Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I learn every time I bleed that truth is a stranger

Kraken are the new vampires.

Van Gogh strikes again--in starry starry cake.

Copyright infringement at the highest levels. While I still say the iconic poster, as drawn from the original image (which yes, seems clearly not the image that Fairey claimed originally), is transformative and may fall under fair use principles, the AP is stroppy over Fairey's outright lying to them in the earlier lawsuit, and lying about which image--taken by AP photographer Mannie Garcia, as it turns out--he in fact used.

And this is just ridiculous. Because Zindra worked sooooo well to enhance the "predictable user experience". I offer this translation: "Based on how Zindra killed the adult economy on SL, we're going to use those same principles in developing content protection tools, thereby killing the entire economy on SL. You can thank us later."

Interesting couple of things happened today. One, Miss Elegia Underwood announced in Caledon that there was a seminar on copyright infringement and intellectual property rights given by Kay Alderton in Wind River Territory. I decided I could take time out from frock tailoring and go sit and listen. I figured most of it I'd know, but I might learn something new along the way.

Most of what I heard I already knew, but I started applying it to what I knew of the grid. She began in very clear, absolutely unequivocal ways: if you do not know, for a surety, where your textures come from (or create them yourself); where your designs, skin and outfits come from (or buy a template you know that someone created, not hacked); where your scripts and sculpts come from (either self-created or created with a clear ToS license)--then you are violating copyright.

Think about this.

* Free textures: where do they come from? If you don't know, violation.
* Free sculpts: where do they come from? If you don't know, violation.
* Free scripts: where do they come from? If there isn't attribution, violation.
* Free skirt templates: sculpted or flexi, just like hair, where do they come from? If you don't know, violation.

Have you ever made something that reproduced any band logo, any book cover, any poster, any painting, any costume, any RL fashion designers' work, any RL shoe designers' work, any furniture maker's work, any architect's work? If it's not original, she says copyright law holds it's infringing. "Inspired by" only works for items already in the public domain.

Superheroes? Movie monsters? Cartoon characters? Tim Burton films? Computer games? Anime characters? TV shows? Actors, authors, dancers?

Music? Do you play songs in world you don't have licensing to play? Do you use clips from television shows, movies, or recorded music you don't own rights to in gestures or in-world sounds?

Do you import stories, or whole books, on in-world notecards that are not in the public domain, or allowable through library services for libraries in world? Or do you read entire books not written by you or not in public domain on voice?

Do you download anything not licensed as royalty-free or open-source from the internet?

Copyright violation.

More than that, as the digital era progresses, the more we realize that any time we view anything on our computers, whether we download it or not, the mere act of viewing that content means we have made a copy. And it's making a copy with only as many flaws as the original has; we are duplicating. We are cloning the original, as many times as we view the original content.




It's daunting. It's staggering. It's monumental. And ignorance, Miss Alderton said, is no guarantee of protection.

Boiled down: if we don't legally purchase the software we use to create textures ourselves to cover created prims we've made ourselves containing scripts we've written ourselves and sounds we've made ourselves...unless we know clearly the sources of all content we've imported in...

Potential violation.

As much as I support people making money, and artists being able to support themselves...there has to be another way.

And people wonder why I hand-paint eyes. Photorealistic? Hells, no. But mine start to finish? Yes.

Two, I found out about this video concerning the DMCA takedown order given AnimesFree. I find this especially relevant at the moment, because the speaker is absolutely accurate--with far less than 5% of the total American market devoted to anime and manga, any infringement takes on a huge relevance and can, in point of fact, be the difference between the studio artists and voice actors eating that month, or not. Or that particular animation studio staying open.

And, apart from sites that merely provide forums--which can, "wink-wink", include external links, skating the limits of responsible copyright protections--sites like AnimesFree blatantly discard any responsibility whatsoever. While they claimed they hosted no videos, and thus could aggressively claim innocence, they were seeking to hire people who could upload and manage lifted videos! These people, once put on staff, would be lifting the videos for them--how is that innocent in the least?

Finally, Boxed Heroes has pulled the majority of their stock. Their main room is empty; in fact, how I found out was one of my loves saying to me, "Emi, you've done bad..."

Boxed Heroes, post-Step Up

This was not my intent, but when I last spoke with one of the shop owners, he did say he planned to take the store in a new direction, more original work, which might lead to some very interesting avatars, with the talent behind BH already.

And, as previously stated, he did remove the kiosk, as he felt it had been misrepresented to him.

This, from the card Step Up! gives out in world:

What is content theft?
Content theft is when the work of a creator is stolen and either sold or even given away without the creator's agreement.

This is true, as far as it goes, but "content theft" is a misnomer in the extreme. It's more properly "copyright infringement"--something a maker has designed, that the maker retains intellectual property rights upon, that is not being distributed by the maker of the item. "Content theft" is catchy, but it's not accurate--the maker doesn't lose the item, the hacker just copies it--there's no "theft" involved.

Content could be anything in Second Life. It could be hair, clothes, skins, houses, furniture, transport. All of these have been stolen in Second Life. And much, much more.

Content theft hurts creators. It takes away the income and the credit that should be theirs.

