I can imagine that as OpenSim becomes more and more robust, this will become a standard procedure for any serious builder who wishes to distribute content among several grids.

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