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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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.

Fashion Research Institute and Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc. Collaborate to Bring Avatar Content to Youth Project

Fashion Research Institute is pleased to announce the signing of an agreement between FRI and Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc, to bring new content to participants in the PFH project that provides treatment services to rural youth after they leave residential treatment.

Preferred Family Healthcare is convinced that the ability of people to interact in new exciting ways, using innovative technology, will lead the way to solutions to long-existing challenges as well as improving the delivery of critical services in the future,” says Dick Dillon, Senior VP, Planning and Development at Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc.

Having developed content in OpenSim since 2007, Fashion Research Institute is well aware of the lack of premium content that most organizations experience when they first bring an initiative into OpenSim.

“High-quality avatar customization content can help assure the success of any immersive effort because the process of customizing an avatar aligns users with this digital representation of themselves. We were delighted to have the

 

Female Avatar

Default Avatar Jane

 

opportunity to collaborate with Preferred Family Healthcare on their OpenSim-based counseling initiative by providing them with high-quality, PG-rated avatars and additional customization content,” says FRI CEO Shenlei Winkler.

FRI provided the PHF project with 2 full avatars in 6 skin tones for male and females in multiple facial hair and makeup options, as well as a range of additional clothing, jewelry, shoes, and hairstyles. All skins have been created for a PG audience.

Dillon goes on to remark, “Through amazing collaborations such as this, we are beginning to see the enormous promise we have before us, and to realize what we can do, together, with these remarkable tools.”

Content Creation and OpenSim

We have been working in and developing content on OpenSim since September 2007, when we first logged into what would become the OSGrid.  Fashion Research Institute is the oldest professional content creator on OpenSim.  Our current research collaboration with Intel Lab® is focused on content management and movement using the OpenSim-based ScienceSim as our test platform. With Linden Lab’s recent announcements about price changes and the closure of Teen Second Life grid, we are seeing increased interest from educators and other consumers of content, many of whom are confused about what they can and cannot do with content they ‘purchased’  in Second Life®, and where to go for content which they have a legal right to use in their pending OpenSim-based educational grids.

In the hope of helping to alleviate some of the confusion, we offer here some of the insight we have acquired over the years of working in OpenSim and the best practices we ourselves use in developing our content in OpenSim.

We started moving our content out of Second Life® a year or so ago, and closed our final avatar apparel line last Spring, after Linden Lab® made some ToS announcements.  Our area of expertise, as one may expect from the Fashion Research Institute, is avatar customization content. We needed a substantial catalog of content to outfit our avatar models on our Virtual Runway™  product.  We have also developed content libraries of PG-rated avatars and a well-tested orientation region for OpenSim for various organizations to use on their OpenSim-based grids such as ScienceSim. We now have a huge body of content available for licensing by those who need an orientation program or avatar customization content.

Although we finished backing up our content from Second Life®  six months ago, what follows is our ‘best practices’ from that process.

We had an extensive collection of avatar content we had developed over the years.  We found that the best tool to move this content was Stored Inventory. (aka Second Inventory)  It will move the contents of prim containers, including scripts, textures and other objects. Although the process itself is slow, it is also relatively mindless and can be performed in the background while other tasks are being accomplished, or given to an intern for completion.  All content brought in using Second Inventory should be checked for completeness, as it is prone to not completely backing up containers of content.

Please note that Stored Inventory will only allow the actual content creator to move his or her own content.  If a user licensed content within Second Life®, but they are not the content creator, they will not be allowed to move that content.

Something a content user should be concerned about is knowing the provenance of the content they are acquiring: who made it and is it original content.  Professional content developers will do business either under a business name, which should be registered and have a employer identification number of some sort, or as a real life individual who will also have some sort of  taxpayer identification number.  If a content creator refuses to provide such information you may wish to reconsider conducting business with them. There is no way for you to track them down if there proves to be a legal or other issue with content you may have licensed from them.

Of course, licensing or purchasing content that uses trademarks owned by real world organizations is also rife with issues. Most of the owners of these marks didn’t license them for use by Second life® or OpenSim developers, so you run the risk of legal liability.  Can your nonprofit, for profit, or school afford the legal fees to defend itself?  If not, be very careful about allowing licensed trade or service marks into your content.

A final bit of advice, when a content consumer decides to move their content from Second Life® into OpenSim, or decides to license new content from a creator, make sure you document all of your content, including any licensing information, and back up that up in a commonly accessible document management system so that everyone in your organization that handles content has access to it. Create a special OS region where all you do is bring your content in and curate that region. Have your admin make OAR files early and often: nothing is worse than losing hours of backup because the region failed to save to the server properly. When you are all done with the region, make sure you have some sort of record of what is contained within the region, and then link that record to your OAR file for back ups.

NOTE:  Due to the announcement today from Linden Lab regarding yet another change in the ToS, the Professional Virtua Designer Society will be holding a special session to discuss how these new terms can affect content creators.  For more information about the PVDS, visit http://bit.ly/bQydjR.

Fashion Research Supplies Avatars for Science Sim Demo

On August 31, 2010, Intel Labs posted this video discussing the advances in scalability in the OpenSim platform of Science Sim.  Fashion Research Institute has the pleasure of collaborating by providing the avatars and apparel shown in the video.

“John” is the basic default corporate male avatar provided by Fashion Research Institute to ScienceSim.  John’s feminine counterpart, Jane, isn’t shown in this video.  Just like in the physical world, it seems the price of beauty presents interesting challenges – Jane’s hair, jewelry and other accessories have a much higher avatar rendering cost than John’s much more simple attire.

Jane will make her appearance at some point, however, along with the four other new default avatars being provided by Fashion Research Institute to ScienceSim as part of a corporate donation of a new content library to ScienceSim.

Creating and Visualizing 3D Content in Science Sim

Shenlei Winkler Speaking at ISTE2010 SIGVE Virtual Environments Playground

Join educator and author Shenlei Winkler for this whirlwind tour through three well-defined use cases for OpenSim-based education.  Focusing on her celebrated work in virtual worlds for fashion designers, she also highlights ongoing research and development of exciting new projects in historical simulation.

Winkler will be talking about OpenSim for Education: Butterflies, Battlefields and Fashion Design from 12-12:30 pm MT/2:2:30 pm ET in the ISTE Island 4 region in Second Life.  Please join us for what promises to be an interesting half hour!