Thursday, November 30, 2006

Judge Posner, Second Life, and Copyright

On December 7th, from 6 to 8 pm PST, in the Center Auditorium in Kula, Judge Posner, or more accurately, his avatar, will be interviewed. Kula is, of course, in Second Life, a virtual world created by Linden Lab. Here is a link to an article about his interview. One must make a reservation (the link gives the details), and this means joining Second Life (the basic membership is free) as well as creating your own avatar with its own name. (Mine is called Chalil Vandeverre and I look like a large version of Swiper the Fox, but not red). You can join here. (Over 1,713,000 people have).

The interview with Judge Posner is an important event in Second Life's appeal outside of its original uses, and also is a window into why Judge Posner is our country's most exciting legal figure: his curiosity and willingness to take the time to personally be involved in and learn about cutting edge of issues is awe inspiring. Being in Second Life isn't a matter of opening a book or writing an article; it involves a mastery of a new technology and the rules of a distinct community. It is a testament to Judge Posner's eternal youth that he has done so.

Second Life has gotten a lot of publicity lately. The Wall Street Journal has a reporter dedicated to it, and from that newspaper's general thrust, one could guess that the attention has been about Second Life's commercial applications. But Second Life has also been roiled by a copyright dispute, as a result of the libsecondlife's creation of the infamously named CopyBot, used to copy content created and available by Second Life store owners. Here is a link to a story in Reuters, which contains a snapshot of a store with a protest sign. (A number of stores closed rather than be copied). The official libsecondlife application of CopyBot required user permission and a response to a disclaimer before content could be copied. But once the source code for CopyBot was made available on the libsecondlife's website, it was downloaded, edited, and reconfigured into an unofficial version that led to highly controversial uses. Residents of Second Life even began selling links to the unofficial version in exchange for Linden dollars, the currency of Second Life. A more technical summary the origins of Copybot is provided by libsecondlife:

The libsl project is an open source effort to create a stable platform for third-party Second Life development. Since its inception, libsl has helped Linden Lab identify many potentially serious vulnerabilities, before they were detected and exploited by malicious users. It continues in these efforts to this day, reporting any potential bugs and security issues to Linden Labs once they are confirmed and reproduced. Linden Lab appreciates the effort being put into the Metaverse ideals by the libsecondlife development team, and have assisted the group when possible. There are many potential uses for the libSL project. The project itself is geared towards creating an API that any programmer could make use of for their own application. Its explanation of the Copybot is this: Copybot was created as a debugging tool by the development team. It became rapidly apparent that it could be used to show the potential of the libsecondlife project. The official Copybot application required a user to ask to be copied, and presented a disclaimer before it occurred. The libSL project has since tightened it's source control system to lessen the potential for abuse of debugging applications. Open Source software is a double edged sword. In the case of a project like libsecondlife, it is enabling new imaginative uses of the Second Life platform, as well as providing a valuable service by finding and reporting potentially dangerous security issues before an incident occurs. The other side is that people can make use of the software provided for less noble causes. The libsecondlife team does not endorse the theft of intellectual property in any way shape or form. Linden Lab has declared that they take intellectual property rights and copyright law seriously, and are considering several methods to help combat misuse. As well, the libsecondlife project could potentially evolve into a tool which could help detect and report upon users who are misusing intellectual property. Copybot acts similar to the official Second Life client. The difference being that instead of drawing the information being presented, it is "reflecting" it back down the connection to the server. Primitive based attachments are reconstructed, and attached. This information is freely available on the Second Life protocol stream, it is just being made use of in a different manner. Similar functionality has been available via LSL scripting as well as GLintercept based tools for some time now.

What the Official Copybot Could / Could not do Note that you would have to ask Copybot to do this, and a disclaimer would be presented. Could Make use of existing baked avatar textures Make use of existing avatar shapes Rebuild avatar attachments and attach them These are purged upon boot / daily On occasion crash Simulators This is a simulator bug, and has been reported -- a good example of libsecondlife helping uncover a hidden problem that could have exploited to wreck the grid Could not Copy contents of objects Includes scripts Cause any damage to the SL official Viewer, simulators, or any content. This includes client-side hardware

Linden Lab has had a number of postings on its blog, which have generated voluminous and passionate comments. Here is Linden's posting announcing its decision to ban use of the tool:

Second Life needs features to provide more information about assets and the results of copying them. Unfortunately, these are not yet in place. Until they are, the use of CopyBot or any other external application to make unauthorized duplicates within Second Life will be treated as a violation of Section 4.2 of the Second Life Terms of Service and may result in your account(s) being banned from Second Life. If you feel that someone has used CopyBot to make an infringing copy of your content, please file an abuse report. Note that this is completely separate from any copyright infringement claim you may wish to pursue via the DMCA.

Like the World Wide Web, it will never be possible to prevent data that is drawn on your screen from being copied. While Linden Lab could get into an arms race with residents in an attempt to stop this copying, those attempts would surely fail and could harm legitimate projects within Second Life.

