Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Fur Flies (off) on Second Life

Website Seventh Sun (HT IPKat) has a revealing story – with pictures -- on a campaign by Second Life “content creators” against what is viewed as rampant piracy on the virtual network. The campaign is being fronted by avatar Chez Nabob , who runs a store called “CHEZ Fine Clothing for Men” on Second Life (see interview here). Mr. Nabob is reported to have had the idea that bringing awareness to the perceived problem by "parodying [PETA] would be an effective way to shed more light on the issue among the broader population of SL.” The campaign thus shows the avatars in the buff in the manner of the famous PETA ads.

Am I alone in finding it ironic that a campaign whose goal is to ensure people don’t copy works takes as its vehicle the copying of others’ works (even if in a non-infringing way)?


Anonymous said...

I skimmed the articles and could not quickly find what all the fuss is about. The focus is on the campaign and not the problem. They want stronger IP rights. They are running a campaign to raise awareness. The RIAA and MPAA would be happy.

Anonymous said...

This is more than an awareness campaign; it is intended to persuade SL to change the rules of the game. SL controls what's on their servers, so one can say that SL defines the rules of what's permissible in SL. In SL, code is law.

Does Chez Nabob download copyrighted music P2P? That would be ironic.

William Patry said...

I get that it is an awareness campaign, but I still think it ironic that the awareness was to be of not copying, and was accomplished through copying someone else's campaign

Chez Nabob said...

First let me say thanks for your coverage of this campaign, and for asking a question I gave a lot of thought to myself. To answer the question raised, I think we need to ask three more questions.

1. Is anyone benefiting financially as a direct result of this campaign?

2. Is this truly a duplicate of PETA's efforts in their fight against the use of animal fur?

3. Would this effort in any way be detrimental or negatively affect PETA and it's campaign/efforts?

I'd answer no to all of those questions.

First no one person or entity has a direct financial gain as a result of these ads. It's a public service announcement designed to educate the residents of SL and hopefully make them aware of the issue of IP theft in SL.

Second, PETA is definitely not the first company/organization to use naked/near naked images to sell a product or push a cause. Is the idea similar? Of course, and that's something I have acknowledged from the beginning, and it's also something I considered for a while before beginning serious work on the campaign, but MANY other products, services, causes, etc. have used similar approaches to "selling" their own ideas.

Third, no, after looking at the possibilities, I do not believe PETA would be harmed financially or ideologically in the minds of the general public or in terms of it's "business" if I pushed ahead with this campaign

I also asked myself the question, "would our effort be seen as hypocritical if we used a concept like this to promote an effort that is against IP theft?"

For me, it boiled down to the three questions above and the answers I arrived at made me feel comfortable pushing forward.

What we are talking about in the campaign is someone taking the creation of someone else...directly ripping it and making an EXACT duplicate...and selling that for a purpose of nothing more than lining their pockets with the profits (and it's PURE profit as it took them ZERO effort to make an exact copy. They invested no time in the creation of the product).

There is something called fair use in copyright law. If I felt that I was taking the EXACT unique concept of PETA with no changes or modifications and was directly benefiting financially, and harming them or their message/business, then I would have absolutely not moved ahead with this idea.

But as I mentioned, certainly the concept/idea is not unique. There's an adage I'm sure you're familiar with, "sex sells." Companies and organizations have long used scantily clad bodies to sell their cause. The wording of the ads is completely different. About the only thing you could say is that the design of the ads are somewhat similar, and yes, we are riding the coat tails of their campaign in terms of recognition, but from where I sit, that's one of the things that makes parody...well parody.

We wanted a light-hearted approach to a serious issue. We didn't want this to be something that gets rammed down the throats of residents or have them feel like we're beating them over the head with the message, and that's the main reason for using the parody approach.

And to answer Jack's question, no, I do not download pirated music. The majority of my music purchases these days come from iTunes, and anything I duplicate from those purchases falls well within the terms of service/DRM of iTunes.

I think I should say here that I deal with copyright issues all the time in my RL work. It's vitally important to me as someone who creates art and uses those creations to make a living. Yes, much of copyright law is subjective, purposefully so. But there's a lot of it that isn't, and when the issue is someone taking the exact creation, selling it for profit (or distributing it freely as in the case of P2P music) and hurting the original creator's business in that process, I don't think there's much question about whether or not copyright has been violated.

And on one final note, just to be perfectly clear. From my perspective it is up to individual content creators to defend their IP rights. I do not expect Linden Lab to do that for me. What I would like Linden Lab to do is provide better tools to help content creators defend their rights and to follow through on their existing terms of service/promises to enforce DMCA requests. There are MANY excellent suggestions out there that could easily be implemented by Linden Lab if they chose to do so, but they have unfortunately taken the path of (seemingly) turning a blind eye to the issue of IP rights violations, and because of many of their policies, actually allowing content theft to flourish. We hope this campaign will educate the greater populace of SL, and get them to stand with content creators to lobby Linden Lab for better tools to help secure IP rights in SL.

Thanks for reading what turned out to be a MUCH longer comment than I originally intended.

William Patry said...

Thanks, Chez for your very informative and thoughtful comment. I think your use of PETA was witty and did not harm PETA. And it is the sort of use that one thinks of with fair use. My description of the use as ironic was not intended as a criticism, but more motivated by the tendency of some who claim strong rights to take the position that all (or many) unauthorized uses as theft of property. Your use, in connection with an awareness campaign of not copying, I found ironic against that background. So to me, one way to look at your campaign is that some copying is not only OK, but witty and lighthearted, a point I would agree with (understanding too that all that was used was an idea).

Anonymous said...

There's an article on USA Today's website about this subject.

I would prefer that SL solve the problem, if feasible, of the piracy of virtual goods, with computer code, rather than further clog the courts. It is, after all, a game.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for weighing in. Alas, "financial benefit" is not a very helpful litmus limit test for whether your use is non-infringing although it *ought* to be. It is not inconceivable that PETA could argue this campaign dilutes distinctive trade dress in a manner violating the Lanham Act. I.e., IP "theft". And unfortunately, fair use is principally a copyright doctrine. It's trademark counterpart is underdeveloped, to say the least.

For what it's worth, I still think your use is non-infringing, - but I think Bill's point on the irony is well made. Too much of a good thing (IP protection) is not a good thing.

Bravo to you for trying to raise SL users' awareness of IP rights. I wish you the best. I believe I may have seen some of your campaign materials in SL and what I saw seemed to strike the right tone.

However- an observation on the word "theft". Not only is it legally unsound [used primarily by the RIAA and MPAA, if that is any benchmark for its legal credibility], but as long as you call IP infringement "theft", it's a tacit admission that somehow the word "infringement" just isn't strong enough. In the long run, that will hurt your awareness campaign.

On Linden's DMCA takedown policies -- if you feel that they are not sufficient, you should tell their general counsel. They lose their protection under the law if they don't comply with their takedown obligations, so they should be very interested in making certain that they do so.

*This isn't legal advice unless your lawyer's name is Anonymous.