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The "Copybot" Word

I have been approached a couple of times recently regarding an "issue" mentioned on the publication known as the "Second Life Herald", on the subject of a "new copybot". (I do not read this publication on a regular basis any more, on account of its tedious hagiography of groups of annoying children; an odd pursuit, not my part to judge I suppose but not in my interests to read, either.)

Let us be clear on a few details in this instance.

  1. There is nothing at all new about any of this. The idea that with the initial outcry relating to "copybot", the functions responsible and the use thereof went away, is simply nonsense. The prohibition was a socially-based one, making the possession or use of a copybot illegal, but the technology never disappeared. In fact, as far as I can see, this "copybot 2" is just a simple modification of the "testclient" that is freely available. Anyone with any interest could make a similar product, we are not talking about Programming Genii here.

  2. There are no physical countermeasures - at least, none which will prevent people from copying designs and textures as presented in SL. Anyone attempting to sell you an item which claims to "defend against copybot" is as much a fraudster as anyone duplicating your design and selling it. The entirety of SL depends on the "client" - that is, the thing that is running on your own Engine - receiving information as to what it should display, the exact geometry of every part, the textures, and so on and so on. No, this cannot be encrypted without utterly crippling the already tardy speeds at which SL operates, and being crackable in any case.

  3. The only countermeasures, therefore, are social ones. There is the option of relying, instead of on simple product sales, on things which cannot be duplicated - services, customised versions, work on special and personalised products. (This may require some alteration of the expectations of purchasers on the Grid but to be quite frank, those expecting large amounts of time to be devoted to their whims are, at the moment, mostly extraordinary misers.)

    The other part of this is that the Gods of the World, the Blessed Lindens, must actively enforce matters of copyright and duplication, to a far greater degree than they do at the moment.

What if the latter does not happen? Well, industry will not vanish. Even if copies are easily made and resold, people will still have some loyalty and decency and wish to reward the original creators, particularly at the very low prices charged in general. Little-known designers will be too little-known for anyone to bother copy them; well-known designers will be able to play on their "brands". Those between are in the most danger I would say, but still, they won't lose too much in the way of sales.

But they will lose some. The idea of designing things within Second Life, in the knowledge that anyone can copy whatever it is you make and resell it for whatever price they feel like, will put people off bothering in the first place. The prospect of reward spurs people on to create - that is why we have copyright legislation in the first place, to encourage creative activity, with the underlying assumption that creative activity is a good thing for society in general (an assumption with which I would agree).

I would mention here that my own activities, and those of others who concentrate on providing Scripted Amusements, are less at threat, as Scripts currently exist only on the Grid, are not sent to Clients and are thus not Copiable. However, this is merely a coincidence. The issue of Content Duplication is no less important to me merely because it affects my fellows and not myself.

So - what happens if we have a "free-as-in-free-beer" Second Life, enforced by Code? Designing becomes less profitable. Some designers leave. (A number will stay on, certainly, but professionals, apart from the largest who can play on their brands, will be rarer.) The general level of design goes down. There are fewer products available, and fewer to be copied, with the copy-resellers being parasites on the skills of others.

There is a way around this, and that is as stated previously: the owners of the world, the blessed Laboratory, must enforce rules far more strictly. It is not a perfect solution, as clearly there are far more places than can be checked, but without it nothing will happen. Not just "DMCA" nonsense, which is just a mechanism for covering one's bottom in the face of future legal action, but actively removing duplicated content.

There are all sorts of ways that this can be made easier - registers of content being uploaded, watermarks and so on - but in the end it is the will that is important, and that means governance, active enforcement of rules. Attack content-thieving accounts; delete them and their alts. Enforce DMCA takedowns properly, as rubbish as they might be.

