Content, Copyright, and Fashionably Dressed (?) Cartoon Animals

This article in the NY Times was a nice segue into editing what we hope is the last draft of the Legal Primer for Content Creators in Virtual Worlds.

Google has an interesting approach to copyright offenders: they make them ‘go to school’.  We would question, though, whether a 4 1/2 minute video and 4-question multiple choice (guess) quiz will really deter offenders.  We appreciate the fact that it may, perhaps, be possible that someone somewhere may not realize that if they didn’t make the cool content they want to share they are probably infringing someone’s copyright. But that seems unlikely in today’s interconnected world of sophisticated content consumers.

It is interesting that Google has decided to soft pedal their enforcement efforts by giving offenders what amounts to a one-time wrist slap for the ignorant.

When we were drafting, and then reviewing, the Legal Primer, we had a fair bit of discussion about how to deliver the information at the right level.  We’re still discussing whether or not it is as accessible as it should be for an audience of visual thinkers.  The term accessible, for uninitiated, can often mean dumbed down.

Since we’re writing about what is inherently a complicated topic, and a topic which is usually discussed in a great deal of dry, boring, legal jargon, we’ve been challenged to somehow deliver this information in a way that we hope won’t make our readership bleed from the ears, but without diluting the value of the information by dumbing it down.

As the primary drafter of this document, we are taking the approach that our audience deserves a more intelligent document than YouTube’s Copyright School, because we think our audience is smart enough to manage to read a document that is short on cute cartoon animals and long on words and weighty concepts.  There isn’t a video (and no plans for one) and the text is a heck of a lot longer than a single above-the-fold web questionnaire.

Of course, given that the focus is content in OpenSim and SecondLife, perhaps we could illustrate it with an adorable tiny avatar.

Thinks for a minute…

Nah.

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Content, Creation, Consumerism, and Control

It seems lately there are a good many pundits out there who want to define how content creators should license their content.  They even go as far as defining what license should be used and what format it should take.

This commentary brings up some interesting questions about creation and consumption of digital works, because at the heart of all of these discussions are assumptions that are broadly made about control and ownership of such works.

What we find particularly interesting is that what these pundits really want is to assert control over other people’s property, and to do it in a particularly insidious way…by asserting their wants and desires over creative work without actually consulting the people who are the creators.

Creative people create like other people breathe – it is that natural a part of their being.  Their creations are an extension of their selves, a bit of their creative heart’s blood that they have made whole and real in a sharable and often tangible way.  Many of us define ourselves by the work we do.  Our work is so often a deep part of ourselves that we find it tremendously troubling to see non-creatives attempt to define and restrain our work, often in a way we ourselves have not and would not agree with.

Because our work so often is an extension of ourselves, we see it as an aggressive form of enslavement and marginalization of content creators to be told by non-creatives how our work should be managed, a level of control which these same pundits would never accept themselves from an outside community. Obviously if a creative is performing work for hire, then the person doing the hiring can in fact stipulate control, but we are referring primarily to the many talented freelance creatives out there who work primarily for themselves.

Creatives are being told, de facto, that we must license content the way ‘they’ want, or ‘we will fail and be bypassed.’ However, so far the actual facts  of content licensing do not reflect this at all.

We at Fashion Research Institute have been watching the swirl but thus far have refrained from commenting.  We think it is important to state on the record that we fully support content creators and their right to license their content in whatever way makes sense to them.  If (and this is a very big if) they wish to license their work using any of the many public and standard licensing agreements available, then they should have the right to do so.  Likewise, if they wish to license their work under any other license, then they should have the right to do so.

Having said this, we think the market itself will speak as content and licensing evolves.  If consumers balk at the license terms any given content creator offers, they can opt to not license with that creator.  What we think is more likely to happen is that content licensing will bifurcate, with creators who make mediocre content being pleased to offer their content with fairly nonrestrictive terms, operating under the assumption that ‘getting their name out there’ is a sound business decision.  Alternately, content creators who provide superior, premium content that is in demand by the marketplace will also be able to define their own license, which may prove to have more restrictive terms but which will still be gladly accepted by a different segment of the marketplace.

We have already seen these assumptions playing out in our own practice.  Fashion Research Institute has its own licenses, and we provide content that ranges from quality retail content to superior, premium certified content.  Consumers who want to know that the content they are being provided has provenance and pedigree, and can be certified, are willing to accept the more restrictive license in return for the security they receive in knowing that the content they are receiving is not laundered or pirated, which gives the consumer an additional layer of legal reassurance. Retail consumers, who do not need the layer of protection provided by the certification process, are generally content with our less restrictive retail license. Other consumers decline our license and take their chances with content creators who are willing to license and price their work according to their own process methodology.

As the industry evolves, the marketplace will shake out into something similar to the animal husbandry marketplace, where pedigreed, pure-bred animals cost more than adoptive animals.  The pure-bred costs more because its provenance can be traced and the purchaser has a pretty good idea what the animal will look like and how it should behave.  Likely the adoptive animal may cost nothing to very little because purchasers get no certificate of assurance about what Fluffy or Fido is going to become or how it will behave. In the same way, premium content will be handled differently than non-premium content because premium content costs more to produce and manage and it will be licensed differently.

