Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thank You Pirates! The Real Lesson in Virtual World Content Theft

There's been a renewed outcry in the Second Life creative community about unauthorized duplication of virtual goods. Although I understand the frustration, vigilant enforcement of IP rights is at best a stop-gap measure that will neither mitigate the inherent vulnerability of digital content, nor put more money into creators' pockets. Although creators may derive some personal satisfaction from going after individual culprits, such an approach mimics the losing strategy of the music and movie industries which failed even with a seven year salt-the-earth campaign. The relentless, high-profile lobbying and law suits of the MPAA and RIAA were unable able to stop or even slow down unauthorized music and video sharing.

Today, those industry dinosaurs are finally moving from a DRM and litigation-focused approach to grudging participation in new business models adapted to the realities of a networked digital ecosystem. Companies like Pandora, NetFlix, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon's new cloud-based service are breaking new ground. They are transcending the outmoded paradigms of digital content distribution that were based on physical media rather than network file transfer and streaming. These pathfinders are seeking new revenue opportunities rather than clinging to the dead-end approaches of the past.

Unfortunately, the virtual world content creation community seems to be mired in the same type of thinking that led the music and video industries into years of wasted effort and lost opportunity. Pirates are are actually doing us a favor by pointing out that our business models are behind the times and not serving consumers. The future won't be won by chasing after offenders, but through new approaches that better meet consumer needs. The cost of piracy is a drop in the bucket compared to the opportunity cost of the current DRM-hobbled stove-piped system.

Instead of wringing hands over unauthorized copies of virtual goods moving from Second Life to other grids, we should support the creation of transworld marketplaces that make it easy for consumers to purchase goods and use them in the worlds they choose. Instead of obsessing over the fear of theft, we should be thinking creatively about opportunities for new revenue channels and business models such as subscription-based and cross-platform licensing. I can share music, videos and applications I purchase through iTunes on five computers plus mobile devices. Why shouldn't I be able to use my virtual goods in the same manner across platforms?


Marie Ravencrow said...

I agree with you fully on this. It makes no sense that you cannot take your inventory with you, no matter where you go.

It's a fault of the permissions system and one someone somewhere has to address one of these days.

I can move my household in the concrete universe. It makes no sense that I can't in the virtual universe.


sororNishi said...

I had a friend who designed and made clothes to sell at a RL market. Every week she found other market stalls had copied her ideas from the week before. She had no recourse to lawyers, but stayed always one step ahead, by designing better stuff and making better quality.

People can copy your product, but not your talent.

Anonymous said...

Buy once use anywhere is my goal. Sadly few are interested in creating the required full package multi item export/import specification. Once this happens then I can sell my stuff on my website and deal with it like normal retailers do. Maybe even on renderosity and the other marketplaces that will surely pop up all over the place. Sure some stuff will get ripped off. And anything that is really popular I would register copyright and wait 2.5 years and then allow a law firm to go get statutory damages after enough damages accrue by people with assets to take to worry about it.

DvanderAart said...

Although i can see every point made is true, it is still not realistic to expect from someone that has the talent required to make something original and of outstanding quality (i.e. a true artist) to also be equally talented in marketing strategies and such. I am sure some people would be willing to try new business models, but.. well you get the point.

eurominuteman said...

Sorry to say, but all those barking cries about theft are equal to ZERO. The due legal process first requires that Opensim Content Creators establish and prove their Ownership Titleship, check the expert article:

Anonymous said...

You're treating individual proprietorships as if they can operate in the same manner as AMZ and Hulu.

In order for individual creators to survive on "freemium" they would have to surrender the rights to their works to a larger entity in exchange for some renumeration.

That renumeration would be, due to power differentials between the parties, vanishingly small.

It's not a good deal for creators.

And it's a horrible for users of virtual worlds, "freemium" content will be bland, uninteresting and designed to maximize the interests of advertisers, not the people making or using it.

Content in virtual worlds do need license metadata, so that can address Marie's complaint. However, a creator should have the right to restrict where content can be loaded.

Botgirl Questi said...

Marie: I'm not advocating doing away with permissions as an option for creators. One possibility would be some trusted third-party authentication so that goods purchased on one world could also be used in another.

Soror: That's been my experience. Except in rare cases when you've created something of enough value to bother protecting legally, the ability to keep cranking out interesting work is the key to success.

Ann: I think your strategy is right on. My point wasn't that creatives shouldn't protect themselves, but that it's a waste of time and energy to bother about most infractions.

