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Archive for December, 2009

Botgirl Questi wrote a thought-provoking Virtual Property Rights Manifesto over on her blog. Go on, read. Trust me, it’s a better use of your time than this blog is, and this one will still be here when you’re done. It stirred some good discussion both there in the comments as well as on Chesnut Rau’s Plurk.

On Plurk, I proved once more that I’m far too long-winded for discussions on a microblogging service, so I thought I would bring my thoughts over here. Essentially, Botgirl’s position boils down to saying that she purchased it in Second Life, so she ought to be able to back it up to her hard drive and use it in other grids. And my position is that there are really 3 very separate issues here:

  1. The ability to back up the objects you purchased in Second Life.
  2. The ability to take those objects to other grids.
  3. The ability to resell those objects.

The problem is that the same tools that are used for one are used for all three, so discussion of all three always seems to gets muddled. Beyond the toolset, though, I’m not sure that there’s much overlap in the three issues, so I’ll take a quick peek at all three.

Backing Up Your Stuff

We’ve been taught, as computer users, to back up our stuff. Most of us have learned as a result of a not so pleasant experience how important backing up our data is. Many of us have learned the hard way that the Second Life asset system is not always reliable. So it’s understandable that we want to be able to make backups of things that we either spend hard-earned Linden on, or spent hours building.

Of course, there’s no provision built into the official client to back up your stuff. When I had Emerald installed, I looked at the export function, and it seemed like a really good way to get your object geometry out as a backup. But that functionality is limited to stuff that you created (or possibly things that are full perm — I’m not reinstalling Emerald just to check, but I’m sure one of the many Emerald users I know will clarify this one for me). At any rate, there seems to be no ethical debate about whether it’s OK to export objects you created. They’re your creations, after all. But the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a backup mechanism that retrieves an object with its metadata intact stinks. I would love to be able to back up my copiable objects. I ought to be able retrieve them from the backup medium as copiable objects, with the creator name and perms intact.

I’m surprised there isn’t more demand for this. Perhaps there is more demand than people realize and that’s why so many turn to copybots. Unfortunately, since copybot is a “bad word,” use of one is assumed to automatically be for evil purposes, so there is no way to know how much legitimately attempted backing up is really occurring.

Taking Your Stuff With You

You buy a copyable item. The creator indicated it was OK to copy it. Does that mean it’s OK to take a copy to another grid? I would say that’s up to the creator. What did the creator intend when he or she sold it to you? There’s no way to tell, unless the creator is one of the rare ones who actually includes a notecard that explicitly says one way another whether it’s all right to use their creation on other grids.

It gets even more complicated when you consider the components of your content. A creator has to be sure that all of the pieces and parts that they licensed for use were licensed to be used on other grids. What about that sculpt map they bought? The texture? They bought it full perm. They don’t have the right to decide where it goes, the original creator who they bought it from had a EULA that the object creator needs to abide by.

Think I’m going overboard? I have a lovely picture in my garden home in Harbour by an artist who left Deviant Art over being incessantly ripped off. I have written permission from the artist to use the image in Second Life. I have am under no  illusion that I now have the right to use that picture prim on other grids. To tell myself otherwise is justifying infringing on that artist’s intellectual property rights.

The simple way to solve much of this would be to add a permissions flag. In other words, full perms would be something like MCTG. A simple check box to let creators give or not give permission to take objects to other grids. Simple, except of course it would require the Lab to do something about it. I can’t see that they’re going to feel terribly motivated to do that work when the lack of content on competing grids is part of what keeps people from being very interested in them. No reason to make it easier on the competition, is there?

So in the meantime, I tend to default to looking at content as a license, the same way I do software. I guess that’s why I’m always amused when people say “I bought it. It’s mine. I can do with it what I want!” Tell that to Microsoft about that copy of Excel. Microsoft makes it pretty clear you are only supposed to install Excel on one computer. Why isn’t it clearer that stuff you purchase license to use on a grid stays on a grid? Maybe we need a plain-English TOS.

Selling  Copied Stuff

No discussion about backing up and copying your virtual stuff would ever be complete without mentioning selling — or giving away — stuff you used some mechanism to back up or copy. That’s always where this discussion inevitably leads: “You’re stealing our livelihood!” So, for the record, making copies of other people’s creations and selling them either on the same grid or other grids is bad, period. If you didn’t create it or license it with an understanding from the creator that it was for resale, then you have a hole in your ethics.

Meanwhile, let’s try to remember as the issue of backing up and copying becomes more and more hotly contested that this discussion is made up of a lot of smaller issues, and they can’t be looked at as a whole. It’s not all “ZOMG Copybot!” but it’s not all “share and share alike,” either.

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