Without that? Oh well, nothing terribly serious. Content creators will be discouraged from ever entering SL. Nobody will bother to learn the obscure, undocumented, ever-changing details of how the tools work - unless they already have a out-world patron, in which case they will rarely be putting anything on the open grid. Second Life will become less and less interesting. And the "Second Life Protocol" will become less and less relevant, and less and less likely to become the dominant virtual world protocol, and then it will be 2009 and we will all be speaking about SL as certain old-timers do about ActiveWorlds.

You know, nothing that anybody might care about.

csven's picture
04 Mar200808:01
csven (not verified)

Well said.

Otenth's picture
04 Mar200810:51
Otenth (not verified)

Hear, hear!

Dalien Talbot's picture
04 Mar200810:58
Dalien Talbot (not verified)

Dear Ordinal,

Excellent post. I've been hearing a lot about the content theft lately - and I totally agree with you that the problem is mostly a nontechnical one. Although I wonder if the benevolent dictatorship is the best way to solve it. I am curious really how true is the statement of "people will still have some loyalty and decency" - when viewed en masse. So I've decided to go ahead with the little experiment and see in practice how it works out - I've written more on it on my blog. Would be curious to know your opinion of it.


Prokofy Neva's picture
04 Mar200812:56
Prokofy Neva (not verified)

I disagree with all this, actually.

First of all, re: "No, this cannot be encrypted without utterly crippling the already tardy speeds at which SL operates, and being crackable in any case."

That's tekkie talk, and I realize it's a terribly deeply held religious belief, but it's a socially-driven hacker-culture belief, that need not pertain. You can say: baloney, of course you can. Of course you can encrypt it daily and automatically and offer more features in that version -- the fastest loading or best-looking or specially tagged or whatever client is encrypted and that's the one people pay $9.95 a month for and live in (while leaving an open source one for script kiddies or rich corporations to hack with if they like). So what if it is crackable? Who cares? Another one will be generated/encrypted the next day.

This idea that encryption causes lag doesn't track for me. World of Warcraft and the Sims Online encrypt or obfuscate or do what they do -- they aren't any more laggy than SL. Sorry, but I'm not buying.

Obfuscation is a matter of political will. Extremist hacker tekkies say ohnoes we can't do that because if you can see it you can hack it and ohnoes you must not understand the physical impossibilities. Baloney. Sure you can. Companies do all the time. They make keys on their software and you can't crack them...unless you work at it. So, keep people busy cracking every day, whatever.

And I do think that creators will not create under these circumstances.

I actually think that something else will happen, however, rather than this lovely idea being bruited around about the 8 generatives and what Ordinal is saying here about the services and customizing. Content creation is hard enough. People will not add to that the picky, awful, unrewarding work of making more service and more customizing -- it's just too hard for what you get (except for the very highest end of certain designers who will have clients who will pay for their ermine-tipped robes with their initials etc.)

Rather, I think what's going to happen is that large corporations will create sort of Hollywood studios of content creators that they will sustain. They will use their content to advertise and basically those creators will be in indentured servitude to them or perhaps a lighter form of apprenticeship but they will be "bought". The team of people at Rezzable, the Linden Dept. of Public Works for $10/hour, the Sheep -- these are all early examples of these studios.

And for these people, copying of their content will not matter. They can create, and they'll want it copied because it will help satisfy customers and build the brand. You come to the Sheep Show or the Rezzable Show or the Linden Show and you get the free t-shirt but even more, the free dress and free boots and free rave stick. The content creators will get paid by the big corporations. The corporations will advertise Coke or Tide or whatever they need to drop in. It's like the King Biscuit Flour Hour. Neither the corporations nor the content producers will care about copied material and won't even care if their freebies are resold in some micropayments economy well beneath their feet -- they can afford to be magnanimous. And for each show (live music, poetry meeting, dance, discussion, educational lecture, whatever)

Event organizers in corporations will become the new people with a copyright. That is, the production of their event will be the secret thing everyone will want and won't be able to copy. Their magical management of a troupe of performers, content-makers, scripters, set-builders, program managers, advertising executives, etc. will become more important than any one of those content pieces because they will bring in eyeballs, eyeballs bring in clicks, clicks bring in purchases. There won't be any new thing under the sun here, but just a rearrangement of the relationships.

