Thursday, September 24, 2009

working on a morning flight to anywhere but here

(Wherein Your Faithful Correspondent might well find herself fired...Also, this is really long.)

It all started here, and initially, the concept seemed, at least on the surface, to be sound...until the comments began to string out and the real agenda became clear:

* Urging the banning of unpaid accounts, or at least the restriction of unpaid user accounts on uploading anything, and on transferring any monies made out of system;

* Banishing (or at least radically restricting) alt accounts;

* Urging Linden Labs to remove all opensource content from Second Life, and restrict useable viewers only to the current release client and official client.

Mine was not the only voice raised in protest, on that entry or in world, but such is the fervor behind this that it has spawned an official Day of Protest, also called Step Up!; wherein we have new details of things the organizers would like to see done:

* No uploading of textures the day of the protest

Presuming, of course, they mean "all uploads", to increase the strength of the protest. Or, perhaps they only mean textures, in which case, photographs, animations, and sounds could conceivably still be uploaded and make the Lindens ignore the protest entirely.

Though HoneyBear had the best response comment in the "Missing the Point Entirely" contest:
"Yes, but it’s one day. People will be able to upload on the 4th and 6th.

It’s about making a point, not about causing long-term disruption."
And see, there's the heart of the problem. Do we want to make an impact on the Lindens? Remember what happened with the original spread of the CopyBot technology. Stores closed their doors--not for a day, not for a week, but some did for months. Some shop owners took their stores back entirely, and gave up their sims. Some shop owners sold off and left the grid.

That made an impression on the Lindens. But more, it made an impression on the world, and it was residents, not Lindens, who first put forth a solution to the problem. One day of protest--and one day of protest knowing you can upload textures before, or after, no problem--it's not going to make much of a difference.

* Wear an orange ribbon of inconsistent design, it seems only to matter that it's orange (I suppose to fully embrace the creativity involved in making orange ribbons) (which, when offered for free, they say should be accompanied by a fact sheet on what content theft is, and why it's a bad thing)

Of course, they seem to be disregarding that an orange ribbon has been used, or is currently used, in support of:

* Australia's National Harmony Day;

* Singapore's Racial Harmony Day;

* the "Orange is everywhere!" campaigning protesting the evacuation of the Jewish settlements in Gaza (back when there were any);

* an Indiana coalition bound to stop underage drinking;

* Canada's campaign to support those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction;

* an Episcopalian outreach program to stop all violence done to animals for any reason;

* awareness of rare blood cancer awareness, in particular leukemia awareness;

* awareness of world hunger:

* a global effort called Rational Animal to prove that all animals are sentient beings who can feel pain;

* universal human rights, an end to misogyny and an end to human oppression by other humans;

* the campaign to support families with loved ones in prison;

* the campaign to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center;

* the campaign to remember work safety and highway workers who have died as a result of hazardous events;

* and most importantly, the ongoing campaign to free Tibet from Chinese oppressors.

And that's not even a third of the uses of the orange ribbon.

This, from the site:

"Why orange? It’s been used before, but has no overwhelming association (unlike pink or red ribbons). It’s a bright, noticeable colour. It suggests explosions and colour …"

No overwhelming association? It's been tied to the Free Tibet movement since at least the mid-nineties, overseas and in the US; the movement might have declared the orange color of their protest ribbon when the protest first started, in 1991. It's been tied to Australian Aboriginal acceptance efforts since at least 1998. Rational Animal has trademarked their version of the orange ribbon, the one with the pawprint; how's that for "no overwhelming association"??

Again from their site:

"The day ends with parties. Bonfire parties. That means that all around the grid, people have parties."

Bonfire parties. Which brings me to my next point: the group behind Step Up! have decided that the best day to do this is November 5th.

Guy Fawkes Day.

Savor the irony for a moment.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

In less lyrical vein, if you don't know, Guy Fawkes was the fellow, along with Robert Catesby, Robert Keyes, and other staunch Roman Catholics, who planned to blow up Parliament (with most of England's Protestant ruling force inside) in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. If you're Protestant, you gleefully burn him in effigy every Bonfire Night, the commemoration of the disaster averted; if you're Catholic, you may despise him in public, but you might wistfully admire him in private, and wonder on what England would have been like...had it worked. It was a bitter, divisive time in England's history, and really, in some fashion, it's never stopped.

And the folks behind Step Up! think Guy Fawkes Day would be the perfect day to protest content theft.

