Sunday, November 8, 2009

Do you "copyright violation"?

While I am THRILLED to see the birth (rebirth) of general awareness’s of copybot/copyenabled viewers/IP theft, I am less than thrilled to see its unfortunate afterbirth. Yes, the self appointed IP police/witch hunters are back with gusto! Now before I slice into them, let me defend them a bit. We have two flavors of “copyright violation” here in SL, In-World and Real world. With in-world the case is usually one SL designer, generally well known, gets copied by some bottom feeder and tries selling or giving away the copied items. In this case people that know what a designers stuff looks like can do a lot of good, spotting ripped items and reporting it back to the original designer.

On the other hand, there is now a new call of “copyright violation” by 3rd parties on anything and everything they see from the real world, and this is where it gets dangerous. Without contacting the copyright holder, you simply cannot assume you know how they intend to defend their copyright. Some copyright holders may be appalled to find that their properties are being sold in SL, others my see it as fan art and not find the SL micropayments any threat to their bottom line. Supposed random removal of Star Wars and Muppet content from inventories was brought up recently on another blog. While I’m not going to go into the issues focused on over there I will look at the assumptions that either content is automatically a “copyright violation”.

In the case of Star Wars, as others have pointed out, copyright holder Lucasfilm is pretty tolerant/turns a blind eye to most Fan Art/ Fan websites, even when these sites include banner adds, that could be generating SL levels of profit for the owners. So one might presume that Star Wars content in SL would far into that category of fan art in the eyes of Lucasfilm, something they choose to shed a blind eye on. On the other hand, and much to my surprise when I looked into it, I found that Lucas no longer owns the Muppets. The Muppets are currently copyright of the “Muppets Holding Company” a Disney owned property. At least in the past Disney is not known for being tolerant of unlicensed use of their properties in any way shape or form.

Of course without contacting a copyright owner the best you can do is guess what their intentions are. So when a Linden or any 3rd party decides that this or that is a copyright violation without contacting the copyright holder, they are wrong to do so. Some companies have no issue with fan art as it is free Guerrilla marketing for them, and isn’t a threat to their bottom line. With Lucasfilm’s general attitude and assuming they have no intent to sell “official” StarWars items in-world, they may choose to turn a blind eye to all the virtual Star Wars goods out there. Disney with regard to the Muppets I would think less so, but you never know.

An even bigger problem here is one of inconstancies with how the Lindens seem to handle RL copyrights takedowns. It seems anytime you hear about one item being removed you have no problem finding it somewhere else. A while back a friends shop received an official takedown notice for some Harley Davidson themed items. Fair enough she took the items down. Of course today I have no problem finding Harley Davidson items on the Linden owned If the Lindens intend to lead by example here they are doing a poor job of it. This in turn is causing a lot of this new wave of embolden witchhunts, from I assume otherwise well meaning individuals. I’m really afraid with the direction this is heading. We have enough of a headache with copybot and all its spawn. I hope people can take a step back, gain some perspective, focus on the real threats to the SL economy and let everyone defend their own copyrights as they see fit.

Bad blogger, bad blogger, no more

Bad blogger, bad blogger. That has really been my mantra for not blogging more, like forever everywhere. Recently I took a step back and took a look at what and how I do things in SL at the general prompting of a good friend. -winks at my good friend Shelly, the quiet angel on my shoulder- Her actual request was for everyone to look at how positive/negative you are in plurk, but it made me look at just how positive/negative and effective I am in general.

I looked and my blogging and it comes up short. I have a good/bad, OK Bad habit of over thinking a concept and never going to press with it. I literally have dozens of half baked posts that I have spent hours on that have not been posted because I never found them to be finished enough.

That ends today.

