Content, Piracy, and OpenSim-based Grids

We recently picked up a link sent to us of an image shot in an OpenSim-based grid, that showed a 3D model used in the region that looked suspiciously familiar. Upon visiting the region, I discovered that lo, the model was in fact very familiar: it was a model created for our old Shengri La islands (closed in Summer 2010) by a very talented artist who we have supported since his early days in Second Life®.

We approached the owner of the region and let him know that he was harboring pirated content. While he did remove that model, his response made it abundantly clear that a lot more consciousness-raising must occur not only with content creators, but also with consumers. He seemed to think that pirated content was somehow a single creator issue, not a community issue, and we take issue with this point of view for a number of well-informed reasons.

What we did not say, but should have said, to this gentleman is what mothers everywhere tell their children when the kids pick up (and put in their mouth) something they found in the street: ‘Don’t pick that up.  Don’t put that in your mouth. You don’t know where it has been.  Now wash your hands.’

It’s the same thing with so-called ‘freebie content’.  As a consumer, there’s no way to know where that content has been.  Most of the ‘freebie content’ in the OpenSim universe has no provenance to speak of, much of it has been pirated, and the way it is dispersed and distributed creates some massive legal and security issues.

Currently these security issues relate more to DRM and legal considerations, but we can also foresee the day when some hacker decides to create a Trojan horse attached to some particularly attractive bit of content and release it into the ‘freebie pool’.

While we do not yet know of any tech exploits attached to content in this way, we assume it is merely a matter of time before it happens, and when it does, we anticipate that such an exploit will spread quickly given the dispersion rate of content in the OpenSim-based grids.

We will repeat again: there are many good reasons not to pick up content of questionable provenance. Odds are good it is pirated, which has moral, ethical, and legal implications.

But even more specifically for the average consumer, and why they should care, is that there is a very real risk of danger to their personal hardware/software.  We wouldn’t know the exact details of how a Trojan horse security exploit would be built in a virtual world, but we do know that it is something that could be done.  We surmise the average consumer would not be able to detect such an attached exploit until too late.  We also understand how disease vectors spread epidemics. Unconstrained freebie content that can move freely through hypergrid-enabled worlds with no real technical controls is a ticking time bomb that will explode.  We think it is merely a matter of time before it does.

We see the possibility of trouble ahead, so we are speaking up now to warn the community of content consumers that free content may end up not being quite so ‘free’ if the freebie collector ends up having to pay to have their hard drive scrubbed because the content itself was nothing more than a Trojan horse. Whether or not it is better for a consumer to protect themselves by only buying content licenses from known entities is something only the consumer can decide.  After all, ultimately, they are the ones who assume the risks in picking something up out of the gutter and putting it in their mouths.

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3 thoughts on “Content, Piracy, and OpenSim-based Grids

  1. There are just so many things wrong with this article that I don’t even know where to start. Let’s just number them for good measure:

    1.) What on earth makes it your problem when someone has copyrighted material from someone else on their, or anothers, grid? Judging from what you wrote, you’re not the creator of the model.
    2.) Are you really comparing consumers to kids, who need to be told by their “mothers” (i.e., in your metaphor, you) what to consume?
    3.) Are you insinuating that people giving away freebies are in some way more likely to be malicious than those who sell them for money? Couldn’t a “trojan horsed pirated copy” be sold likewise?
    4.) Are you aware that the internet is rather international, and that opensim users from other countries might even have a legal right to copy copyrighted material for personal reasons without the permission of the owner?
    5.) How do you define “questionable provenance”? People use the freebies I offer without ever questioning me, without knowing me, without contacting me. Am I, to them, questionable? If yes, how can I become unquestionable?
    6.) Tell me more about these “disease vectors” and how they spread epidemics. I have yet to see my first opensim epidemic, and this sounds like a whole bunch of bollocks, to be quite frank.
    7.) Also, please tell me exactly what your fears are based upon that you need to warn the consumer community so very intensely. Are there trojan horse copies distributed? Do you have evidence? Could you give names? Or is it just a little conspiracy in your head?

    • V,

      We received your comment, and after we had time to review its content to insure it met our guidelines, approved it for posting. We appreciate the time it took you to formulate and express your opinion. We appreciate that you care enough to share it with the community.

      Your characterization of our actions as an attempt to act as “network police” is incorrect and misleading. The incident took place in a grid where we consider ourselves part of the community, and where we are certain the US copyright laws and TOS both made this unacceptable behavior.

      We stand by our position that the OpenSim community is being hurt by the “no one has figured out how to prevent duplicates of digitally based property, so its OK to do whatever the software allows and copy whatever we want” crowd.

      We look forward to a productive discourse on the issues you raised, and believe we can accomplish this discussion without invoking fears of any “SEKRIT CONSPIRACY”….

  2. As a fellow content creator, I share your concerns over the integrity of IP, but to be quite frank this article came off as a rather flimsy and ill-informed scare piece.

    First, to your concerns about pirated content: Yes its currently a problem, and it probably will always be a problem, given the nature of digital content. As shown by the evolution of content on the regular old 2D internet, attempts to clamp down hard on piracy by way of restrictive technology almost universally fails, while a healthy ecosystem of communication and reporting does a far better job on keeping it at a tolerable level. To this end, Opensim is making some big strides, such as Diva Canto’s recent work to preserve creator information across the Hypergrid. This will help improve accountability and security. In short, there’s a active effort to try to improve the situation.

    Now, to your concerns about malicious code and a coming plague of malware that will sweep across the Metaverse. Frankly, I’m really not sure where you’re getting this from. Right now, Opensim is constrained to pretty much the same LSL scripts that SL uses, and those only run on the servers. Furthermore, their power were intentionally limited when LSL was first designed to prevent any sort of systemic damage. The most risk you would run is by downloading a new and untested viewer, which does have deep access to your computer and could be made malicious.

    Finally, the Hypergrid needs freebies. Without any sort of unified or battle-tested currencies ubiquitously deployed, freebies are the only way grid owners can offer content to new adopters. Of course they should strive to find legitimate content, and perhaps there’s a need for a universal creative-commons licensed community library of donated content for grid owners to draw from. Implying that one should not trust any freebie of quality because it *might* be pirated does nothing more than confuse the issue.

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