Matt's Muv601 Blog

A blog all about my MUV experience

Protecting Intellectual Property

So what exactly is Intellectual Property?

“A work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc” (obtained from Google definitions: http://bit.ly/IG3trJ )

Within Second Life there are many imaginative individuals that create very awesome content. Because of this there needs to be some way for Second Life Residents to be able to protect their intellectual property from theft and reproduction. While Second Life is a virtual world it is still actually party of the real world and therefore real world copyright laws need to be followed here as well.

As we should all know Second Life has a permissions system that allows the creator of an object to set what the next user can do with the object when they purchase, take, copy or get given it. This means that for example that if a Second Life Resident creates a unique outdoor table and chairs set and they are making a steady income off of this, the creator would not want for the new owner to be able to copy it and pass it out for free to other Residents, thus affecting their sales. This is where the permissions system comes in; it allows the creator to set the object to not be able to be copied, meaning that the next owner can only ever have one instance of the object. Also in conjunction with this the permissions can be set for the object to be non-transferrable/non-resalable so that it can’t be given or sold to another Resident. So effectively these permissions enable the creator to set what it is that they want to be able to be done to their work and in this way are able to somewhat protect their intellectual property rights. However the Second Life permissions system does not stop people being able to copy other people’s work 100% of the time, so copying of work still occurs in Second Life even with object permissions in place.

CopyBot was initially created as a debugging tool to be used in conjunction with Second Life. It can be used to export objects from Second Life into an XML file for either backup or moving content to and from other grids. These functionalities allow users to export and move around their intellectual property between grids and because of this it lets you to rely on your own backups of items. To me the official use seems like a very legitimate use, however how it was intended to be used and how it was actually used by some users differs greatly. CopyBot was used by some users to directly copy other users objects and then sell them themselves, thus profiting from intellectual property theft. The reason this works is because CopyBot ignores the object permissions set by the owner and just exports the object out to an XML file. CopyBot however can only copy objects that it can see, that is to say that it can’t copy objects that are inside other objects, and it also can’t copy scripts. Due to these atrocious activities CopyBot was banned for use within Second Life unless it has been programmed specifically to restrict it to only copying the users own creations.

There are ways that a creator can protect their work, however they may not be effective against things like CopyBot. Depending on what it is you want to do you might want to look at the Copyright laws and how they affect virtual items. As I stated earlier Second Life is governed by real world laws and this also pertains to the Copyright act. To get a copyright on something you create all you have to do is create it, you do not need to do anything else as you are the creator and thus become the copyright holder. Since the Second Life servers are located in the USA that means that their copyright laws are in effect, you can read more about them here (http://www.copyright.gov/). The copyright effectively allows you to choose how your creation is used, but if you want to allow everyone to use it but keep you as a creator then they are supposed to contact you and ask for your permission. To battle this there are other options you can take to exercise your copyright ownership, these are copyleft and the creative commons license. Copyleft is effectively the complete opposite of copyright and it is denoted by a backwards copyright symbol. It basically means that anyone can copy and modify your work as long as the same rights are preserved on modified versions of the work. You can read more about copyleft here (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/). The other option is a creative commons licence (CC for short) which uses different symbols to denote how you wish your creation to be used. It allows you to state that you want your creation to be able to be copied and forwarded on but not to be able to be sold. The one thing that the CC licence requires is that you are always given attribution for your work, as in you must always be referenced in any modifications or copies of your creation. This is just one example of how a CC licensed can be used, for more details visit this site (http://www.creativecommons.org.nz/licences_explained__1).  So both copyleft and the CC licenses allow you to free up your creations in both the real world and the virtual world.

In addition to these I think that the best way for virtual goods within second life is to state exactly the intentions of what you want to be done with your creation. This should be done by carefully choosing the object permissions, and also putting comments at the start of your scripts stating how you would like them to be used. Or even creating notecards that go with your creations that state exactly what you want users to be able to do in terms of copying, modifying, and the selling of your creation, modified or not.

–Matt~

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