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  The Forbidden ‘Second Life’ Hack  
Posted 2006-01-31 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab, maker of virtual world Second Life, announced in January that it would be collaborating with tech publisher O'Reilly Media to produce a virtual book entitled Second Life Hacks, describing the book as an "in-world manifestation of the best Second Life tips and tools we can assemble." A real book by the same name is also in the works under the O'Reilly banner. Both Linden Lab and O'Reilly are accepting "Hack" submissions from the public, a process that has uncovered a controversial software program potentially harmful to the interests of Second Life's virtual-world residents.

A submission to O'Reilly's official Hacks site entitled "Snagging Textures with GLIntercept" describes in detail how to siphon graphics from Second Life using a program called GLIntercept. In the wrong hands, the program could result in the piracy of any of the innumerable user-created texture-graphics in the gated community of Second Life, causing harm to any of the innumerable user-operated business that rely on the sale of graphic-based items. The entry was written by Andrew Burton, known in Second Life as Jarod Godel. I interviewed Godel about his experiments with GLIntercept (GLI) and its potential impact.

Godel first tinkered with GLI in an attempt to retrieve 3D objects from the game City of Heroes, but discovered it was grabbing game graphics as well. "That's when I tried it out in Second Life, and discovered what it could do," he told me. Godel explained how GLI snags data from a set of standard software libraries (OpenGL) present on most PCs. "As the name implies, it's an open library, so anyone can nose around the internals," Godel said. "What I understand to happen with GLIntercept is that GLI snags OpenGL data -- whether it's a 2D texture, 3D piece of geometry, or the way a light reflects off the two -- from the video card's memory and writes it out to the hard drive in a similar, standard [image] format."

A regular contributor to Second Life's official discussion forums, Godel's mention of GLIntercept in a forum post was censored by Linden Lab. Two days later, Godel added his entry to O'Reilly's Hacks site. Godel told me he was trying to warn people about the program's potential for piracy, but says "There's nothing Linden Lab can do to stop GLI's functionality, short of using another 3D library besides OpenGL. Texture makers need to realize this and start exploring proper copyright channels if they want their business to stay solvent."

Within a week of Godel's public warnings, Linden Lab announced new precautionary measures against image-piracy. A company representative said that "It seems like the best way to address the concern about texture copyrights is to take the same approach that the [U.S.] Patent and Trademark Office takes--provide a mechanism for proving first use." The mechanism at hand involves implementing a means for users to prove they were the first to upload a particular texture into Second Life's world. "This will work through the development of a User Interface element to display the original upload date and name of user who did the upload," said Linden Lab's representative. "In the event of a dispute, this information will help to establish the original Second Life owner of the texture or sound."

For all the potential doom associated with GLI's abilities, there are some practical uses for the software. Second Life resident Khamon Fate needed to fix a user-created castle built on his land, Godel told me. But because of the way Second Life's built-in permissions system works, Fate was unable to fix the castle without contacting the owner about every tiny detail. "Up until GLI, Khamon's options for fixing the castle have been either to not fix it at all or to delete it completely," said Godel. "With GLI, now that he can access the textures and has land owner rights, he can replace portions of the castle and have the exact same textures in place." Another legitimate use of the software is in making copies of textures one owns the rights to--in a scenario where one's source image was lost, GLI could be used to retrieve a perfect copy of the image.

It remains to be seen what, if any impact GLIntercept will have on Second Life. With no apparent way to stop the program from working, Linden Lab has taken a step in the right direction by making visible the origins of image-uploads through user-names and date "stamps." Such a move may help to dissuade piracy within the world of Second Life (as well as help protect the company from legal entanglements), but it means at least a greater burden on Linden Lab to mediate user infringement claims, if not an increase in the number of DCMA claims the company fields. Furthermore, there's nothing but real-world law standing in the way of a pirate ripping textures from Second Life and using them in a completely different environment, where detection of the infraction may go unnoticed.
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Comment posted by csven
January 31, 2006 @ 7:36 pm
"Linden Lab has taken a step in the right direction by "stamping" image-uploads with user-names and dates"

I believe you missed some of our conversation regarding this on my blog entry; that's not exactly what they're providing according to the announcement as I read it. They're adding a "User Interface element". The information is already available/stamped.

Additionally, you've missed something far more interesting in my opinion. I've discussed another possibility for years (mainly amongst Industrial Designers) and recently posted about it on my blog (Link)/on Mashable (Link).
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 31, 2006 @ 7:44 pm
Yes, I didn't read your final comments on the matter before preparing my post here. I understand that the information is already available, but the wording the recently-posted article probably doesn't make that clear enough. I can only speculate about the UI aspect, but my assumption was that it would simply display information already available as you say.

I'm sure I did miss something far more interesting, but that's what your blog is for :) To highlight and discuss the things you find interesting. Thanks for sharing the links.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 31, 2006 @ 7:49 pm
I edited the sentence about the stamps to (hopefully) be more clear.
Comment posted by csven
January 31, 2006 @ 8:01 pm
Then I should have said "far more interesting and directly related". ;)
Comment posted by ptorrone
January 31, 2006 @ 9:51 pm
cross commenting / phil from make here, im working on the second life hacks book, along with many others - its an interesting discussion - i see the value and use of a tool like this for making 3d models of the things you make in second life as well as the non-infringing uses. despite this, were also getting dinged in advance for not including this in the book (nothing has been decided for sure however).
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
January 31, 2006 @ 10:22 pm
Thanks for dropping in, phil. Can you clarify what you mean by "dinged", and by whom you are being dinged (I am familiar with the term, but it's one of those multi-use words).
Comment posted by ptorrone
January 31, 2006 @ 11:45 pm
hey tony, dinged as in not everyone is/would be happy if the hack was or wasn't included. it's in the thread on the hacks site.
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
February 4, 2006 @ 5:35 pm
So...I want to get this straight. Whoever is first to upload images they just swiped from the rest of the Internet merely by right-clicking on many pages without safeguards will get to have an SL copyright on their image. that a copyright really? Or first theft right's? Actually, I've always advocated erring on the liberal side of interpreting what I would call "right-clickers' rights". That is, if I right-click on something out there and upload it into my own game and make a t-shirt in "Appearance" mode and don't sell it, have I violated any copyright really? Who will bother to pursue me over that one t-shirt?

I could also look at various landmark court cases and argue that what I do in SL is merely "a reference" to that image (it's a tiny world, geez, you'd have to zoom in with a magnifying glass to see this stuff!). It's a "reference" or "comment" or "review" like auction site images. It's just a play imagine in a doll-house, etc.

People often expect the giants like Coke or Mattel to come after image pirates in SL, but I think it's far more likely that just some guy with, say, cloud photographs on his website that he sells in RL for $395 in a frame to get really torqued that somebody is selling his clouds for $10 LL in SL and figure he has nothing to lose by really threatening the hell out of them and LL over theft.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 5, 2006 @ 3:55 pm
Hi Prok,

Whoever first uploads an image to SL is recorded as such-- as far as I know, the "stamp" includes the avatar name and date. This has no direct relationship with copyright, it simply indicates who uploaded what, when.

Some of the use of copyrighted material you describe may be considered "fair use," or possibly a "derivative work," or possibly a "new work," depending on the treatment of the image. I'm out of my element with the detailed legal stuff, however.
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