Uber: That's very true. I was thinking more that the community would support the efforts of marketers and platform providers who might invest in innovative approaches.

Euro: For sure. Doesn't make sense to get upset about IP infringement if they haven't gone through the needed steps to validate that it's a protectable work and register as required.

Whump: I wasn't proposing that virtual goods be sold through the Hulu model. I was using that as an example of innovation in the video content space. One possibility that makes sense to me, is a virtual product validation web service, so that marketplaces and virtual worlds would be able to authenticate valid ownership. That way, I could go to an online store and purchase a multi-platform license to a product, and then utilize it everywhere.

Aunt Foggy said...

So if I understand this, the idea would be that I, the creator, would price my items with the understanding that I am selling one item to an individual that they can take wherever they go - rather like the pricing difference in SL some makers use between a copy ok vs transfer ok item?
This sounds reasonable to me, would cause some initial sticker shock in consumers accustomed to paying cents for items rather than dollars.
It would require most everyone playing along, would it not?

Botgirl Questi said...

Fogwoman: Thats was what I was thinking in the example I used in the previous comment.

But although that particular idea makes sense to me, I'm not whole-heartedly advocating any particular new approach at the best answer. My intent is to shift the main question from "How do we reduce the chance of theft?" to "How do we increase the opportunity for revenue?"

Pam Broviak said...

I've seen some SL content creators using a model similar to what you suggest: allowing use across platforms for a higher price. I think that works for people who are just building for themselves.

The problem for me as a grid manager and sim developer is that it's difficult for me to determine if someone is giving or even selling something original or offering a truly open source item for my use. Right now I guess my only choice to know for sure is to only use my own creations which is not efficient if there is a legal alternative.

So some method of being able to determine true permissions/originality of objects would help me. As was suggested, perhaps a type of licensing or perm designation. The bottom line is some people will continue to use and give away content in violation of the terms of their purchase. Many of us do not want to support that behavior but how do we know if we don't have a method of identifying ownership/licensing?

Anonymous said...

@botgirl, yes, reading your comments I think were are more or less on the same page. My initial response was weighted by the Heart Sister's comment that indy creators can't afford to do "freemium."

John Lester just posted which makes sense to me as well.

Again, we need license metadata on objects at creation, and marketplaces that support that. But I shouldn't be bugging you about that, but the OpenSim devs and the Lab.

Caliburn Susanto said...

Much more eloquently put than I am capable of, as usual. As I have said before, the longer your digital content exists the less it is worth, because copies are being made and are proliferating "out there" as the days tick by. I usually come across as "get over it - people are going to copy your digital goods and there's nothing you can do about it" which invariably gets me butt-kicked.

However, my point has always been that to succeed in the digital-content-for-profit arena you have to (a) create unique and desirable goods that garner a following and (b) be prolific and constantly come up with newer, cooler, funner, better stuff that keeps people buying and stays ahead of the thievery of your older content.

By the way, SpotON3D has had a cross-grid content delivery system for a couple of years (called Double Dutch Delivery) which has been sadly overlooked because of the stigma of OpenSim copybotting in general. Of course, SO3D gets a cut from everything listed on their marketplace (SpotONSynergy) which utilizes DDD (a flat 5% of sales), but there are no upload, listing, or other fees beyond a $2.99/mo membership fee. More importantly, it provides a way to distribute legal copies of your creations across grids at the sole discretion of the content creator. Seems to me that it's better to collect a slightly larger amount for a product depending on which grids the buyer wants to distribute to, rather than screaming "Second Life ONLY!!!" then proceeding to have conniption fits over every copy seen elsewhere (I *understand* the anger, but what I'm saying is you can't stop the copying so work around it!).

I don't list much, because to me it's just a hobby, not a business. However, to show an example of what I'm talking about, here is something of mine that someone could purchase and have delivered both to SpotON3D® and Second Life® simultaneously:

There's more info about the content-protection policies here:

Anonymous said...

Nice post. :)

eurominuteman said...

Things depend on the Use Case...

If you want a Free barebone config, get an Opensim Quad-sim Standalone with 180,000 prims

If you have a Zero Cost Use Case, check Opensim Standalone group in Facebook for more comparable options

Miso Susanowa said...

yay for engaging this dialogue about digital copying (pirates murder, rape and pillage).

I have been highlighting articles about new models/piracy in my 'What Is Miso Reading' section on my blog. The names are big- Neil Gaiman, Trent Reznor, ICP, etc., as are the links to stats refuting the "digital bank theft" mentality.

