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  ‘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.

Meanwhile, an angry mob rampaged across Second Life's grid--my understanding is that many residents felt any copies of the CopyBot software available in-world should be destroyed, and those distributing the software should be banned. The makers of the CopyBot tool have tried to lock their software away, but once in the wild, it's nigh-impossible to hunt down every copy. The Second Life Herald was informed by one CopyBot reseller that a Linden Lab rep asked her to stop making the software available. She complied, but was run out of town by residents, then allegedly banned by Linden Lab. The climate in Second Lifeseems pretty heated at the moment. I'd hate to see what would happen to an avatar wearing a T-shirt emblazoned "CopyBot Rocks!"
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Comment posted by Chip Poutine
November 15, 2006 @ 12:08 pm
Its been amazing to witness all of this unfold, to the detriment of my workload. Thanks for a concise and balanced summary of the whole thing.
Comment posted by csven
November 15, 2006 @ 12:41 pm
Like you, I've been watching this for a while. There are a few issues here afaic.

1) LL seems to be friendly with the anti-DRM crowd (like Lessig and Doctorow) but has built a virtual economy almost entirely on DRM. This is a house of cards and I suspect that's one reason why LL is looking to find a buyer and seemingly accelerating their open source plans.

2) At least in the U.S. - where LL is based - a tool whose primary function is to do something illegal, even if it has legal uses, can be held liable for legal infractions. When the P2P court battle was lost, a subtle distinction was made between the Kazaa's of the world and your garden-variety photocopier. YOu don't seem to acknowledge that (perhaps bc you're in Canada). (This of course assumes that SL's digital rights system protecting creator IP qualifies, which gets back to questions about whether residents actually own their ideas/virtual product)

3) These two comments seem at odds:

"this is an ethical, not a legal dilemma"


"is simply a tool that can be used illegally"

In a world where everything is governed by a digital rights management system, anything that circumvents that system very likely falls into the P2P camp and not the photocopier camp. At the very least it points to how easily everything could implode. Residents don't like RW corporations entering SL. Guess what? It's probably the only thing that can keep this going if the DRM becomes unworkable - as it might given the rate of growth. We're back to the point I made in my discussion with Doctorow: it's easy to be anti-DRM when your product is protected by the inherent rights management of having to "copy" a tangible thing.

4) Like most people I see commenting lately, I think you give far too much credit to the RIAA/MPAA for establishing mindsets. Do you honestly believe they've impacted the thinking of the average SL resident? I don't. The average age of a resident is over 30, yes? So they're not children still forming their ethical and moral standards.

What I think we really have here is a world where nothing is truly protected and anything can be copied. It's one thing for people to d/l "shared" music and movies when most of them don't really know how that activity potentially impacts the little people who actually create the stuff, and another for their own work to get the loving attention of someone who Wants it and Takes it without regard for the creator of said Thing.

Personally, I think LL should clearly announce they're anti-DRM, remove the controls, and make everying in SL free to copy. It's what Prok's "tekkie wikinistas" seem to want. Let's get it over with and watch the fallout together.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 15, 2006 @ 1:18 pm
Thanks, Chip.

csven, I had forgotten about the P2P issue you mentioned. I think you're talking about the Induce Act, or something like it, where it is decided that a tool was made to encourage infringement. I guess the jury's still out on CopyBot so far.

I see your point about the circumvention of DRM, but I'm not sure it's against LL's ToS to make non-infringing copies of someone else's work. I recall wording discussed by Johnny Ming earlier in the year that suggests all residents are licensed to use all content created by all other residents. The discussion at the time pointed out that the wording suggested we all have the right to copy anyone else's SL content.

No doubt I gave too much credit to the RIAA and MPAA as you suggest. I do politicize now and again :) But I do think there's an anti-copying culture being fostered by industry, at least as far back as audio cassette tapes. The concept of Fair Use / Fair Dealing is taking a beating, in my opinion.

