Friday, October 31, 2008

Copybot as Revolutionary Part 2: My avatars and I are one


I appreciate the thoughtful comments from yesterday. I'm still mulling through this issue and have a few more ideas to throw out before taking a break for the weekend.

"Do not steal" has been a core injunction in every major religion for thousands of years and is a foundational principal that informs every legal system in the world today. The applicability of DNS is relatively straightforward in questions of physical objects. But as Cristopher Lefavre and Dandellion noted in their comments yesterday, digital technology has introduced questions about the nature of property and ownership that are still winding their way through the world's courts and philosophy departments.

My personal take on digital property is that sellers should not have the right to dictate my personal use of any item I buy, including using it in different accounts and on different worlds. The analogy of music that was brought up in the comments seems very relevant.

The limits of the Second Life DRM system have a lot to do with the problem. There is no technological reason that Majic (my alt) and Botgirl can't be tied together in a database so that I, the sentient being who actually paid for items can have access to them in whatever identity I choose to use. The same holds true for authentication between worlds.

Why should a seller be able to dictate how I use a digital asset I purchased, as long as I am not duplicating it for another person? Botgirl owns nothing and has no legal standing that is separate from me. So it's a bit fantastical to imagine that it is somehow any more wrong for Botgirl to transfer an item to Majic than it would be wrong for my my right hand sock puppet to transfer an item to my left hand sock puppet. Clearly it's just one owner who is moving an asset from place to place.

I don't think I hold a radical position on this. I do believe that copying someone's work and then selling or giving away duplicates to others is theft. Distributing mp3s on a bittorrent site is against the law in most countries, while ripping a CD to an mp3 for one's own use is legal.

Well, that's enough for now. I look forward to a continued dialogue.


Anonymous said...

So you envision a digital economy where AVs are portable between virtual worlds the way cell phone numbers are now between carriers. I think that's a great vision, and could possibly happen someday. In that scenario, I would gladly sell you (the digital identity) a product in one world, that would be legally/economically/practically portable and usable between worlds. But that's not where we are now, and so for the moment your proposal is still unethical to some degree (very much along the level of copying music in my mind - we all know its ethically wrong, but often do it anyway).

But look how long it took to get cell phone number portability. What's in it for the digital world owners?

Actually... if there was such portability of AVs and objects, it might keep customers involved with virtual worlds that would otherwise quit (hmm, hello LL? are you listening?)

Anonymous said...

I agree Val and one important part to remember...with something like music, the creators name stays intact.

With phone numbers, your not paying for the number your paying for a service by a provider. You shut off yoru service the phone does not ring. The number is just the means of providing the ring, so to speak

When you consider taking someone else's creation and essentially wiping out the creators name in order to "copy" it onto your own system, IMO you have crossed ethical grounds and are stealing.

Once you remove the name of the original creator, you are in essence, even for your own personal use.....stealing and passing it off as your own.

If at some time the technology catches up and everything you buy from another creator is storable in a manner that enables the creators name to stay intact along with the permissions they chose to sell it at and be passed between worlds, then so be it.

However, when you leave one virtual world to go to leave everything that is not created by you and also stored on your hard drive behind.

That's just the way it's set up.

For the record, I did read the forums at OpenSim and they clearly frown and discourage bringing anything into their world that is was not created by you unless the original creator gives you permission.

I don't know how well they enforce it, but I think they might need to make some hard and fast rules once thier dollar exchange starts up. I can see some very unscrupulous people heading that way who are not considering "personal use" but also "commercial use"

Dale Innis said...

Well, what's your opinion on contract law? :) If you buy something, and part of the agreement under which you buy it says that you'll only use it in your left hand and not your right hand, is (or isn't) there now a reason that using it in your left hand is okay, but using it in your right is not?

(Note that giving away copies of a digital object that you don't have the creator's permission to give away isn't theft in any jurisdiction I know of; it's copyright infringement. When you steal something from someone, they generally don't have it anymore. A small but potentially significant point.)

If you do believe in contract law, then it matters what contract is in play when you buy a (copy of a) digital good. Since there's no actual contract negotiation going on when I buy a nice ETD hair from a vendor on the wall, there must be some implicit contract. What does that contract say? Different people (it seems) have different opinions about that when it comes to stuff like whether the contract allows copying the thing into different virtual worlds.

I don't think there's any truth of the matter about which opinion is "right" (since we're talking about the properties of a thing that doesn't exist).

We need some sort of Uniform Commercial Code that we can all agree on, so that everyone's expectations about the default contract are correct, and so that someone who wants to have a different contract in place will know that they'll have to negotiate it explicitly.

Anonymous said...

Dale or really anyone, I have a question then....

What about the DMC's or whatever they are called. How would they come into play?

If they are valid for someone from say Renderosity to come in world and say " stole that...." would then a designer be able to go into another world and say " stole that..."

Whether it's given away free or for money?

Cristopher Lefavre said...

Interesting Botgirl. You are right, legally there is no difference between "you" and Majic. Its just the DRM and the mechanisms for object ownership and control that makes a difference.

And you are right val, we are not there yet. I have outlined it a bit more on my blog, but the simple truth is that in Second Life, you don't legally buy stuff from val. You license content from Linden Labs. And that license is only valid inside SL.

dale, the implicit contract you talk about is the SL TOS. Thats all the rules we have now, and it only covers Second Life.

Also, and this complicates things, nothing you bring with you into any virtual world will be solely for personal use. Your house, your clothes, even your skin will be viewable for others as content in that world. This aspect makes my example with music files not quite relevant.

Further on, imagine you bought a set of uploadable photoshop files of a skin from val. Licensed to be used by just your avatars in any virtual world. According to the current TOS, you are not allowed to upload that skin to SL. Because when you do that, you actually license every avatar in SL to use that skin. And that is not in your deal with val.

So, the transfer of content between worlds still face some tough legal challenges:-)

Anonymous said...

TOS3.2 You retain copyright and other intellectual property rights with respect to Content you create in Second Life, to the extent that you have such rights under applicable law.

TOS3.3 Linden Lab retains ownership of the account and related data, regardless of intellectual property rights you may have in content you create or otherwise own.

You agree that even though you may retain certain copyright or other intellectual property rights with respect to Content you create while using the Service, you do not own the account you use to access the Service, nor do you own any data Linden Lab stores on Linden Lab servers (including without limitation any data representing or embodying any or all of your Content). Your intellectual property rights do not confer any rights of access to the Service or any rights to data stored by or on behalf of Linden Lab.

Botgirl - not only do you not 'own' yourself or your prim objects that you buy from me, according to the TOS, apparently *I* don't even 'own' my creations, since most of my objects, being made of prims, never exist outside of 'the Service'.

Unknown said...

I am so in agreement with you. I have become the avatar I am and have spent a lot of monies on a variety of things that make me who I am as well. All of this should be transportable to other worlds. As to those who steal, punishing everyone for that is not the right answer. Perhaps, a purchase of an item should have an owner digital code which would transfer and could be followed etc. I know the idea may be impractical because I am not tech savvy but I believe we need a way for us to keep our stuff in all worlds.

Unknown said...

Bevan was using the analogy of being able to wear clothing she bought in France back to the USA to wear. I'm not sure where I stand on the philosophical argument yet.

But I do think the analogy breaks down in this way: You can wear clothing in any country you like in RL, but you can't wear it simultaneously in two or more places or at the same time or at the same time someone you loan it to is wearing it. With virtual clothing, you and your alt and any number of avis in any number of virtual worlds could all be simultaneously wearing the item that was bought ONCE in SL. Can't do that with ONE paid-for copy in RL. Does that make a difference ethically and legally?