PVDS Weekly Speaker Series Guest Richard Childers November 5th

Please join us as we welcome Richard Childers, President of Virtual Space Entertainment as he speaks about the trials and tribulations of content development in Blue Mars at the weekly Professional Virtua Designer’s Society on Friday, November 5th from 3-4 PM SLT in the 21C region of Second Life.

Richard Childers says, “As the first Blue Mars developer we have been through a lot…a lot of money, a lot of heartache, and a lot of fun. I will be glad to provide an inside look at the process.”

FULL FALL SPEAKER SCHEDULE – http://bit.ly/bQydjR
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Professional Virtua Designers’ Society

Our Mission
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The purpose of the Professional Virtua Designers’ Society is to promote and protect the social, economic and professional interests of its members.

The Society is committed to improving conditions for all digital artists designing and developing virtual goods and products intended to be used in virtual worlds. It is also committed to raising standards for the entire emerging industry. The Society embraces digital artists at all skill levels and provides professional development to lift these special content creators to new levels of professionalism and skill.

Content & Licensing in Virtual Worlds

We are seeing an increase of something that we find disturbing on many levels: self-created licenses for content.

The reasons we find these licenses is disturbing are many: in general, content creators are not lawyers, nor do they seek legal counsel in developing their license agreements.  These agreements are often poorly framed or worded. The agreements do not indicate what legal jurisdiction and what laws of what country govern them.  And, scariest of all, some of these licenses attempt to ‘reverse engineer’ previous licensing agreements.

Any software developer will understand why licenses cannot be changed after something has been issued.  Others will have used that original bit of code issued under one license, which has its own unique set of requirements and restrictions.  These users may have even created a product that incorporates the original bit of code.  If coders were allowed to change their original license terms, that means that anything created with that original bit of code would also be subject to these new terms, which might be more restrictive than the initial license agreement. Trouble, heartache and grief and legal strife lies that way, and so once something has been released under one license, that is the license that governs its use for all time.

Likewise, content creators can’t change their license terms after the fact.  We see this increasingly with content creators who have been developing for Second Life®, where they are suddenly changing their terms of agreement for previous purchasers.  Unfortunately, licensing doesn’t work that way. If you license content under one agreement, you cannot legally to make a unilateral change in the licensing agreement unless you have included language to this effect in the original license.

It’s just like the coders with their software licenses: if they were allowed to change the license type, that change would create a legal and administrative nightmare and no one would use their code as a result.   Users would be afraid to, since they wouldn’t know if they had to try to track everywhere that code was used, in what products, and how the licensing might change the usefulness and applicability.

Since most of these licenses are not developed by actual lawyers, but by the content creators themselves, those agreements are missing certain critical and important terms…such as a clause enabling the content creator to make changes to the licensing agreement at will with appropriate notification to purchasers of that content going forward.

We have been working with a team of American Bar Association lawyers for the past 18 months, developing legal templates that content creators will be able to use as a ‘jumping off’ point for their own agreements.  These agreements are only suitable for organizations or individuals who are based in the United States, and of course, legal counsel should be sought to help further develop them. Towards the end of October, we will be publishing these legal templates for content creators to use in developing their own legal agreements for licensing.

We will also be publishing our legal primer for content creators, which is intended to help content creators navigate the murky waters of content creation and licensing for OpenSim-based worlds.

Virtual Worlds and E-Commerce: Technologies and Applications for Building Customer Relationships

JUST released by IGI Global – Virtual Worlds and E-Commerce: Technologies and Applications for Building Customer Relationships. Author/editor Barbara Ciaramitaro (Walsh College, USA)  gathered an amazing group of industry experts to present various opinions, judgments, , and ideas on how the use of digitally created worlds is changing the face of e-commerce and extending the use of internet technologies to create a more immersive experience for customers.

Virtual Worlds and E-Commerce

Shenlei Winkler authors Chapter 13, Opening the Content Pipeline for OpenSim-Based Virtual Worlds

Fashion Research Institute CEO, Shenlei Winkler, contributed her insight by authoring Chapter 13,  Opening the Content Pipeline for OpenSim-Based Virtual Worlds.

Here’s the abstract for Shenlei’s Chapter.

Open-Simulator (Open-Sim) refers to a three dimensional application environment that can be used to develop virtual worlds similar to those that exist in Second Life®. Open-Sim is considered open source software, i.e., software that is developed by a community of volunteers and is available for use by the public free of charge (Open Simulator, 2009). Although participants in virtual worlds are generally considered by law to be the owner of any Intellectual Property (IP) they create, content creators and owners of OpenSim-based virtual worlds struggle with issues surrounding licensing, content delivery, and usage in these immersive spaces. The Fashion Research Institute (FRI) is specifically exploring these issues in a case study involving the licensing its Shengri La virtual world creations to external users. This case study is the basis of ongoing legal research by FRI’s legal steering committee of attorneys from the American Bar Association’s Virtual Worlds and Online Gaming committee who are working on a pro bono (volunteer) basis. This chapter presents the result of the ongoing case study. It offers a practitioner’s view of issues related to licensing and distribution of content in virtual worlds.

To order a full copy, visit IGI Global.

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-808-7.ch013