The Tale of Chicken Linden: Mass Hysteria, Copyright, TOS and Self-Empowerment


In my 7.5 years in Second Life, I have seen this type of behavior in reaction to some sort of change or even simply rumors of a change. When I was young in SL I will admit that I would become alarmed or worried. I was too new to the environment and there was so much I did not know or understand.

However; as I learned and grew over time, my reactions became identical to those that I have in Real Life when something like this occurs. I remain calm and immediately start seeking concrete facts in order to fully understand the scope of the issue that has so many people up in arms. Knowledge is power my dears and I won't cast judgement on anything until I feel that I have a good grasp on the facts.

The latest catastrophe that has turned so many people into shrieking meemees in Second Life is the recent update to the Terms of Service regarding intellectual property rights.

Very Important Note: I need to say upfront that I feel very strongly about artists receiving sole attribution and benefits to their work. I am in no way ok with a third party infringing on those rights. While I am not a content creator, I do run an Internet radio station in which capacity I have to ensure that the station is properly licensed and that artists are compensated for their works. Copyright is something on which I have had to focus for 6.5 years in the context of music. I am by no means an expert, but the concept of Copyright and how it works in the music industry has been a part of my job. The bottom line is that it has been on my radar for years and I support artists 100%.

After reading the changes to the SL TOS, I came away with several initial impressions:
  • Wasn't this always the case? Wasn't there something in the TOS before that basically said LL owned our stuff?
  • I am no lawyer, but this seems to be a very poorly written section.
  • It looks like LL went overboard in trying to cover their asses when it comes to content in SL.
  • LL screwed up with this. User generated content and the users' rights to that content are what have kept SL as the "leading" virtual 3D platform. The biggest reason Open Sim has grown more slowly is the dearth of content. (This is changing but it's the state at the moment.)
  • This will take further research to see what the full scope of this is and to learn what we can do right now to protect our rights to our content in SL.
The avalanche of fallout began a few days after I learned about the changes to the TOS. People were passing notecards around about it, the tones of which ranged from outrage to complete hysteria. I started to see "Goodbye Cruel SL" posts on blogs and in forums.

I am going to be honest. I have seen so many "Goodbye Cruel SL" notes over the years that they just cause me to roll my eyes. Most of them have been from residents who dug themselves into deep holes of drama within their community and who then feel the need to publicly flounce from the building. Sometimes they have been from residents who are simply burned out and occasionally they have been from content creators who were burned by LL or copybotting or both. Many of the content creators moved to other Open Sim based platforms where they could control their content better.

I applaud the people who have decided to take their content to other Open Sim based grids and who specifically have gone with their own Open Sim that they can connect to the grids that are open for that connection. This is how you protect your content right now. Second Life is a closed grid run by a for-profit company. Have you ever worked for a for-profit company?

I have. Have you ever been laid off by a for-profit company? I have. Twice. I do not mean to be cruel, but what planet have you been living on that makes you think Linden Lab owes you something? I can hear the raging responses now: "But we are their CUSTOMERS! They are here to serve us because we pay them money!"

TOS = Terms of Service. Who wrote the TOS? Linden Lab. Who agreed to abide by the TOS? You. Did they tell us they could change the TOS at any time? Yep.

LL has defined the guidelines for how they will "serve" us. They make the rules. I am sure they feel that it is their responsibility to provide us with the best user experience possible by keeping our sims up, adding features and responding to support tickets. Do they always succeed at these things? No, but they are technically a software company. I've worked for software companies and I know what they feel they need to provide to their customers.

We all know, of course, that Second Life is far more than just a software company. It's a community. It's a way to express yourself artistically. It's a platform in which you can start a business and earn money. It's an educational tool. It's a social networking platform. We know this, but at the heart of every for-profit company there is a Board that only wants to see one thing: profit. They care about the money and the numbers and that's it. I'll admit that I am tarring the entire Board and leadership with the same brush here, and that there might be some people in there that understand and appreciate the bigger picture. Unfortunately I have learned during my working life that people at the top want quantity not quality. They are cold and brutal.

