Copyright and DMCA to Enter the World of Virtual Reality?

by on November 15, 2006 · 8 comments

There is an absolutely intriguing discussion going on over on the Second Life blog today about a new threat facing this popular virtual reality world. (If you are not familiar with Second Life, see this Wired magazine “travel guide” for this virtual world.)

It seems that Second Life users are growing increasingly concerned about the spread of a program or bot called “CopyBot,” which allows the instantaneous and perfect reproduction of virtual objects / property created inside of Second Life. As Daniel Terdiman points out over on CNet News.com today: “That includes goods such as clothing that people purchase for their in-world avatars, and even the virtual PCs that computer giant Dell announced Tuesday it is going to sell in the digital world.”

The folks at Linden Labs, creators of Second Life, posted a note about all this entitled, “Copyrights and Content Creation in Second Life.” It does a lousy job of trying to explain how copyright law works in the real world but suggests that Second Lifers who feel they have been wronged might want to look into how the DMCA could help them out. The post goes on to note that:

“ultimately it’s the DMCA process that provides you with the channel to protect your investment. It’s to your benefit to review the government’s rules for filing a copyright and protecting it… Copyright law is very complex, and for those of you building businesses protecting your investment will be an on-going challenge. We recognize the importance of helping you to manage your copyrights, and will make every effort to build features into the system to mitigate the negative impact of copying. Beyond that we will help you initiate the DMCA takedown process when appropriate.”

An amazing debate followed the post and, as of 2:30 on Wed. the 15th, about 700 comments had been posted by Second Life users. Interestingly, a very large number of respondents are extremely angry about Linden Labs’ response and are arguing that it shouldn’t be their responsibility to run and file a DMCA notice (and who knows how that would even work in a virtual reality context). Instead, they argue that Linden Labs should find a way to unilaterally solve this “artistic rape” (as one user called it) by laying down some new virtual laws or restrictions on unauthorized reproduction of user’s intellectual creations / virtual property. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consensus among users about how Linden Labs should go about accomplishing this. But the vast majority of them seem to agree that property rights are being violated and that something must be done soon before the virtual economy within Second Life begins to deteriorate.

Instead of trying to summarize the entire exchange, I encourage you to go there and read it for yourself. This is extremely interesting stuff for a political philosophy major like me. A new world has been born and now its citizens are struggling with defining the basic principles and laws that will govern it. It’s what political scientists refer to as a nation’s “constitutional moment.” It will be interesting to see how the citizens of Second Life handle theirs.

  • http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    That’s the trouble with trying to enable people to visit a virtual world, rather than give them influence over fictional avatars.

    People think that if it has real players you can copy the real executive, legislature, and judiciary too.

    VR was supposed to be an escape from reality, not a legally invigilated computer generated theme park.

    Shut down the border before it’s too late. VR systems must be reclassified purely as teleconferencing facilities where people role play and all speech is a priori ephemeral, with no contracts binding.

  • http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    That’s the trouble with trying to enable people to visit a virtual world, rather than give them influence over fictional avatars.

    People think that if it has real players you can copy the real executive, legislature, and judiciary too.

    VR was supposed to be an escape from reality, not a legally invigilated computer generated theme park.

    Shut down the border before it’s too late. VR systems must be reclassified purely as teleconferencing facilities where people role play and all speech is a priori ephemeral, with no contracts binding.

  • http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    A VR world also has to be defined as a public domain work not subject to IP law – and consequently no exclusive rights can be enjoyed by the proprietor.

    This (and other issues) all add up to an inescapable conclusion that any large scale virtual environment must be a publicly owned system.

    That’s what I concluded when I wrote this:
    http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20000313/fitc

  • http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    A VR world also has to be defined as a public domain work not subject to IP law – and consequently no exclusive rights can be enjoyed by the proprietor.

    This (and other issues) all add up to an inescapable conclusion that any large scale virtual environment must be a publicly owned system.

    That’s what I concluded when I wrote this:
    http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20000313/fitch_04.htm

  • http://akira.arts.kuleuven.ac.be/andreas/blog/ Andreas

    A couple of points:

    <ul>
    <li>

    “But the vast majority of them seem to agree that property rights are being violated and that something must be done soon before the virtual economy within Second Life begins to deteriorate.”

    This is exactly the problem with VR environments: players feel this is about property rights (which it is not), while in fact, it’s all about intellectual property rights.

    </li>
    <li>

    See the parallel with the music industry scenario. The labels started to release music in a digital format in the 80s, when mp3 compression and file-sharing technology weren’t around yet. After having created a business model around selling high-fidelity digital audio, the internet and mp3 compression came around, undermining the very basics of the labels’ model. We all know the results…

    </li>
    <li>

    “A new world has been born and now its citizens are struggling with defining the basic principles and laws that will govern it. It’s what political scientists refer to as a nation’s “constitutional moment.””

    There’s a difference with real world scenarios though: the entity defining SL’s rules is Linden Labs, not the community (although they can of course exert pressure, as has happened here). As Cory Doctorow says: “benevolent dictatorships aren’t the same thing as democracies.” Curious how this will work out.

    </li>
    </ul>

  • http://akira.arts.kuleuven.ac.be/andreas/blog/ Andreas

    A couple of points:

    • “But the vast majority of them seem to agree that property rights are being violated and that something must be done soon before the virtual economy within Second Life begins to deteriorate.”

      This is exactly the problem with VR environments: players feel this is about property rights (which it is not), while in fact, it’s all about intellectual property rights.

    • See the parallel with the music industry scenario. The labels started to release music in a digital format in the 80s, when mp3 compression and file-sharing technology weren’t around yet. After having created a business model around selling high-fidelity digital audio, the internet and mp3 compression came around, undermining the very basics of the labels’ model. We all know the results…

    • “A new world has been born and now its citizens are struggling with defining the basic principles and laws that will govern it. It’s what political scientists refer to as a nation’s “constitutional moment.””

      There’s a difference with real world scenarios though: the entity defining SL’s rules is Linden Labs, not the community (although they can of course exert pressure, as has happened here). As Cory Doctorow says: “benevolent dictatorships aren’t the same thing as democracies.” Curious how this will work out.

  • http://akira.arts.kuleuven.ac.be/andreas/blog/ Andreas

    “[...] it’s all about intellectual property rights.”
    And about the SL ToS defined by Linden Labs, of course.

  • http://akira.arts.kuleuven.ac.be/andreas/blog/ Andreas

    “[...] it’s all about intellectual property rights.”
    And about the SL ToS defined by Linden Labs, of course.

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