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  My Second Life, Part 2  
Posted 2004-04-15 by Tony Walsh
In part one of "My Second Life," I posted my first impressions of the multiuser online environment Second Life (SL) after logging a few hours of play time. I covered what attracted me to SL, basic avatar customization, SL's environment, commerce, intellectual property, and the importance of user contributions to SL's success.

Day two of my Second Life: Sightseeing, window-shopping, and finally some socialization.

Having visited a number of areas on my first visit to Second Life, and finding only a few really excellently-constructed locations, I felt the need to discover some top-quality material. Being a newcomer to the world, and not having any guide save the "Top Picks" or "Popular" notations on my Second Life map, I went the easy route and teleported to the well-traveled Taber, then flew over to a quaint village by boat-laden docks. Tudor-style buildings shared space with rustic wood and stone constructions, marking my first encounter with architecture that not only looked appropriate on an individual basis, but worked together as a group. After browsing around the village market and mews, I found myself venturing towards the area of Rausch. Apparently Rausch is some sort of war zone, if the signs surrounding it are telling the truth. All I know is it looks amazing: tiny islands dotted with smoking architectural debris. I spotted the rotting hull of a ship washed up on shore, and noticed a circle of spiky stone slabs. The region had style and atmosphere, and tension--was I in danger here?

Despite some jewels dotting the landscape, a sense of cohesiveness seems to be lacking from most of Second Life--understandable given that users can more or less build whatever they want. Some neighbourhoods have restrictions and building codes (similar to real-life communities) but even given design constraints an overwhelming sense of experiential and aesthetic disharmony prevails. The Creative Director side of me wants to go over Second Life with a magnifying glass and reorganize dwellings into more complimentary arrangements where each region of the world paints a picture, tells a story, or conveys a mood. The Anarchist side applauds SL's citizens for their reckless abandon.

The lawyer in me was appalled at the blatant image-theft on display in just about every nook and cranny in Second Life. The material I found in my first three hours paled in comparison to yesterday's discoveries: oodles of pictures and sound pilfered from the Web. I found commercial music tracks that were labeled "Free to copy" and I found many for sale in Linden Dollars. I saw visual work from known artists, photos illustrations and pornography obviously plundered, logos and other trademarked imagery for sale-- in other words an intellectual property mess. I suppose the developers of Second Life are taking the stance of a traditional ISP: They are simply providing a service, and have clearly warned their users that property infringements are illegal. Known violations are dealt with quickly, and there is an ongoing but token effort to identify illegal files. From my limited experience this seems to have been enough to save ISPs themselves from getting shut down--as long as they turn over violators. As mentioned yesterday, property violations hurt everyone. If clamped down on, the in-world economy could only benefit. Actively prohibiting illegal file usage in Second Life forces users to create original material. This in turn makes original content creators an extremely valuable aspect of Second Life. They'd have the monopoly on new material. Another option, and one SL should explore, is licensed content-- for example, an official in-world Apple store or Mini-Cooper dealership. This could be an opportunity for marketers--and before you start screaming about in-game advertising, it's already taking place (albeit as a side-effect of file piracy) and Second Life is already extremely commerce-oriented. Just about everything's for sale. A newbie like me has to look hard for free stuff.

Among my travels I busily poked around many of the objects in my path, collecting anything that seemed like a free-to-copy original work, and finding places in my Inventory to squirrel away my prizes. As with any file-based system, asset management can be a chore. Like most computer operating systems, Second Life has a folder structure and file manipulation options, including the ability to move create, rename, and delete files and folders. My only beef is that while groups of files can be selected via CTRL-clicking or Shift-clicking, they don't seem to be able to me moved as a group. Instead, the easiest way to shuttle a batch around is to place each file into a folder, and then move that folder. Being a neat-freak, I had to prune my Inventory of junk items, find places for new items, and begin to establish a filing system I could live with. If something ever happens to my new file structure, I am going to poke out my own eyes.

