Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Buying, Being, Creating and Consuming in Second Life - Part 1

This post began more than a month ago as a (thankfully unpublished) rant about what I termed "The Cult of the Creator Class" in Second Life. It was born out of my frustrated attempts to move purchased assets such as shape, skin, clothes and furniture from Second Life to an Open Simulator Grid. But as I pondered the reasons behind the draconian Digital Rights Management I battled, a number of questions came to mind that defied easy answers:
  • Why are the vast majority of digital goods in Second Life -even freebies - hobbled by copy, modification or transfer restrictions?
  • Why hasn't the incredible grassroots creativity in Second Life spawned a Share/Remix culture, instead of the current one that supports the hording of IP rights and control?
  • Why is the program feature that permanently embeds a creator's name into every Second Life object generally perceived as an ethical imperative?
  • What do many creators I speak with get so riled up at the thought of someone "taking credit" for their work, even if there is no financial impact?
I realize there are financial dimensions to these questions and promise to address those factors in a subsequent post. For now I pose the question:

Do you think I'm hot?

After almost a year since Botgirl's rezday, I am still taken aback when someone says something like "You're so beautiful" in reference to the visual form of the Botgirl avatar. Obviously "I" am not the pixelated form they see, right? A more accurate statement would be "Your avatar is beautiful," but I can't remember a single instance of anyone phrasing the sentiment in such a fashion. I don't think the blurring of our selves and our digital forms is just fuzzy semantics. In fact, I think the language is a pretty accurate reflection of our psychological perception.

So what the hell does this have to do with DRM and intellectual property? It seems to me that in the pseudonymous environment of Second Life our creations are experienced as significant and perhaps inseparable aspects of our digital identity; of who we are. Our atomic identities are the complex result of decades of life experience. Our digital personas are a year or two old and formed from a relatively narrow realm of relationships and activities.

Our creations in Second Life are viscerally experienced as essential aspects of our digital identity. And by creations, I don't just mean the prims we build, but also the creative activity of combining purchased items to form our bodies, wardrobes and environments.

I think there is a kind of inherent tension between creators and consumers in virtual worlds that transcends economics and does not have a clear comparable in the atomic world. The tension is between the identification of the creator with the objects they birth, and the identification of the consumer with the objects she acquires and integrates into her form and environment.

I'll leave it here for now. Stay tuned for Part 2.


Dale Innis said...

An interesting topic; eager to see where you go with it!

I'm not sure how reliable it is to take things that we say about our AVs as typical of how we feel about our creations in general. To me, saying "Your AV is beautiful" in SL would be like saying "Your body is beautiful" in RL: kinda weird in most contexts.

It's very clear that we identify with our AVs; pretty inevitable really (just like we atomic persons identify with our bodies). The extent to which we identify with other stuff that we in some sense create is less clear. But also very inneresting!

sororNishi said...

i agree entirely. There have been a few who have said "your avi is lovely" but they are the minority. The language reveals the identification you refer to, and the changing of avis, skins etc, is a hard but very beneficial thing.... or we get locked in another mask.

Washu Zebrastripe said...

I don't know if I can answer quite everything here. We're all different so I can't speak for everyone.

What I'm going to say might be really debated by others. Most people come into SL for some sort of reason, and usually the reason is a need to connect, to feel like you're a part of something. We all need socializing and it's not always so easy in RL.

If someone else takes our product, our credit, it does two things. It takes away a part of us, and it means that we are closer to losing our mark in this world. We need to know that what we make means something, and that people like and appreciate it. If no one liked what I did, and if I were to say I was nothing in SL, then I wouldn't be here. There'd be no reason to be.

There was a time in SL where things that were not objects did not have permissions. The permissions we did have did not include "no transfer". There was a bit of a different mindset. If you did non prim stuff, like clothes, either you gave it away full permission, or you kept it to yourself. People wanted their stuff to get out there, so there was more of a sharing culture. Then the rules in SL changed. The things we made became *ours*. It's really a unique perspective. The things we make are now a part of our soul.

