The Oldbie
When I saw that Second Life veteran Cubey Terra had posted an article entitled “The Oldbie”, I knew this was going to be an amazing article (or story as it turned out). I am understating this tremendously, but let me just say “well done”. It does expose the fears and frustrations of many.

Two weeks ago, I posted a blog article outlining the reasons why the current Linden Lab-demanded automated ownership checks were inappropriate, even though I spelled their name wrong: “Linden Labs, It’s My Stuff”.

Cubey Terra was already a veteran, now an oldbie, when I started in 2006; I feel that more and more veterans are starting to worry about their content, and that it will take a campaign by new users, veterans and oldbies alike, to encourage Linden Lab to provide a solution for existing content in Second Life.

Conflict of Interest: The Value of Second Life
I think everyone agrees, Linden Lab provided an incredible building environment, where mere mortals could create detailed 3-D worlds, not just skilled and talented artists using more complex tools.  But it was the resident users who registered, and created the huge quantities of content, that really led to the success that was Second Life.  This leads to a bit of a conflict of interest for Linden Lab: if the current value of Second Life is the users and the content, then who really owns Second Life?

Okay that is simplified; of course Linden Lab owns the environment, the servers providing the processing, and the storage.  They pay the staff who provide support (/me bites his tongue), they pay tremendous fees for Internet bandwidth and IT services.  They provide the currency and the exchange to real-world dollars.  And a lot more.

But…  but… all of that is replaceable, the same way that one cell phone carrier or Internet service provider can be replaced with another.  What is irreplaceable is the people, and the content these people have created.  And of course I’m not referring to Linden Lab staff, Torley’s video tutorials and Linden Homes.  I mean the resident users — who in many cases actually pay Linden Lab to be there — and the creations they have made over the years.  I’m also referring to the empty regions they have purchased from Linden Lab — at great cost — and designed and developed into amazing creations and in some cases even works of art.

That is where the true value of Second Life lies.  That is what Linden Lab must work to preserve now.  And not preserve in Second Life, but to preserve in general.  And that is where the conflict of interest lies.

Legal Concerns
Linden Lab, wake up.  You are exposing your naughty bits to the public.  The question is, who owns the content, the SL creator?  Or Linden Lab?  I am no lawyer, but I feel there are legal issues with someone other than the copyright holder enforcing restrictions on the content against the wishes of the copyright holder.  I’m willing to bet that if I checked into this, I would find that that unless Linden Lab actually legally owns my SL creations, that Linden Lab has violated my property rights and is ripe for a class-action lawsuit.

So once again, who actually owns the objects I have created in Second Life?  Well according to Linden Lab, I own it.  All of it.  Linden Lab exposes that answer as part of their DCMA process.  Clearly they take action under the DCMA acknowledging that my intellectual property has been violated in some way, when I file a DCMA complaint about the Second Life inventory items for which I am the SL creator.

Thank you Linden Lab for conceding that I, in fact, own my SL creations, not you.

Copyright law is a funny thing.  As I understand things, once you provide licensed access to a creation, you cannot retroactively restrict that usage, nor can a third party restrict it.  The licensing terms are up to the copyright holder, and that holder alone.

I believe there is plenty of room for legal action against Linden Lab, forcing them to allow me to export my own creations, regardless of whether I used an alt to do it, or even generic Library prims or public domain textures or other content that I have permission to use from that copyright holder.  Frankly, it’s none of Linden Lab’s business; it’s a licensing matter between me and other copyright holders.

Going Forward
Linden Labs has a responsibility here.  Either implement some form of authorized usage by others (e.g. DRM) that allows creators to export their creations for use beyond SL, or perhaps if they do not wish to invest further development effort because there is an end in sight for SL, then perhaps they could just open it up as it was in the past. Really, I think our main concern in that case would be getting banned before all of our own content is exported.

This is yet another example of DRM gone wrong, punishing the legitimate creators to try to enforce some misguided and ill-conceived notion of protecting others.

I can hear the screams of the protectionists, and I can sympathize with those fears.  I understand and agree that I would much rather see some form of authorization designation on the part of the creator, but Linden Lab has not provided any means to accomplish that.  However, in this case, if the choice is — as it seems — between protecting that content and losing that content, then I’ll take door #2 and go with being able to at least preserve it elsewhere, even if that exposes my content to other nefarious cretins possibly being able to break the law and steal the products.  If I was a store owner in RL, this would be akin to not allowing customers to remove products from my store, even when paid for, in order to protect against shoplifting.  Do I want to board up the windows on my store to prevent shoplifting?  No, that just means that my products will never be enjoyed outside my store.  And if it burns down, every single copy of my creations will be lost.

My feeling is that this is best solved the same way that many laws solve this — through a clearly stated policy (laws), and punishment for violations. Punish the shoplifters, not the paying customers.  The rights of the creators to use their own products need to trump the rights of other creators to protect usage. In other words, scrap the current feeble excuse for automated DRM tests enforced at the viewer end — that protect nothing, but blocks legit creators and followers of the TOS — and replace them with TOS policy and enforcement, at least until such time as LL can provide something better, something that protects the investment of content creators in SL.

The TOS should clearly state that punishment will be applied when there is a resident who is a victim of content theft.  I want to export my own goods.  The only victim here is me; a victim of overly harsh TOS that would ban me if I took action to protect my content.

Linden Lab: Pushing Users Out Of Second Life
If nothing is done to protect my right to export my own creations, and other creators feel similarly, virtually all significant content creation is going to move off-grid, to other grids. And it may not be imported back into SL. That is the case for my work now. I am probably not the only veteran who feels this way.

Furthermore, many of the recent changes (SL Marketplace, mesh import, export restrictions) and some that I only speculate about (interoperability with other social networks, e.g. being able to chat with Facebook users, or voice with Skype users) all lead to one undeniable trend: for more and more Second Life “users” to not actually be logged in to Second Life.

As I said in the “It’s My Stuff” blog posting:  “Like flawed in-world searching, this is just another reason to spend all of your SL time… outside SL.  And without an in-world editor, meshes will add even more fuel to the “spend your SL time outside SL” fire.  It seems that some day I will be able to chat with SL residents from Facebook, or Skype, or Twitter.  I won’t need to log in to Second Life to do that.  And Linden Lab probably sees that as a good thing.”