Content theft is a problem, grid-wide, world-wide, in all worlds. Content theft is not a victimless crime; depending on the sales people are making in world, at any given time, and the damage done by the copyists who lifted those designs, content theft can easily impact RL rents, RL mortgage payments, health care, day care payments; the ability to buy school supplies and new clothing for children; the ability to buy food or put gas in the family car.

But break it down further. For everyone who reads this: have you ever downloaded a movie, television show, or recording online without paying for it? Ever had a friend toss you an e-book to read if you couldn't buy it? Ever gone hunting for graphics via Google's image search instead of through known, trusted, royalty-free sources? Every tracked down a .pdf file of a comic you wanted to read, but didn't feel the need to buy--or couldn't buy, with your finances at that time?

Even better, ever watched a musician you like on YouTube? If it's not directly released by the record label, or by the artist themselves, if it's from "michaeljfan4evah" or "lilbaby99" or--anyone, actually, who's not Sony, BMG, EMI, or even smaller, independent labels?

Maybe you're in England, or Australia, and you want to see a television show from America, that's not shown in your country yet. Or maybe the reverse is true--you live in America, and you don't have access to the latest Dr. Who and Torchwood episodes. Simple thing to find a torrent file of it, right? Who's really harmed? You'll likely be a fan of the show and buy it when it comes out on DVD, so it's not like it's really hurting anyone, right?

Or take purely in-world transactions. If you buy a texture pack, and you are working with a fellow designer on a project, and they know you have Window14aGiltTrim_frosted, and ask you for it so they can texture their section of the build: that, too, is content theft. Even though you own the textures, you are working with a known fellow designer, and they are helping you texture one of your builds: this is how vague and specious "content theft" is.

Graphics; photographs; digital art; for-pay fonts that you don't pay for; movies and TV shows ripped in other countries and offered for free download, or for sale on eBay; electronic books; electronic music; Windows...It all comes under those two damning words, "content theft".

I do think it's disingenuous in the extreme to release tools that the coders know can be used to ill ends, and say a warning is enough to protect them from the consequences of any artistic loss; that they released it was an ill act in itself. And it is escalating, in terms of SL copying.

But I also know that most of the voices raised loudest in protest were also the voices raised loudest against the Lindens withholding the code for the viewer in the first place. The voices raised loudest to urge the Labs to go opensource, to make the code free, so other people could fix things the Lindens, to us, seemed to have no interest in fixing.

"Left alone with the mysterious casket, Pandora became more and more inquisitive. The box was of such fine workmanship that it seemed to smile and encourage her. Around the box a glittering golden cord was wound, and fastened on top in an intricate knot. Pandora felt sure she could unfasten it, and reasoned that it would not be indiscreet to untie it if she did not raise the lid." (from Hope for Pandora)

So what did they think would happen? We cannot count only on mankind's higher nature for every impulse; to do that is to blind ourselves to the reality of the situation. Of course there would, and will, be problems; because now the code is out there, for anyone who can puzzle it out.

And many, many have, and not all with high and shining aspirations.

More to the point, do I think that a day noted as one of the days where England failed to fall (for good or ill) should be co-opted by a group choosing a ribbon color best noted for support of Aboriginal peoples in Australia, or the steady destruction of the entire culture of Tibet?

Are they serious?? For decades now, Aborigines in Australia have been twice as likely to be the victims of violent crime, and up until the last twenty years or so, crimes against them have gone uninvestigated, due to their being Aborigines in Australia! And in Tibet, dear gods, in Tibet...women have been raped and beaten; men and women slaughtered in singles, pairs and groups; women forced to have abortions, often left to bleed out and die themselves afterwards...It's been cultural genocide on the part of the Chinese. To the point that now, in Tibetan Buddhism, there will be no more female Tibetan monks. Why? Because Tibetan Buddhism, at its heart, is an oral tradition, and must be passed on from teacher to student verbally.

And China knew this, and killed every single female monk they could find. Now, the highest aspiration a woman called to Tibetan Buddhism can receive is the status of nun. And that was done deliberately, that was done with full malicious intent.

I'm sorry, but content theft? It can do harm, it should be guarded against, but stacked against hundreds of years of Protestant/Catholic strife, on the one side, and people in utter despair over their losses in Tibet, lighting themselves on fire as their last plea for clemency on the's just not in the same class, at all.

