Lost in a Den of Thieves?

(I was going to publish this yesterday, but the Real World interfered, and I’ve lost some of my planned links.  Ah, well….  Also, a caution:  just a touch of strong language below, but justifiable in the circumstances.  Read on….)

The latest business crisis on the Grid stems from, not to put too fine a meaning on it, out and out piracy. In-world designers are suffering from more, and more aggressive, batches of slime mold who harvest skins and fashions, then reproduce them and sell them at a tithe of what the original designer charges. According to the lead of Eric Reuters’ story, one Jolly Roger, filled with the sheerest gall and covered in brass, actually sent alts into a designer’s grand opening, shouting to the crowd that the same stuff was available at his store at a fraction of the price.

It’s evident that the labels of Second Life are experiencing what has plagued RL labels for years, if not decades: the cheap knockoff industry. Name companies have fought for many a day against Asian makers and importers of fake Rolex watches, Gucci handbags and Chanel sunglasses, not to mention the entrenched battle Microsoft pits against pirated versions of Windows. (Remember pictures from the RL news of piles of knockoffs being smashed under steamrollers?) This war now spills over to the virtual economy — and it’s a lot harder to fight. We do possess the intellectual property rights to our work, and presumably the textures we use. But the only way we can wage the battle is through filing complaints based on the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — something the many international Residents have a hard time doing. Or lawsuits can be filed; but, if the perpetrator lives in another country, that brings a whole new factor to the equation. Other aspects can be imagined, of course; I leave them as an exercise.

When it comes to the question of individual downloaders vs. music corporations or movie studios, I probably shouldn’t talk myself; but I tend to lean toward the individual. The companies’ policy has been for years to milk every penny they can out of the consumer, with merchandise that is dramatically overpriced relative to the cost of producing it. (I believe this; I work in the retail end of the industry.) They seem either congenitally unable to realize that they can make up in volume what they would “lose” by lowering their list prices, or are simply too greedy in upper echelons to give the consumer a break. The designers of Second Life, however, are not megacorps, despite their appearance of being so. Any Resident who applies himself/herself to designing and using tools such as Paint Shop Pro can afford to buy a quarter- or half-island and erect as palatial a store as Nicky Ree or Elika Tiramisu. These people are small business people, just like the pirates; the difference is that they’re playing fair and square, by the rules of society and the laws of their countries.  And, most importantly, the ambition and drive to make something of themselves, as well as (perhaps) that thing that burns in the craw and heart of true artists — the need, physically and emotionally, to create.

The ones who are stealing from them are thieves, louts, lazy-assed oafs and caitiff rogues, plain and simple.  Their only concern is to make a fistful of lindens, and a few lindens more, and they don’t care how they do it, or who they hurt in the process.  Their vision is focused only on the short-term gain, and how long they can milk it — and, in that, they aren’t too different from the RIAA’s member companies.  Their thefts kill the market for the original work, smother the drive for creativity (that the thieves are, ironically, relying on for their stolen goods!), and contribute nothing to the community except pollution of spirit.  They and all their kind, if you’ll excuse the passion, are an accursed breed, and should be shunned as such.

You can help on this:

  • Deal only with reputable merchants — though not just the big names, please; a small creator/merchant can be just as honest.
  • If you spot someone ripping off a known skin or design, report them to the actual creator, especially the name and location they’re operating on.  Also report them to Linden Lab, to back up and document any claims the artist may make under DMCA.  Snapshots can document the situation; in this case, remember to keep the interface on, to collect as much information as possible.
  • Vote on SVC-676, “Stopping texture theft and stop spreading of stolen items.”  Remember that you’ll need to log in with your Second Life name and password.  The process is not difficult at all, and lets you exercise community involvement and pressure on LL to take action.

In an ideal world, real or virtual, we wouldn’t need to deal with such wolf’s-heads, for they would not exist.  Sadly, even here in Second Life, we are faced with thievery.  Let’s help in the best ways we can, support true creativity as well as legitimate commerce, and drive the thieves away.

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Besides the Reuters article,  others have tackled the problem on their own sites and blogs.  A no-doubt partial list:

Harper’s signature

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