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  Will the Real ‘Top Model’ Stomp Out the Virtual One?  
Posted 2007-03-21 by Tony Walsh
When I first heard of the "SL Next Top Model" competition underway in Second Life, I immediately searched the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office database for existing trademarks under the "Next Top Model" banner, given the prominence of the America's Next Top Model TV series. Unsurprisingly, there are 4 trademarks logged in the database under that name for services including "providing entertainment information concerning television program via global computer network." I'm no lawyer, but I think there's a good chance that the unauthorized Second Life "Next Top Model" competition infringes on the real one.

While it's foolish enough that one person in Second Life would borrow the "Top Model" monicker, The Second Life Herald reports that there are actually two individuals warring for the same ill-gotten name. I find this hilarious. On the other hand, it's the sort of thing that might raise the profile of IP theft in Second Life closer to the mainstream, which might wipe the grin off more than a few people's faces.

Continue reading: Will the Real ‘Top Model’ Stomp Out the Virtual One?
  ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game  
Posted 2007-02-08 by Tony Walsh
Today I present some scattered seeds of an idea that have been clanking around the back of my brain since I put together a presentation on "Productive Play" last year. In that presentation, I talked about how the important task of baggage screening might be improved by turning it into a massively-multiplayer game (a refined version of an earlier blog post). At the very least, the player-base for Airport Screening: The MMO would consist of actual airport screeners, but I also suggested the results might be improved by opening up the game to the public (I imagined that the number of well-intentioned participants would vastly exceed the number of griefers).

In the same presentation, I also imagined a variation of the prison-themed MMO PrisonServer, where players could adopt the role of guards: Part of a guard's responsibilities would involve watching surveillance cameras and reporting suspicious activity. In this imaginary variation, the camera footage would be actual prison footage, and reports would be submitted to actual prison authorities. False positives would seriously harm one's in-game reputation or right to play, hopefully mitigating griefing. Granted this all seems quite far-fetched in terms of actual implementation, but I submit that it's not such a stretch, based on real-life examples.

Continue reading: ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game
  Boston Guerrilla Marketing Scare’s Chilling Effects on ARG Design  
Posted 2007-02-03 by Tony Walsh
Boston Guerrilla Marketing Scare’s Chilling Effects on ARG Design
Angry Mooninite flips the bird at you.
A publicity stunt misinterpreted as a terrorist attack against the city of Boston could limit the ability of grassroots marketers, artists, and alternate-reality game developers to engage the public, if the city's Mayor gets his way. Boston was the target of a stealth marketing campaign last month that managed to spark fears of a terrorist attack this week. Illuminated mini-billboards featuring a pixellated cartoon character from the TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force were reportedly placed in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and other major U.S. cities. Boston's police force shut down parts of the city while the billboards (thought to be explosive devices) were sought out and destroyed. Authorities are describing the billboards as "hoax" devices (many bloggers have already pointed out the devices were never intended to masquerade as explosives), which apparently entitles law enforcers to press felony charges against the perpetrators.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, obviously steaming from having wasted vast city resources on a publicity stunt, has reportedly called for a ban on all guerrilla marketing campaigns due to concerns about public safety. I am reminded of how authorities overreacted to a zombie dance party last summer, or how the Revenna, Ohio police sent the bomb squad to investigate giant Super Mario Bros question blocks placed around town. Artist Space Invader affixes game-inspired ceramic pixel art to walls around the world, but he'd better stay away from Boston, lest authorities in that city imagine a real space invasion is taking place.