The "scarce commodity" method of control doesn't work in a digital format.

Anonymous said...

Communism remains such a problem in Second Life!

Fortunately, it's a minority cult that the platform providers and top users pretty much work around.

Botgirl Questi said...

Caliburn: From what I could figure out from poking around their web sites, SpotON3D is a single provider offering multiple grids, with no way to purchase items for use on grids that aren't on their platform. Did I miss something?

Miso: Thanks for aggregating those links.

Prokofy: Although I'm guessing it wasn't with kind intetions, I appreciate you linking to me in your post!

Caliburn Susanto said...

Yes, you missed my example. :-) As you can see from it, you could buy an item from a creator (in this case, me) who has a listing on SpotONSynergy and it can be delivered to any other grid where the creator has placed a DDD distribution box.

I have a DDD Box in Second Life; therefore, when someone buys that item *and* has registered their SL Avatar as a distribution destination on Synergy, the item will be sent to both their SO3D account and another copy to their Second Life (or whatever other grid) account.

Yes, SO3D is multiple small grids (they use the term "Web Worlds" to differentiate them) but the DDD can distribute content to any NON-SO3D grid where the item creator has arranged to have a distribution box in-world.

Another example. Lilith Heart is setting up shop on SO3D, but she also (obviously) sells content on Second Life. If she desires to do so, she could list some of her SO3D content with a DDD provision, and the plants bought from her in SO3D could also be delivered to one's Second Life account at the same time. Presumeably she would charge a bit more for this multiple delivery copy because you would be getting two copies of the same item.

What's of primary importance is, both the items you receive from the single purchase point on Synergy would be LEGAL copies showing Lilith Heart as the creator.

Beyond that overview, anyone who wants to find out more should contact the grid COO, Tessa Harrington, at

The SO3D owner information is at this location:

Botgirl Questi said...

Caliburn: Sorry about that! I couldn't pull up the page from the first link in your example. I took another look at the blog entry you sited and here's what it said about grids:

"If you purchase a product on SpotONSynergy that is identified as a DDD item, you’ll get that item delivered to your inventory in SpotON3D, as well as any other virtual world/grid that your avatar and the creator share a presence in. This is exclusive to the SpotON3D Trusted Grid System for security measures, and verification reasons. Currentlly, DDD works exclusively between the SpotON3D grid and Second Life™."

So one question I have is how this approach could extend the "trusted grid" mix.

Caliburn Susanto said...

Hmmm. Well, in this case "trusted grid" would seem to mean "grids that the content creator trusts."

Therefore, it would be extended by content creators deciding to trust a grid to protect their legally-distributed content from being illegally distributed on their grid. And not to illegally collect or distribute it themselves, either, since obviously grid owners and their empowered employees can do that. :-)

But, I'm done. Like I said, best to ask the SO3D owner (who is a copyright attorney) or his COO, Tessa, any particulars. I'm just a paying customer (but I'm there, and speak up about it, because it falls into my personal definition of "trusted grid").

Botgirl Questi said...

Caliburn: I didn't mean to imply that their approach was bad. It seems like a great step in the right direction and possibly a template for a future standards-based approach with broad industry acceptance.

Caliburn Susanto said...

Agreed. There has to ultimately be a new paradigm of an unwalled marketplace where content can be used on multiple grids (but ONLY with the permission of the content creators, and all content should still show them as the creator).

My experience has been if you give people the opportunity to do the right thing they generally will (with the always notable exceptions), but if you forbid them what they want they will find a way to get it anyway.

I've noticed that many full-permissions vendors have finally realized this (within Second Life) and use the more sane approach of "thank you for your business, yes you may use these products on other grids but follow the rules of distribution" (i.e., no freebies, no packs, must not sell as-is but only part of a creation of your own, etc.). THOSE vendors, just for the sake of their more reasonable approach, get all my business and any I can send their way.

Ever-present in all this conversation, of course, is the fuming resentment of the population in general over the fact that all the money they have invested on content within SL is completely at the mercy of the delete key by LL. When SL goes so goes all their "stuff." People don't like that and will find a way around it if the vendors won't. Because of the nature of the online persona, which can travel over the Internet and exist within different "worlds," the walled-garden approach to content is not acceptable.

Pixels Sideways said...

It is a well known fact that all content creators who complain about theft of their content have NEVER stolen music (downloaded music without paying for it) from the Internet. :-)

Will Burns said...