Tateru Nino's picture
04 Mar200819:02
Tateru Nino (not verified)

(Baloney. *ahem*)

Well said, Ordinal. Factually correct, top-to-bottom (despite some deeply held, religious beliefs to the contrary)

Digado | Mapping the Metaverse's picture
04 Mar200819:44
Digado | Mapping the Metaverse (not verified)

I think the copybot is an 'innocent' version of what is about to hit Virtual worlds trough interoperability. What if entire avatars become copyable? Hey I like your avatar - sure, here is the download 'myavatar.zip'. Whether this will become reality or not - the artificial value of virtual, limitless content will slowly shift to the value of time and attention - as time per head is not copyable and persists cross-realm, and is a very valuable commodity for brands who do deal with the economy of scarcity - the way the web is monetized at the moment.

I think there is some truth to the event based business Prokofy talks about, but it could be centralised content as well, events just add the factor time. Gather enough real people, for a certain amount of time, in a certain place - and it will be valuable. The 'attention economy'.


Funny comment about Active Worlds by the way - though not a fan of their community client (which is actually just a 'fan build world' version of the white label application) - Active Worlds never had an interest in the community application, partially because of the implications as mentioned above - but the company behind the white label world has a far better grip of their platform as a the 'beloved lab' and flourishes behind the scenes in corporate environments who don't seek value in content, but in service.

HeadBurro Antfarm's picture
04 Mar200820:15
HeadBurro Antfarm (not verified)

Are you saying, Prok, that thefts from the small operators - the skin makers and dress makers - will be irrelevant?

Jaymin Carthage's picture
04 Mar200821:58
Jaymin Carthage (not verified)

Ms Ordinal,
Your words are encouraging to a script smith like me. In fact, my current project involves deconstructing items down to their raw essentials, storing that description beyond the ether, and then, later, reconstructing them independently from beyond the ether. Although I'm sure you would agree with science for the sake of science, this does more than just replicate the simple gesture of pulling multiple items from your inventory. You see the reconstructing part may be done in any grid or plane of existence beyond our own.
I fear now the public mob with cry outrage! That this wondrous new technology was designed to copy no-copy items and remove the food from the mouths of the children of honest merchants. When, in fact, I'm hoping to bring forth a way that those same merchants can sell their wares on other grids, and other worlds beyond fit to stuff their little chizzlers to their gizzards.
History will judge me!

HeadBurro Antfarm's picture
04 Mar200823:55
HeadBurro Antfarm (not verified)

Ye Gods - you have become the copier of worlds...

Melancholy « [CRAP] Fashion's picture
05 Mar200801:36
Melancholy « [CRAP] Fashion (not verified)

[...] Ordinal Malaprop: Copybot There is a way around this, and that is as stated previously: the owners of the world, the blessed Laboratory, must enforce rules far more strictly. It is not a perfect solution, as clearly there are far more places than can be checked, but without it nothing will happen. Not just “DMCA” nonsense, which is just a mechanism for covering one’s bottom in the face of future legal action, but actively removing duplicated content. [...]

The sky is falling (again)'s picture
06 Mar200803:47
The sky is falling (again) (not verified)

[...] Miss Ordinal Malaprop’s straightforward analysis of new “copybot” scares: There is nothing at all new about any of [...]

illovich Psaltery's picture
03 Apr200823:24
illovich Psaltery (not verified)

Unfortunately, I think you recently had a problem involving your proposed solution -

"What has apparently happened - and I am extrapolating here, as I have been unable to obtain the actual details from Flickr, though it seems very likely - is that a DMCA notice was filed by Ms Eagle to Flickr alleging copyright infringement, and the company is then obliged to remove the article automatically."

