Friday, November 7, 2008

You Don't Own Crap

Continuing from yesterday...

So what's the big deal if "owning your own virtual real estate" really means "a license of access to Linden's proprietary servers?" The problem is its contribution to the pervasive illusion that we own the virtual currency, real estate and goods we buy within Second Life. According to the Terms of Service, we don't.

Now I certainly didn't read the entire TOS when I signed up. And when I read through it closely during the trademark controversy, I thought that its more onerous provisions were just corporate lawyer boilerplate that wouldn't be enforced because they were so clearly inequitable. But guess what. IT seems that Linden is actually quite prepared to hold you to the TOS agreement you accepted:
Defendants aver that during the registration process, Bragg reached a screen containing the Terms of Service, which stated “Please read the following Terms of Service carefully. To continue logging in to Second Life, you must accept the agreement.” Defendants further aver that Bragg selected “I Agree to the Terms of Service” before being allowed to enter Second Life. Defendants lack information or belief sufficient to admit or deny allegations regarding whether Bragg read the Terms of Service, and on that basis deny such allegations. from a court document filed by Linden Research, Inc. and Philip Rosedale
The recent OpenSpace price hike was hopefully a wake-up call that tier pricing can change at any time. And negative changes will likely mean that the value of your holdings fall and the demand for it drops. So you either pay up or lose your investment. But it's worse than just that. Your land, inventory and even identity can be changed or deleted at any time for any reason. Here's the key item in the TOS agreement:
5.3 All data on Linden Lab's servers are subject to deletion, alteration or transfer. When using the Service, you may accumulate Content, Currency, objects, items, scripts, equipment, or other value or status indicators that reside as data on Linden Lab's servers. THESE DATA, AND ANY OTHER DATA, ACCOUNT HISTORY AND ACCOUNT NAMES RESIDING ON LINDEN LAB'S SERVERS, MAY BE DELETED, ALTERED, MOVED OR TRANSFERRED AT ANY TIME FOR ANY REASON IN LINDEN LAB'S SOLE DISCRETION.
You may be thinking, "No way they'd ever do that." Well, then why include it in the TOS? Why insist that we agree to such obviously unreasonable terms before we can use the service? What's up with that? Any ideas?


Anonymous said...

How do these TOS compare to those of, say, WoW? I'd bet they're similar.

Possibly, their lawyers didn't quite think through how the "intellectual property" notion would not work too well with this provision 5.3. That *is* kind of different from the way things have been done. Lawyers don't do too well with new things.

Dale Innis said...

Yeah, sure, this are the standard kinds of terms that services always put in.

Why do they put them in? So that people are less likely to try to sue them if (say) LL decides that some item contains a copyrighted texture and that the easiest way to fix that is to just destroy every copy of that item on the Grid. Or anything else that they someday might find themselves wanting to do.

Why do they require us to sign a ToS with such awful stuff in it? Because we're perfectly willing to, and it reduces the number of lawsuits. So why not? :)

sororNishi said...

This may sound harsh, but I think that these rules apply in some circumstances in RL too. The police can come into my house and shoot me, or delete my bank account, in fact, don't the US see it as their right to do so anywhere in the world?

This doesnt happen very often, but those in power have never been subtle or considerate, the idea that we have rights is, in many ways, naiive. We have rights as long as it suits those in power to give them to us.

The rules can always change from one moment to the next.

We are in control of nothing, i think.

Dale Innis said...

I would disagree with that sorornishi; just because a right can be violated doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Anyone with a sledge hammer and a gun back break into my house and shoot me, but they don't have the *right* to do that.

Rights are important because violations of rights are subject to social sanctions. (Jerkiness that isn't a rights violation is also subject to social sanctions, but generally milder ones.)

Given the ToS, that we have all obediently agreed to as bg points out, LL probably has the right, not just the power, to do all sorts of jerky things...

sororNishi said...

Well, that is true, Dale, but after you are shot, it doesnt really matter whether the assassin had the right or not.
The economic reality is that I dont have access to the law in any case and the law is biased towards those in power. Social sanctions are weighted that way too.

Botgirl Questi said...

I'm going to do another post that will address some of the questions ya'll have raised. For now:

Alesia: I think the primary unique aspect of Second Life as compared to WoW is that people purchase virtual goods, versus acquiring them through game play. As Linden Lab has repeatedly stated, Second Life is not a game. :)

Dale: I think portions of their TOS are on the extreme side of what's out there. My main issue is the chasm between their public relations and marketing face, and their hardly-anyone-will-probably-ever-read-this TOS language.

soronishi: It seems to me that we can't control the external world, but we have a chance to influence it. We do have the potential to be in charge of our own thought and feelings and choose from whatever finite range of actions that is possible.