It's accurate that "content" in SL covers "anything one can make in SL"--meaning skins, outfits, homes, furnishings, weather, rocks and trees, cars, sounds, songs, gestures--anything that can be dreamed up, than a maker can make: that is "content".

I'll also agree it hurts creators, but I don't necessarily agree on the second point. If someone has zero brand loyalty, and their prices are so absurdly high that, if attacked, people will not prefer the originals to going off and buying the hacked copies from someone else, then that business has technically failed anyway.

How'ver, if the maker has a good rapport with customers, good support from the grid and gets hacked, people will make a point of going to the source of the creations, so to speak, and buy things directly from the maker.

From another section of the card:

If the store claims to be selling goods by well-known content creators at fantastically cheap prices, with full permissions (to modify it, to copy it and to transfer it to someone else), then it may well be stolen.

If price seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Sometimes people genuinely don't know. It's on the tacky side, but I ran into a maker tonight who was offering a Wingless Emoto furry in her Midnight Mania. She had this impression that if she wasn't profiting from it--and, technically, she isn't, at least, not directly--then it wasn't copyright infringement. The avatar was given to her in a full-perm box; the avatar inside was full-perm; she received it over a year ago; where's the harm?

I tossed her a link on provisions in the DMCA and digital content law explanations, but I don't think she understood the point, at any time.

People do this continually on the grid. A maker has a freebie; they didn't make it; but it's full perm; why not use it? Outfits, clothing, vehicles, gestures--it's full perm, so it's okay to give away, right?

Wingless Emoto originally packaged up everything ever made into a full-perm box and set it out because of a disagreement over copyright, and there's at least one maker out there who's used the full-perm nature of these avatars to start her own fur avatar business. Which is copyright violation in a whole other direction, but that's neither here nor there.

Use the Edit menu to check. Right Click on the object for sale, and see if the creator's name matches the name associated with the product. It doesn't? This could be stolen!

Check to see if a shop is selling mixed styles that look to be made by more than one creator. Right-click on a couple of the products that seem wildly different. Do they have the same creator? It could be stolen!

Look at the creator's profile. Did they start Second Life last week - and yet they're already making fantastic clothes or skins or hair? That content could be stolen - using alts is a popular trick for the thieves!

These aren't bad tips, but they do tend to increase guild paranoia. If we're all running around self-policing, at the end of the day we can't say we had any fun, unless reporting avatars for purported violations is fun for us. In the end we're just tired, drained, and even more resigned. It is a big problem, but it's not pandemic yet. And Step Up!'s notecard seems to play it like it is.

What to do if you think something has been stolen
NEVER confront the thief yourself.

This is perhaps the truest bit in the entire notecard--save for that use of "thief". Remember, copyright infringers are copiers, first and foremost; think of it like Chinese knock-offs of popular products. They're not making original works, they're just recreating what's popular. Remember, you still have the original item in your inventory, so no "theft" can take place.

Content creators appreciate your support and your loyalty, but this will only put you at risk for being Abuse Reported and cause the thief to switch locations and accounts making him / her more difficult for the content creator to track. Creators need that time to investigate and gather information to file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

Because anyone can AR another resident, but only that particular creator can file a cease and desist order with the Labs, it is important to send off a notecard from wherever you happened to see the infringing content, and let the maker know. I'd say it's going to become as common as reading labels in RL stores: eventually, people who need to will do it, and the rest of the people won't bother.

If you think content in a location may be stolen, but you don't know where it originally came from, contact the CCA at cca.report@gmail.com and they will investigate quietly.

I don't know how closely Step Up! is allied with the Content Creators' Association--from the membership list for both groups, I'd assume pretty closely. But I do see now where the owners of Boxed Heroes had no idea the group was trying to enforce copyright, grid-wide, and not just protest "content theft" on an individual basis.

It's still a difficult and tricky issue, and we are taking the very first steps in 'frontier law', so to speak--there will be damage done to both sides, and misunderstandings will race. Rumor, after all, travels on the fastest of wings, it always has. All we have is what we see, what we can do to affect change, what we can do to change ourselves.

But we can begin by properly identifying what the problems are. They're not "content theft". Though it's a very catchy phrase--and I and everyone else on the grid have used it--it's time to set that aside and see it for what it really is--copying the original, not lifting it and stealing it away.

(Does it really make the act of copyright infringement on the grid any easier to bear? No. But at least we--and the law--know what we're talking about when we talk about it. That, at least, is a step forward.)


Rhianon Jameson said...

May I take both sides of this issue? :)

On the one hand, I'm sympathetic to calling it theft because copyright infringement is taking money from someone who has the legal right to sell something but cannot because those copies are out there. Sure, the original remains with the owner, the right to copy, distribute, sell, et cetera, remains with the owner, but any sales he or she would have made but for the copying? Gone.

