Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

New Blog Urges Action on SL Content Theft

Content theft orange ribbonIn the wake of general frustration over content theft in Second Life, including the copying of three full sims’ worth of furniture designs, and the suit filed against Linden Lab by Munchflower Zaius and Stroker Serpentine, a movement has been proposed to show Resident support for change on the Lab’s part in handling the problem.

Saffia Widdershins, the publisher of the blog and virtual magazine PrimPerfect, has started a new blog she calls Step UP.  The goal appears to be to create grassroots support for action by Linden Lab on the content theft problem.  Other attempts have been made before, such as the “public service” ads proclaiming “Content theft steals the clothes off our backs,” but this move looks to build actual Resident action.

Saffia’s founding article (republished in PrimPerfect) proposes two actions, both it appears to take place on this coming November 5 — chosen for its association with Guy Fawkes Night in Great Britain:

  • The wearing of an orange ribbon (design suggested above, but Saffia encourages designers to make their own for handout) as a sign of support and solidarity;
  • a moratorium on uploading textures or snapshots to Second Life for the day, local time.  (Uploads, you’ll recall, cost L$10, the money going to Linden Lab.  The fee was instituted to control massive uploads of junk textures; but this money also represents a source of micro-income to the Lab, as thousands of textures are added to the Grid each day.)

Saffia also suggests finishing the day with bonfire parties scattered across the Grid (instead of one massive event that only a relative handful can attend, due to lag issues).

An education and media package is being prepared for distribution.  For this and more information, contact Saffia Widdershins, Angie Mornington, Gabrielle Riel or Gwen Carillon.

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Always Hope for Rebel; Support the SL Designer

I’ve been staying out of reporting or voicing an opinion on the DMCA suit filed against Linden Lab by Munchflower Zaius and Stroker Serpentine, chiefly because I’ve had no opinion either way on the outcome of the suit, and also because others such as Hamlet Au have better sources and resources to report on this piece of news.  I’m not going to step in where I’m only half informed on a subject, if I can help it; that just gets controversy instead of solution going.  However, I sympathize with the creators of original content when it comes to having their hard work and sweat ripped off, since their work is being stolen by creatures who are little better than slime mold on the soles of our Stiletto Moodys.

Now comes the most blatant piece of copy theft yet.  According to sources, someone came in to the Woodshed sims owned by clothes designer Rebel Hope and RH Engel, and copied everything.  Rebel quickly complained to Linden Lab, but the damage has been done; the thieves have since distributed everything to the Grid at large. Read the rest of this entry »

Late News: Herbert Estate Comes Down on Dune SL RP Sim

In the several pieces of news to come down the Grid since my computer went into the shop, the most interesting — not the most important, probably, but the most interesting to me — is Hamlet Au’s report on how a major player in intellectual property has stepped in with objections.  Trident Media Group, the agents of the estate of Dune‘s Frank Herbert, have sent a cease-and-desist order to Linden Lab, which passed it on to the Dune role-playing group.  They have complied with the order by removing as many references to the Dune franchise as they can find within their power.  However, they plan to continue the game as a more generic environment.  (See Ham’s article for the details.)

This article kicked off quite a discussion, with 25 comments as of this writing.  At least one of the best-known pundits in SL, Crap Mariner, has weighed in; and the flap has even attracted the attention of the master of the open source movement, Richard Stallman, with an interesting take on the legality of “intellectual property.”

I won’t take a position arguing against or for such eminences, at least not knowingly.  What I will say is my own opinion:  that the Herbert estate has the right to defend their legal copyrights, which means anything connected with the Dune series and its sequels by Brian Herbert — but that it’s darn silly to be picking on such a small community that simply wishes to celebrate the fantasy and live the dream.  No money is being made here, except perhaps by Linden Lab in terms of tier for the regions.  Speculation: this is probably the basis on which the cease-and-desist was issued — in which case, Vooper Werribee and his comrades are “collateral damage” in the battle, innocent bystanders who are being given the finger unwittingly by Trident Media.  This could bring the franchise more ill-will than good, especially if Crap’s own speculation that Trident plans to start a Dune sim of their own are correct.

At least, in all the fooferaw, Vooper doesn’t seem to have lost his sense of humor.  From Ham’s article:

…I asked him if he planned to remove his remaining Dune-esque objects from Second Life.

“No,” he answers. “We’ve made all the compliance changes we intend to now. Basically we’ve removed the words ‘Dune’, Bene Gesserit, Atreides, etc. from as many object names and descriptions as we can find. But we still intend to keep the place as a ‘generic’ sci-fi desert planet with spice mining. And still intend to roleplay here.” Ironically, he tells me Star Trek roleplayers have expressed an interest in using it for “first contact” scenarios. “Some Star Wars players are interested in using the place as a ‘spice mining’ base,” he adds. “As Star Wars has ‘spice’.”

“The spice must flow?” I suggest.

Vooper Werribee laughs. “It sure must!”

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Do We Need Business “Licenses”?

Thanks to Hamlet Au.