I have to rember that blogs are made for just putting it out there. While I tend to be in awe of bloggs that are amazingly and perfectly put together, an unread or unwritten blog might as well not be there. So my precious few followers or anyone backtracking to this momnet. Yes this is the moment that damn burst. Ok so enough, I have have tonnes to do, and time is never on my side. ;-)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Freebies are killing SL! All hunt items Suck! The sky is falling the sky is falling!!! What, again?

I think we all need to step back a bit and take a realistic look at what’s going on. Every year I have been in SL someone is ranting about how “This is the Year” that something or other is going to Kill SL. We have been through, Copybot, LandBot, Gambling ban, Opensim, Lively, Openspace price hikes, Onrez shutdown and we are now faced with Adult Age Verification, and we are all still here. So how on earth are freebies going to take us all down. Well they aren’t.

SL has always had free items. Nearly everyone in SL gets started with free stuff to get your feet wet. If you find you like it, you bring a bit of money in and get yourself done up right. If you’re really into it you become a SL shopaholic. It’s still true today even though there are more freebies and better quality freebies.

But we hear some shops are failing and sales are off for most places, aren’t freebies to blame? No. Most new businesses fail in the first two years in the real world and that’s likely to be true in SL as well. Also with the annual warm weather slowdown in SL and the global recession I don’t know why people need a scapegoat as to why things are a bit slow now. Then what’s with all the drama around freebies and hunts? 

First a little drama goes a long way in SL. Most people that do the freebie thing in SL are happy and grateful to get what they get for free. Most people Enjoy doing hunts in SL. They find it a fun thing to do, enjoy discovering new shops, and like getting home to see what new stuff they ended up with. If they don’t like something, no biggie, hit the delete key and it’s gone. 

Then there is what I call the “vocal minority” I’ve also seen them called “hunters in a hurry” as well as a lot of other names I’ll spare you with here. They have a high level of dissatisfaction about freebies, hunts, store owners and hunt organizers and have no problem expressing it. My best guess is that these people are true SL shopaholics, but since they don’t choose what they get and only end up with what is free they are frustrated. As far as the frustration around hunts for them it’s like going into a grocery store blindfolded and then being surprised that they don’t like everything in their cart. 

However rather than understanding that it’s their choice to “go free” in SL and that takes most of the choice out of the equation, they get angry about it. Personally I don’t do hunts, and I pay or make what I want here. So I don’t have any advice for the angry freebie hunter. However I do have a shop and run a 2 sim shopping area so I do have some ideas for dealing with what is going on. 


No hunt hunts:
Let’s face it someone is going to make that cheat sheet. So why fight it. When you put together a hint sheet, go ahead and make that cheat sheet too.  Some people will do the hunt the fun way and the rest can zoom through it.

Designer Showcase Network:
Simple and easy, set up a vendor, put in a free item, set it to the correct category (Male, Female, Skin, Vehicles, etc.) potential customers get a random item from their category once a day. No hunting, no complaining about lag, and because its random it discourages trash talk about any one freebie.

Rethink your free offerings:
Banning freebies is silly, it’s how everyone gets their start and they can be a useful marketing tool. However if you don’t like how your free offerings are being received, change how you do it. Free items only for loyal customers or giving out demo versions of your new releases are only a few options.

Get some perspective:
There are some in SL that will only take your free items and never buy a thing from you and that’s fine. There is also a very loud very angry minority of freebee people out there, and it can feel like everyone in SL, but it’s not.  Far more people shop and pay for things in SL than don’t. Most of the ones that only pick up freebies are grateful for what they received or at least can hit the delete key rather than gripe about what they got for free.