I agree SL is no different from RL in terms of its lack of inherent copy protection. I might have had a different opinion prior to learning about GLIntercept.
Comment posted by Brace
November 15, 2006 @ 8:46 pm

I MISSED the angry mob rampage? I'm always up for one of those

ah wells my SL haitus continueth....
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
November 15, 2006 @ 10:59 pm
I think there's several social aspects of this you're not seeing or getting, Tony, because I think you, like other technical reviewers, side more with the "information wants to be free" sorts and shrug about the Internet always and everywhere being available to copy just about anything and paste it somewhere else. We know all that; it can do that, just like in RL, you could always kill someone with a hairbrush instead of brushing your hair. Yet you don't, due to social and not technical constraints.

Yet people inside a world accept a set of premises that they make and sell commodities, not some aspect of somebody's software -- and that creates a whole psychological, moral, and customary legal situation even if technically, it's true that anybody can grab and copy anything. Indeed, by granting or emulating the granting of IP to the early subscribers of SL, LL was able to hold up this chimera in ways that in retrospect may be irresponsible if all they did was shill to get those people in the door paying costs, and then dump them when they needed to promote creative experimentation with the client itself to get various jobs crowdsourced by free reverse-engineers. That would be cynical, no?

I think the motivations and past track record of the CopyBotters -- again the social setting, not the technical setting -- have made this a much more controversial and roiling situation.

Glintercept's users and manipulators quietly went about their experiments; they fabbed things; they even fabbed their own SL things into saleable RL things, but they didn't go around gleefully and maliciously grabbing, copying, and profiting from other people's stuff.

They had the kind of decorum of the old days when gentlemen didn't read other gentlemen's mail. They shrugged too at people's concern about copying and ruining copyright concepts but they didn't *act on them* so as to ruin other people's Second Life.

The CopyBot people are merely the latest set of alts of the old v-5 gang -- those same folks who brought you the gridcrashing of December and subsequent months; the grief balls; the tub girl script; the defacement of my RL pictures -- and all the other joys of Second Life.

They maliciously, and gleefully, and rapaciously, just went in and made the botter and went around a) copying stuff and b) selling the bot to all covers for a hefty price to capitalize off the eagerness of many unverifieds to make a quick buck.

That's creating an entirely different social climate. Sure, you can go on and on about angry mobs and aren't they backward and stupid and FUD riddled -- but these are people you could also see in a valid social movement, fighting for their lives, and in some cases their RL livlihoods, against a set of cynical and manipulative freaks who have not the slightest concern about harming them, who don't heed even the wiser, more adult members of libsecondlife who have publicly said it was wrong, and also vindictive to unleash this botter into the wild.

Faced with THAT social reality, the Lindens are right to lock up some of it and ban those people, who aren't the interesting, intellectual, exploratory software programmers you imagine to be, but script kiddies who enjoy the suffering of others -- and have proven that time and again, with waves of nasty griefing.

The Lindens have to make a *political* -- not a technical -- decision about this. What balance will they seek between sandboxers and settlers? Will they, as engineers interesting primarily in making their platform, be willing to kill off all the non-tekkie life on the platform that doesn't want to play this game of having all their stuff constantly crashed, ripped off, stolen, or ruined?

How can you get sign-ups for a world that is run as a big hacker experiment constantly harming others?
Comment posted by csven
November 16, 2006 @ 12:01 am
"I see your point about the circumvention of DRM, but I'm not sure it's against LL's ToS to make non-infringing copies of someone else's work."

I recall the ToS questions. However, the ToS doesn't supercede the law. If someone creates a texture offline and uses it inside SL, the ToS is arguably irrelevant as the artwork is automatically copyrighted. It's also against the law afaik to circumvent a digital rights management system, and that of course is what Copybot allows. So let's put aside the ToS issue and laws governing DRM for a moment and get to something inside your statement.

