Wrap Up: Second Life Protest and More

Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life and book publishers both came under fire this week for copyright and content theft issues. The first for initially turning a blind eye to rampant copyright infringement on their service and the second for attempting to overreach the protections they have.

Both stories definitely point to the changing attitudes about copyright law both on and off the Web and reflect just how delicate balance between copyright holders and the public really is.

Second Life Users Battle Copybot

Residents of Second Life, a 3-D virtual world created by Linden Labs, staged a massive protest earlier this week over Copybot, a program designed to let users copy an avatar, or character appearance, from another player.

Copybot was built on the back of of Libsecondlife, an open source platform for making programs that work in the Second Life world and two of the member of the Libsecondlife team were involved in the Copybot project.

The protests were largely sparked by the owners of many of Second Life’s virtual stores, many of whom make a living by selling virtual goods and services. The protests took many forms, including obstructing residents trying to sell copies of Copybot and writing Linden Labs letters of complaint.

Initially, Linden Labs responded by distancing themselves from the matter, directing users to their DMCA procedure. After protests grew, including many stores closing shop, Linden Labs recanted and promised to expel anyone who used Copybot “maliciously” and dubbed the use of the product for “unauthorized duplicates” a violation of the terms of service.

This seems to have done a great deal to quell the outrage against Copybot and Linden Labs. However, as many have pointed out, Copybot itself is not banned from the site, just certain uses of it.

The creators of Copybot say that they never intended for their creation to be used so maliciously. However, a IRC chat transcript that has surfaced seems to show otherwise. The creators say the transcript was taken out of context.

In an epilogue to the story, two members of the Libsecondlife team were kicked off of the project for their involvement with Copybot. Along with them, the rest of the management team of the project has decided to step aside and let new management take over.

What is interesting about this case is that, where software to scrape and duplicate content on the Web at large only generates isolated outrage, it caused a major coordinated backlash in Second Life. This is probably due, in large part, to the financial consequences of such a product, but also may show shifting attitudes toward copyright protection at large.

Book Publishers Overreaching Copyright Notices

Copyright blogger and law professor William Patry posted an entry discussing copyright notices in printed books.

In the article, Patry considers copyright notices to be a “relic of the past” (which indeed they are legally) but says that publishers use them to “state their view of the scope of their rights.”

He goes on to point out several cases in which publishers have printed notices that clearly trample on fair use and other recognized user rights. One notice is so strict that Patry violates the notice by merely copying it to include in his blog.

One of the more interesting notices is inside Creative Commons chairman Lawrence Lessig, Lessig’s book “Free Culture” contains a copyright notice that reads as follows:

“The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.”

The notice is especially ironic considering that the book is freely available for download and is licensed under a Creative Commons License that requires only attribution and non-commercial use.

Though a commenter to Patry’s post argued that a copyright notice might be seen as a contract, most agree that it would be impossible to enforce such a strict interpretation of the law.

Still, one has to wonder why publishers, who have more than adequate legal help writing such notices, write them with such strict and unenforceable terms.

The answer, sadly, most likely boils down to greed and a desire to make sure that all bases are covered. Neither of which does a lot for the consumer and the idea of free culture.

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