Grace McDunnough has raised an argument on her blog, Phasing Grace, that would threaten in part to explode the way business is done in the virtual world.  Please read the entire article, of course; but the key parts:

…The virtual economy has become such a natural extension of my experience, that it was not until recently that I even stopped to think it odd that I would surrender monies to people, charities, or businesses that were not verifiable in some way.

I would not surrender the equivalent of $100USD to an online retail storefront without ensuring that I had a way to contact them…. However, I have handed over the equivalent of that to purchase a parcel in a virtual world. I am not alone. In Aug2008 alone, there were 10,406 transactions valued at over $50USD between two (or more) largely anonymous entities just in Second Life. What happens if you hand over a sizable chunk of your virtual currency to an entity and don’t receive in return what you thought you were purchasing?

I don’t know, and I hope I don’t have to find out. But just thinking about this led me to a simple conclusion:

We need virtual world business licenses.

I want people to be able to maintain their privacy, and manage their online identities in ways that best suit them, but with provisions for equal access to the virtual marketplace. I don’t know if this was the intent of the infamous “identity verification” movement, but if it was, I may have to rethink my position in that context.

I want to know that there is some way for me to whois a virtual business entity, and better yet I want the equivalent of a Better Business Bureau, but on an scale that covers the virtual world space.

I want there to be governance over the execution of transactions for real and virtual currrencies.

Now the creation of a virtual Better Business Bureau would be a good thing, and I would join in a heartbeat if I could afford it.  I have to wonder about the idea of a business license, though.  Who would administer such a thing, at least in Second Life?

  • Linden Lab?  Despite the moves much yelled over — banking, etc. — the Lab shows no real inclination of becoming more of a governing force on the Grid than it is.  Such things seem handled more on a case-by-case basis.
  • If not Linden Lab, that leaves the Real World government at some level.  But do we really want RL interference in virtual world affairs?  Government-issued licenses tend to be expensive, and business law will differ from country to country.  If you’re doing business from RL USA with someone in, say RL Russia, whose business law would trump?  Or would you need a license from both countries?  From every country in the world that has an avatar resident on the Grid, in a worst-case scenario?  That wold stifle virtual commerce — the great driver of in-world activity — quicker than a war.  Sales die off, the owners of the businesses stop renting space or give up their expensive islands, and Second Life would blow away into the digital sea as the Grid goes dark from its amazing diversity.  (The reality would probably lie somewhere in the center of this alternative, but you never can tell.)

Are there other ways of looking at this?  Would a business license structure actually help SL commerce, which seems to work pretty well already from my experience?  What are your thoughts?

Trademarkgate — AT LAST!

(With thanks to Dusan Writer, who put me on to this while I was tag-surfing the WordPress.com blogs)

Rather late, but at last, Linden Lab has published an article (by LauraP Linden) on the Big Blog, addressing most of the questions SLoggers and others have raised about their now legendary (read: notorious) branding policy changes. Anyone who writes a SLog, or is thinking of creating one, make sure to read this!

The pity is that it took so great effort on the part of the SLogosphere, and the raising of much bad blood toward LL, to get clarification of matters that should have been addressed back in March, when the policy was first revised from the old liberal-use mode.  Linden Lab has had to endure in that time the castigation of a number of influential bloggers — I don’t necessarily rank myself in this category (grin) — the belief by large amounts of the remainder of the Residents that they were wasting time on stupidity when they should focus on Fixing the Grid, and a three-day protest action by said prominent bloggers to draw attention to the question.  Even now, some worry that this is no improvement (I see it as much clearer, myself), or that key questions still need addressing.  The published E-mail address for trademark and brand questions, tm-questions@lindenlab.com, is going to be very busy for some time to come.  I hope they give better answers individually than we were receiving at large and at first.

Ah, well; for my part, I think the main problem is solved.  After placing a finis opus on this article, I intend to enjoy a few well-earned fingers of Bushmills and water, and then collapse in preparation for cleaning my house in the bright of morning — and my store inventory in RL on Sunday night!

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Raising the Red Flag

In my last article, I linked to Rheta Shawn’s ongoing article listing known participants in the bloggers’ protest strike to encourage Linden Lab to clarify its new trademark/brand policy.  The comments to her post show that the bloggers are approaching their concern with a sense of humor as well as seriousness — and not a little grasp of the classics, as well.  A painting by Delacroix, invocation of Victor Hugo and the musical Les Misérables that derives from Hugo’s masterpiece; it’s all there.

One writer, Laetizia Coronet of Virtual Village Voice, took it to the next level.  Revolutionaries have used the red flag as a symbol of revolt for years, and that includes, of course, revolutionaries of a more recent vintage.  In her comment, Laetizia did a bit of light filk — to the Internationale!  In the same vein, I responded that if we were going to be subjected to Marxian polemics next, I’d be putting in a phone call — to the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover.  (The modern FBI doesn’t worry too much about Commie plots….)