Ban and Mute:
It’s your store or your sim. You pay tier or rent just to keep the walls and the vendors up.  Griefing takes many forms, if you don’t care about your customers’ experience you could let your place turn into a prim littered battlefield, or choose to keep the griefers out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

SlDrama top ten

#10 Sing Broadway style… “There’s noooo Drama like SLDrama, Like nooooo Drama I know!!!”
#9 All SLDrama references to “High School” or “Childish” are moot, SLdrama sadly is ageless.
#8 Any anti-drama notes on a profile, means they are in it hip deep.
#7 Marking a message/plurk/notecard/etc. as private is code to spread this around as much as you can
#6 If are in the drama and you took the drama from “Private” to “Public” yourself NO MATTER WHAT you lose.
#5 If you are mentioned in the SlDrama, not responding or responding late in the game is your worse option, you will only look more and more “guilty”.
#4 If you are mentioned in the SlDrama, Responding to the drama once, right away, accurately outlining your side, then not entering it again is the best you can hope for.
#3 If you are mentioned in the SLDrama, Responding to the drama once, right away, accurately outlining your side, then not entering it again is the most unsatisfying way to go.
#2 Rehashing the SLDrama over and over and over… Fail… no matter how good it feels. Just drop it!
#1 SlDrama vultures, and other fans of it, circling around and clamoring for more, you drive the engine of SLDrama. Without you there is no real SLDrama. Congratulations. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And the wall comes down. End of the teen grid.

If you haven’t heard, recent comments by LL CEO Mark Kingdom (M Linden)and chairman/founder Philip Rosedale (Philip Linden) indicate that second life plans to merge the current Teen Grid into the main grid. No firm plans for implementation or dates of course. As usual we hear about these things with no details so people’s minds can run wild. What will it mean? Expunging all adult content from the main grid? Thousands of lawsuits involving 13 year olds wandering into the wrong area? Reliance on the broken, and will never ever work, age verification system? Hell anything is possible right?

So why would the lindens want to merge the grids in the first place? The lindens are big on promoting education as in getting real world educators using the platform. Merging the grids makes it much easier to implement classes and makes it all the more attractive for educators. There is also some want for families to be able to meet up on the same grid. Some parents are unhappy that the teen grid is so closed that they can’t even check up on what their children are up to in world.

The other argument with merging the grids is that teens can just lie about their age and get on the main grid anyway so why bother with running two grids. While this is true I’m not happy with this as a reason. This logic leaves out the fact that some teens and certainly their parents want a level of protection. It simply isn’t right to suddenly turn the “good” teens over to the wolves. So how can they be protected from the Adult content?

Purging the main grid of all adult content is a joke. If that’s the plan then they might as just shut down the main grid and only run the teen grid. Even if they scrubbed the grid Disney clean they would have to approve all new content uploads as well as deal with chat, IMs, and Voice. So with Adult verification broken beyond all hope how can they protect minors in the new combined grid? By verifying the minors rather than verifying the adults.

If a teen with their parents’ permission wants to access a safer combined grid, they will need to give their real age and be classified as a RL teen in second life using the same methods to secure access to the teen grid now. This could allow areas of SL not verified as safe to be blocked to minor access. It could also allow a way for the rest of us to know a teen when we see one, either by looking at their profile or some sort of avatar marking like the white dot we have over people in voice chat now. 
While imperfect this would allow for the kind of protections one would expect in RL. As an adult you would know when they are around teens and would at least have the choice of acting appropriately.  A teen might work around the system by camming beyond where they are allowed, but at least they will not stumble into an adult area. Beyond this the imperfect nature of teen/adult interactions would rule.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More than skin deep?

Although I do not make my living in SL as a skin designer I found myself having a guttural reaction while reading Nexeus Fatale’s post “Frustrations of an Ethnic Avatar in Second Life”. It was the same type of reaction I had over a year ago when I read parts of Mean Girls Orchard’s post “SL Racism”. In her post she states that, “…content creation isn't about creativity at all - its about money. Content creators don't make things that make them happy .. they make things that the droning masses will buy. Sally Skinmaker doesn't care what color you WANT to be…” dragging skin makers in to her arguments about SL Racism and disappointment in skin options in general. 

