Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum to Close Saturday

Me posing in front of Fallingwater at the Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum, September 2010.

Bad news comes in from New World Notes:  the Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum, one of the showcases of Second Life intersecting with Real Life, will be closing after Saturday, December 4. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which was created by Wright before his death to protect his intellectual property, has allowed the license they granted to Virtual Museums, Inc. (owners of the Usonia sim and the Virtual Museum) to lapse, and then issued a cease-and-desist order. Particulars above at Ham’s article, but it appears from my reading that FLLWF is holding VMI responsible for unauthorized use of Wright’s creations.

The irony here: the FLLWF’s actions are not going to stop, or even slow down, theft of Wright’s intellectual property. As I said in much briefer form in my comment on Ham’s article, the age of the computer and the Internet broke all the de facto limitations on transmission of visual or auditory material that made copyright law easy to enforce.  Everyone who has perhaps, at most, $1,000 — perhaps as little as $500 — can buy a computer and a printer/scanner/copier, scan photographs of previously published material from books, and republish it online in seconds.  This is one of the foundations of the World Wide Web as we know it today; not as Tim Berners-Lee intended it, but what the Web has evolved into.  Once something is available today, in almost any form, the genie is out of the bottle, the bottle is smashed, and the cork is burned to ashes.  The defenders of the copyrights — who I don’t deny have a perfect right to protect their work — seem unable to come to grips with this fact.  In the case of FLLW v. VMI, an innocent group who was attempting to play by the rules laid down has been punished in the process, and the over-zealous Foundation has tarnished itself.  The Foundation would have been better served by tracking down the scofflaws who are using Wright material without permission.

I’d like this question answered:  is the Foundation expecting VMI to do the policing of Second Life for them, issuing C&D orders in the name of the Foundation to other vendors using non-licensed works?  Was this part of the license issued to them?  Is that the cause for them to drop the ax on the Virtual Museum?  If so, I’d really like to know how they think a small, non-profit group can accomplish something better than their own foundation, who can more easily afford to hire lawyers to issue C&D orders?  I’ve been sorely tempted to call the Foundation myself and ask this question, but I’m afraid I’d open a can of worms in the process.

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