Posts Tagged ‘texture theft’

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Copy theft in SL – a (partial) solution at last?

May 29, 2008

Okso..

There’s been a lot of talk lately in SL and the blogs about copy theft. Its becoming a real issue, as peoples work on skins, textures, scripts and even entire builds are being ripped off, stolen, and resold at lower rates, or worse given out full mods. I think most of us would agree this is a bad thing. I know some of you think everything should be free, some are big fans of the opensource movement, but this isnt a post about that. I wont go into the semantics of it, but as someone who builds a lot in SL, and is friends with a lot of people who make their RL living from selling goods in-world, suffice to say I think copy theft is a bad thing! I think opensource is cool too, but I think it should be a choice the creator makes as to whether their creation should be free to all – or not.

So, why isnt it being stopped? How are they getting away with it? One point of view, is that it’s impossible to stop people stealing textures/models/skins. I’m not gonna go into details (please dont ask me – refusal often offends) , but yeah.. it is actually pretty easy to rip anything you want out of SL, because of the way the client downloads everything anyway. The thieves (damn you, thieves! – shakes fist) exploit this, and then reupload things, and reoffer them for sale. They usually get shut down pretty fast, but they pocket a fistfull of cash on their anonymous account, transferring it out as it comes in, then when the account gets banned for repeated theft AR’s they just rinse and repeat with a new anon-o-tar. How can we stop that? Its anonymous, right? Meanwhile, someone somewhere is having their RL income destroyed. The beautiful builds and skins and textures of SL dont make themselves! Someone works lonnggg and hard to make all the lovely places we’re so enamoured of. The situation is terribly unfair.

So what options are there? Make everyone provide RL details, to be able to log in? “No bank account, no entry!!”? It might work, but thats using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut. SL is a place where you are free to create, free to be what you want. We’re free of borders here, and to a large extent, the conflicts that can often arise over race and gender, too. We’re beginning to collectivley define a third place, where we can meet other people like us, in a way we never could in ‘Real Life’. If we crack down on the thieves by making everybody link their account to their RL identity, we risk some of that. So, for me, I dont feel that we can go down the ‘RL verification for everyone route’

Others have suggested that only verified accounts should be allowed to build/create/upload. I’m against that too, for a couple of reasons. One of the things that makes secondlife great is the freedom to create people have. People who have never thought of themselves as creative have discovered a whole new side to themselves, some have even totally re-invented their real lives around their newfound creativity and talent. How many media items have there been along the lines of “my job was crap, I used to put the plastic bits on the end of shoelaces 12 hours a day, now I sell virtual hair from my cabin in the mountain” I love the fact that SL has liberated so many people from doing things they didnt enjoy, and empowered them to lead self fulfilling, creative lives. I’m happy for the people that have ‘made it’ and want to support the ones that are still trying. Stopping them from creating things in-world not only prevents them from accessing their creativity, it stops us from enjoying it too. These people don’t come in-world with the intention of becoming a creator, they come in because they’re curious, or someone told them it was fun, and they find a new depth to themselves, an ability they often never imagined they could have. If we restrict people from building, we’re depriving them of that chance, and to be fair, I think its a chance that they’re entitled to.

But all of that is negative – everything above is basically things we can’t do. What about finding something we *can* do, to protect the rights of people that have worked long and hard to create something, without infringing the rights of the people who are innocent of any wrongdoing?

One system that I’ve come up with, (and this is the point of this post, to get this idea out there, and see what you all think) is this – to have a system wherby as an unverified user, you can create, and sell your objects, but cruicially, the money you make from selling items is held in a seperate ‘pot’ from your other L$ balance. It works like this. Lets say I’m a brand new avie, inworld for the first time. I make something, lets say.. a house – and its really good. People tell me they want to buy it, so I set up a small shop and start selling. Pretty soon I’ve racked up about $100 USD worth of sales, and I want to get that money. At this point, I have to verify, and when I do, the two pots merge, and the money made from sales combines with my other ‘regular’ L$ balance, and I can do what I want with it – Spend it in-world, or cash it our for RL funds. Until I do, it just sits there as a second balance at the top of my screen. I cant spend it, transfer it, do anything with it other than watch it sit and accrue. I can, however, continue to build things, to generate business, to prototype and improve my products, and improve my skills by learning, practising and refining what I’ve already learned at many of the excellent classes or online tutorials.