That having been said, I like Crap Mariner's idea of megaprim ribbons, or even parcel-size megaprim squares of some strong, vibrant color (even if it has to be orange) to show solidarity. Occluding those sections of the map will give the Lindens a sharp idea of just how much of the grid opposes content theft. Combine that occlusion--which will be captured by in-world mapmaking services, many of them only updating once per week, so the effect will last longer than the protest--with the closing of stores, with the removal of XStreetSL delivery boxes from parcels, with refusing to upload anything...that might make a difference.

Especially if it's not just November 5th. If it goes on past that. Or before it. Throughout November. Imagine not just one day of no uploads; imagine a week of no uploads. A month of no uploads. And it doesn't mean we have to stop taking pictures; just take them and download them to our hard drives. For use on blogs; for PhotoShop retouching; for sending via email. Photographers don't have to bring things back into world to make Lindens for taking photographs, after all.

Because the threat is real:

Any object on the grid that possesses a [design], a craftsmanship, self made textures of your work, it is vulnerable to copybot. This means hair, even demo hair, ladies, prim clothing, shoes, whether they are sculpted are not, they are at risk, because copybot DOES in fact copy sculpt maps and it preserves the shape of the stolen item."

And, after all this time, it still does that...just incorporated into a browser, now, instead of a remotely-driven external program.

Then it would be a worthwhile protest. Then it would make a shift in public opinion. Then it would perhaps make a difference in how the grid looks at content theft, and possibly break them out of that "it's on the internet, therefore it's free" mentality.

The digital realm is an entirely different realm, and we should develop new rules for it. These are not physical objects; there is no one who can't do things the old-fashioned way, by buying a frock, looking at the prims, and reproducing them by look, if they can't do it any other way. Do Copybot and other programs make it easier, by delivering the program's worst features to as many people as possible? Absolutely. But did content theft exist before Copybot? Without question.

Holding a single day of protests, a day of dances, a day of wearing co-opted orange ribbons on a co-opted holiday? (Though that at least should surprise no one, considering the first content theft protest on the grid was directly and wholly stolen from PETA's I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur ad campaign. Why should this one be different, really?)

Count me out. If you're going to do something about the problem, then do something. Learn to spot designers' work. Learn their names. Notecard people you think might have stolen from them. Urge them to file DMCAs, which Linden Labs by law must obey--and they do. Read up on DMCA provisions, what a DMCA filing will and won't do. Compare work, contrast, get demos if you can, check out individual prims if you must--but stay alert. Stay active.

People will steal if it's easier; they'll buy when it's not. Banning no-payment-on-file residents and dancing while wearing orange solves nothing. Don't just protest the problem--work on the solution. Viewers like Cryolife, Thuglyfe, NeilLife and any other hacked-Life viewer that may come along next, are out now, they are reality, and we must adapt and evolve--or die.

Getting rid of free accounts won't help. Getting rid of alt accounts won't help. People who really want to steal things will have no problem logging in, hacking a credit card for verification, and paying $9.95 for one month of connection--which is long enough to run around and copy things like mad. It won't stop them. Nothing will stop them.

You can't expect things that work in First Life to work anywhere else. Second Life is not First Life. Art may have started businesses in SL, but it's not that way now. Think of Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Monet--they didn't make one good painting and then rest a business on how well that painting sells. While sculptors like Brancusi did endless variations on their sculptural themes, each and every individual variation is a separate variation. They kept creating, driven by the vision, driven by the need to express that vision, whatever it was.

In the virtual realm, there is no physical labor (barring neck strain, eye strain, and carpal tunnel); there is advertising, but all on a relatively equal playing field (at least, until the advent of the Adult category); the only limits, then, seem to be how much you can afford to advertise, and how much you can afford on tier. Prims for construction? Anyone has access to those. Scripting? You can do it yourself (though there is reason and good reason to pay really good scripters if you can't). Sculpted prims? Just about anyone can do simple ones; better sculpting requires better programs to make them (and oh, by the way, did you pay for that copy of PhotoShop, Maya or ZBrush you're using?).

In the virtual realm, "limited edition" merely means you have a set cut-off for sales. Otherwise, you can set up ten copies of that posh frock, or ten thousand; certainly you have no seamstresses or cutting clerks to pay. In fact, you have very little overhead at all; employees only if you choose, upload fees only for advertisements and new products, textures only when you build in the first place, or remodel later on. Remember, our greatest costs in Second Life lie beyond Second Life and always have: electricity, upgrading obsolete computers for newer ones; social interactions beyond the grid that remove us from the world, and from creating in the world.

