Thursday, November 5, 2009

Let's talk about theft

I think it's pretty obvious that I'm in opposition to the two days of silence, of abstaining from action, instead of taking it. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and being quiet just makes you easier to ignore. (Yes, I know that's simplistic and not what you mean, but it still is some of the end result.)

I respect the reasons behind it, and I, and I'm sure everyone who is on this side of the fence, understands what you're doing- your motives are pure. The actions, though, the actions are something in which we can't participate- and yes, a lot of us have reasons to be very vocal in opposition to them.

So, instead of being silent, I'm choosing to open a discussion. Well, a monologue really, but perhaps it will give some people some things to think about.

Content theft in SL is a big issue. It's also a complex one, and there are various layers of it. Right now, this, is only trying to deal with one small aspect of it, one facet that has a huge and direct impact upon the residents of SL, the people who make SL what it is. LL may have pulled the slogan "your world, your imagination", but that is what Second Life is. WE create it. There is very little content that isn't created by residents, people just like you- LL provided the framework, and we are the ones who drape our dreams across that framework to make it interesting and engaging, and worth exploring and coming back to, and beautiful. People just like you, put hours (and days, and weeks, and months) of effort into creating what you see before you. If that has no value because it's just a virtual world, what DOES have value? Most of the trappings of our world, the things that make it worthwhile, are luxuries. TV, movies, games, computers, the internet, art, music, candy, lawyers, all service jobs...these are all luxuries. You need shelter, you need food, you need sleep. Most of the things in life are things you could live without if you really needed to, and yet, you still pay your hard earned money (in a job that, more than likely, is also related to a luxury, unless you're out there farming crops or building houses- and even then we have progressed to a point where we want more than just the basics even of those). You are compensated for your time, your energy, your work, and those who create the content of Second Life are simply asking for the same courtesy. We're building the environment you see, and instead of having to go out and pay $60 for a game that you might get a week's worth of enjoyment out of before you've finished it, we're just asking for micro payments as you go for the content you choose to want.

And therein lies part of it- you WANT what people are creating. We are not denying you something you NEED and are entitled to. We are not greedy. Life isn't free, and money made in SL goes toward necessities of life so we can continue to spend the time creating more things you want.

You, of course, know all this to begin with. This blog, and in fact the entire controversy, won't spill over to those who need to understand that their selfishness destroys people- both economically and emotionally. If you've ever had your home broken into and items stolen, you know what theft is like. It's not really that different with content theft, there's a lot of hopelessness and feeling invaded and violated. Just the threat of it is enough to keep some people away, or make people more hesitant to share things with other people.

So, what can be done? The only truly concrete thing we can do is educate, and try to raise the issue to LL, to yell so loud that eventually they listen and do something just to stop being pestered by us incessantly. When someone passes you something, tell them it's wrong, explain why. Take note of the people involved- many are burnable alts, but some can be held accountable, and AR them. Tell the legitimate creators so they can take the actions they can, as ineffectual as they can be at times. In cases when you see things stolen being sold in a shop- DO NOT TRY TO SHUT THEM DOWN YOURSELVES. Contact the original creators. It is absolutely imperative that the creators take action first, because if the thieves pick up and move on, you have to FIND them again, and the way the process currently works, you have to be able to concretely point at it and say "LOOK, HERE IT IS." Step up, and take the action that is appropriate to the situation, make sure the creators are informed so they can take the actions _they_ can take.

The Lindens, they can do some things. Even they can't stop content theft entirely, but they HAVE allowed it to become too easy. Third party viewers have added a lot of great functionality to SL, and I've even had to switch to them at times simply because the official viewer plain didn't work for me. However, they've been given far too much free reign, and they need to be controlled for the good of everyone. There ARE ways that can be done, with a vetting process they could even allow some third party viewers to operate, so long as they are cleared. Innovation would be curtailed a little, because new features would have to go through an extra layer of clearing, but it would not be completely stopped. Adding accountability would also mean that if viewers started sneaking in with undesirable features, the team with the leak could be tracked down, and their ability to make a sanctioned viewer could be removed- not simply accountability to the Lindens, but you are accountable to your entire team, and have a far greater incentive to behave, as well as to make sure the rest of your team behaves. Know who you are working with, and choose not to work with them if you don't think you can trust them.

