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.

Fashion Research Institute Collaborates with Intel Labs to Bring Premium Content to Science Sim

FRI has been collaborating with Intel Labs since 2009, helping to push the limits of content development in Science Sim. We are active participants in the Science Sim Senate Meetings, held each Friday morning on the Kepler Region.

On October 12th, Dr. Mic Bowman, the principal engineer in Intel Labs, who leads the Virtual World Infrastructure research project, was interviewed on ISNTV, Teach Parallel talking about Science Sim and FRI’s developments within the platform.

Science Sim Discussed on ISNTV Teach Parallel

Dr. Mic Bowman Interviewed About Science Sim

Recently, FRI announced our further collaboration with Intel Labs to provide users with premium content to give users a launching pad for their Science Sim exploration.

All items included in the Science Sim content library from FRI are covered by a license.  The class of the content determines the exact license. Scripts are covered by BSD, GPL, Creative Commons, and Public Domain licenses. All other content contributed is covered by Fashion Research Institute’s content license.

To read the full press release visit http://fashionresearchinstitute.com/news/new.html

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.