One day of no uploads solves nothing. One day of dances in SL is just like any other day of dances in SL. One day of wearing orange is just one day of wearing orange.

When stores close; when people remove their XStreet boxes from their sims; when sims close; when creators leave SL...that is what Linden Labs looks for. That is what it will take to make them understand the problem.

Anything else is just a fad. With color coding.

(I would like to add that if this does result in my severance from Radio Riel, please understand I hold Duchess Gabrielle Riel, her Presenters, and her Hosts in the highest regard, always, as well as Miss Saffia Widdershins and Prim Perfect.)


Dale Innis said...

Heavens, anyone that would fire you from anything for expressing these opinions is certainly someone that one wouldn't want to be working for anyway. I trust that nothing like that will happen.

I certainly feel for people whose content has been stolen, but I'm unclear on just what the protest is supposed to get the Lab to *do*. Most people seem to be mostly saying "make this problem go away!!". But there's no switch to turn to make that happen. As you say, charging for alts isn't going to do anything.

Second Life could be, basically, entirely reinvented as a closed platform where you can't make things unless you've sent LL a copy of your birth certificate, and the only viewer you can use is the Official Linden Viewer which installs rootkit-like spyware to make sure that you don't run any unauthorized mods beside it. But would the resulting SL be a place that we wanted to be? I don't think so, myself. Reducing content theft by closing down the world is not attractive to me, and if that's what the protest is about, I'm definitely not there...

My impression is that, in this as in so much else, the Lab's main failure has been in *communication*. There are stories that their DMCA process is awful; they should be responding to those stories, making sure they are not true, and showing us they are not true. Stolen content should be visibly and cleanly and cluefully removed, content that is falsely accused of being stolen should be returned undamaged, etc. Lots of this is hard to do, and the Lab should be pointing out which parts are hard to do, and convincing us that they are doing as well as can be expected.

But instead we get spam about Lab-sponsored fashion shows. Sigh...

Emilly Orr said...

It's not so much that, as it is I am challenging my boss, an in-world magazine publisher, and two owners of large sims who stand to lose money if copying is allowed to go on. Plus, while I can't remember meeting Miss Carillon or Miss Mornington, I do count the Duchess and Miss Widdershins as friends.

And I'm not for content theft at all; I do think better provisions need to be in place, but it's a thorny road on any side of the issue. I don't believe hosting a handful of dances and wearing orange ribbons is the way to go about it.

Plus, by and large Second Life is still an anonymous game, and by that, I don't mean everyone's involved in skullduggery and terrorism. But by and large, everyone goes by an assumed name; the merchants large enough to take money out take it out to a PayPal account, generally; only the Labs have the proper information to tie avatar to RL person.

DMCA provisions change that. To file with the Labs to protest a DMCA violation, you must send your full legal address and contact information to them, and generally, that's fine, they have it anyway.

But say you're on the other side; you have to send your full legal address and contact information to the person who filed against you. Which gives someone you do not know complete control over where you live, how to reach you; with a little effort, your face and your Social Security number, potentially. This? Is very very wrong.

More than that, it's just not working. Someone files DMCA takedown on John and Dar Alt; that's fine, John and Dar close up shop and come back as Joh and Daz. File DMCA on them, peachy; they'll come back as Jer and Derry. It never ends.

We need a better way. We need something that lasts.

Some texture makers have started talking about copyrighting textures, with a symbol known to them, with their name and the date, something. I don't know if that can work; it works on fabric, but seamstresses can cut that line of fabric off. Can everyone on the grid learn to texture well enough so that frocks will never say "Copyright 1997 Dan River Fabrics" for instance?

It's so complicated. It needs to be simpler. I know it's a problem, I know we need to fight it, as residents, as creators--but Step Up? Not the way.

Edward Pearse, Duke of Argylle said...

So many variables, so many things to disagree with.

I'll start with the comment on the DMCA. It's a RL legal process. If I were to make a movie and then found that you had been selling copies or even just hosting a copy for viewing on your website and I file a DMCA violation against you, I would expect that, if you wanted to challenge it, I get your legal particulars. Now usually mega-corps go through mega-lawyers so you rarely see the legal particulars of the person filing the DMCA but where it's not being handled by a law firm then someone's RL details need to be there. Yes it gives you the real name and address for someone who til then was just "" so I don't see how SL should be exempt. (My opinions on the DMCA being a huge steaming pile of excrement are another story entirely).