You use the phrase "non-infringing copies". Who gets to decide what is "non-infringing"? According to Free Culture advocate Lessig, it's Creators who should decide how their work is distributed. And one way things are distributed in SL is "Transfer/No Copy". Therefore, it's the Creator who decides what is or is not infringing. There are a variety of options I can choose if I want to distribute my content inside SL; including giving it away no strings attached. Whatever a Creator decides, however, is what should be adhered to according to one of the biggest advocates speaking out against the corporations, the RIAA and the MPAA. And by the way, if a Consumer doesn't like it, they don't have to purchase it.

The problem is that some Consumers don't like being restricted in their use options. They want Control even though Lessig says they shouldn't have that kind of control. And often they want control even though they knew the restrictions in advance and purchased the item anyway.

So why exactly would someone use Copybot inside SL (and I differentiate this from OGLE which had legitimate external uses)? You're suggesting it would help them make "non-infringing copies". Only "No Copy" is one option for distribution. And this is where there's a disconnect, because there are legitimate reasons for a Creator to *not* permit copies to be made.

Here's one:

Let's say that I like to create stuff but don't want to deal with customer service. The things I make aren't overly complex, but some people don't read and I don't have the patience to answer all their IM's. So instead of selling something directly to them as "Copy/No Transfer" (which gives people all the copies they could want but prevents them from passing it on), I instead sell it "No Copy/Transfer". Why? Because I sell in bulk at discount to a reseller who marks up the price to take their cut to handle customer service. I obviously don't want to give them "Copy/Transfer", because they'll buy one object, replicate it, and sell without passing anything back to me, the Creator. If there's no incentive for me, why bother creating anything at all?

Of course there are other, simpler reasons to use "No Copy/Transfer". Some people get tired of stuff and just like to resell it. They *want* that option. That capability is, after all, why eBay is so popular. And guess what, all that *tangible* stuff on eBay is inherently "No Copy/Transfer" because people simply can't replicate the stuff they buy (at least not yet).

Now there are people who will say that once a customer purchases something they have "Fair Use" rights and can do whatever they want. I wish people who used the "Fair Use" argument would stop distorting it as if they'd been trained by the RIAA. If I buy a song on iTunes I know the restrictions. If I buy something knowing the restrictions and then complain that I don't like them (see above) and instead decide to break the DRM to get my precious distorted "Fair Use", then we're back to whether Lessig is correct and Creators should be the ones to decide what constitutes infringement. And if Creators don't get to decide, you can kiss a lot of content good-bye because there are good reasons for having intellectual property laws, and those of us in the West benefit from them every day.
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
November 16, 2006 @ 12:11 am
csven, what CopyBot has shown us is that all these little machinations with permissions inside the game (it's hard to call it anything BUT a game these days) involving "copy/transfer/mod" are all fictions.

That is, they are a social construct.

In reality, at any time, for any reason, they can be overridden by a) Lindens and b) Linden-loved-up reverse engineers -- and those who grab the reverse engineers' free, open-source copies of CopyBot.

You can go on and on about the mechanisms of the permissions system and intentions -- but just like a kid selling a freebie at a yardsale, he can't read the mind of someone who put on their box "transfer/resale" and expect it to mean "don't copy and sell this because I say so".

In the same way, CopyBot in essence renders null and void all the levers that people had in the client for expressing their wishes.

It's more an abstract truth than a reality right now -- there don't seem to be any real cases of copying and resell using CopyBot -- but it's a realization that undermined the fragile suspension of belief in the world instantly and devastatingly.
Comment posted by csven
November 16, 2006 @ 12:40 am
"permissions inside the game ... are all fictions"

I've long considered them just that. It's why every business concept I've had depends on tangible goods or RL services.

And btw, those fictions are coming to tangible products.