More honesty: I can be cold and brutal too when it comes to business. I think some of my residents know this and my ex residents definitely see it. I wrote up a list of things a few years ago here on this blog in which I defined what I felt were my responsibilities to my paying residents. I think I am likely the "harshest" estate owner in the Steamlands. If you do not agree with my Terms of Service? Buh bye and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Do I like the new LL TOS? Hell no, I think it's terrible. Am I surprised by this action? Hell no, LL is a for-profit company always looking to give themselves either more benefits or more money. At the very least they are looking to cover their butt legally in every way they can.

I think this TOS change was a very stupid move on LL's part. I understand what they were trying to do, but I can not believe that they are messing with the one thing that sets their virtual environment apart from all the others: content. Content is what makes Second Life king! It will takes years and years for other platforms to catch up to the point where they can offer their residents the amount of content that SL can. Most people using SL are NOT builders! So if they want/need a house, a classroom, a bar, a theater, those people can buy the content they seek. If you are working on a virtual world project, SL is a far more turnkey solution than Open Sim or any other Open Sim-based grids.

So...what can we do about this? Many people are taking the tantrum and flounce route. That's ok, it's their choice. I, however, believe in learning as much as I can to see how I can work through, around or over a challenge. I've always been that way, but my Second Life has showed me that I can truly do anything I put my mind to. It's one of the most wonderful things I learned here. You want something? Go for it. Even if you fail, you will take away lessons learned. I have failed in Second Life. Many times. Does it stop me? Hell no.

Here is a start to what you can do:

Step 1 - Educate Yourself About the New TOS

This is an *excellent* presentation from the Second Life Bar Association about the new TOS. It is quite long (3 hours) so I recommend that you watch it in 30 minute chunks, unless you have the stamina for the 3 hours. There are also some technical glitches in the filming, but please be patient with them. I feel that your knowledge gained will be worth the occasional frustrating audio and video glitches.

These are Real Life lawyers who specialize in intellectual property rights. Listen to what they have to say before you read a hysterical notecard and decide to have a tantrum and flounce.

Step 2 - Your Self-Protection Options

This is a nice, concise article about what you can do to protect your content. It also provides a suggestion on how to join forces with other content creators in Second Life to create a formal body that can push for change on the current TOS.

These TOS changes are wretched, plain and simple. I am in no way saying we should ignore this issue. If you have had it with Linden Lab and Second Life then perhaps leaving and/or moving to Open Sim is the best option for you. If LL refuses to modify the language of the TOS, they are probably eliminating the strongest reason SL is at the top of the virtual world platform game.

So come on guys, quit screaming that the sky is falling, suck it up and deal. You do have choices here. You have the choice of how you can react. You have the choice to leave. You have the choice to empower yourself. Isn't that what Second Life was originally about? Being anything you wanted to be?

Be something other than a Chicken Linden.


Dee Wells said…
What you're saying about the ownership/selling concepts in the ToS is mostly right on, Gabi. Once we upload something to SL, LL shares ownership with us, as is common in most content hosting situations (let's hope banks never find out about that XD). I can't see where that's changed. The change to LL demanding the right to sell our content outside SL has a few people spooked, but for most of us it's of no consequence. The real trouble for many of us is in licensing of copyrighted content, which is now impossible: i.e.: textures, etc. It's tough to build something in SL without texturing it, and for most of us 15 hours into a detailed model and having to now travel to a location to photograph that perfect castle wall or bridge or whatever, well, project cancelled. So we use stock stuff, online textures, whatever, but the catch is they all have copyrights on them. According to the User Content section of the ToS, before the change, you could fudge this and defend yourself in court, so everybody went along with it. Now it is worded in such a way that it is not within your power to upload anything, licensed or not, to SL if there is a copyright held on it by anyone. I've been doing fine with Public Domain stuff, and that's what I'm recommending to everyone who can't take 250 photographs a day themselves all around the world. It takes some searching, but they are there--quality images. I miss cgtextures, and never used Renderocity because their Terms of Use conflicted before as it was, and there are some that I used before that are too iffy now to mess with, but Public Domain works and nobody can claim any mark on it, by definition. It's all just a matter of evolution for me. Since nobody else cares, after 2 months I gave up trying to get people interested in working with LL to smooth out the goofiness. I just make sure my friends know to be careful to only upload stuff that nobody else has any copyright on, and we all carry on. If LL sells my stuff, at least somebody can. I just create for the joy of it. Thanks for the article, great stuff :) --Dee waves XD
Gabrielle Riel said…
Thank you for the excellent point Dee! This is a huge wrench in the works regarding textures. And I think more people care than you realize, unfortunately valid points like yours here have been muffled by the tantrum-throwing.

