Some users of Second Life want to export stuff out of SL and upload it into other virtual worlds (e.g. OSgrid). Here’s an imaginary scenario, to illustrate the issues with how things work today:
James pays Susie to make a sculpture for him in SL (using SL’s building tools). Part of their contract says that Susie will assign the copyright to James once she gets paid. Assume she finished the sculpture to James’ satisfaction, James paid her and he got the copyright. Susie shows up as the “Creator” of the object in SL because she created it.
Now James wants to export a copy of his sculpture and upload a copy to OSgrid. The SL Terms of Service (as I understand it) forbids that, because James is not listed as the “Creator” of the sculpture. Legally, he owns the intellectual property in the sculpture, so you’d think he has the right to export it from SL, but…
James agreed to the SL Terms of Service, which is a contract with Linden Lab. It may or may not hold up in court, but let’s assume it does. By agreeing to the ToS (contract), did James agree to not export a thing unless he’s listed as the thing’s “Creator”? If so, the fact that he owns the copyright is moot; he can’t export it because he’s not listed as the “Creator.”
This is a very odd stance for Linden Lab to take. I doubt they took it (the stance) to prevent export of content by legitimate parties. Maybe they just didn’t think of the cases where the “Creator” and the copyright holder aren’t the same. If so, then all that’s really needed is for Linden Lab to change their ToS to say that you have to be the copyright holder – or someone with an appropriate license from the copyright holder – before you can export content from SL.
Unfortunately, that would open a new problem: SL objects don’t “know” who their copyright holders and licensors are! There’s no way to check an object to see if I have the rights to export it. That information isn’t in the SL databases.
A technical solution would be for Linden Lab to add that information: a new field (database column) for every bit of content (textures, animations, prims, etc.) in Second Life. The new field would be a list of every avatar (SL account) who has the right to export that bit of content out of SL.
For example, the database would know that texture 307920570235723078978 can be exported by James23 Tyler and Mary Allen (SL names). James23 Tyler is the SL name of the copyright holder and he sold an export license to Mary Allen.
This technical solution sounds nice at first, but there are problems. Who can edit the list of people with export rights? The “Creator”? What if the “Creator” gets hit by a train, or decides to add her buddies to the list without the copyright-holder’s permission?
Another solution would be for LL to change the ToS so that anyone with the legal rights to export may export, and to not attempt any kind of technical checks at all (no DRM). That would certainly allow everyone with export rights to exercise them.
Unfortunately, having no DRM would also allow anyone to arbitrarily claim they have export rights and export content willy-nilly. That would allow for mass copyright infringement, but lots of people don’t know that or don’t care about copyright infringement. Maybe they figure they can get away with it.
YouTube has an interesting solution to preventing copyright infringement. You can upload any video clip to YouTube, but if it matches anything in their magic library of music and video, then the copyright holder is notified (and is given some options for what to do). It’s amazing how well (and how fast) the YouTube system works. It’s not perfect. For example, it doesn’t recognize the possibility of fair use (e.g. parody).
Maybe Linden Lab could hire intellectual property professionals to review applications for export permission. People could pay to have their export applications reviewed. Software could be developed to help automate the review process. Applications could be for big bundles of content, e.g. all the content that James paid Susie to make (which might amount to 200 items of SL content).
If you’re creating new content for Second Life, you might consider making as much of it as you can using tools outside of Second Life – tools that allow save/export! That way you can upload it into SL and other services from one central place that you control. Tools do exist for building with prims outside of SL. A lot of SL content is already created outside of SL anyway, and COLLADA meshes (coming soon, already in open beta) are yet another content type created externaly.
In summary, fully technical solutions can’t work because IP law and contracts are too diverse to anticipate in software. (Imagine an export license that says you can only export green sculptures on Sundays, and only if it’s raining in Maui – no coder could have anticipated checking those license restrictions!) Ultimately, if IP law is to be upheld fairly, people familiar with IP law will sometimes have to get involved. Regardless of what Linden Lab decides to do, you can retain the greatest control over your content by creating all your SL content outside of SL.
Photo credit: Louvre-2010-47 by LSaul on Flickr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.
Update on Oct 23, 2010 by Troy McConaghy
I put a copy of this post on the SLED (educators) mailing list and Edmund Edgar posted an interesting idea in reply.
He suggested that Linden Lab could add a new “export” flag to SL content, alongside the already existing modify, copy, and transfer/sell flags (which control what the next user can do). If a piece of content has its “next owner can export” flag set to true, then the next owner can export it out of SL.
He also added the idea that the next owner can’t change the flag from no export to yes export, but if they make a derivative work, then they should be able to change it from yes to no. (The original “Creator” can always change the export flag.)
The export flag is an interesting idea because it fits the pattern Linden Lab already established with the mod/copy/trans flags (DRM). It’s a special case of my suggestion of adding a who-can-export list: the case where the list is everyone. I’d suggest a variation to his caveat: make it so that only people with modify permission can change the export flag from yes to no, and it can never be changed from no to yes. (And the “Creator” can change the export flag back and forth at will.)
Like all DRM (technical) solutions, the export flag is riven with problems, but maybe it’s enough to satisfy the majority of SL cases.