Not all creation in SL is like this for me. I also build for 3rd party companies that come here to make a presence for themselves. They will no doubt not know how to build, so they hire me. When I build for my customers, I am building knowing that the objects are for them. I give them the finished product full permission, and I don't care what they do with it after that. It's a different feeling completely than selling my own work to customers.

Right now, as I'm rambling away, I'm thinking of selling content to customers kind of like selling software licenses. Yes, I'm selling you the right to use it, but it's still mine (my IP). I don't want you to sell the license on to anyone else, and I don't want you to change the software in any way. And if you get an illegal copy of the software/license, I'll be pissed.

I also want to mention that my husband has in the past given away things he created full permission and for free. Now he gets IMs every day about these products, which have been completely modified by others. Getting credit for something you DIDN'T do is also quite a pain. Especially if someone has turned your friendship bear into a sex toy.

As a consumer, do you not like having the creators name on objects? Do you find it useful or is it just something put there to satisfy the creator?

As for the beauty aspect, I don't know if I have a lot to say. New users tell me that my avatar is beautiful, while those who are more immersed just say 'you'. I am nearly 6 years old in SL, and 26 in RL. My avatar has been a part of me for most of my adult life. However she is just a part; anyone who says I am beautiful is clearly mistaken if they have not seen my RL photo. Unless they mean inner beauty, etc etc. :P

Moggs Oceanlane said...

Thanks Botgirl... can't wait to read part 2. I don't have anything that can be quickly added as a comment.

I once commented that I didn't know what to say when people told me I was beautiful in SL and my friend pointed out that you take time and effort with your avatar so it's still a compliment - you've made it to represent who you are in the virtual world.

And to quickly follow on from Washu, I think we do connect a lot with the persona being represented, and in many cases, I think the expression of 'you are beautiful' is also used in lieu of 'I like you' because for some reason people often feel uncomfortable telling another person they like them (lest it be misconstrued maybe?) Who knows?

Anyway, thanks again.

sits down with a bucket of popcorn to wait for part 2

Vidal Tripsa said...

*Clears her throat*


"Why are the vast majority of digital goods in Second Life -even freebies - hobbled by copy, modification or transfer restrictions?"

This is a pretty easy one. There's really not much use in selling... anything at all, if you distribute things with all permissions tied in. It just takes one buyer to hand over the L$200 or whatever, and then for them to start sending copies around to their friends for the shop to be rendered useless. It's not even greed so much as viability - premises have to be paid for, and because of that, shop owners often have to squeeze every bit of profit that they can.

"Why is the program feature that permanently embeds a creator's name into every Second Life object generally perceived as an ethical imperative?"

This one's a little tricky, but one way I see it as that... if creators didn't have their names attached to what they create, not only might they be less willing to bother with future efforts but newcomers would assume that every piece made here defaults to Linden Lab. That goes against the message which they're just about still selling (for now), but also releases them of responsibility towards defective virtual goods. Imagine if your Mystitool suddenly broke down and the original shop had long since vanished - where would you go for support? Linden Lab may have the originator's name, but the man-hours involved in acting as a directory service would be astronomical.

"What do many creators I speak with get so riled up at the thought of someone "taking credit" for their work, even if there is no financial impact?"

This is the one I feel strongest about, and I'm sorry, but it's not all money at all. Yes, there's a selfish pride thing in there, in that we do enjoy receiving praise for our work, but then when returns on our efforts are so low in value anyway, that praise is a precious commodity. It's also a quick way to feeling cheated for those efforts if someone else is reaping reputation or monetary benefit from your work. It may sound extreme to some ears, but the fact is that if no credit was granted to creators in our world, the vast majority would hang up their tools or otherwise bugger off out. It may seem like a noble thing to be producing work for no social or financial gain, but I for one would not be at all happy with having my work treated that way. That's not just our world, either - even creative commons rulings seem (at first glance) to keep author rights in there as a deal-maker. That's unfounded guesswork on my part, though.

