Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Posted by Gwyneth Llewelyn
Content (mostly textures, which includes all clothing and skins) get copied every day, which is a fact of life. Talented artists and creative designers are way less affected by it than most people think, because they don't invest all their future income on doing a single texture (ie. one set of clothes that will be sold for ever and ever), but, instead, they will continuously release new material. A brand's reputation comes from the ability of the artist to be developing fantastic new things over and over again — most content designers are fully able to do so, and that's why they became references.
On the other hand, sometimes a specific product becomes extraordinarily good. It becomes unique, a masterpiece, and very hard to achieve that same level of creativity. It's normal and human; we're not "always at our best", but here and there, we have better days. Content creators might thus become associated with that "special masterpiece" that everybody talks about.
They also become immediate targets for scammers, armed with CopyBot, and ready to copy just the masterpiece and resell it thousands of times.
Well, blaming Linden Lab for scammers will not lead to nowhere. At this stage, people should have noticed the phenomenum of the "Analogue Hole": bluntly put, if you can view it on your computer, you can copy it. This is something many people have a hard time to understand. Once an image/object gets decoded to be displayed on your screen, a digital copy of it exists on your computer — and everything on your computer can be duplicated (fairly easily). Encryption techniques, data rights management systems, or any other complex software only works on two occasions: data transfer (ie. protecting digital data while it's being communicated between two computers, in case the communication gets intercepted) and storage (while it's safe on your hard disk).
But once you open that bit of digital data and display it, "some" software needs to decode it, send it to the video card, and have it displayed. Once it's on unencrypted form somewhere in your memory, anyone can copy it with the proper tool. It's effectively impossible to "protect" anything that way. You have to unencrypt data to be able to display it!
Putting pressure on Linden Lab to "deal with the scammers" and "forbid CopyBot" is thus as worthless as taxing the air we breathe. Instead, what people should do is engage in legal action.
Nevermind for a moment that "information should be free" or that "in a better world there would be no copyrights" (one wonders if this means that in that "better world" we wouldn't have any art, either, but that's another — political — question). This might happen in the future (it's very unlikely, but stranger things have happened), but this the now and here. And these days, creative people have an unalienable right to control how their creations are used by others. It's called copyright.
Any person who violates that unalienable right is not simply "being nasty" or "abusing a loophole in the system". You can't put the blame elsewhere. Under the current set of international laws, if you copy anything without explicit permission of the creator, you're committing a crime.
Again, my point is not to lecture on the merits of the copyright system, or discuss if there aren't better systems that allow people to share their creations, or if Linden Lab is protecting copyrights adequately (or the reverse)... it's good to talk and discuss about it, and we might even be the last generation living under the 122-year-old Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (again, we can discuss if that document, signed in 1886, is still adequate for our modern, digital world or not).
But the mere truth is that we can't wave that complex item of international law away. It's not something that you can simple ignore for your convenience, or saying "oh, who cares, I'm not doing anything illegal anyway, it's not as if someone dies if I copy a texture". We can invent whatever excuse we wish to convince ourselves that we're "right".
The plain and simple fact remains: if you copy anything — anything at all — without explicit, written permission of the author, you're a criminal.
What does this mean? If the content creator is willing to get some advise from a lawyer and file a DMCA request, and is serious about it, you're liable to pay them compensation. In some cases (if you're extremely unlucky), you might even go to jail (this being specially true of people in Second Life that make a few thousands of US$ monthly distributing textures copied from others).
The very naive petty digital criminals have no clue about the laws. For them it's just a "game". They feel "secure" in their anonymity (when they forget that Linden Lab can, with a court order, reveal all their data — and IP addresses and their use are logged by LL). And one day they might get a visit from the local police to answer in court for what they have been doing. Trust me, pleading "but it's only a game!" won't get you far with the judge — specially if you're making a lot of money out of stolen content.
And the truth is, the petty criminals are usually gangs/groups that target a lot of creative artists, and redistribute, under their own name, lots of cheap copies of stolen content. It happens all the time, but the ones that are seriously making money with stolen content are organised. They're not really "kids with CopyBots" any more — they might even become classified as organised crime and be charged with that on court. They just think that the risks are worth the price.
Well, are they? Indeed, often they are. Filing a DMCA claim with LL is hard and complex. Following up in court is difficult. You need a lawyer and pay expenses; you need to be willing to go to court, present your claims, and go through the inherent complexity of the whole system. You might try for moderation/arbitration (alternative dispute resolution) if the "texture stealer" is really clueless and wasn't really making a lot of money (most aren't), but if that person is not willing to come to ADR (most will laugh at the idea), going through the motions of a full-scale lawsuit is hard.
Recently, a few top content creators joined forces and did exactly that. They obviously won the case (through a settlement). If you read that post, you'll see that the values involved are small — so, yes, people are willing to sue others for a few hundred US$, because it's the principle that is at stake. And with a few lawsuits under way, all successfully won by the content creators, it's time to spread the message around: kids, don't play with CopyBot — now you know you can be sued in court, and will almost certainly lose.
To help content creators out — specifically by giving legal advice in how to file a DMCA claim and pursue it in court — a group of content creators have joined forces and created the Content Creators Association (CCA). Take a look at my friend's Gwen Carrillon's post on how she was affected and how she is dealing with copyright theft with the help of the CCA.
Several similar organisations already exist(ed) in Second Life before, of course, but this one is a bit different. Its purpose is to help content creators to enlist the help of real life courts, real life lawyers, and real life lawsuits against criminals. It's not a "black list" system to blackhole/ostracise texture thieves, like so many different SL-based organisations in the past. No, it's a group of people that are standing up for their legal (real) rights and helping out people to fight for them — in real life courts.
The message should be getting out, loud and clear: copyright violators, your time is up. Cease and desist on your free will, while you still can.
Or face the consequences in court.