Excellent post :) Good to see others willing to really start taking a creative look at the roots and not the symptoms of piracy and "theft". I suspect there is no single blanket solution, but if enough people put their minds to it, appropriate solutions can be used together to foster a better environment overall.

Anonymous said...

I think it's an excellent idea and I would so pay more to have a multi platform ability when I buy products. I really like what caliburn was mentioning as well with SpotONSynergy, it would be beneficial to all creators to my way of thinking and would make a lot of people very happy to be able to take items they purchased with them and not have to worry if a grid had to go down because you would still have licensed rights to use and sell the items you had bought on other grids. Great posting!

Joey1058 said...

I think piracy has been a problem since the days of I've been slowly developing a business plan where my work includes a Creative Commons licence in the metadata. Currently, it reads like this: "This model owned by Joseph A. Nickence (Joey1058) (C)2011 under the terms of Creative Commons. Feel free to modify to suit. Please include a link back to the original author (j_nickence AT Additionally, you may wish to help support the author with a micropayment of any amount to his PayPal account."

The reality is that you're only going to get paid once for the item. An acknowledgement as original author would satisfy me, and perhaps send new business my way. Icing on the cake would be a micropayment!

Botgirl Questi said...

Pixels: For sure! Just finished a pretty intense Twitter debate on the issue and no one was proposing boycots of music venues not authorized by ASCAP and BMI, or machnima makers who use copyrighted music for backing tracks, etc.

Aeonix: Thanks! I agree. It's time to shift from hyperfocus on chastising IP infringement and make it easier for people to legitimately control the content they purchase for use with alt identities and other grids.

Stormm: Given the low price of SL content, I don't think cost is the main reason people pirate.

Joey: I agree. Give people the chance to buy a mult-avatar and multi-grid license and most people will pay instead of pirate.

Anonymous said...

Since the copybot protesters love to get all nitpicky, let's see how they chew on this one.

Their claim is that in SL, a customer can purchase ONE copy, and it has to stay there in SL, it violates copyright law if the customer makes a copy of it or moves it elsewhere.

Let's consider that everywhere you go online, your computer loads up a cache full of COPIES of DIGITAL CONTENT you did not create. Every time you clear your cache and revisit that site, the cache fills up with more ILLEGAL COPIES of content you didn't create.

If you copy any of your files off one computer to another, without a specific license, you're illegally copying content you didn't create.

Amazon's cloud and others like it is a beautiful example of this poorly understood copyright law bs coming out of the whiner camp. Store your content on the AWS cloud. You bought it. Even stuff you didn't buy off Amazon you can store in the cloud.

You can then listen to your <-- cough cough music from anywhere, listen to it on the Amazon player. Listen to it on your computer. Listen to it on your phone.

CACHING HAPPENS and violates that entire concept and is de facto unenforceable unless we "shut off the internet" which aint gonna happen.

Customers do have rights in this debate, it's not just about content creators. Second Life promotes this entire service/product as a 3d virtual world, your world, your imagination. They promote land sales directly - you BUY land, you don't lease it, you don't rent it, according to the site. You BUY it, you OWN it. Yet they charge land USE fees. I get why the cost is required, but the point here is they advertise directly that this virtual product, once bought, belongs to you. Yet hidden in the TOS is something entirely contradictory, in that they claim OWNERSHIP of everything you create, and the land doesn't actually belong to you.

That is false advertising.

Customers who BUY products, digital content, OWN that content in the same manner they would physical content - as possession, not creation. An artist who designs shoes, music, paintings, or anything else has ZERO CLAIM to the work once he sells it off to a purchaser, the transaction ends.

The purchaser then has the right to do whatever they want with it, take it where they want...they can't reproduce it legally and claim they created it.

Taking stuff we purchased in SL out of SL is not violating anything in reality, WE made the purchase, we own the content, the rights then are ours. You relinquish all of them when you make the transaction other than someone claiming to be the creator. You have zero right then to decide who takes what where or how many they have.

If content creators who play this bs drama card keep on, the tide will surely turn and they will be sued by a hoard of pissed off customers being ripped off - you got our money and we get useless content? I don't think that'll fly.

Best plug into the 21st century and adapt to changing conditions. The rest I think just like to bitch and moan because they actually don't have anything BUT second life, just drama queen and attention seekers desperately wanting to feel important.

Anonymous said...

PS and according to the LL TOS, they own all the content users create so the content creators need to just shut the hell up, it's not theirs. If they want to demand LL obey the laws and rules, then they need to face the facts that they signed over their rights to LL from the beginning...and just "use" their own content...they can't take their shit with them when they leave either. When they get booted out of SL, when they get fed up and quit, that inventory stays in LL's possession...they can root the entire collection and just set up a massive market of their own with all that freely obtained content, on top of making YOU pay for it the entire time.

