Warning — Second Life geek alert

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.

copybot.jpg

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.

18 thoughts on “Warning — Second Life geek alert

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  3. Well, it can’t copy *everything* – especially the things most people are alarmed about:

    http://www.libsecondlife.org/content/view/30/

    “What the Official Copybot Could / Could not do

    Note that you would have to ask Copybot to do this, and a disclaimer would be presented.

    * Could
    o Make use of existing baked avatar textures
    o Make use of existing avatar shapes
    o Rebuild avatar attachments and attach them
    + These are purged upon boot / daily
    o On occasion crash Simulators
    + This is a simulator bug, and has been reported — a good example of libsecondlife helping uncover a hidden problem that could have exploited to wreck the grid
    * Could not
    o Copy contents of objects
    + Includes scripts
    o Cause any damage to the SL official Viewer, simulators, or any content.
    + This includes client-side hardware

    Further, the copyrights of users belong to the *users*. Reference:
    http://www.knowprose.com/node/16654

    Therefore, Linden Lab cannot legally protect what belongs to someone else. As part of the *service*, they offer mechanisms for protecting one’s own copyright. A lot of this media alarm comes from people not looking for facts – which, again, is a symptom of the real world.

    OH – and why is ‘cnd AT knowprose.com’ not considered a valid email address? It’s quite valid.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Taran — I’m not knowledgeable enough about Second Life or the copybot to understand all of what you’ve said, but I appreciate you trying to help me (and others) understand what’s going on.

    As for the email thing, I’m not sure why my blog software would balk at your knowprose.com email address. I’ll have to look into it.

  5. This issues here is that ‘craftsman’ – now can’t sell thier articles and make mulla !!

    I hear that the current ex-rate is 1000 lindens = $3.30 USD. This virtual economy has been a facinating trackpoint for me. Virtual Objects could be peddled at a streetcorner within SL. The good old systems of barter works, but thers no way that Linden Labs can police these transactions.

    There are those are in SL for gaming, and then there are those in there harversting virtual assests !!

    Remember “Kermitt Quirk” ???

  6. That’s ok, that’s why I posted the comment. I guess there are two major points – the first being that the copybot can only copy avatars and their attachments. The businesses in SecondLife do not sell avatars, they sell attachments – in boxes.

    So they have closed the stores out of fear of the copybot being able to copy the stuff in boxes – which the copybot *cannot* do. This is being fueled by a complete disregard for that information.

    And as for the rest – well, copyright is implicit. If a sneeze could be copyrighted, simply sneezing would make it mine. Just so with all else. So the copyrights of the people who are concerned belong to them. It gets messy from there because, for example, the cost of litigation may be much more than the lost profits of an illegally copied piece of clothing (which the copybot could do).

    A lot of these problems are simple misconceptions, and it seems some are profiting by further obfuscating the misconceptions.

    Just like the real world. 🙂

    Check out Nobody Fugazi in world sometime, we’ll chat.

  7. /pd – the exchange rate is closer to 300:1 US. It’s been steady between 270 and 280, but has fluctuated more in the past few days.

    I’m actually about to review Castronova’s ‘Synthetic Worlds’ – very good book that discusses the economy of virtual worlds. Castronova has also written some papers for virtual world economies (they started as an economist amusement) — you can find links to them in his Wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Castronova

  8. Yes Taran, Castronova has some great insights into economy… in one of his papers he states “the virtual economy which he estimates at somewhere between $200 million to $1 billion. In general, virtual economies are supported by assets collected”

    I belive the “petri dish” is now ripe for harversting in maliious ways. Castronova notes that Internet scams such as “phishing” — sending unsolicited emails that mimic real
    e-commerce providers — are also a problem. These emails go after players looking for immense gaming power that will allow them to jump a few levels.

    This brings be to a cricial questoin..will Phiishing and a Nigerian scam type of artists in SL be a real world crime :)-

    After all, I will be gaming the gamers in a virtual land and thats what SL is all about correct, leting the creative juices flow … :)-

  9. Thanks for that link to Castronova, Taran. Like /pd, I find the economic behaviour inside Second Life almost as interesting as the social behaviour, and I will definitely have to read some of his stuff.

