Second Life, the virtual world created by Linden Lab, is an interesting microcosm for the copyright issues found on the rest of the Web. Its creators have been plagued by a variety of content theft issues ranging from simple copying of virtual goods for sale for personal use to the creation of entire shops based on reselling stolen goods at reduced prices.
Content creators in SL have banded together in a way that seldom happens on the larger Web and there is much that bloggers and other artists can learn from that.
But while the campaign seems to have born some fruit, including the recent mass-banning of infringers, the overall situation hasn’t changed and it appears that the tension is thick between Linden Lab and many of the residents, so much so that one has actually sued the company over intellectual property violations.
My heart goes out to Second Life creators but there is precious little that I can do since I am not an active player. However, as an outsider who has see what does and does not work on the larger Web, I may be able to offer some help on this front. So, with that in mind, here are six suggestions I have for making Second Life a better place to create and sell content.
1. Pressure Linden to Improve its DMCA Process
Though Linden Lab seems to be taking the issue of content theft more seriously, it is still throwing up unneeded roadblocks to filing DMCA notices. Where the vast majority of hosts gladly accept email DMCA notices, Linden does not, saying the following:
Can I submit my notices over email?
Unfortunately, email addresses posted on public website pages quickly become the target of spam, making it difficult to review legitimate communications.
In fact, as I pointed out yesterday, there is an (admittedly hidden) way to do so but even then it is needlessly complex.
However, given the nature of Second Life, it would make more sense for there to be an in-world process for this. Unfortunately, that has not been developed either.
These roadblocks are unnecessary and are, almost certainly, intentionally designed to make filing of DMCA notices more difficult. More importantly, they are likely signs that Linden needs to reduce the number of takedowns they handle, likely pointing a problem with the process itself. It could simply be that the process for executing a takedown is so inefficient that they could not handle the volume they would see should they open up access to the process.
On that note, pressure needs to be applied on Linden to make the process more efficient, to open it up more and speed up response time. Otherwise, no progress can ever be made.
2. Work with Artists Outside SL
There is a tendency both within SL and on the larger Web to view the world as an island unto itself. However, it is nothing of the sort.
The works of artists and musicians outside of SL are infringed in-world fairly regularly, often, by the same people who engage in content theft of in-world works.
Artists outside SL can be powerful allies when dealing with Linden Lab and infringement in general. If these issues came to the attention to artists who were not Linden’s customers, these problems would not longer be treated as customer service issues, which they seem to be sometimes, and instead as a more serious outside legal issue.
This is especially powerful if the artist has resources and willingness to take on Linden if needed. This can ramp up the pressure on Linden to improve its system and its protections in a way that in-world creators alone can not do.
3. Change the Sales Pitch
It is very easy for people both in and out of Second Life to write off content creators in the world. Most don’t realize how much work goes into creating a single item or how the business model within SL is supposed to work.
Part of this is because most people have never tried to actually make anything in the game and see how much is involved in the process. However, some of it is also the way SL creators market themselves, often times as “designers” of various virtual goods.
Second life creations are essentially digital 3D art. Yes, it may be functional in-world, but that is precisely what it is. It’s much easier for people to understand than “Second Life Fashion Designer”.
It is important to be clear and be public about what is required in the creation of these virtual goods. Look at Wil Wheaton’s post regarding his audiobook as an excellent example. This will not only help non-creators in world, but those who don’t play Second Life, to better understand why this is important and why they are worth the money that is being asked.
4. Push Legitimate Alternatives
My admittedly limited experience with SL, I’ve seen a lot of this going on already, but content creators of all stripes need to make others aware of the places they can legitimately obtain free merchandise. There are plenty of such places on the grid but they don’t always get the attention they deserve.
The problem is that to get people to buy products in Second Life people have to first convert real money into Linden Dollars, something many are hesitant to do. As such, free alternatives can help appease players who don’t wish to participate in the Second Life economy, an unavoidable consequence of the system, and keep them from pirating content from shop owners.
It’s important to decide if you’d rather a citizen who will not pay for anything copy your work or obtain legitimate content from a free competitor. It’s a devil’s choice, but if your work is superior to free alternatives, then the latter is clearly better.
5. Experiment with New Business Models
Even if Linden Lab does ramp up enforcement and improve security, content theft will always be a problem in Second Life, it’s a matter of whether or not it is rare enough to still support the businesses that rely on the sale of goods.
However, there’s no reason the shops can’t try to beat the pirates at their own game. Much as the music industry has done with Spotify (at least in Europe), you may be able to find ways to earn money while giving away at least some of your products.
One suggestion has been to charge for goods for the first six months (or some other time frame) and then make them available for free within one’s own shop. Another has been to offer free and paid versions of products, with free versions doubling as advertisements for the paid ones (much like shareware).
This can help undercut pirate operations (and even casual infringers) by creating less incentive to obtain illegal copies.
6. Register With the Copyright Office
Finally, I want to encourage those who are creating content in Second Life, especially those who are making a business from their efforts, to register their works with the Copyright Office. Not only does this open up the potential to sue infringers in the U.S., but it also shows a level of seriousness and dedication to enforcement that both Linden Lab and others will be inclined to take seriously.
If you are serious about protecting your work in Second Life, this is not a step you can skip over or take lightly.
In the end, my heart goes out to second life creators. I think artists all over the world can learn a great deal about how to protect their work, especially when it comes to cooperating with people who, otherwise, would be competitors.
However, I feel that there is a lot to learn on both sides and I hope that these thoughts and ideas are useful in at least some capacity. With all the great work being done in Second Life, it would be horrible to see it ruined completely by content theft issues and my hope is that Linden will step up and treat these issues seriously and that such misuse reduced to manageable levels.
It will take a combined effort of artists, both in Second Life and elsewhere, along with an effort from Linden to make that happen. It will not be easy, but it is important and worthwhile.