Like my occasional blogging nemesis Nicholas “The Prophet of Doom” Carr, I am fascinated by the controversy that has exploded in the virtual world known as Second Life over unauthorized copying of avatars and other objects in the game (which isn’t really a game at all, but let’s leave that for another day). Nick also wrote about it here.
To some, including my friend Stuart, Second Life is just a wacky, carnival-sideshow kind of place, where losers and shut-ins get to play dressup — something he and others often refer to as “Get A Life.” And there are definitely some weirdos in the world who need to put down the bong and get outside for some fresh air now and then (like there aren’t any of those on the Internet).
At the same time, however, Second Life is in many ways just a microcosm of real life, and many of the issues that come up “in world” (as the geeks like to say) are also similar, although they are often seen through the fun-house mirror that is the game. The current CopyBot controversy is a perfect example.
As Second Life’s first “embedded journalist” Wagner James Au describes it, a program that can copy virtually any object — ironically designed by Linden Labs, creators of Second Life — has escaped into the wild and is being used to copy everything from furniture to people’s individual avatars.
Linden Labs, which discusses the controversy here, has said that the use of the copybot is a breach of the game’s rules, but for technological reasons it’s difficult (if not impossible) to prevent its use. There’s a great overview of the problem here, and a story by Reuters’ own embedded reporter here.
In many ways, the ability to copy anything is much like the ability to copy mp3 files or movies from the Internet. Someone spent time creating that content, just as people spend hours creating clothing, furniture, plants and houses in Second Life. How does a company like Linden try to protect people’s content but still allow the kind of freedom that makes the game an appealing place to “live?”
Linden says it is looking at Creative Commons licensing, virtual watermarks and so on, but no one has any definitive answers. That’s what makes it so fascinating.