Filing is a sad, lonely business, and certainly won't win you any friends. After my folders were all in a row, I had to get out of my Inventory and meet some people. In my first visit to Second Life, I had constructed an avatar that looks similar to my real-life self. Seeing "myself" on-screen actually hindered my sociability--after all, this was "me" I was seeing, and I didn't want to embarrass "myself" with any newbie-style faux-pas. A pair of new avatars was soon under construction: The first, a thick, menacing-looking, rock-skinned brute; the second a tall, grotesquely-thin tree-man. I put on the second as an outfit and spent some time walking around, enjoying my new bow-legged gait. I spent some time in my tree-form among a few maples watching a group of disco-dancers from afar. Dancing's not really my thing, so I checked my Events listing: a fashion show, race, and show-and-tell were on the horizon.

I was soon gathered with Second Life's fashionistas at a tiny amphitheatre. Host Misty Rhodes introduced a few designers and their creations, giving me a glimpse of what SL's clothes-horses are wearing these days. Designs were largely extravagant, reminiscent more of a Drag show rather than a Couture exhibition. The audience was appreciative and supportive-- I lurked nervously at the outside edge of the amphitheatre. After the show, a few SL citizens commented favourably about my tree-man getup. I might not be high-fashion, but it seems monsters attract just as much admiration as supermodels. I wondered if a secret fraternity of monster-makers might exist in Second Life as I changed into my "mini-me" avatar and flew to my next destination.

A racing event sounded like a good way to become accustomed to vehicles. While the event organizer was mysteriously missing, someone else hosted the proceedings in his place. A few good-looking, buff individuals were gathered around a pile of hoverbikes. It occurred to me that this was a BYOV event, but a blonde dude named Garth graciously gave me a car and a motorcycle. I chose the bike, which had some crazy handling but seemed fast enough for racing. I was in competition with a Hummer, another bike, a Munsters-style coffin-racer, and some sort of bubble-car. The vehicles looked cool, but if there were audio components to each, I didn't hear anything--I was kind of hoping to audibly burn rubber, but I had to be content with silently gliding through the race course. Due to network lag, I and most other racers ended up in a river that ran alongside the road. Not a huge problem, however, as water is a cosmetic feature of Second Life and has no effect with regards to physics. Using an underwater gully as a shortcut, I managed to come in place in the top three and won a cash prize of L$100. Celebration was short-lived, however, as the show-and-tell start time loomed.

Back to the amphitheatre for the Second Life show-and-tell. I hadn't planned on showing anything initially, but some of the fashion-show attendees seemed to think my tree-man avatar was worth submitting, so submit I did. My first appearance on a Second Life stage was fairly rewarding. Polite applause followed my mini-me avatar's morph into the gangly tree-man, and I collected a few positive ratings for my appearance. My debut was overshadowed by an excellent "mole-man" avatar, and totally upstaged by a guy dressed as Kevin Smith who transformed into Hellboy, The Beast (from the X-men comics) and Lobo (another comic character). Wow! My show-and-tell experience told me that there is definitely an interest in bizarre outfits. I exchanged calling cards with mole-man and Kevin Smith.

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Comment posted by ChromalBrodsky
April 15, 2004 @ 4:56 pm
Hehe, once again I pounce upon your article with comments. Yes, examples of IP "liberties" are pretty common. I guess that one question I would pose is: legality aside, is damage being done when a trademarked or copyrighted similarity is placed in-world? Were profits lost? How much?

Also, I am extremely leery of any sort of "clamping down" on the system as a whole. While I agree that maximizing original content has a positive effect on SecondLife, all attempts at "clamping down" that I've seen have actually had a chilling effect on my ability to express myself.

Case in point-- it was apparently once possible to upload single-length audio clips-- e.g.: entire songs-- to SecondLife. Linden Lab, LLC., citing DMCA concerns, handicapped the SecondLife audio API by limiting clip lengths to 10s of audio and by leaving a crippled Queueing system (you can queue as many audio playback events as you like, as long as you don't want to queue more than one audio event beyond what you're currently playing!).

Here, the crusade to protect and promote DRM has actually made it impossible for independant music, environmental audio, and foley producers (such as myself) to participate fully. We sit mutely by why the visual artists have a relatively powerful 2D API and the 3D artists have a relatively powerful 3D API.

The easiest (and most probable) way for a company concerned with digital rights enforcement of 2D and 3D content would be... (drumroll)... to cripple those respective APIs until they are nearly useless for creative purposes.