Orange ribbons and Guy Fawkes Day? Oh fer... Orange ribbon I could maaaaaaybe pass, though to me Orange ribbons are still associated with Protestant fucktards who like to rub Catholic noses in the fact they lost a war 300 years ago. That Guy Fawkes was involved with this sectarian rift 80 years earlier only adds to the level of irony. And having a bonfire party on a day traditionally associated with bonfire parties is like having a protest of dressing up as a ghost on Halloween.

Content theft is a problem. I don't have a magic solution. If I did the music companies would have been knocking on my door years ago. I do agree that education is the best way for it, but education is a long term process. SL is all about the short term. For the most part changing the behaviour of something takes years. And even then it takes a concentrated public effort. If LL is not promoting this I'm not sure whether it will have any impact at all.

The problem with digital anything is that it can be replicated at the push of a button. I remember a discussion from many years ago about ST:TNG. Picard mentions in an episode that there is no money in the future. Although we ended up finding this rather far fetched that matter transporter technology would allow you to replicate anything meant an item's scarcity was no longer related to it's value. Short on gold? Let me fix that.

With books that go a library, yes you can borrow them, but ultimately you're supposed to give them back. In SL texture libraries aren't so much libraries as Print On Demand centres. But once you have a copy there's nothing preventing you from copying it to someone else.

Further with the book analogy, content theft is really a form of plagiarism (I really dislike the term piracy). And sadly Real World opinion in professional circles seems to be plagiarism is only bad if you're caught. Between bloggers posting news articles and newspapers publishing other newspaper's articles or wikipedia entries as *fact* a public education campaign has its work cut out for it.

Rhianon Jameson said...

The "no uploads for a day" idea is yet another variant on other boycotts that will have a similar lack of effect. When gasoline prices are high, we see exhortations to "boycott gasoline purchases for a day" - again, ignoring the reality that buying one day earlier or one day later does nothing to the oil company but imposes costs on consumers, who wait in longer lines those days. (When this became evident, the exhortations changed to "boycott Exxon gasoline," as though Exxon is the problem. Of course, as most gasoline Exxon produces and sells is not labeled as such, this boycott hurts the independent station owner a great deal more than Exxon. But I digress.)

Like you, Miss Orr, I agree with the sentiment while remaining skeptical of this particular solution.

And the use of Guy Fawkes day is amusing. It would be more effective to say that participants should refrain from bonfires and instead, oh, I don't know, have a party around a stack of books - something that symbolizes rejection of blowing up the status quo.

Emilly Orr said...

Edward: that's one of the major flaws in the DMCA, as it stands--unless law firms and confidentiality contracts are involved, it does go person to person. I myself know one case of a DMCA filing where the creator could have issued a valid challenge to the filing--but she felt the designer who accused her (while her accusation seemed, on the surface, baseless and with zero merit) was being sufficiently insane in IMs to warrant her destroying those designs, rather than issue a counter, because the counter would have contained her home address.

"What if she lives next to me?" she asked me. "What if I find out she's close enough to come over and beat me up? What if she knows someone in my area? I have kids. I can't have someone come over and light my house on fire because she thinks I stole a skirt."

That, and I've been watching the kiosks go up. It may be a lack of understanding of the issue, but in at least three cases, the Step Up! signs are in a store with at least one blatant copyright violation per; I'm actually waiting for the bigger companies to put them up, and see how much I can find that they shouldn't be selling, themselves.

Emilly Orr said...

The reason the copybot protests worked, at least as far as they worked, was due to many reasons, not the least of which was, in 2006, it was a smaller, more cohesive grid. People doing custom work stopped, including every single designer of wedding dresses, and that sharply pulled the attention of the marriage-ready brigade.

Sadly, I'm also seeing the !quit command scripts go back into play, and that stopped working past the first generation of Copybot, and won't work at all with the integrated copy-enabled browsers.

I'm all for the community brainstorming and coming up with solutions. I'm all for having town meetings, sim meetings, I'm all for notecards and the word getting out--but as you and Edward have both said, it's a long process that in the end, will hurt the smaller firms before the major ones, and not hurt the copy-driven at all.

People keep coming up with RL analogies--the one that kills me every time is smoking. Fifty years ago nearly everyone smoked, this one goes. Now no smoking signs outnumber smoking areas.

Sure. And that took fifty years. And people still smoke.

Yes, we can change the behavior of people on SL, with luck and time. Assuming SL lasts for fifty years, there will likely be a better understanding of what harm copying causes.

Do you think SL will be here fifty years from now? I don't.