Here’s what that second account balance might look like:

In the meantime, before I verify my details, I’m also free to camp to make money, or DJ or work in a bar, or any of the other many SL occupations – effectivley nothing else changes, but to get access to the money I’ve made selling things, I have to verifiy my account. My ability to create in and enjoy secondlife is unchanged. I wouldnt be able to bypass the Linden currency exchange either, by selling my L’s on paypal, or through another bank, because until I verify, I cant transfer it, spend it, exchange it for RL funds, nothing. Just sell, and watch the money accrue.

How would this help? In several ways, I think. Firstly, if I did copy someones house and sell it, I’d have to verify at some point to get the money – leaving me open to reprisal for my illegal action. Thieves are greedy, and often stupid – the main, if not only, reason they rip off peoples work is because they want to make the money – if we take away the mechanism that allows them to do that safely, with no fear of reprisal or consequence, how many of them will really be motivated to continue? Even if I copied something, and gave it to someone else to sell, in order to get any money out of it, the seller would have to be verified. It doesnt matter what you do, how many alts you pass the copied things through the hands of, somewhere along the line if the money is to come out of SL, its going to have to be paid out to a verified RL person.

Could this work? How would LL tell what money was from camping, and what money was from sales? Well, if you look at your transaction history on the secondlife.com website, you can see that LL already has a way to determine what money is from sales, and what money is from say camping. All they’d need to do is apply that filtering to the grid, and presto – we have a way to see who is actually taking the money out. If they’re thieves, we can start a RL action to pursue them. As well as being stupid and greedy, most thieves are also pretty cowardly. It’d only take one or two big high profile cases of people getting into major trouble for copyright theft for them to realise, “hey, you know, maybe its not worth going to court for the sake of making $100 bucks or so”. And copyright theft would, with a bit of luck, come right down.

Of course, its only a partial solution. There’d be a lot of wrangling to prove who made what first, and then tracking people down with overseas law suits that’d probbably involve a few subpoenas. But at least, we’d then have the tools to hold people to account for their actions, and to stop them getting away with it, scott free. There would also be a lot of people trying to circumvent the ‘filtering’ system – and it’d probbably have to be refined a few times to get it working just right. But thats ok – nothing is perfect to start with, and even if it only cuts down on 75% of copy theft, thats a fantastic start and lets us clear our heads and go after the remainder of the thefts.

Some of you will hate this idea. Thats ok. Some of you will think its fantastic, thats ok too –

I’ve written this beause its just an idea I had. I’m not saying ‘This is it, this is our salvation!!’ but its a starting point – its where we begin dialog and a process to refine the original idea. I saw a problem, and this is my attempt at devising a fix. I want to put it out there, to you, the community, to see what you think, what your feeling toward this might be. Please do make a comment – but keep it on topic – I manually approve/reject my comments and any ‘smash the FIC’ or ‘they shouldnt be selling anything, it should all be free’ – thats not what this post is about – its about the system described above, and any flaws you can see in its mechanism. I’m not going to get into arguing the rights and wrongs of copy theft – as far as i’m concerned it is wrong, and it is theft, there’s no point discussing that, here.

Thanks for reading, post a comment and let me know what you think. Lets have a well informed, non-emotional discussion and maybe when we have consensus, a developed idea/system that we all agree wouldnt be unfair to the innocent, but wouldnt protect the guilty, we can go forward again to lindenlabs as a group and with one voice say, “we dont like copyright theft, we want you to stop it, and here’s how we think you can.”

Thanks for reading this post and my blog,

All the best,

Neil.

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