Monday, November 9, 2009

So, what can we do?

I'll step down from my soapbox soon. Promise.

We, personally, have a limited amount of things we can do about content theft- we can try to educate (however there are so many people in SL, and I keep running into the same ones over and over, that I don't know how effectively we can reach beyond our microcosm. But we still need to try- because content theft goes far beyond what LL can control, though they can do a lot to mitigate it they are not), we can ourselves choose not to participate on the buying or selling ends, and we can try to get LL to listen.

LL runs a little like a democracy- when it doesn't come to features they come up with in house, they listen to the community. That huge. And diverse. And has a lot of different ideas of what is a priority, and what even should be done in any particular case (I know that upon occasion I've wished there was a "Vote against this feature" button on the jira). So, the most effective thing we can do, is mobilize as large a group in support of the issues important to us as possible (I may not agree with all of Artist's Voice's tactics, but they are trying to actively mobilize a group for this goal). But here, this goes beyond that. Because we don't just need action- we need action NOW. LL is notoriously slow at feature introduction (some of this is 100% valid- you need to test features so you don't cause more trouble. However, beyond that, they promise features and never deliver, and it can take years to deliver features, which in my opinion goes well beyond any reasonable amount of testing, especially when it comes to particular features where this has happened). We need to convince them that not only action is required, we need the people working on this as their only project, now. Starting today.

The way to do this, is to go en masse to office hours, flood them with emails, faxes, real mail, however you can get ahold of them to say "enough is enough, something needs to be done" so they finally get tired of wasting time fielding all that and do it just to shut us up. Vote on the jiras, though this is the last thing on my list- it's the easiest, it's also the most ineffective especially when it comes to getting something done on a reasonable timetable, features are promised, and then seemingly abandoned, or you might see them implemented in 5 years. Be firm but polite- do not swear or insult. Profanity is the last resort of the inarticulate motherfucker, and I say this as someone who swears like a sailor. Insults are an ineffectual way to get a point across, because would you listen to anyone who gave you good advice, but started it with "you're an asshole, but"? It's an issue we're all passionate about, but we need to count to 10, and present reasonable rational arguments and requests, because those are far more likely to be listened to.

What can LL do? My personal roadmap is one you aren't going to like. I don't like it. I hate it. But we've gotten to the point where something that I hate is preferable to what we have now, which is the Old West and someone riding into town, shooting someone else in the face, and riding out to hide in the hills, so he can come back and do it again, and there's not a damn thing the sheriff can do unless the posse is damn lucky. So the best idea I see under these circumstances is something radical.

At this point? My first step would be something exceptionally radical and something I hate- shut down the grid to 3rd party viewers. And bots. They should be able to do that on a fast time table, not something that will take months or years. I hate this idea- I haven't used the official viewer in a very very long time- so long, I couldn't tell you how long, my love affair with alternate viewers started before Emerald became so popular. The official viewer is, from time to time for me, a laggy crashy bugridden piece of shit, and I've needed alternate viewers to be able to stay in SL for longer than 3 minutes. I hate this idea- there are a lot of legitimate bots out there that do extremely useful things, and I'm not talking about traffic bots. LibSL is a great resource to the community (though the thing i was excited to use it for, sadly can't be done, because there are a lot of limits on what you can do). Legitimate things will break. We will lose things that we've had to find other ways to do because LL hasn't seen fit to include some features that are very useful. Shutting down innovation sucks- there are a lot of great things that have come out of these, things that LL wasn't willing to do, or put as a lower priority, that other people stepped up and said "ok then, this is what I want, I bet other people did too, let's make it happen!" I like the community being able to be active and decide its own course. But a few rotten apples are ruining the bunch for everyone.

I would rather wait for step two to be in place and ready to go, it would be a less disastrous and violent option, to have a first wave of acceptable viewers in place first. But the question is, can we rely on LL to do that in any reasonable time framework? Every day more content is stolen and redistributed, new releases are copybotted the day they are released. Can we wait the weeks, months, years it might take for them to finally get around to finishing the process enough to put into practice? I don't know that I can wait that long, and I don't know of any real way to definitely light the fire under their asses to get them to realize it needs to be implemented, yesterday. Even an impending lawsuit hasn't woken them up (they think they can argue they've done enough- I think it's far too easy to see that there are so many other avenues open to them they have refused to explore that will make them liable).

The important part, the part that I fear LL could just decide not to implement (although they should, with other people creating more stable viewers than they do, it saves them work, and they aren't even having to pay them!), is the second stage- when you start the one team on shutting down the grid, you create two other teams. One team is in charge of clearing individuals and groups for having their viewers (and bot "viewers"!) access the grid. What background checks required, what degree of accountability and how, every step of the process, both creating the process and the actual implementation. They need a hard and fast guide on what features are never acceptable, they need immediate access to people who can look over each new feature as they are developed that isn't on that list, and decide whether they are desirable or cannot be put into a viewer that can access the SL grid. They need to make decisions about features fast unless it truly is a complex issue, instead of tying everything up in red tape- unlike things added to the jira, the work is done. The second team works on how to limit access to the grid- what steps to implement and how. For accountability, each team or individual with a viewer or bot should have a unique key- if the key gets leaked and is found on a viewer with features that haven't been cleared they can track down the problem immediately. The key can't be released alongside the open source, obviously- the viewer code can still remain open source, but it must only be offered compiled for download by end users, in the version that can connect to the SL grid. We may (no doubt, will, until/unless someone else picks them up) lose good features as people choose not to become verified to have their work connect to the grid, or fail the verification process.

Legally, to me, this all makes damn good sense to LL- I'm not a lawyer, but I grew up with one, and if I had the credentials and was working on the case, I think I might argue that LL willfully colludes with IP thieves by not taking these actions. They have the end control over the platform, and only an idiot wouldn't have seen this coming the day they released the source code. To my mind, they have the moral obligation to fix this problem that they have created- and with the lawsuit filed, I would think that maybe, just maybe, their legal team might see the legal benefit in getting some control implemented before it goes to trial so, late or not, they can still show that they have closed some of the largest holes. In other words, LL, it might be very seriously in your best interests to make this project a top priority.

Open sims are still the Wild West, and each needs to decide what action they want to, and can, take. Open sims will become where the viewer side innovation happens- not only those who choose not to go through the accountability process with LL, but new features that may not be greenlighted can be developed there. Some may be developed so they can point and say "look, this is how it works in practice, it's not a bad idea", some may be developed as pet projects that LL will never allow for various reasons (there's been talk that LL won't allow Emerald's OTR chat for legal reasons, for instance- there will always be features like that that aren't actively malicious, but won't be allowed if they regain control, as LL also has a degree of accountability in what features they allow). Open sims become more attractive to programmers of viewers, SL becomes more attractive to content creators who make the grids interesting.

The viewer stays open source, and libSL continues to be viable, but LL regains control of the grid. Innovation is curtailed, but not stopped. People are accountable for the features they include- the big problem with copybot and copybot viewers is that they take away all the work involved in stealing content. It will still be possible, but you'll have to put effort into it, you'll have to know what you're doing, and the majority of the people abusing these things, are, quite simply, lazy and taking advantage of the hard work of others- including the programmers making these "tools" for them.

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