[sldev] My question about intellectual property and Second Life

Jan Ciger jan.ciger at gmail.com
Thu Aug 28 18:44:58 PDT 2008

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Hi David,

David M Chess wrote:
| I think you answered your own question there.  :)  We're talking mostly
| about copyright, but since we're also dealing with licenses that may
| grant or withhold rights that copyright law simpliciter might not, it
| also gets into licensing, contract law, and less legal stuff like Terms
| of Service, where a violation may not be a crime or a tort, but may
| still get you banned from SL.  It's kind of nice to have a blanket term
| for that, although I agree that the implicit analogy to simple property
| may be a bit forced.  (Heck, even simple non-intellectual property isn't
| all that simple; look at land for instance.)  Terminology is always
| hard...  :)

The trouble with the "blanket term" you would like to have is that it is
legally meaningless and completely misleading for the lay people.

As you have said - we may be dealing with copyright, contracts, TOS
(which is a kind of contract), trademarks, design marks (protected
designs - not sure whether the English term is correct) even patent law,
You cannot lump this under one umbrella term - these things are very
different and you will be hard pressed to even find a lawyer proficient
in all of them. Oh, and which jurisdiction are we talking about?
American law varies between states, European law (which country?) is a
yet different beast. And I know some residents from Australia, Japan and
Canada too ...

Now, what follows is not really targeted as much on you, David, as on
the people crying against being ripped off and having their stuff copied.

Some people are even trying to simplify this further, pressing for
having even stronger DRM controls or blanket banning of people who
re-create or copy someone's creation as a solution to all this.

Hate to break it to you guys, but SL is not here only for you to make a
profit. I am not against healthy in-world commerce or having a copyright
on something, but you cannot stop me from remaking your contraption,
unless I provably copy your work - which may be tricky to prove. Is
putting cubes one next to another in the same way as you did copying? It
makes no difference whether I have used a script or did it by hand. If
my work looks the same as yours, but didn't use any part of yours and I
am not distributing it as yours, it wouldn't be a copy/derivative work
in RL. Looks and functionality are not copyrightable, as Apple painfully
discovered some years ago when they tried this stunt with MacOS.

Some people would like to prevent me from even using the same idea (like
one un-named animated ocean wave creator recently!). Good luck with
that, because unless you have a patent on your work, you have no leg to
stand on. In the case of mathematical algorithms and data (which SL
content arguably is) obtaining patent may even not be possible (not to
mention the ridiculous expense). So, if the wave maker is reading this,
do everyone a favour and remove the ridiculous language from your
"license". You will look less like a dork.

Finally, for the people pushing for various "EULA"-like fields in the
object properties - you do not know what you are getting yourself into.
Your license may not even be a valid license in many places, unless it
is translated to the official language. E.g. in Germany, all such
documents have to be in German to be valid. So, if I want to use your
work against your license, all I have to do is to get a German do it
because your license is in English only. Also, "click-wrap",
non-negotiable contracts are not enforceable in many places. So unless
Lindens are planning to create an in-world legal system covering this
(TOS extension?), it will be a mess.

If you feel harmed by someone's copying your stuff, sue. That is what
courts are for and then I will have also a chance to defend myself.
Having a company-appointed "policeman" banning people left and right
just because someone accused them of theft is not acceptable (some game
companies are doing this and there is enough of crying asking for this
on the SL forums ...).

However, do not push blanket technical measures on everyone for your own
sake. Look at the situation in music or video, where the big labels
managed to completely obliterate the legitimate media market with their
technological and legal efforts. Only one or two big players are able to
stay in the market today. And of course, the pirates, who couldn't care
less. Everyone else is screwed. I would hate to see this happening in SL
too because of short-sighted stop-gap knee-jerk reactions to a perceived


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