Continue reading: Boston Guerrilla Marketing Scare’s Chilling Effects on ARG Design
  ‘Entropia’ Debit Cards Frozen: Financial Backing Flounders  
Posted 2007-02-01 by Tony Walsh
Real debit cards allowing access to virtual funds in the online game Entropia Universe were reportedly backed by a Canadian financial institution described as "rogue" by a regulator in that country. The regulatory body Financial Institutions Commission of British Columbia filed a $64k penalty against the allegedly-rogue North York Community Credit Union late last year (source: PDF). According to a Self-Service & Kiosk Association report, MasterCard has since withdrawn its support for the Entropia cards, which may still be acquired, but are apparently inactive. The cards reportedly won't be reactivated until Entropia-maker MindArk finds a new financial backer.
  ‘Second Life’ Client Software Goes Open Source  
Posted 2007-01-08 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab announced today that their "viewer" client software for virtual world Second Life will be released "to the open source software development community." Moving to an open source model presumably allows external developers to modify the client software for better or worse, such as improving the end-user experience, creating a branded viewer, or facilitating replication of user-created content. Hacking the viewer to steal Linden Dollars (in-world currency) or to steal a user's identity will not be possible, according to Linden Lab.

On its FAQ page for the open source client, Linden Lab says that the move "will eventually increase the security of Second Life," and that "open sourcing the viewer will accelerate the development of new features..." An official and open version of the software, released under the GPL license will be available. The official version--the only version supported by Linden Lab--will be made available exclusively through the Second Life web site and incorporate "certain code changes and enhancements." Code not developed in-house will be "thoroughly reviewed" prior to integration.

The move to an open source client comes earlier than expected. In a Town Hall meeting conducted last December, Linden Lab's Cory Ondrejka said that an open source client would be rolled out in 2007. Last October, the open source timeline was given as "one or two years." One year ago this month, Ondrejka said Second Life would go open source "eventually." There's no doubt in my mind that some very large changes in Second Life's user-experience, society and culture will result from open sourcing the client.
  Anshe Chung Courts ‘Streisand Effect’  
Posted 2007-01-05 by Tony Walsh
Anshe Chung Courts ‘Streisand Effect’
Avatar Anshe Chung gets griefed.
Reuters reports that Anshe Chung Studios is attempting to use copyright-infringement notices to control how founder Anshe Chung is portrayed in the media. Last month, a live interview with Chung, conducted by CNET's Daniel Terdiman, was marred by a penis-bomb attack. Since then, articles, videos and pictures of the event have been posted by a variety of outlets and individuals. Acording to Adam Reuters, YouTube has since removed a video of the attack after being issued a takedown notice (likely without looking into the matter), while blog BoingBoing and the website of the Sydney Morning Herald have also been issued an informal takedown notices for running pictures of the event.

Reuters reprinted one such takedown notice as follows: "Unfortunately I have to point out to you that you, most likely by accident, posted an image that contains artwork copyrighted by my wife Ailin Graef and by Anshe Chung Studios, Ltd. and without obtaining our permission to do so. … We can not authorize the use of this image and the replication of the artwork and textures of the Anshe Chung avatar in this context." Embedded avatar Adam Reuters considers the ramifications of the situation, finding that "Anshe Chung Studio's claim could call into question the ownership of hundreds of thousands of photos taken within Second Life..."

Continue reading: Anshe Chung Courts ‘Streisand Effect’
  Noteworthy Changes to ‘Second Life’ IP Legalese  
Posted 2006-11-28 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab altered the Terms of Service for its virtual world Second Life last week. Of particular interest to me are changes relating to the company's usage of intellectual property and data created by users of Second Life--the details won't likely be of interest to you unless you use Second Life as a productivity platform. I am obliged to make it clear that I am not a lawyer, and my analysis of the revised legalese is therefore likely to be hit and miss.

Section 3.2 of the Terms has been changed to more clearly define as well as restrict how Linden Lab may use your content for marketing purposes. I have criticized earlier versions of this section on numerous occasions for being too broad. The Terms still say that Linden Lab or designated third-parties can use your content for promoting Second Life, but now afford you the opportunity to request that such promotion be discontinued. The section reinforces the company's irrevocable, unrestricted license to exploit your account information--including account activity--in accordance with Linden Lab's Privacy Policy. The section [still] states that when you submit your content to Second Life, you grant Linden Lab and all users an extensive license to use the content in any way within Second Life. Given this, I don't understand how the company can say that software like CopyBot could possibly be used in any infringing way. If we're all licensed to freely exploit each other's content, it's a no-holds-barred copyfest.

