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Copybot and Second Life

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For folks following the copyright intellectual property implications in the gaming industry, Second Life is facing its first real crisis when it comes to the value of in game goods, copyright, liability and just plain old copying.

The argument centers around a game hack called copybot, that goes in and allows folks to copy over cool things that they like. The problem with that is that in game merchants have “gone on strike” and are threatening to close their virtual shops until copybot is stopped. Retailers in the game world make game money off of what they sell, and some of it is really pretty clever in the longer run. So who owns what intellectual property in a game world where the goods are virtual, not controlled by the game maker, and someone develops a hack that while against the terms of service and will get the player banned for using it, still rips stuff from other folks.

Linden labs, the owners of second life have taken an interesting tack on this one. Wired is running an excellent article on this, and they state:

“Instead, Linden Labs will take another approach. In the short run, it believes that use of Copybot violates its terms of service agreement, allowing the company to ban an offender’s account. Long term, Linden says it will create better information identifying creators and dates of creation for in-world content. This will allow copyright owners who’ve been aggrieved to bring infringement claims against offenders personally, at least in theory.

In practice, the available legal tools may not help the virtual world creators very much. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act may give shopkeepers the power to force Linden Labs to delete copied items, but it will not provide financial compensation to the victims of infringement unless they file a federal lawsuit. Given the cost of these virtual goods, there aren’t going to be many infringements worth the expense of suing.

The next phase of Linden’s response is more interesting. The company plans to develop an infrastructure to enable Second Life residents and landowners to enforce IP-related covenants within certain areas, or as a prerequisite for joining certain groups. In effect, Second Life’s inhabitants will self-police their world, according to rules and social norms they develop themselves.

This is exciting, because it turns Second Life into a laboratory for trying out alternatives to prevailing real world copyright rules. (Wired Magazine, Second life will save copyright).

This one might be well worth watching to see how copyright, liability, and the provisions under law work in a virtual world. Many MMORPG’s rely on in game commerce, and selling virtual goods is a way to make real money, Linden Labs in second life is adding an extra dimension to this, and it will be interesting to see how this works out both in game and in real life.

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Dan Morrill has been in the information security field for 18 years, both
civilian and military, and is currently working on his Doctor of Management.
Dan shares his insights on the important security issues of today through
his blog, Managing
Intellectual Property & IT Security
, and is an active participant in the
ITtoolbox blogging community.

Copybot and Second Life
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About Dan Morrill
Dan Morrill runs Techwag, a site all about his views on social media, education, technology, and some of the more interesting things that happen on the internet. He works at CityU of Seattle as the Program Director for the Computer Science, Information Systems and Information Security educational programs. WebProNews Writer
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