Have you documented the locations/sites where you have been finding Public Domain textures? If you have, I'd be happy to share them here.

The issues with the textures remind me very much of what I have had to deal with regarding music licensing. I *hate* the stupid restrictions that are forced on Internet radio. They are literally crazy in terms of the 2013 world, but I have had to figure out how to best deal with it.

You have done what you can to empower yourself amidst the insanity by finding textures you can use. Does it suck that you have to spend this extra time and effort to find them? Absolutely. But you *have* done it.

One of the beauties of SL is that we have groups like the SL Bar Association that are willing to educate and help users on this. It it my hope that we continue to receive guidance from the SL Bar Association and/or other residents who understand this legal domain.

So many of us simply do not know how to traverse this legal mire. Now we have to educate ourselves about it so we can work towards some sort of improvement on this draconian TOS.
Dee Wells said…
A couple of sites offering Public Domain marked stuff that I use are:

Those are where I started; there are tons more. One thing to keep in mind with most free texture sites is that they are supported either by ads or by other stuff they sell, so there will be some ad material to wade through. Also many sites, especially those operated by a private person just sharing resources have textures with different licenses mixed in, so check for the specific Public Domain mark, ideally CC0 (Creative Commons Zero/Public Domain), but as long as the texture you're getting is marked Public Domain, it is reasonable to expect that you can use it for anything, or often there will be another general message stating that they hold no copyright on the image. I've found some real nuggets just here and there, buried in with other stuff, and some custom Terms of Use are presented on some sites which make use of those textures technically defensible in court ( I make 'textures' out of dozens of photographs cut up and stretched into a mess with AO baked on and unused bits blacked out to keep file size down and then heavily compressed into jpgs. Some of them look REALLY weird. If someone can steal that and find a use for it, they have some kind of mutant genius, honestly. But one pixel of someone else's work is a contribution, so all of this is very important. If I hope anyone will take my art seriously, I'd better respect theirs). Some great stuff can be found on Deviant Art, rights to use clearly identified along with the download info, but be careful there: many don't wish their work to leave DA, and any license requesting attribution, like any CC BY mark or any request to link back to the artist's DA page are impossible and make it a violation of copyright law (and disrespectful to a generous artist)to use them. I mainly stick with Public Domain as it is assuredly safe, and I very much appreciate all those who make those great resources available, from large companies trying to attract business, to everyday people just sharing photos (I really miss browsing cgtextures, kind of halfway in between. Some of the most beautiful, quality images available. I plan to go back and get more stuff from them for texturing art rendering projects, now that I'm branching out into that). Play safe; looking for those great textures (or rather, images; they become textures when applied to a surface in a 3D environment)is half the fun, and can inspire projects. We just have to borrow Sherlock's magnifying glass to see the fine print a bit! Dee waves :D
Gabrielle Riel said…
Thank you Dee!! Would you be ok if I posted the information in your second comment as a follow up post to this one? I want to pull this info to the "top" and give you credit for it!
Dee Wells said…
Of course, Gabi! That would be great :)