    And I’m glad you like Grazr — I will let my friend Adam Green of Grazr know, and maybe I will get a commission for the referral 🙂

  10. Taran, thanks for the linky, no my safety net had not trapped that article :)-

    But it does answer a litte bit of my research.. the crime “doesn’t fit within a specific criminal statute.” :)-

    so how does one classify such endevours within SL ? Afterall its a scam being pulled of by a RL person, yet there are no legal instruments to curtail such acts.. SL is a safe heavan for those who want to make a quick , fast buck …and nada, zippo governement in the world, can counter balance such acts..

    like I said eariler .. this is a “facinating trackpoint ” for me :)-

  11. oh, well, if you liked that link – here’s something that is happening NOW – read the comments:

    http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2006/11/fleeced.html

    The same person who I warned earlier today about labeling me ended up writing something about the Electric Sheep Company which could be grounds for Libel.

    You see… real world people can be held accountable. I’d been involved in WSIS and so forth, and realized that the bureaucrats are too slow. I joined SecondLife to see what it could be used for along the lines of culture and education – things which I have been involved in – and quickly went native. In the last 3 months, I have immersed myself in the world.

    I wrote somewhere that the failures of WSIS and the IGF as well as governmental policies and intergovernmental policies are readily apparent in the intrinsics of the virtual world. SecondLife is such a rich place to spot these things.

    But it is impossible to watch and observe without affecting, so I try to have a positive effect. Much of the hype around the marketing and even the copybot is unfounded. Linden Lab gets blamed for a lot of that, but I think it’s a natural part of a new micronation forming. The problem might be that the travel brochures are getting printed faster than the attractions.

    And in it’s own way… SecondLife is a developing nation. Hmm. Now THERE is a blog entry.

    Oh – and Grazr simply rocks. There is a leap of OPML that a beginner would have to get past – it’s not apparent in the documentation unless you dig. As a seasoned techie, within 10 minutes I had 2 feeds working. Not bad. 🙂

  12. Mathew, I don’t think I’ve ever called it Get A Life. I do think that the attention it is getting in the mainstream media is more reflective of a fear of missing a story and responding to PR stuntery than the thing itself. It is *not* a huge community – something in the area of 300k users I heard last week – and it does seem to be populated to a great extent by, um, beings that don’t seem to be reflective of folks I know in Real Life. It does seem to be Freak Factor High.

    Now, it is true that it is effectively a real economy which is cool, and it is also likely true that adherents would accuse me of not “getting it”. And in fairness, maybe I don’t. But, I still think that it is overblown/overhyped in it’s supposed value.

    – Stuart

  13. I think you’re right that there is definitely a bandwagon-jumping aspect to it, Stuart — and the PR angle of IBM and Sun and Reuters and American Apparel getting involved is also undoubtedly true. And yes, it is a small (and weird) population. But I still think it is interesting to watch what happens there, whether economically or sociologically. Not because it’s hugely important, but because it’s like a Petri dish or a tide-pool — full of interesting things that often say something about human nature as a whole.

  14. Stuart – the freak factor *can* be high, depending on where you go. I don’t know you too well, but I suspect you trailed through the Events to find things. That works sometimes, if you find a good discussion or something along those lines.

    I actually hang out at the Reuters sim now and then, interesting people pass through there – people interested in the news or things along those lines. Other places really depend on the type of people you meet. A game of Tringo can be fun now and then – think competitive Tetris.

    I’m actually thinking about setting up a KnowProSE.com office in SL. Why? Well, I plan to be moving around as soon as I get some real life issues tied up, and it could be a good place to have have some of my concepts on display.

    Info Isle is another good place to check out. I wrote a little piece yesterday on the Science Museum.

    Think of it this way: there is no right or wrong side of the tracks in SL because there are no tracks.

    As for the businesses – Reuters has had a very positive effect, I think. IBM sort of exists in a vacuum, as does Sun it seems. Dell’s new presence is something I wrote up today.

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