You don't own any of it, according to LL TOS. So mind your own business about the copybot thing - that'll be between the ones who aren't going to agree to LL's TOS terms and are okay being banned. It doesn't concern you, not even over stuff you made.

It aint yours ;-) Sleep easy now.

Anonymous said...

To follow up on the previous comments (only one showed up tho), I have to acknowledge I do understand the actual copyright law, the previous was stressing a point about the nitpickiness itself, and the same flaws in the arguments that, were the situation reversed, the content creators would be singing a far different tune.

I do wonder though, what possible difference it makes in the grand scheme of things if someone buys inside SL or the marketplace, takes their stuff to a self hosted or alternatively hosted region and carries on.

The reality is once you're in these virtual worlds you can't tell one way or another whether it's LL hosted or an opensim, not even just reading the grid or region name. The VW experience is the same - most likely, a half assed terraformed parcel with some crappy builds and some awesome builds sitting completely empty, or it's a dance club with 20 avis, over half probably bots, dancing and making stupid giggle gestures and shouting across the sim being obnoxious. It's really not an experiential thing because you can't tell the difference between grids WHO is hosting it.

What possible difference then should it make to a rational content creator where the stuff is placed or used, as long as it remains inside the virtual world itself. Now, taking the images or textures out of a virtual realm and using it in some other way is a valid concern, but with regard to the controversy and copying stuff, if someone uses it on a non LL hosted sim, and you couldn't - with all respect for rationality and fairness - tell one way or another on that parcel who hosted it, who cares if they use it elsewhere?

Also consider this - especially to ths squawker sky is falling drama queens who think anything LL does or doesn't do marks the end of life as they know it, and are threatened by any little change - so what if LL doesn't host all the regions, if they cut loose some of that hold and let it ride, it would reduce lag enormously which is one of the greatest complaints.

They're using enormous amounts of resources to host a gazillion regions grid wide. If they turned off the ones not being used, if they revamped policy to just "link to" or connect/network to self hosted or other hosted regions, it'd reduce their own resources and LL could focus on solidifying the in world economy.

People wouldn't be forced to host sims with LL but could still enjoy the still open SL regions. Granted, the competition would force them to lower their prices to something reasonable, adapt, but they do hold the lead on virtual economy - people could continue to shop in SL and us Lindens and enjoy the environments.

The only real inconvenience ultimately would be to Linden Lab - who will be forced regardless before it's all said and done - to comply with competitive prices and lower theirs because the more people who know there are other far less expensive options for hosting a virtual world, the less LL can get away with charging thousands of dollars for theirs.

The compatible viewers would be the issue in order to continue using the SL acct or migrate it to an openid sort of acct to be used anywhere. Content creators don't need to get muddied down in extra copy use licenses - it's not a Rembrandt, you just made a cartoon shirt, give it a rest. If someone buys it, uses it on an OS, so what.

The problem would be solved with a cross compatible viewer and non idiotic policies, because no legitimate copyright infringement is taking place just because someone buys X item in SL and sets it up on an OS region.

Anonymous said...

As for the viewer issue of it removing permissions, then focus on the viewer and open compatibility.

This problem is easily solvable by rational people. It's the sky is falling drama queens who are threatened by life itself that keep this a "controversial" topic. Nobody else actually cares because it's genuinely not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things whether someone wears some flexi hair in SL or they wear it in IWZ.

Take this controversy outside SL to any real coffee shop and protest, everyone in there will look at you like what you are: a retarded drama queen nutball.

Let the rational people focus on a simple solution. The drama queens will wig out regardless so just ignore them and continue on with a rational solution. It aint that hard to fix.

Botgirl Questi said...

Tess: For some reason your comments keep getting funneled into Blogger's spam filter. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I suspect that most of the people who are outspoken and "dramatic" about the copybot menace are people who create things that might be pirated. It's easy for people who have nothing at stake to be Buddha -like in our equanimity about it.

That said, I haven't heard many cases of people claiming significant financial losses as a result of their work being pirated. Some people feel that clogging up the economy with pirated goods depresses the market, but as far as I can discern, pirated goods (in Second Life) are just a fraction of a percent of the total available. Probably a fraction of a fraction.

I agree with you that drama isn't helpful, but your comments were pretty dramatic, don't you think? ;)