Continue reading: Noteworthy Changes to ‘Second Life’ IP Legalese
  The War on Anger  
Posted 2006-11-23 by Tony Walsh
Angry Netherlanders may be brought to the attention of police now that local surveillance cameras have been upgraded with aggression-detectors. According to New Scientist, the technology is installed in the city of Groningen, where three arrests have already been made during a trial of the system. Last month, New Scientist reported on a separate surveillance system designed to detect violence. I doubt either system is very effective, but perhaps a combined system would turn up fewer false positives. As I noted in earlier comments, I think systems like this encourage "the authorities" to limit personal freedoms--if the system is easily fooled by playful behaviour, I suspect that rather than find a technological fix, deliberately fooling the system will become a crime.
  ‘Second Life’ Town Hall Summary (Nov. 2006)  
Posted 2006-11-17 by Tony Walsh
An important Town Hall meeting was held in the virtual world of Second Life and broadcast over Skype yesterday, allowing Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale to address some recent resident concerns about the "CopyBot" controversy, the virtual world's explosive growth, and the resultant strain on the company's staff.

Rosedale said that CopyBot can copy textures, shapes, and objects in Second Life, but not scripts or Linden Dollars (virtual currency). There's no way to stop this copying, he said, but his company will provide additional attribution of user creations, such as the creation date, in order to help the filing of DMCA takedown requests and to help resident groups take their own actions against individuals. "Inappropriate" use of CopyBot is now treated as a Terms of Service violation. Rosedale said that Linden Lab has "no connection" to the LibSL project that spawned CopyBot, adding that the company neither endorses or rejects the project. "The idea of preventing reverse engineering is absurd," he said. "It’s been easily done, and legal restrictions across national boundaries don’t work." Rosedale said that the LibSL team had helped the company find problems in its software, but stressed that Linden Lab will do everything it can to stop CopyBot from "breaking" resident businesses.

CopyBot hasn't hurt Second Life's economy Rosedale insisted, pointing to an increase in sales this week as compared to previous weeks, and in particular an increase in virtual fashion sales during "past few days." Of course, Second Life's population grows every week, and with it, economic activity. Rosedale said last month, Linden Dollar transactions were up 23%, and that roughly 2.1M US$ were traded through the company's "Lindex" currency exchange. He didn't mention a recent spike in transactions caused by a deliberate series of zero-sum transactions, however.

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Town Hall Summary (Nov. 2006)
  ‘Second Life’ Copier Controversy  
Posted 2006-11-15 by Tony Walsh
I've been watching the controversy of "CopyBot" unfold over the last few days. CopyBot is a software tool that subverts the Second Life virtual-world system to copy in-world objects, however copies are neither fully functional, nor perfect replicas. Resident reaction to the tool has been overwhelmingly negative--store owners and content creators have been locking down their goods for fear they might be copied. Most residents seem to think that simply using the tool at all is illegal (the misconception that copying is theft is thanks to the RIAA and MPAA), although a small percentage recognize that this is an ethical, not a legal dilemma. CopyBot, like a photocopier, VCR, gun, or computer, is simply a tool that can be used illegally, but isn't in itself illegal. Interestingly, a similar tool to CopyBot named GL Intercept was discovered earlier this year, but didn't result in nearly as much fuss.

Linden Lab, maker of Second Life, rightly admits that it's not in the copyright-policing business, that there is nothing really it can do to prevent infringements, and that it can only try to put more mechanisms in place to make detection and reporting of infringement easier. The company has ruled that infringing use of CopyBot and similar tools is a violation of its Terms of Service, and therefore an offense punishable by banning from Second Life.

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Copier Controversy
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Dinozoiks wrote:
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