September 22, 2009

The theft nobody talks about

SL gets rocked by two incidents these days: Stroker Serpentine et. al. sues Linden Lab on not acting hard enough on content theft, and Rebel Hope et. al. got copybotted on large scale. I am not going to talk about this, because people who are much more elaborate than me did already in more eloquent words.

I am talking about the everyday content theft and IP infringement happening in SL on a daily basis, and where nobody talks about.

For example, Live DJ's who play music on shop and sim openings, or at clubs, and accept payment or tips for it. I know some SL-DJ's personally, and this is not a personal attack against them. I don't know the respective laws in their countries, but in my country this would be seen as commercial use of IP work and would require a fee being paid based on the number of listeners (and not on revenue). I can only assume it is similar in most countries.

For example artwork, photos and images donwloaded from Google Image Search and uploaded to become wall decorations, carpets, building components. And I am not even talking about designers doing this and selling the creations, I am talking about home owners, club owners, office owners - resulting in hundreds if not thousand incidents each day.

For example recreation of buildings found on websites, furniture found in catalogs and clothing seen in magazines. While this gets discussed when done on a high profile level (Prad Prathivi showed an interesting comparison between RL clothing made by Diesel and SL clothing made by Armidi) it goes largely unnoticed on a more obscure level.

I am sure there are countless other examples where IP rights get infringed on a daily basis. But this is not a purely SL problem! The same examples also apply in RL, where all this happens as well, daily, countless times. Every case on a small scale, but amassed.

The problem we have is a society problem. And only because virtual worlds are very small and relatively new and - by their very nature - digital, we perceive it as a big problem. SL has the size of a medium sized town, and with an economy based on bits and bytes it IS a problem. But it is a problem on a larger scale, and not a problem Linden Lab can solve. It is a problem the society as a whole - on the doorstep to a fully digital age - needs to solve.

The internet gives the impression that everything is for free. And things taken for free and granted lose value in people's perception. Just because I find a picture of any place on earth easily in Google Image Search, it does not mean it has no value and I am free to use it for whatever purpose. What we need to learn as a society is that even in the digital age, work made by others has a value, and requires fair compensation (where "fair compensation" is not necessarily money, but can be credit or exchange for other goods/services as well). Creative Commons is one step into that direction. Global, reliable and accepted micropayment services will be another.

The current problems and issues we find in SL are toothing pains. Devastating for the involved individuals for sure, but necessary until society at large adjusts to the new reality of the digital age, and respects work done by others as a value.
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