The thorny issue of IP rights in sl is one guaranteed to raise hackles and provoke strong emotions. The furore generated by the Lab changing the TOS back in August last year, with regard to IP content, usage and ownership, and the subsequent backlash from companies like CG Textures and Renderosity changing their own terms to restrict the use of their content in sl, is a clear indicator of the depth of feeling present.
No doubt, some will disagree strongly with my own views on the subject, perhaps even suggesting that i support IP theft, copybotting and other such heinous practices. i don’t – i think they’re reprehensible – but i also think that the issues in sl are so muddled and misunderstood that it’s worth stepping back and showing a little more commonsense, and a little less preciousness when it comes to content creators and their work. Feel free to flame me in the comments, if what i have to say incenses you.
Let’s look at the issue from the two main protagonists’ points of view – Linden Lab first, then content creators:
Much as we might like to think that the Lab cares about the IP rights of residents, things simply do not – and never could – work that way. There’s absolutely no way that LL could adequately police such things, or even for that matter, properly enforce their own TOS. The Labbies are almost entirely reliant on sl users reporting any incident of IP violation and even then, if it’s purely a matter of one resident against another, the only action the Lab is likely to take is to respond to a DMCA takedown request, (Brits, like myself don’t even have that protection)… and then it’s over to the wronged party to pursue it through legal channels, at their own expense.
What the Lab are interested in, however, is anything that could potentially bring themselves into conflict with IP rights holders, by virtue of vicarious liability for breaches of copyright and suchlike hosted on the Lab’s servers. It’s here that the points i made yesterday rear their ugly head. Imagine that i’m a content creator and a big fan of a popular movie franchise – a furry space epic called, ‘Star Paws’. Naturally, i’d love to create a line of custom avatars and clothing, based on the movie characters – but, it’s not going to happen, because the minute LL get wind of it, i’ll be shut down, my content removed and a stern warning will drop into my mailbox. And all because MucusFilm, the copyright holders, might sue Linden Lab into kingdom come, for my transgression in ‘stealing’ their original ideas, and ‘debasing’ their brand.
Frankly, it’s a load of crap, and another example of big businesses acting overly heavy-handed against infringements that really have little, if any significant impact in reality. Is my Duke Skyrunner avatar really going to bring down Mucusfilm’s global franchise? Are the pennies i make from sales of my creations going to cause a dent in their millions? Nope – and if they were really that interested, don’t you think they might make their own official inworld merchandise instead?
That’s why you’ll find so many almost-but-not-quite lookalikes in sl – deliberately avoiding directly infringing IP infractions – which surely does more to debase what they’re trying so hard to not be, than if everyone just relaxed a little and took a more pragmatic stance?
So, let’s think about the other issue that revolves around IP in sl: protecting the rights and the creations of original content makers. This is an often confused and unclear area where tempers are frequently lost, accusations are levelled and a lot of nonsense is spoken. It can be difficult to discern the signal from the noise, but the bottom line can probably be summed up fairly succinctly: if you clone, re-brand or misrepresent somebody else’s work, without their explicit permission to do so, then you open yourself to, and pretty much deserve, to be outed, shamed and put out of business. That, in a nutshell, is what IP protection should be all about.
However – and this is why some people will want to giving me a kicking – i’ve seen a whole lot of nonsense spouted by content creators claiming their IP rights have been abused when, in reality, that’s simply not the case. If i create a strawberry widget and then find that some git has cloned it and is selling it as their own creation, or if they’ve taken my work and simply coloured it blue, before flogging it for twice its original price, then certainly, i have a case against them – the ripoffs are clearly my own original work, or direct derivatives.
i do not have a case though if somebody starts selling a mesh version of my prim original, (unless they’re masquerading as me), neither do i have an argument if somebody starts to make something that looks similar to mine, but is entirely their own creation, (unless there’s something unique to me, like a logo, that they also incorporate into their own design). This is what is known in the business world as ‘competition’, and it is widely believed to be both healthy and a driver of quality and brand awareness. If such things really were in breach of IP rights, CocaCola and Pepsi couldn’t co-exist, you’d only be able to buy one brand of instant coffee and you could never buy clothing from Primark, (or anywhere else for that matter), that looks anything like the latest trends being set on the catwalk.
SL is no different to the real world in some respects – there will always be those looking to make a fast buck on the backs of the work of others, and it’s these that IP law was conceived to circumvent, although it doesn’t work that well. Then, on the other side of the coin, there will always be those who either can’t afford designer labels, or have no qualms about going for the cheaper, poorer quality, ripoff or lookalike – and, if there was no market for it, it wouldn’t be worth doing. Similarly, there will also be those who are prepared to pay for quality, originality and designer labels – you pay your money, and you take your choice. Whether we like it or not, commerce in sl does indeed replicate what happens in rl – how we deal with it is up to the individual, but no matter how strongly we feel about IP rights, we still have to live with the facts and accept that sometimes we just have to put up with the status quo, because there’s really very little we can do to change it as things currently stand – whether in the real, or virtual world.
This is not The Greatest Song in the World, no.
This is just a tribute.
Tenacious D – Tribute