There are features to allow Second Life residents more choices about how they respond to potential infringement beyond the DMCA. Specifically, we will add data to allow residents to compare asset creators and creation time; incorporate Creative Commons licenses so creators have the option to create content that allows free copying, modification, and exchange without having to utilize outside applications; expand ban lists and reputation so residents can share information about those who abuse copyright; and, publish additional statistics on the website so creators can make rational decisions about the health and strength of Second Life’s economy.

These are important features because the implications of copying should not be about Linden Lab’s approach to copyright enforcement. We are not in the copyright enforcement business. The communities within Second Life should have the tools and the freedoms to decide how and when they deal with potentially infringing content. Many will decide on less restrictive regimes in order to maximize innovation and creativity. Others will choose more restrictive options and ban visitors who do not respect them. Consumers, creators, and all residents need to have the final say about which approaches work best for them.

Please recognize that using the Terms of Service is not a permanent solution. Nor is it shift in Linden Lab’s support of libsecondlife (who have removed CopyBot from their Subversion repository), machinima creators, or others who have explored Second Life beyond the features of the Second Life client. I continue to feel that libsecondlife is an incredibly important part of Second Life’s development and community.

I do not extend those feelings to residents attempting to profit off of infringing use of CopyBot.
To the community, I am very sorry that we have not already completed the features needed for you to address these concerns yourself. We are working very hard to complete them and will release them as soon as they are ready. In terms of prioritization and scheduling, additional asset data will be deployed in Q1 2007. Adding in support for CC and expanding the ban lists will be deployed 3 to 6 months later. Until then, as described in the first paragraph, use of CopyBot or similar tools to create infringing copies within Second Life will be treated as a violation of the Terms of Service.

The dispute raises captivating questions about self-policing versus reliance on the copyright laws, including the DMCA notice and take down provisions, and in a community many members of which have had distinct view on copyright as enforced by traditional copyright industries. One could question to ask Judge Posner's avatar on December 7th is whether he thinks there is an analogy to law professor Robert Ellickson's Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes. In that book Ellickson explores the way neighbors informally dealt with border and cattle trespass disputes in Shasta County, in Northern California. The book is a tour de force, combining an empirical study and a theoretical romp through Coase, game theory and much more. A must read and one that raises wonderful issues for the Second Life dispute.


Crosbie Fitch said...

Why not imagine a Lego constructors club, where at some community hall somewhere umpteen Lego fanatics get together each week to continue building their own little Legoland.

One week, a chap resumes work assembling 'dogs' out of a few appropriately connected bricks. He's been putting these in strategic places in the various streets and backgardens of other people's Lego houses.

Unfortunately, he suddenly notices that someone else has reversed engineered one of his dogs, and has assembled a few of his own identical dogs.

Time for the DMCA?

A $500,000 fine perhaps?

A fellow collaborator obviously needs to be taught a lesson that, despite Legoland being a single collective work, each unique assembly may not be copied without its original author's explicit permission.

Flogging's too good for 'em I say.

Crosbie Fitch said...

"DMCA only applies to those who circumvent a TPM, so where's the TPM?"

I'm glad you asked that question.

The chap had glued the bricks together that formed his dogs and had stuck a label underneath that said "No user serviceable parts inside. Do not disassemble. Reverse engineers will be shot".

However, the chappie who reverse-engineered copies, did so by placing them into an X-ray machine in order to figure out which bricks went where. So, he circumvented the glue - the nasty reprobate that he is.

William Patry said...


So how does this differ from copying of other collectively created works, like say motion pictures?

Crosbie Fitch said...

I should add that there are significant differences between a Lego set and 2nd Life.

The only similarity is that in both cases, they are a single, collaboratively produced work.

In the case of 2nd Life, the collective work is held remotely, and people only infer that unauthorised copies of their work are being made - unless LL are telling them that "Oh yes, quite beyond our control, your contributions are being duplicated without your permission on our servers".

I thought there might, just might, be some significance in the fact that this is a collective work of art.

But, the more important thing to note is that the issue is a farce.

And of course, we need a lot more farces like these to really demonstrate the folly of copyright.

William Patry said...

I don't think the issue of how people handle their creations being used by others is a farce at all. It is both an ancient and very modern question, and how we deal with is both complex and insightful into how we approach individual versus communal conflicts. Calling such conflicts "copyright" is an unhelpful label. What I find interesting about the Second Life issue is how the problem arose and how it is being dealt with.

William Patry said...


I am very happy you picked up on the irony!

Anonymous said...

Prof. Ed Felten has a fascinating post on his blog discussing some potential technical solutions that can be undertaken in Second Life that would not be possible in the real world, thanks to cryptography.

Much of the discussion regarding CopyBot elides an important difference between Second Life and the real world -- in Second Life, there is an omnipotent God (Linden Labs) that can surveil citizens and enforce policies algorithmically. And, thanks to the TOS, no user has any rights vis Linden Labs (they can terminate your account anytime).

Let's hope no one thinks that we should be striving for a similar relationship between citizens and legal enforcement in the real world, all in the name of better copyright enforcement!

William Patry said...

Indeed Fred; one thing that interested me was the way in which the community acted and how the omnipotent actor responded. Another thing that interested me was whether one's views on the desirability of copyright protection depended on whose ox was being gored.