All that reminds me of my college days.  I have a Bachelor of Arts in humanities (hail the Seven Liberal Arts!), and was, of course, required to take several core classes.  In the one dealing with the 1800s, we were required to either write one major paper on a topic of our choice, or several smaller papers from a list of suggestions.  One classmate chose the mini-papers, and one of the suggestions was Karl Marx.  She purchased copies of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, and was reading them at work during lunch time.  They were laying on her desk, out in plain view, as the boss walked by.  According to my classmate, he took one look and winced, and begged her (jokingly, I’m sure) to put those things away in a drawer!  I think he was afraid she was planning to set off the revolution there in his company….

Spooks on the Grid

I’m catching up on the news while in the middle of yet another move — my third in four months, but more on that another time. For now, the focus is on how the Real World keeps pokin’ into Second Life in less than savory ways.

The Washington Post (signup may be required) reported on February 6 on how intelligence analysts are beginning to worry about the chance of virtual worlds such as SL being used by criminals and terrorists as meeting sites, laundromats for money, and training and recruiting grounds. The story tells how the CIA counters the threat by purchasing a few private simulations as training and “unclassified meeting” locations. (The article is unclear on the subject, but uses the term “islands,” which suggests that these enclaves are on our Grid.)

Wagner James Au cites the Post story in his New World Notes piece, following which he checked the blog of our beloved Flying Spaghetti Monster, Cory Ondrejka, the former CTO of Linden Lab. Cory insists that Second Life counters extremism by providing a place for multiple viewpoints to be shared. Wagner wonders about this if someone is “already predisposed toward Islamist extremism.” Wagner also questions Cory’s contention that money funneled through SL and the Lindex could be traced once it hits a Real World bank, noting that numerous small transactions can probably slip under the radar.

Though I don’t really see how you could train a terrorist cell in SL to blow up a tank with an IED, I wouldn’t much discount either side’s arguments. Yes, it would be very difficult to smuggle large amounts of money through the Grid banking and exchange systems. However, the salami method of slicing a large sum up into many smaller sums is well known — I give away no secrets here — and could be used. It would take numerous people (or using bots, as Wagner suggests) and a lot of determination; but determination is a hallmark of an extremist mindset. The one thing that occurs to me is that even a large amount of small traffic going to a single person, or a set of persons, could raise a spike on a statistical examination of traffic, but this can be overcome by sending to multiple individuals, or an organizational account.

The “meeting place” scenario is much more viable. Picture this: your cell buys an estate island, well isolated if possible from encroachment by other estates being built. (There is lots of open sea, if you check your Map at max out zoom.) You declare the whole island private by using available lockdown measures, or buying a security package to boot someone home in 5-10 seconds after approach. Build your “conference center” at least 25 meters in from the edges, just to make sure you’re not “overheard.” Set up however you want, from quick-and-dirty cubes to sit on — a virtual-physical symbol of the oppression you are under — to whatever level of comfort you desire, and issue invitations to those you wish to attend. You will still face normal Grid problems like rolling restarts and outages, but you’re set to roll beyond that.

Unless someone knows that you’re operating in this place, and knows who you are, there is not a high probability of your being overseen. Nobody can approach your island without ramming into the infamous red “No Entry” lines, or your security package will give them the boot before they get more than a few sentences of whatever your group is saying. Their only hope would be to (hopefully!) get a court order — again, if they know or suspect strongly who you are — and have Linden Lab tap your datastream to capture what you send and receive. Even then, unless I misunderstand the technology, the “conversation” may be a trifle one-sided, and important information may be lost.

I don’t say that this is something to leap at in panic. But this is something to consider carefully, and take appropriate, advised action on. “Advised” because it is far too easy to abuse whatever authority you have or are given in your zeal. But we need to keep this in mind.

SUPPLEMENTAL, 1:24 p.m. local:

…[T]he Post article raises some intriguing, though perhaps overblown, claims about the ease to which anonymity can be abused. For example, records are not kept of communication between avatars, which could lead to suspicious activities between nefarious individuals. These types of situations have the government nervous, and interested in gaining access to the servers of 3-D and role-playing games.

These issues are not unique to 3D worlds. They’re not even unique to the Internet. A lot of these espionage/criminal claims are a lot like the early warning bells about the Internet, and probably at one point in time about telephones. Basically, it’s government saying “these new technologies scare us, stuff that scares us is bad, and so being scared we have a right to monitor servers and private conversations between individuals so we feel, well, less scared.”

UPDATE, Feb. 15, 7:15 a.m.:

  • I just discovered Gwyneth Llewelyn’s take on the matter. She decries the Post article as alarmist:

Also, this is “old news” and vastly discussed in previous years. It’s incredible how some journalists, in their eagerness to condemn virtual worlds and ruin the virtual economy and virtual societies, recycle “bad news” from the past, change the order of the paragraphs, add a few more quotes (often cited out of context), and republish exactly the same article that was written 10 or 20 years ago.

In my next incarnation, I wish I were reborn as a Luddite journalist. One could make a career out of it, just writing one single article for my whole life, and doing a search & replace on a few words every time a new paradigm-shifting technology is released…

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