Idea theft is another issue, and it's a harder one. We can't protect that with technology. Some is allowed under innovation, however there is also protection for derivative works- it's a greyer area, and a much more complex issue, but it can still be protected in some cases. When it comes down to it, both sides CAN push hard enough to bring it to court, and depending on the case, the judge can decide in either direction. It's a harder case for one to judge themselves as well, however it can still be both morally and legally wrong. You personally have to decide what you think is right. The original creator is the one who has all the facts to know how much of _their_ creation was entirely original and how much was innovated upon by other works, so parties trying to take action without all the facts (aside from their own personal decisions to support this or that creator due to it) can cause more trouble than help, in many cases.

Content theft in SL is not just limited to SL, either. It's easier to steal an entire finished product from the same system, but content is also stolen from other games, from copyrighted images, and from other sources from which the creator in SL doesn't have the rights. However, some people are very fastidious about obtaining the rights for everything they use! And many of the same programs and techniques used to create environments for games are used by artists in SL as well.

Many people try to justify theft in SL by accusing the creators of theft- photosourcing from resources they have not obtained rights to, using pirated software to create what they create. You might be very surprised how many creators DO have legal software, who even have purchased expensive software like Photoshop (many may not have the latest version, and may go years between upgrades, but will buy it on sale after a newer version has come out when they can get a deal that makes it fit within their budget). Many are very careful about obtaining all the necessary licenses. It is true, that not all the people who create in Second Life do, but to accuse everyone of it is a disservice to those who do.


Sanura Snowpaw said...

I couldn't have said it better. *claps*

Sean said...

Very well written! I especially agree to the last paragraph, from a different position though: I'm a DJ.
People seem to think that DJs don't have any expenses. While this is certainly true for many, who download pirate songs via P2P, and use unlicensed software, for the majority the expenses are actually quite high: tons of iTunes songs or real CDs, proper mixing software (like Traktor Pro on OSX), decent streaming servers, etc.. DJing is not as easy as dropping some stolen files into a playlist. And L$200 tips for a whole night at the turntables doesn't even cover a tiny fraction of the costs.
But you don't get that into people's heads. For that reason, I am only doing that for fun, writing off the expenses as investment into my personal hobby/pleasure, and not trying to earn money in SL at all -- because it's leading nowhere.
However, those brilliant content creators, artists, DJs, scripters, you name it, who do rely on the income from SL are seriously harmed by those who think the internet as a whole (including SL) is a space without law and without fees.
I wish people would appreciate other people's efforts more -- or even more so: make an effort themselves, and not take everything for granted.

Dick Wiesel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dick Wiesel said...

Very well written. There are still a lot of people that do not understand that there are many facets to theft in SL and you have done a great job outlining some of them.

It is amazing to me to see the number of people that are still upset that they cannot sell "Hello Kitty" T-shirts or a bottle of Coke. There are still those yet that honestly think that if they do NOT sell these items, but give them away instead that it is not theft or copyright infringement - but "free advertising"! In addition, none of the content within SL falls under the "fair use" doctrine as some would believe.

To me it is hard to belive the number of people that do not understand that if you did not create it, and you do not have explicit rights to it given to you be the creator, then it is not your to do with as you choose. Unfortunately those that originally copy/steal the content simply do not care.

Nissa Nightfire said...

Great post, Allegory :) I also appreciate you raising other aspects of this issue that don't get nearly as much airtime as copybotting ... copyright infringement, in particular, is something that baffles me ... it doesn't actually baffle me that people do it, but about lack of significant discussion about it (hmm...I'll have to ponder how I might contribute to that discussion)

Pin It button on image hover