LL Taking the USPTO Approach *Update*

Well, this is *somewhat* welcome news as I sit here crying in my samosa’s. Okay, not crying so much as pouting while scarfing. I was hoping to get into NYC to join Jerry P (of Acceleration Studies Foundation and the SL Future Salon blog) and Michael F (of Eyebeam) for a tour of the Eyebeam Openlab facility. That didn’t happen so on my way home I consoled myself by stopping at my favorite Indian restaurant, the Tandoor (map). Having just turned on the box and surfed over to the Second Life forum, I caught this very-related announcement by Robin Linden:

We’ve been discussing this issue further, and it seems like the best way to address the concern about texture copyrights is to take the same approach that the Patent and Trademark Office takes — provide a mechanism for proving first use.

Since we do have information about texture and sound creation and uploads, we’re going to implement a way for people to prove they originated the texture. 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.

In the event of a dispute, this information will help to establish the original Second Life owner of the texture or sound.

“This issue” happens to be the ability of the GLIntercept code Michael is using with OGLE to capture textures from the videostream. I knew about it of course since I reported about it earlier in my attempts to capture data from Second Life. In the meantime, an SL resident posted something on the SL forum and on the O’Reilly “hacks” website (Link – now dead) about it. A few people got very concerned. Some links in the forum were edited out (right or wrong, I’m not taking a position on that). And now it appears as if Linden Lab will attempt to police it which is extremely interesting.

A few days back Jarod Godel asked why I hadn’t mentioned the ability to rip textures from SL on this blog (I’ve only been documenting my ripping the 3D data). My answer was simple: I didn’t want to be the bad guy. Because some – many – of the biggest and most profitable virtual world businesses are entirely based on selling texture “skins” and texture “clothing”. The ability for people to now rip/pirate, upload, and sell them for themselves is a big problem. At least now it’s out in the open. I guess we’ll see how things go.

{Update: For the sake of completeness, here’s a link to a “private” message conversation I had about this a few days ago – Link. Funny how “private” stuff finds its way online. No matter. Just another reason I can point to for why I’m not anonymous in Second Life.}

14 thoughts on “LL Taking the USPTO Approach *Update*

  1. Curse you, I was just going to post about this latest LL statement when your entry popped up in my RSS reader. I might roll mention of it into an interview I’m working on with Jarod Godel.

  2. To be honest, I was hoping Linden Lab would have plenty of time to deal with this. While sitting on this information, I’ve given it a bit of thought and now I’m concerned that what we might see is a rushed solution that will prove to be unworkable.

    This could have been handled better.

  3. I intepreted the LL statement as suggesting their new system will be making DCMA claims easier, not that they would be actively policing. There’s no doubt that “stamping” an upload with a username and date is a good idea, but it will be interesting to see if this will be able to be done retroactively–it seems like it will. Outside of fielding DCMA claims, I wonder what LL can actually do about GLI? Eradicating its mention from the forums doesn’t seem very effective.

  4. Not “actively” policing, but they will be in the unenviable position of having to police the system. If you’ve read some of the threads on the forum where people sometimes claim the “theft” of their design (which in my professional opinion is often ludicrous), you’ve probably already figured out this is going to be a huge time sink for LL.

    As for “stamping”, they already do that by default. All they’re really doing is making a “User interface element” which, to be honest, sounds a little vague to me. From what I gather, it’s really no more than a way for residents to potentially self-regulate. Like I have much hope of that happening in today’s free-for-all environment. May as well try to shut down all the in-world movie theaters showing first-run flicks, or getting people to give up their branded t-shirts.

    This is going to be a mess. And while I do see Jarod’s point about how LL deals – or doesn’t – with these issues; to be fair, these are really not going to be fixed by LL or ANY corporation for ANY product going forward. That’s the point I’ve been making for years now. And right now, it’s the creator’s who are going to suffer more than anyone. That’s why I held off and why I’ll concentrate on discussing things that primarily affect companies; not individuals.

  5. With this tool, yes. It’s why so many people are posting that they’re having problems using it to capture World of Warcraft models; takes them a few tries before they realize they need to use OpenGL and not DirectX.

    Thing is, for cross-platform applications OpenGL is really the only option afaik.

  6. how do you guys feel about OGLE, which rips 3D geometries rather than textures, in the context of this conversation? What about the plans for OGLE to capture texture maps as well?

  7. This was inevitable. As is the eventual reverse-engineering of high-rez models from nmaps and all the rest (note my entry on the US $2500 3D scanner). If not OGLE, then some other tool will come along… if it’s not already out there. The best thing that can be done imo is to help encourage the conversation that accompanies the development.

    I don’t play with this because I want to rip stuff off, I play with it because as a creator and someone at serious risk (the entire reason I’ve not gotten into providing high-quality content for games/architectural viz), I believe an intelligent conversation about IP needs to be engaged. What we’ve had so far, as a society, doesn’t seem all that intelligent to me. I’ve been to China and walked into OEM shops where they’re reverse engineering American products for American clients… not just foreign companies. I know first-hand how far this extends. And there’s no stopping it.

    People need to know what copyrights are. They need to understand what a trademark represents and why it’s different. They need to understand the reasoning behind the laws we have in the West and how they differ from those in the East (and how that directly relates to the success we’ve had in the West).