On the other hand, not every example of copyright infringement is harmful to the copyright owner. Potentially the best example is that of sharing music files. (And this is preaching to the choir, I know.) Of the people hearing a "shared" song, some fraction would have bought the song and now will not; a second fraction will end up liking the music enough to buy it when, but for the sharing, they would never have heard the song; and that group of listeners may send the song to still more listeners. The first effect is bad for the artist, but the second and third are good. On net, it's not obvious whether the artist gains or loses. Casual empiricism suggests that a lot of artists, often but not exclusively lesser-known acts, really like YouTube.

Dio said...

Hey Emilly,

I have to say you're presenting some of the most interesting and thoughtful discussion of this topic I've seen.

One of the areas that I am curious about is the issue of historic materials, oh say like the Currier and Ives prints or cigar box labels that I've shot pictures of in order to make textures for stuff. I assume that as these materials were published more than 75 years ago, I'm ok--or am I?

The other thing that struck me is your ongoing conversation with the Boxed Heroes folks, and the fact that they are "taking things in a new direction with more original work." I know this is probably just me being Little MaryfuckingSunshine again, and trying to look for the silver goddamn lining, but I find that to be an interesting development. Rather than stifling creativity, might this new enhanced concern about intellectual property rights help foster a new wave of completely original work in-world?

The interesting complication that I see in this issue is not just with regards to making stuff. I think the issue also extends into the realm of storytelling rp, where people are creating their own new narratives and characters, but they often are using settings, "props" and narrative vocabulary that was created by someone else.

For instance, I play regularly in a "Hogwarts" sim. Even though we are not using characters or storylines from the books and films (the timeframe is 10 years after the books end), it's still using JKR's settings and certain ideas and narrative vocabulary.

I have thought of it in the past as an improv theater form of fanfic. But now I'm rather curious about the status of fanfic within the context of copyright as well.

As much as I enjoy creating entirely new narratives and characters, it is fun to sometimes work within an established world. In such a setting, all the actors and writers have access to some well-defined canon that informs and guides their interactions and reactions, and provides structure for the storylines.

In fact, you pretty much need to have that kind of established canon to successfully facilitate a shared storytelling rp experience. Otherwise it's just random anarchy rather than a coherent story. But nonetheless, do we have the right to use that narrative structure and vocabulary?

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Jameson: Sure, and I agree with your points, but 'theft' implies a certain mindset--"My property has been taken. It must be retrieved and the thief arrested so that my property is protected."

And that's all well and good with physical theft, but digital theft changes the game. First, there's no actual theft involved; it's more...nebulous. Which is a big part of the problem.

Can a maker of virtual goods be hacked, their creations remade, and sold for much less? Absolutely. It's happened with major skin makers, it's happened with major latex designers, it's happened recently with Sine Wave dances. Is this damage to potential earnings, to reputation, to the 'brand name', so to speak? Yes. Does this cause real emotional harm to the maker? Yes.

Is it real physical theft? No. And that's where the laws designed to address real physical protections on virtual goods start getting vague.

For example--a recent suggestion on 'theft-proofing' our goods was recommended: employ a 'maker's mark', or a small line of text, to verify that the product is in fact yours without a doubt. In fabrics, the color line is often accompanied by a pattern copyright line of text imprinted on the fabric. Even if the fabric is cut and that line removed, that line is still there and will, if analyzed, match that pattern.

Someone hacks my store, steals my madras textures (though WHY one would want to, that's entirely different, but I digress), and I have carefully printed a 9-point digital font copyright sentence on the bottom of each of those textures. There are two problems with this:

1. The "thief" crops out that line. No further issue, it becomes my word against theirs;


2. My customers start complaining, because they don't know enough about stretching textures on prims to remove that line of text.

I understand the problems, believe me. I face them, though I'm still (and likely to remain) teensy as a creator. However, I have designer friends who have been hacked, some repeatedly, and I've sent more than a fair share of notecards to makers when I find their work elsewhere in world. It is and remains a problem.

But batching it all up under "copyright theft" and saying "stealing is wrong"--that's just pushing a misguided agenda. It's as bad as calling music file-sharing--much of it shared by the artists--"piracy". (Since you mentioned it; it was a handy example.) "Piracy"--of music, of software, of DVDs and CDs--generally isn't done one on one, in peer-to-peer programs. "Piracy" is generally done by one individual buying one disc legally, and copying that thousands of times.

But again, that gets iffy in world. Because by and large, if the goal is to get rid of every person with stolen content on the grid--well, that gets rid of the grid. Because everyone on the grid has something--the Lindens, sim owners, business owners, residents--that violates copyright. EVERYONE.

Emilly Orr said...

And Dio--

I had to dig a bit for this, but I'd recommend perusing the Code of Best Practices for Online Video. It's not exact, in terms of what's going on, but I do think things that apply to fan-created visual media may well apply to fan-created sectors of virtual worlds.

I'm also wondering when copyright ends and public domain begins, exactly--as I recently did a run of vintage music covers (1898 to 1920 or so) as textures for in-world use. I think I am clear on copyright issues--even if we're talking the one or two from 1936 that crept in, that's still more than eighty years since publication of that sheet music art, and at least on music, the Sonny Bono codicil raised copyright on music to seventy years past the artists' death.

So it's very possible that the artists, or the composers, could well have passed on, but have they passed on recently, or long ago? It's iffy, as yet.