Some people won't be satisifed until the only people able to create and distribute digital content will be the megacorporations. I'm not saying Linden Lab, LLC., thinks this way, but the sort of ideas your promoting inevitably lead to the implementation of what are essentially creativity gags. IMO.

SecondLife needs this like I need a new hole in my head.
Comment posted by BuhBuhCuh
April 15, 2004 @ 5:13 pm
As for LL's copyright policy, as far as I understand they could either police copyright themselves, which I think you would have to agree is virtually impossible in a space where anyone can upload images and sound freely. Or they can comply with a ISP-esque DMCA policy:

Basically saying they won't police copyright at all, unless you send them a violation in writing.

I think trademarks are different, in the past, if a Linden sees a trademark violation, they have removed it.

And I am enjoying your review :-)

Comment posted by Tony Walsh
April 15, 2004 @ 5:21 pm
ChromalBrodsky, you're not pouncing--your opinion as an experienced SLer is a good counterpoint to my newbness. The info regarding IP and DMCA is really interesting.

I guess that one question I would pose is: legality aside, is damage being done when a trademarked or copyrighted similarity is placed in-world? Were profits lost? How much?

Well, similarity is one thing, but infringement is another. The damages depend on who is affected and in what manner the material is used. I think in most cases, there is no damage done. However, a corporation might see it another way, since reproductions of their material are often substandard. Would VW be pleased with the replication of their Beetle in SL? Probably not, unless it was either highly accurate or placed their brand in a highly favorable way. Corporations aside, as an artist myself, were I to find my own work reproduced in SL, I don't think I'd be too pleased. I'd have to ask myself "How does this person's use of my material benefit me?" I've seen art stolen, but copyright notation given to the creator. That's good for credit, but what happened to that creator's exclusive right to distribute his material? It's been stolen from him, and is now "owned" by whoever ripped it off the Web and uploaded it to SL. This new "owner" then gets to decide who can copy or modify or resell the image... so the actual creator has totally lost control over what happens to it, and doesn't benefit at all, in RL or in SL.

I am not in favour of a clampdown, but I still see trouble on the horizon for SL with regards to IP issues. Maybe if they had better reporting mechanisms or actively policed files more effectively. Maybe if they had really stiff fines or banned people for provable IP infringement.

To draw a comparison with another game, Neverwinter Nights is capable of carrying user-created content. The EULA for Neverwinter Nights (NWN) prohibits the user from including any material in a NWN module that they don't have the rights to. Fan sites for NWN regularly purge IP infringements from their file areas, and the developers of NWN have a policy whereby they will not include any user-created material in any new modules they make. This is because they are afraid of getting sued in case one piece of code or one image or one model was included without permission. This contrasts Second Life in that (aside from TOS) SL is a total free-for-all with regards to uploads. It's more like an ISP (as mentioned in today's article) in that it's more than happy to remove any offensive material but isn't aggressively looking for it.

I guess what I'm saying is that IP infringement is flagrant in SL. You don't have to go "look" for it-- it's everywhere, and in abundance. This is why I think Linden Labs' ass is going to get bit. Cleaning up the violations would just be time consuming--not because of lack of material, but due to the reverse.
Comment posted by Rusty Ramone
April 15, 2004 @ 5:55 pm
Very interesting articles, Tony. Having spent most of the Eighties interacting live with people online I've kept away from things like MUDs and MMOGs for fear of being sucked back into the virtual life. (I've only recently returned to chatting!) Reading of your SL experiences has got me tempted to download the trial and give this a go. Just as well since it's soon going to be too sunny to go outside in the real world anyway.

Thanks for the articles!
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
April 15, 2004 @ 7:20 pm
Rusty, it's worth the trial just to see what's going on. The more time I spend in there, the better things I am finding to see and interact with. Some really impressive stuff, it's just not easy for me to find. Also the people are very, very nice. I haven't met a single hater yet.
Comment posted by Khamon Fate
April 15, 2004 @ 10:21 pm
Zero your article is well organized and comprehensive. I hope you're enjoying SL and plan to stay inworld for a while. I certainly plan to hang here and read everything on your site.

