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.