While Nexeus does not claim racism specifically he does claim ignorance in general and believes that “…designers need to re-evaluate what they have and work on creating more items and content that is more diverse and of equal quality or don’t do it at all…” To me that feels pretty harsh considering how much work goes into a single skin. 

The biggest issue with skins and skin makers are the economies of scale. SL gives skin designers a single layer in order to all of their work. In the case of a men’s skin offering 4 facial hair and 4 skull hair styles making 16 variations for a single shade skin. If you doubled the number of facial and skull hair styles suddenly you are at 64 skin variations to be uploaded, photographed, and packaged and rezzed out, for one shade of skin. It’s the same issue women have finding a skin with makeup options they like. Until the lindens give us multiple skin layers this issue stays. Then there is the issue of vertical markets. What are you going to go after in SL? Nekos? Furries? Elfs? Demons? Vampires? Zombies? Cybogs? The SL rainbow does not begin and end with earthly humans and no designer can do it all. So choices are made limiting the options offered. 

Now are skin designers missing out on untapped vertical markets out there like targeting more specific human races and even combinations of these races? There is much talk about how glutted the SL skin marketplace is. There may be a huge market advantage to a skin designer to come up with very specific racial skins. Not just to cater to that specific race wanting to look like themselves in SL, but to cater to those that would like to Role Play as that race. 

So what is the solution here? I’m not going to suggest that anyone that can’t find what they want needs to just “make it themselves”.  Try and work with skin makers rather than just be frustrated with them. Many designers are having a hard time of it with the global recession and may be open to detailed and specific suggestions, rather than just a short list of actors, of how they can make designs to more specific tastes. Let them know that there is a market out there that is clamoring for more than what is available and show them that it will be worth the effort to go in a direction they may have never considered. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taxation of Virtual Worlds, Not.

Ok so the hype is on about the US "National Taxpayer advocate's 2008 annual report to Congress" because of the section called, “The IRS Should Proactively Address Emerging Issues Such as Those Arising from Virtual Worlds”. This has lead to stories from various sources with titles like Get Ready for Virtual Income TaxTaxes Coming To Virtual Worlds?, and my personal favorite The taxman cometh? IRS urged to tax virtual worlds, economies. What all of these articles fail to mention is that there is NO actual recommendation to start taxing virtual worlds in the report at all. 

The section in question states that there is no IRS code about what goes on inside virtual worlds and that it should be addressed in some way including the statement that, "IRS guidance could improve taxpayer compliance even if it simply clarified that in-world transactions are not taxable". It would not be the first time that the IRS deemed virtual monetary systems not subject to tax. Frequent flyer miles are not subject to tax even thou they can be used to purchase real world items of value.

All the pro tax virtual worlds arguments revolve around the perceived real world value of these transactions. In the case of second life, yes there is an exchange rate between lindens and real life currency. Even then the report points out that "...statistics suggest that most transactions on Second Life are for less than $1 and would not be subject to information reporting, even if the IRS treated Second Life as a barter exchange." 

Its only the real world valuation that the IRS is ever going to care about. When I play Dead Space on the PS3 I'm in a virtual world.  There is a money system, and stores, and items I buy and sell. I generate value when I upgrade my weapons, it's valuable to me while I'm playing the game anyway. But if I can't cash out where is all this value when I eject the disk? If you play WOW all day and get this great weapon but never sell it on E-bay who cares? If you do sell it, that money is considered reportable income, and is already covered by IRS laws. Think of it like this, if you grow corn in your back yard and sell it that income is taxable. But if you just eat it yourself or let it rot, you haven't profited financially from it so there is nothing to tax so the IRS doesn't care about it. 

Of course there are grey areas like IMVU Music where you can use virtual monies to buy real MP3s and this wacky notion of buying pizza with lindens that seems to have never happened. (at least I couldn't find it in world) If things like this become the rule and not the exception it will be more likely that the IRS will really take notice. Or I could be wrong and the next update to Dead Space will include a sales tax upgrade to the ships store.