As for the last part of your post, it seems a simple case of us having identifying with our digital representations on a different level from one another. Skipping over the stuff I can't help but read "between the lines", I'd posit another question to consider - if we detach ourselves from... our selves... will our virtual creative endeavours not suffer? I'd certainly not be tinkering with doll furniture in my spare time if my Puppeteer never felt a part of Vidal.

Botgirl Questi said...

Dale: Interesting. In the atomic world, one's body is considered to be part of the person, while one's wardrobe is not. I think that's because we are born in that body and can't take it off and put another one one.

This opens up a whole philosophical can of worms we've snacked on before. Is there an avatar "I" separate from our atomic "I". If so, why would the body be any different than a shirt, since both can be changed at will.

Beats me. :)

Botgirl Questi said...

sororNishi: The weirdness I feel when someone says that is because I don't experience my SELF as the form of Botgirl. Botgirl's form is a character I created.

Botgirl Questi said...

Washu: Thanks for sharing your unique long-term experience. I have a few comments and questions for you:

You wrote "If someone else takes our product, our credit, it does two things. It takes away a part of us, and it means that we are closer to losing our mark in this world."

I would be interested to know more of how you feel your creation is a part of you. Personally, I feel my creations are an expression of myself, but wouldn't feel diminished if someone used something I created and didn't credit me.

I can't think of a scenario of someone copying your work that would negatively impact your "mark on the world". Their piracy wouldn't strip your name from any product that you make available, would it? Only duplicates. I know it's likely I'm missing something. What have I missed?

Botgirl Questi said...

Moggs: I've heart the "expression of who you are" idea before. But couldn't the same be said for every word we utter and every item we create (avatar or building)? So why wouldn't we say "you look beautiful" in reference to a home we built?

Botgirl Questi said...

Vidal: Thanks for weighing in here!

To me it seems the negative scenario you paint about mass piracy resulting in confusion, revenue loss and the death of the creator class in Second Life is unlikely. It is just as possible that an Open Source/Creative Commons movement in Second Life would create a new creative Renaissance.

For instance, there hundreds of thousands of people who contribute to Open Source projects despite the fact that very few end-users of the software know they've contributed.

If someone pirates your work, it does not change anyone's knowledge of what you have created; it will probably not decrease the amount of Lindens you derive from your work; and it's quite possible you'd never even bump into the copies.

That said, I'm not advocating the abolishment permissions. :) My intent is to open up a conversation and encourage people to be more generous in their permission granting.

Moggs Oceanlane said...

I believe saying 'you look beautiful' to a house is nuts but even though I don't go around telling people they look beautiful (I'm more likely to tell them I like/adore them) an avatar is a moving being - maybe not a flesh or blood one but I certainly see the difference between an avatar and a house (and you mostly likely do too but are exaggerating to clarify here). People do often perceive their avatar as being [a representation of] themselves where as they perceive a house as to be something they own.

Was it you that posted 'why seeing should not be believing' and how we shouldn't trust our brains... what you know to be true isn't always how you perceive something or doesn't always govern your thoughts and feeling on or about something. Many people relate to their avatars at an emotional/feeling level rather than an intellectual/logical level.

If I compliment someone on appearance, it's more likely to be because I know they've gone to a lot of bother to update their new avatar... and in that case I'd generally say something along the lines of "I like your new look".

Botgirl Questi said...

moggs: You and Washu inspired my new post. Thanks!

Washu Zebrastripe said...

I feel as though a creation is part of me because I'm expressing my thoughts and feelings into what I make. Generally, I make what's on my mind. Just like a drawing, a person is expressing feeling. And also I think it's hard to show someone it if you think they might be critical. :P

Someone by all means can wear my hair and never mention it's from me, that's fine. Especially if they are taking a photo that's meant to show another aspect of themselves, such as the clothes. However I like an appreciate it if they do mention me. When I say it's a part of me, I mean of my soul.

