Issues with Exporting Content from Second Life

sculpture

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.

3 thoughts on “Issues with Exporting Content from Second Life

  1. I've also long been suggesting another permission class — multi-grid/single-gridBut I like the export/no-export setting better –much more compact!The creator would set this when turning an object over to his or her customer. If the creator retains a copy of the object and resells it without the customer's permission, well, that's a regular old contract dispute that they can settle between themselves (or in court).For example, if a freelance writer sells the same article to multiple publications — telling each editor that they've got exclusive rights –than that writer is out of business pretty quick. People pay extra for exclusive content — and they expect to have exclusivity. (However, the author can usually a retain a copy of the work for their personal portfolio.) Being able to export objects does conflict with a no-copy and no-transfer settings, however. Once you export an object, you can re-upload it multiple times, in multiple grids, or send it to all your friends for them to use. I have a feeling that, over time, DRM will move to a more centralized model. Video games, for example, have a centralized registration system — or, more and more frequently, a free software download combined with in-game payment options for upgrades, etc… For virtual goods like clothing and accessories, I can see a future where people buy products from legitimate stores because they're convenient, inexpensive, come with support, liberal returns policies, and friendly services — much the way that the iTunes store has made shopping for music fun and easy, even though there are free pirated songs around.Illegitimate stores, by comparison, wouldn't be able to scale up to provide customer service, support, and marketing because when they get big enough, they'll get slapped down by IP infringement lawsuits and DMCA filings. Finally, another option is to have content that's only functional in certain locations. OpenSim, for example, allows for custom commands that invoke a code module running on the server — an object can include a script that only works on a particular region or on a particular grid. So, for example, if you have a particular kind of chicken, it can only reproduce, say, in a particular location — where its avatar name is checked against a list of registered buyers.– Maria KorolovEditor, Hypergrid Business

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  2. Your imaginary scenario is flawed, here is how it is done in SL today:If Susie uses her personal SL account to create the sculpture for James, she is giving him a "license" to use the copyright inside SL with the following Copy/Mod/Transfer permissions. You are then correct, in that James is not allowed to export the sculpture to OpenSim, because there is no license to do so under the terms of Copy/Mod/Transfer. This is a good thing, it protects the content creator from theft.If James originally stated to Susie that he wants complete IP ownership of the sculpture, including being able to export/backup the content, then Susie would know to use a shared SL account created by James (shared accounts are allowed in the TOS) for which to create the sculpture. When the work is done, James changes the password, and is now the owner/creator of the IP and can export as he deems fit. This may not be an elegant solution, but it works and is allowed today. BTW: did you know that Linden Lab already implemented an "export bit" (also known as "sticky license") and a "seller registry" to export content off the SL grid? Yes its true! It was something the (now deceased) Enterprise Team worked hard on last year, but surprisingly was shot down by the SL creator community! No joke. You can read about it herehttp://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2009/08/content-creation-roadmap.html and here http://blogs.secondlife.com/community/community/blog/2009/08/04/our-content-management-roadmap and then the typical hate filled feedback here http://blogs.secondlife.com/thread/1790?tstart=0 So don't blame LL for not thinking hard about this, and attempting a solution.

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  3. In response to @Thoughtful:It's true that Susie could use a shared account. Not everyone knows to do that. Moreover, what if you buy the copyright from someone after-the-fact? (Maybe some designer created a sculpture years ago and now you want to buy their copyright.)Linden Lab doesn't always take orders from the SL community. Sometimes they just do what they think is best. In this case, I suppose Linden Lab might not want to make it easy to export content out of SL (legally and in compliance with the SL Terms of Service).

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