Copyright issues are constantly being argued; but most of us don't really understand them. You are correct about LL offering a medium to host user content more than a predefined world. Some of us are wondering if an actual protocol will ever emerge from it. It's bound to come from somewhere soon.
Comment posted by Jai Nomad
April 16, 2004 @ 4:44 am
As an established SL resident, I found both of your SL articles to be very well written and very entertaining - so thanks. I'm also thrilled that you found Taber Tudor village on your travels, as that is my home and is the result of much hard work by many committed residents (including Garth, who you have mentioned).

Look forward to meeting you inworld.
Comment posted by Shadow Weaver
April 16, 2004 @ 10:15 am
Tony, Interesting comentary thus far. However, I have to admit a lot of what your saying is true about how SL is plagerized to the max of Copyrighted items.

A lot of stuff that was orginaly uploaded in the world was done before the DCMA was enacted.

To be honest there are probably things that still need to be policed up by the residents (I myself included),before someone comes in world and does exactly what you are saying about copyrights and starts throwing allegations around.

Unfortunately Copyright is a very sticky Issue. I have spent the better part of a month reading talking to lawyers and Gov't officials about this. Why because of SLVisions Online Store. We entered in a Trademark License agreement with Second Life and Linden Lab,Inc.

However, in respect to your article since the opening of our online store we (being pahoa jade and myself) have been vehemitly working on replacing all textures that were either given to us or garnered from other sources. Mostly we are recreating a lot from scratch which in itself has become an ardious task to say the least.

In one aspect to reference you distaste of the blatent copyright violations that you have sited some merrit to recounting the law of copyright may be in order. In all honesty nothing is Second Life is a direct "Copy" of anything copyrighted but more so a derived work but not so much a compliliation work.

Still the orginal author/creator needs to be cited or permission granted in select cases but some people remember that "Citing works standards" we all learned in college and use that "methodology" to cite the works.

I have provided a portfolio to some local corporate laywers I am affiliated with due to my Online store and what it represents and they are researcing some other facts for me at this time.

If what you are proposing goes into effect ever. SL will either stumble and move on or will crash totaly like napster did.

I think for now Education and understanding is what needs to be offered to people more so than Rules and Regulations. Those will stiffle any growth in Second Life.

In this "Get A Lawyer and Sue" nation Second Life members could be open to the onslaught of moneygrubbers that are only out for them selves.

Second Life is new and growing. Soon the legalities of the Real World will catch up to it. But mean while the best tactic is to educate people so they know whats comming down the pike.

Looking foward to reading more of your commentary.

Sincerely, Shadow Weaver.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
April 16, 2004 @ 10:39 am
Thanks to all for chiming in. I appreciate seasoned SL folk dropping by since it educates me about a lot of the aspects I have missed in my travels or am too new to know about.

Khamon Fate wrote:
I hope you're enjoying SL and plan to stay inworld for a while...

-- Yeah, I'm definitely enjoying it. Mostly from an "academic" standpoint at this time, but there have been some very entertaining moments as well :)

You are correct about LL offering a medium to host user content more than a predefined world. Some of us are wondering if an actual protocol will ever emerge from it. It's bound to come from somewhere soon.

-- In only my first few days I've seen pockets of consistency here and there. I am guessing that the only way to get a really unified "world" is to purchase an entire island and then somehow set up numerous constraints in order to establish creative control. This control would be required (I think) in order for an individual or close-knit group to define a whollistic atmosphere.

Jai Nomad wrote:
I'm also thrilled that you found Taber Tudor village on your travels, as that is my home and is the result of much hard work by many committed residents (including Garth, who you have mentioned).

-- That village was really well done, and remains one of the few "unified" areas I've seen so far. I personally find the chaos of SL somewhat jarring, so a pleasant Tudor village is like a breath of fresh air. Excellent work!

Shadow Weaver wrote:
...there are probably things that still need to be policed up by the residents...

-- Like you've suggested, I think an education program and community effort would go a long way to cutting down on IP infringement. The community is responsible for uploading this material--if they don't stop and if they don't actively police this, then (as you've said) some litigious person or corporation may ruin all the fun. There has to be some way to hammer this in. It would be such a shame to have SL have to end user-contributions or otherwise limit users because of a lawsuit or similar action.
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