When someone buys my hair, I feel like they are paying for the time and effort I put into the object. If my work was stolen and someone else stole it, then what sort of compensation would I get? Is it all just wasted time? I have rent to pay and I need to put food on the table.

When people steal objects and resell them, the creators name vanishes. They use third party programs to copy the details of each prim and the texture on it. Then they reupload and recreate the prims to an exact match. My name is gone. They have ripped my soul from me.

I'm a starving artist. Why would anyone want to take so much from someone who has nothing? I am struggling, and each penny helps. We do not make millions, and we spend so much time on this work. It's not easy in the slightest.

Dale Innis said...

Botgirl: if I make something really cool and distribute it casually around, and someone else takes it and distributes it quickly and aggressively as though they'd made it, and it makes the world a better place, I get less credit, less reputation, less respect, for that bettering of the world than I would have if the actual creator were known. Not that the faster distributor doesn't deserve some credit for the speed, but it seems pretty clear to me that I get less of the respect, acknowledgement, etc, than I ought to (in some relatively straightforward sense of "ought").

"I don't experience my SELF as the form of Botgirl. Botgirl's form is a character I created." That's fascinating! I notice you're careful there to say "Botgirl's form" rather than "Botgirl". Do you identify with Botgirl herself, but just not with how she looks? Or do you consider Botgirl herself to be something other than you?

I definitely identify with Dale; or no even that's not right: I *am* Dale. Am I Dale's form? Well, no more or less than I am my atomic body's haircolor or nose-shape I think. The fact that it's much easier to change the SL ones than the RL ones doesn't really seem to be a factor in my identification.

Dale Innis said...

Washu: "As a consumer, do you not like having the creators name on objects? Do you find it useful or is it just something put there to satisfy the creator?"

Incredibly useful! Some of the most interesting explorations I've had in SL have started from looking at the creator of a cool object, going to their store from their picks, going to neat places that they have in their picks, looking at the profiles of the creators of neat stuff in *those* places, etc, etc.

Not to mention the practical value of being able to have some idea who to go to if something breaks, or if you want to get more similar things...

(And the last time I left an IM for a creator just to tell her how great her stuff was we ended up having a nice conversation during which she gave me a great rezday gift, hee hee.)

Botgirl Questi said...

Dale: I think that if someone pirated your work, stripped your name and took full credit for the success, the only harm to you would be the difference in the revenue/acknowledgment you would have received if that chain of events didn't happen. If the work would have otherwise sat neglected, then I think there's no harm done. That said, I think you would certainly deserve acknowledgment and revenue. And I do believe it is unethical to make an exact digital copy someone's work and claim it as one's own.

My questions about the creator's name being permanently part of an object is around its impact on DRM. It seems that a vast amount of potential remix and share-alike opportunities are killed due to fear about piracy and personal credit.


I don't see the "me" that communicates under the pseudonym "Botgirl" as a different being than the "me" who operates under by atomic birth name. I experience different aspects of my self in various roles - spouse, parent, business person, intoxicated party goer, etc. And people who only see me in a single guise may have very different impressions of "who I am." I don't see Botgirl as qualitatively different from any other environmentally based role.

Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

Even in academia and science, authorship and credit for being the first to have an insight is important. It establishes one's reputation, and especially where one doesn't have money to keep score, reputation is all you have.

One thing I don't like about the permission system is that it doesn't implement the "first sale doctrine". If I decide I don't like a hairdo, for example, I should be able to give it away or even sell it to someone. After I do so, I don't have it any more, so I'm not pirating.

Anonymous said...

My idea of value is centered on objects whose value is protected from the shop they're created in.

I would love to see an "Open Linden" creator name established as an open source watershed and CC settings for builds whose creator isn't Open Linden.

There'd literally be a nation of creators keeping that work intact, versus the prognosis for any individual free trader.

If/when SL dies, the likelihood of all that work being ported to another grid would be great.