Solving Content Theft in SL
I don't fully understand the technical or legal issues which make content theft in virtual spaces so difficult to solve. Like most people I have read that "if you can see, you can steal it" on the Internet. In order for us to be able to see all the wonderful things SL offers, the textures have to be rendered on our computers and once the information is on our computers, clever people can find a way to keep that data. Once the data has a price tag as virtual goods do, there is a powerful incentive for dishonest people to claim the content and attempt to redistribute it.
Again like most people, I hear about talented content creators having work stolen in flagrant ways and I wonder "why isn't Linden Lab doing something to stop this crime?" I have heard about DCMAs being filed and nothing happening. I see stolen content all over the grid and wonder what is it going to take to stop this theft? I figured it was time for me to try to understand the issues a bit better -- content theft has been going on for a long, long time but it sure seems to be spiraling out of control lately.
Yesterday, I was invited to a talk Bettina Tizzy organized on the frustrating and difficult subject of content theft. The speaker was Ben Duranske who wrote "Virtual Law: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds," and I was so interested to hear what he had to say that I rearranged my RL schedule to be there. Duranske's talk was fantastic and for a great summary I suggest you read Phaylen's blog. She has done an excellent job of summarizing the presentation and highlighting the issues.
Duranske suggests content creators make sure they register their copyright with the government because in the US doing so increases the ability to sue for damages and recover legal costs. When content theft becomes international, despite the Berne Convention, prosecution becomes difficult. Duranske said the best thing to do if your work is stolen is to file a DCMA with Linden Lab. He went on to suggest that, in his personal opinion, Linden Lab's response to content theft has been insufficient. (I think any reasonable person would strongly agree with this assertion.) Duranske said he is a "big fan" of the class action suit as a tool. He remarked that the class action suit recently brought against Linden Lab regarding content theft was very well done. I guess we will see the results of that action eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Later in the day I attended "Asked & Answered: All you ever wanted to know about third party viewers and content theft." This event was a panel discussion produced by Rezzed.TV. Stuart Warf was the moderator and his guests were Rebel Hope a content creator who has had her entire store stolen by a copybot, Tenshi Vielle a blogger and member of 'The Artist's Voice' a group working to find solutions to content theft, and two of the developers of the Emerald Viewer Lonely Bluebird and Fractured Crystal. You can download the podcast here. The venue was packed demonstrating the incredible amount of interest in this subject. To be honest the best discussion happened in the audience after the end of the show. Rezzed.TV plans to continue the discussion in a series of similar events over the coming weeks.
Later in the evening I passed on a few Halloween parties and instead chose to listen to Kazihiro's talk about the creative process, which I blogged about a few days ago. Kaz walked the audience through the use of Maya to create sculpties and baked shadows, then shared the process used in Photoshop to create detailed textures. I will say listening to an artist talk about all the work that goes in to one single sculpted prim really capped off my day of learning about content theft in an appropriate way.
Solving content theft is just not going to be easy. Saying "Linden Lab should stop it now!" is way too simplistic. Frankly, I think Linden is somewhat limited in what they can do. Once that lovely object is viewable on a thief's computer they can technically steal it. The question is what legal and social pressures can Linden Lab and individuals use to prevent the theft. If prevention is not possible, how do we prosecute effectively? I really don't know the answers, but it seems lots of people are engaged in the discussion and hopefully something positive will happen soon. I don't even want to think about the future of SL if content theft continues without restraint.
ETA: Duranske's slides can be found here.