Barney Boomslang

Living a Second Life. In a Treehouse.

Copyrights and Content Creation in Second Life

A recent statement on copyrights and content creation in Second Life – and the risks of it due to copying tools – takes quite some flak from residents. The call for action from LL is heard all over the comments. But this call is futile. Why?

Well, a principal problem with systems like these is this: the content must be transferred to the client to be displayed. So you can’t prevent copying of content, as the content is copied allready by the machinery that makes it run. It’s essential – you wouldn’t be able to see no-copy objects if they weren’t tranferred to your client. The client does all the rendering, everything else just can’t work.

So is all lost? Well, no. It’s not much unlike the real world – you have a lot of copying going on there, too. What you can do, though, is give “postive acknowledgement” for original work, and give “obstacles” for copying things. Lets look at the obstacles first:

Currently all textures of your avatar are transferred together with the baked texture. This allows ripping textures from the protocol, even though they aren’t necessary for the display. One thing to prevent texture theft (or make it harder) is allready suggested in the posting by LL: only transfer the baked texture. This would be a simple measure to at least make it a bit harder to rip off textures (you still have ways around it, but it includes at least a minimum of photoshopping from the copier). And it wouldn’t impact normal functionality.

Textures could be watermarked – that way you can see wether a texture is a ripoff of some other texture, especially if textures are indexed by their signature and watermarks – that would at least prevent blatant texture theft. And it wouldn’t impact normal functionality (but might add a tad bit of server load).

The third obstacle I could think of would be to have a redesign in the architecture to prevent prim stealing by having the tools work on prims, but transfer back polygons and “preprocessed” stuff to the client – so to have different models of data for the stored objets and the rendered objects. That way you can still steal content – but it will be in a form you can’t easily reupload. This would be a major undertaking and I guess would introduce more bugs and problems than anybody would like to care for.

But all these obstacles have one problem: they don’t solve the underlying problem at all! They are just a form of “security by obscurity”, which gives no real security at all. Because still stuff has to be transferred to the client, because still stuff can be ripped.

So on to the “positive acknowledgements” – what do I mean by that? Well, it’s talked about in the post by LL, too: first use acknowledgement in combination with popups that talk about it. Think of it as a “seal of originality” – you can let your client show the seals on stuff you see, and that would show the original creator of it. See this as a solution by peer-pressure: “what, you are running around in something that looks like Way Cools stuff, but it’s not created by her? Youre a loser!”. This works astonishingly good in RL, it works as good in SL, I am sure. So instead of trying to prevent copying (which is impossible) or to make copies obvious (which is the same problem restated), do it the other way around: make originals obvious.

Yes, you still will be able to copy stuff. Yes, people still will be able to sell those copies. But well, for one – the “first use” points to the original creator/uploader and can’t be easily hidden, so you have someone to make liable for the theft. And you get something else – a seal on your stuff you built, with definition that it’s original work by you.

Of course LL needs to fix some things for that, too – for example the currently non-existing checks on permissions in the low-level protocol in some parts, that allow you to take over ownership on things (which is just plain a bug in my book and should be fixed asap). And the “first use” must be recorded by the server software, tied to the connection and logged in user, so it’s not fakeable through client hacks. But this way is much more realistic than any trying to prevent the copying.

Leverage social pressure and take a more realistic approach to the results of copying. Yes, there are people who won’t care about wearing a copy – but well, they wouldn’t have been necessarily a customer of you anyway. Not every copy out there is a lost sell – that’s the silly position the music industry takes, it’s proven wrong multiple times allready. So make it known that stuff is original, make it obvious and checkable, and stay true to your name and your brand. That way the community gets a chance to react to copies and will help you keeping your sales working. Because in the end, the number of honest residents will allways outweight the number of dishonest ones.

Click the link for some quite reasonable comment on copyright with regard to second life. And Moriash Moreau notices the bad effects the current panic reactions have on the mainland. And Tao Takashi puts in a calm and reasonable opinion, too.

Oh, and no, I don’t approve of the usage of CopyBot for copying stuff you don’t own. And actually think some of the people in the libsecondlife group are just plain unfriendly, egoistic and stupid bastards (luckily the libsecondlife reacted swiftly). This doesn’t change a single thing about the facts of our second life and the security or insecurity of content, though.

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Written by barney

November 14, 2006 at 12:10

Posted in Second Life

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