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.


  1. I have refrained from launching into the original intent of copyright law period - which is NOT what most people think it is, and did not come into existence for the reasons most people think it did... and has since been twisted by the legal system and more heavily by corporations who have no desire to allow things they might still make money off slide into public domain. Srsly, I refrained. Because I could go all day.

    You're quite right that the Lindens shouldn't be the ones deciding for copyright holders what constitutes fair or non-threatening use of a 'property'... but UNfortunately, the Lindens have as much to fear as anyone else. More, actually - since their TOS and disclaimers about residents being responsible for their own uploads/creations only protects them if a judge decides it does. Most hosting companies have similar TOS - but that hasn't prevented many judges from taking hosting companies to task for hosting child pornography or being the avenue used to leak sensitive information like social security numbers.

    The truth is - until the law catches up with the internet and its possibilities... Linden Labs has reason to fear. A judge can just as easily decide, "your servers, your fault" - and many have. Not against the Lindens, per se - but against enough companies providing similar services that it would be foolish to wait until they're at risk of losing SL to Disney to do something about it.

    That said - I don't think a unilateral ban is the answer either.
    I think the smarter thing would be an established system of notifying copyright holders of potential infringements IN CONTEXT and dealing with those infringements should the copyright holder elect to. And personally, I think they should be subject to the same system we are - since their claim to their property is no less valid than mine. Or yours.

  2. My apologies to intelligent peoples reading this; it is not for you I must add this little disclaimer:

    By this:
    "since their claim to their property is no less valid than mine. Or yours."

    I do not main my claim to their property is valid.
    I mean my claim to my own.