Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Letter to Linden Lab: Intellectual Property, and Respect [Edited]

EDIT: someone from Linden Lab has reached out to me and let me know that this is a video file error, not a deliberate edit, which is nice to hear (and yes, I do believe them!). I did note in my discussion that this letter was more about Linden Lab's need to deal with a perception among the community than a particular case. Even if this perception is due to misunderstandings, it is something to actively address because it's been simmering for some time.

Dear Linden Lab,
For a company that prides itself on fostering a world of user-generated content, for a company that has reaped the benefits of a savvy decision to grant users IP rights to creations, you can be awfully casual about customers' intellectual property.

I've been listening to upset Second Lifers for years complain that Linden Lab takes their objects and images and uses it for marketing purposes, with nary an attribution. Shaun Altman, a fairly high-profile SL resident, bent my ear on the subject for an hour the night before SLCC. Here is someone who wants to see Second Life succeed, and who I think would not begrudge Linden Lab very much, but was seriously angry at a perceived lack of courtesy when using his creations, land and virtual home for Linden Lab's own promotion.

Now Linden Lab clearly states in their TOS that by "submitting your Content to any area of the service", you are giving Linden Lab the right to "use and reproduce...any of your Content in any or all media for marketing and/or promotional purposes in connection with the Service."

The agreement states nothing about notification or attribution, which is understandable in terms of business burden and the letter of the law, but shouldn't Linden Lab try to hold itself to a higher standard?

How about for things that aren't actually submitted to the Second Life service?

In February 2007, I was involved in the iVillage fashion show and took some machinima, posting it up on Blip.tv and YouTube. I was intrigued today when someone brought me to SecondLife.com's fashion page and pointed out that not only was my video on Linden Lab's website, but it had been edited and the credits removed.

Given that this film was not Content submitted to the Second Life service, how exactly did Linden Lab's actions fit with the TOS? Someone must have taken the video from Blip or YouTube. On Blip.tv it is clear that the video is posted under Creative Commons-No derivs license (i.e. you must give attribution and you cannot make derivatives). YouTube makes it less clear, but since Linden Lab never approached me, the rights of the filmmaker appear to be irrelevant in someone's eyes. I can understand why you would crop out the racy ending to the video, but why strip out the credits (including the music attribution)?

Now, as a pragmatist, I feel a bit for Linden Lab's position on this general issue of "credit". You cannot stop a demo to rattle off names, and you cannot give attribution in every situation and for every prim visible in a scene in a user generated world. I will also admit that I'm not really upset about this incident personally, since I really made the video for some designers I admire and I'm glad to see greater awareness of their work. If Linden Lab posted this video, and you think it will help Second Life, then great - you are welcome to continue using it. I have more important things to worry about.

However, as an idealist, I am upset by what this represents. I am upset for all the folks who have been hurt by this very thing for years, and now I have something concrete that I can write about.

Respect and courtesy. It shouldn't be that hard.

I am rather fond of my fellow entrepreneurs over at Linden Lab. I think there are plenty of people in Linden Lab, like Robin Harper, who understand the need to respect residents not as worker ants building Linden Lab's work of genius, but as equals in creating something amazing together. Clearly there are some who let ideals slide in return for expediency.

Linden Lab, you can do better. I know you have it in you.

Forseti Svarog


  1. Very well said, Forseti. In addition to things like attribution, Linden Lab needs to get a process in place for dealing with DMCA requests. Their current system is woefully inadequate. For example, if someone steals your intellectual property through an exploit, they will only remove (after weeks of heckling) copies that appear *in world*, which you have to track down yourself, without any help or decent search system. They will not remove illegally made copies directly from peoples' inventories, even the person who used the exploit to steal. I'm not a lawyer, but I believe this crosses the "safe harbor" line, and protects the thief. I'll echo what Forseti said: Linden Lab, you can, and must, do better!

  2. I've read about LL not caring about other people's IP, and now they've proved it. It might be a little gray'ish about lifting it from youtube, since the machina was made with their IP, but to edit out your credits. Bad Lindons, BAD!!!

  3. To be clear Anonymous, to me this isn't about a fight over legalities or a change in the TOS. There's a difference between what you promise to do legally, which often has to be light, and ideals that you internally commit to live up to in your behavior.

  4. Do what everyone else does in "real life", Forseti.

    Sue 'em. If not for the money, for the slap effect.

  5. no no, I'm not here to declare war on Linden Lab. I'd love to hear them say they want to make a concerted effort to be better at this in future. This isn't about me or my IP but a bigger perception issue that is going to cause LL problems.

  6. Well, I'd be miffed. Simply embedding on a commercial homepage is one thing; we are all used to embedding publicly published videos, and one could see that just as a slip. Not providing a link back makes that worse, but could be simple forgetfulness.

    Actively going out of your way to remove the credits, though! Now that is poor behaviour and not easily excusable as just a mistake. I would hope that a company in LL's position would realise the difference between public domain and licenced content. I hope that this does not indicate a general attitude and that this is just one isolated piece of behaviour.

  7. Sorry to hear this Forseti. I always try to give credit for all the images I use in slides. Although it doesn't make sense to stop and mention the attributions during the talk, if people download the slides afterwards the credits are there. For example, see: my develop slides

  8. Hi Babbage, yes I tried to say that one has to be pragmatic about where credit is possible. Your slide for example has an "Image: Electric Sheep Company" footer on one page, but doesn't say "Buildings: Nakama by Neil Protagonist, hair by X, shoes by Y"... that gets into the absurd.

    A photographer who photographs the NY skyline doesn't have to get permission or give credit to every building in the shot. There is a balance.

    I just wrote this publicly because I've been hearing about this issue for years from SL residents, and I think LL needs to know that there is a perception of arrogance or "taking for granted" that they might want to actively address. A certain amount of this perception is probably inevitable, I grant, but I felt that something needed to be said.

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