"You can go on...because I say so""

I'm not going on for the sake of that kid, but for the sake of the comment Tony made. That kid doesn't know who Lessig is. Tony does (or should) know.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 16, 2006 @ 12:46 pm
Prok, re: "I think there's several social aspects of this you're not seeing or getting, Tony, because I think you, like other technical reviewers, side more with the 'information wants to be free' sorts..." I do see the social aspects (am I a 'technical reviewer?'), I just chose not to discuss most of them in the original 3-paragraph post. I generally agree with--or at least appreciate--most of what you discuss in your comment. I only support the idea that "information wants to be free," with many caveats. I think creator wishes should be respected, provided those wishes don't conflict with existing end-user rights. For example, I have little problem accepting copyright law, mostly because I find it a decent balance between creator and end-user rights (and I say this from the perspective of someone who creates content and consumes it). I have more of a problem accepting Microsoft's ToU for it's new "Zune" music player that forbid the user from taking it apart. I have a problem with certain types of DRM that come with unreasonable restrictions. I can't use Windows Media Player to grab a frame from a movie, even if I intend to use the frame in a mainstream media article about the movie--I can't even take a screen-shot of the frame. This "protection" goes beyond copyright, and prevents me from using content in a fair way. Boooo.

As we all know, I am not a lawyer. I have a decent grasp of copyright and trademark concepts, but I am not as well-schooled on DRM issues. I do not know, for example, why it is illegal for me to circumvent DRM, but it is legal for corporate DRM to take away my right to Fair Use / Fair Dealing. If DRM trumps any other IP law, then why have copyright or trademark law at all?

csven, yes I know who Lessig is :)
I'm not sure I have much to add to your comments partially because you seem to have answered your own questions, but also because I just don't know enough law to reply knowledgeably.

I can try to respond to "So why exactly would someone use Copybot inside SL (and I differentiate this from OGLE which had legitimate external uses)? You're suggesting it would help them make 'non-infringing copies.'" It doesn't matter to me why someone would use CopyBot, only that I don't think its possession and usage is exclusively unlawful, and therefore it should be allowed to exist. Who decides what a lawful use is? Well, we have copyright laws for that, right? It could be argued that Second Life itself is as "unlawful" as CopyBot--first of all there would be no CopyBot without SL. Secondly, Second Life facilitates (arguably "encourages") IP infringement by providing uploading and creation tools within the client software. Just today I was taking my class on a tour of SL and found an entire store selling nothing but avatars based on protected RL cartoon characters. That vendor arguably didn't need CopyBot to break the law, just Second Life. (I'm playing Devil's advocate here in case that's not obvious).

As someone who creates content on the web, I know that my material will be copied, but I don't want to ban web browsers. That would be futile. I want people to be able to exercise their Fair Use rights, but I also want to be able to file a DMCA takedown notice if it is within my rights to do so. DRM can't currently protect the work I do, so I find other ways of mitigating infringing usage, or taking advantage of the fact my work will be copied and used in ways I can't easily control. As has been discussed, this is what SL content creators have to deal with now--pretty much the same IP landscape as the real world. Content creators are going to have to learn to work around or with copying--either that, or as I understand it LL has to completely rework its client-server architecture.
Comment posted by csven
November 16, 2006 @ 1:15 pm
"only that I don't think its possession and usage is exclusively unlawful...(I'm playing Devil's advocate here in case that's not obvious)"

Neither do I, which is why I focused on your comment regarding making "non-infringing copies of someone else's work"; I suspected you might attempt to play devil's advocate using LL's screwy ToS and track record.

Again, I'm focusing only on that one phrase and not the whole question of content vs DRM.

If we focus only on your comment, and if SL already has the tools to support the Law and allow people to set their own level of permission, and if you consider "Fair Use" in the spirit of the law which is actually fairly limited and not at all what many copyfight people pretend it to be, then where exactly is the use in Copybot if not to make *infringing* copies of someone else's work? After all, if a resident wants to permit copies, they can set the objects with the appropriate permissions using the existing tools; there's no need for Copybot at all.
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