The problem that you and many other people have seen is that the DMCA takedown notice is mostly effective for harassing people who displease you while creating a lot of paperwork for a bunch of people, and generally making social media companies much harder to deal with.

I would argue that the Lindens would better serve the future they advocate by pursuing a Second Justice system, albeit streamlined and webified. The important difference in my assertion is that nothing happens until evidence is actually submitted by both parties and weighed by a third party.

As a quick sketch it would look something like this:

1) An IP complaint is filed via a website. The plaintiff gives their account of what they believe has transpired, and supplies the owner of an offending object, if possible the object's key, and the key of the object of theirs that was the subject of theft (I think it is only reasonable that the plaintiff is assumed to be the wronged party)

In the event that there is meta-evidence, there should also be a few fields to include this sort of information (for example, in the recent brou ha ha regarding the sale of textures from a real life 3D texture broker, the broker would be able to state that they own the copyright and where the originals can be examined)

2) Not being familiar with the way the SL works, I'll assume this might be necessary: The inventories of the plaintiff and accused are snapshotted on the submission of the step #1 form.

3) The accused is notified of the complaint and advised of how to respond (same website, same evidence submission options).

4) A group of Lindens (this might be a great internship for pre-Law students interested in IP if there isn't sufficient interest in funding a position) review the evidence for "obvious" verdicts, e.g. the accused bought the item and afterwards "uploaded" or came into the possession of the same item. A number of methods could be used to streamline this process for the judges, for example a program that could analyze textures on a pixel basis to determine how similar they are.

(note: I don't expect 5 would ever actually happen)

5) In the case where there is not a clear truth, a trial should be held. Obviously, jury selection is difficult since it can't be compulsory -- but I would say any account in good standing with a certain age (3 months? So much time spent at the keyboard in world?) and a fairly clean record should be eligible to be available to serve on a jury. It could be handled by people indicating their willingness to assist and sit on a trial, and when trials occur anyone who has never interacted with either party would get an invite the day before the trial and in-world to be be ready to serve.

I'm sure a positive in-world compensation could be imagined for people who were willing to participate in civic responsibility.

This idea, like yours, is only workable if Linden Labs is willing to actually sanction people for violation of in-world laws. I agree with you that content that violates IP should be deleted (although what happens to the innocent people who bought the content? Do they get their money back?).

A system like this would need to carry several levels of punishment:

1) Deletion of content. This is pretty simple, and would apply probably mostly in cases of Texture theft. There should be a provision for restitution of goods or services to people who innocently bought items with infringing IP.

2) Fines (removal of $L or property from offenders). A quick google reveals that "Under the Copyright Act, each plaintiff is entitled to a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000 per act of infringement." In the Linden's case, this should probably be more hard set. I'm not sure what the penalty should be in cases where fins far exceed the total amount of liquid goods the avatar owns. Perhaps this is where #3 & #4 come into play.

3) Sanctions - for egregious offenders, all accounts they control could be set to "no commerce/no upload" or maybe even temporarily suspended?

4) Death/Permanent Ban - this would be the most serious, and obviously not the same as the real world death penalty since the Lindens couldn't really keep people from making a new account, but it's certainly a serious deterrent for people interested in building a business in Second Life.

5) Eminent public domain of content - in some cases it might make more sense to convert content to copy/mod/trans and mark it as public domain. This would apply in cases where individuals were selling IP in the public domain with use restrictions on use. I'm looking at you, texture sellers who sell restricted use textures which were scanned from books. (ip note: Accurate photographs of two-dimensional visual artworks lack expressive content and are automatically in the public domain once the painting's copyright has expired (which it has in the US if it was published before 1923)*. Anyone who uploads the Mona Lisa and claims they have any "rights" to it is not talking about the IP system we have in the US)

* http://www.constitution.org/1ll/court/fed/bridgman.html

illovich Psaltery's picture
03 Apr200823:43
illovich Psaltery (not verified)

Sorry, I had trouble submitting the form and apparently copy/pasted my response twice.