    Right now, this conversation isn’t really happening except among a few people mostly sitting on entirely opposite ends of the table.

    The problem with this particular instance is that the manner in which it was trumpeted was, imo, based more on personal ego (the individual effectively admits as much) than on giving Linden Lab a reasonable opportunity to come to grips with this. I take Linden Lab to task all the time on this blog. But two weeks isn’t sufficient time imo and is why I didn’t make a big deal about it because I knew how incendiary it could be. Difficult to have a conversation during a firefight.

  8. phil from make here, i’m working on the second life hacks book, along with many others – it’s 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, we’re also getting dinged in advance for not including this in the book (nothing has been decided for sure however).

    it seems to me everyone who’s interested in constructively working together on this is trying as fast and as best as they can…it just takes time as csven said.

  9. The part that bugs me about this is that if I go vidripping content from, say, a Valve or Sony or id software videogame, I know damn well I better be careful about what I do with what I’ve gotten my mits on. After all, anyone can simply get models straight out of id’s games. The reason no one is making Doom3 toys is because id would sue them into poverty or worse.

    Consequently, showing how to reverse-engineer a Doom3 high-rez model doesn’t get me much more than simply showing it can be done. I’m certainly not going to try to have a toy manufactured from what I generate. The most I can do is make companies nervous. And I think that’s a good thing, because it’s the corporations who are mostly responsible for the way IP laws are being mutated beyond their intended purpose.

    On the other hand, the broad announcement of this particular hack probably hurts the little guy more than anyone else; not exactly the one’s I like seeing being made to feel nervous. Does anyone really believe some homemaker in Wyoming is going to press charges against some kid in Korea who’s stealing/selling her work? I don’t. And that’s a big part of the problem here afaic. It reinforces the “who has the deepest legal pockets” theory. And that sucks.

  10. Thanks for pointing me to your blog, Csven. As a self-employed freelance artist who makes a portion of my living through selling texture work in SL this is obviously worrying to me, and I’m glad to see you taking such a thoughtful point of view about the issues it raises.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in your last comment. Ultimately this comes down to how deep someone’s pockets are. A large game developer is more able to absorb the reuse of their assets because most often they’d be used by the mod community. They may come down hard on people infringing their IP but it’s not likely to result in a competing product or the devaluing of their own, and they’re likely to have the funding to take legal action.

    Second Life is a different beast. To many people like myself being able to leverage our skills into tangible rewards (like mortgage payments or help with tuition) has been a godsend, but we can’t help but be well aware of how tenuous that ability is. SL’s permissions system (a kind of poor man’s DRM) has never offered anything but flimsy protection. For a long time we had no protection at all. Stealing someone’s textures was as easy as using PrtScn. That was before people were making real money in SL. These days a good skinner can be bringing in 5-20k a year in extra income. Where in the early days of SL having someone rip and distribute your work would be an infuriating annoyance, now it can seriously impact someone’s real world livelihood.

    Someone who might use this to grab textures and replicate someone’s product for sale in SL isn’t the real threat. They’re likely to get caught and banned. The bigger problem is someone replicating a product and stripping its permissions making it free to copy and distribute. Once that happens there’s nothing that can be done even if the person who did it is caught. The genie is out of the bottle then and there’s no putting it back in.

    Like you I think that LL’s response to this issue (the date stamp) is nothing more than window dressing. It doesn’t solve the real issue. Someone like me can’t afford to hire a lawyer, and even if I could if the product is out there freely copyable, and likely replicating like a virus, the ability to make an ongoing profit from that work would be severely diminished. That’s provided the creator even knows their stuff’s been hacked in the first place. They may never find out and just wonder why their product that used to sell well suddenly doesn’t sell at all.

    I don’t know the answers to this, but the general insecurity of SL as a platform is a big worry to me and many other established content creators in SL. Linden Lab’s attitude is a dichotomy in many ways. They have an open source mindset (which is admirable) yet they depend on people like me to create professional quality content in order to attract casual consumers to SL. I don’t know what I’d do if I found out one day that all of my hard work was ripped and floating around free to copy. I’d seriously consider taking my ball and going home.

  11. Hey Chip, I’m wondering how you and others will be dealing with this on a practical basis. Any plans or thoughts in this regard? First thing that comes to my mind would be simply monitoring sales to see if someone or some virtual industry is taking a hit.

    Which brings up another thought. I know there are associations/groups of content creators in SL, but are any of them monitoring the economic environment to catch any blips on the radar?

  12. Good question, Csven. I do plan to take some steps related to being able to more easily prove first origin and spot derivative products that are in addition to LL’s time stamp. That being said, watermarking and similar strategies are imperfect at best. At this point there’s not much any of us can do except keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen to us, or that if it does that we’re actually lucky enough to discover it. I do keep track of my sales for purposes of providing support to my customers, but they’ve always been erratic so trends are difficult to spot and even more difficult (if not impossible) to pin down in terms of cause and effect. Ultimately all I can really do is take some comfort in the fact that decent honest people will always outnumber potential thieves. I’ll also be keeping my fingers crossed that someone smarter than me will come up with a better solution.

  13. Think I’ll leave it at that. There’s little doubt in my mind this issue will resurface.

    So before the blogspam hits too hard… closing time.

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