Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Textures, IP and Copyright?

So tonight I was supposed to go and post about nifty regions and such from InWorldz, but I'm finding myself in a dilemma here, as that's not what I want to blog about, so I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to go out on a limb here and post some stuff that some may raise an eyebrow over. I think it's critical though, to bring this up as it's becoming a heated debate for people.

Over the last couple of months, I've been reading many blogs and posts and our own forum discussions in regards to IP and copyright protection. I've heard about so-called IP conferences being held to explain rights and so on. I've heard wide sweeping claims of unfairness, profit-driven licenses and claims of stolen good not able to enter worlds. These are bothersome to me in several ways, and I feel I need to vent. Now, by no means am I an expert, which is why we have an attorney to help us deal with where our knowledge may lack.

What I do know from an OSP standpoint is pretty important, and we've tried to make these things very clear on our forums. What I do not understand is why any OSP would want to avoid dealing straight on with the issue of IP protection. I do not understand why anyone would think it's wiser to bypass the laws already put in place to protect an OSP, and even better yet, why anyone wouldn't want to investigate these issues themselves.

Intellectual Property... it's kind of a daunting phrase when you think about it. What exactly IS Intellectual Property? From the wikipedia:

"Intellectual property (IP) is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which property rights are recognized—and the corresponding fields of law. Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Common types of intellectual property include copyrights,  trademarks, patents, industrial design rights and trade secrets in some jurisdictions.

"Although many of the legal principles governing intellectual property have evolved over centuries, it was not until the 19th century that the term intellectual property began to be used, and not until the late 20th century that it became commonplace in the United States. The British Statute of Anne 1710 and the Statute of Monopolies 1623 are now seen as the origin of copyright and patent law respectively."

I think that's fairly clear as to what Intellectual Property is. What starts to make it unclear though? Well, you can create "derivatives" of IP, however, there has to be some guidelines to them. There's a very fascinating article at the Wikipedia on this exact subject and I'll highlight the tidbit that truly intrigued me in regards to Duchamps defacement of the Mona Lisa:

"The most famous derivative work in the world has been said to be L.H.O.O.Q., also known as the Mona Lisa With a Moustache. Generations of US copyright law professors — since at least the 1950s — have used it as a paradigmatic example. Marcel Duchamp created the work by adding, among other things, a moustache, goatee, and the caption L.H.O.O.Q. (meaning “she has a hot tail”) to Leonardo’s iconic work. These few, seemingly insubstantial additions were highly transformative because they incensed contemporary French bourgeoisie, by mocking their cult of “Jocondisme,” at that time said to be “practically a secular religion of the French bourgeoisie and an important part of their self image.” Duchamp’s defacement of their icon was considered “a major stroke of epater le bourgeois." Thus, it has been said that the “transformation of a cult icon into an object of ridicule by adding a small quantum of additional material can readily be deemed preparation of a derivative work.” A parodic derivative work based on Duchamp's parodic derivative work is shown at http://docs.law.gwu.edu/facweb/claw/ch6c2.htm."

In other words, this derivative work, while it enraged people, it DID in fact have enough impact on the underlying group of people to break apart into ridicule of these people.

So how does this all apply to what we see and deal with as an OSP? Well first off, we are not the judge, jury, nor executioner by any means. The law strictly states that we are NOT to be in fact as a registered agent. And anyone who thinks they can do better than being a registered agent, really should read up on IP laws again. By not being a registered agent, and allowing any kind of content into their world, they are risking exposure to lots of lawsuits. As a registered agent, we are protected by that, as we follow the law, and we make sure we comply with that law.

So what is that law, what are our responsibilities? Our responsibilities are not to police the content, that is first off. The law recognizes that no ISP/OSP can monitor every single bit of information that goes through their service. However, once content is recognized as copyright infringement, it is up to the original copyright holder, or their authorized agent, to file a DMCA with the ISP/OSP. Only a copyright holder, or their authorized agent, may file a DMCA. Once a DMCA is filed, it is not up to the ISP/OSP to decide if they should take it down. It is up to the ISP/OSP to block access to the material immediately, and to notify the original uploader/creator/responsible party that the content has been blocked. The other party then has the right to file a counter-claim. At which point, the ISP/OSP then gives the information to the originating party of the original DMCA filed, so that it can then be taken to court. The ISP/OSP then waits 10-14 days, if no suit is filed, then the block from the material must be lifted.

So what does that have to do with the above as far as derivative works and so on? One of the single most contested things I read about are textures. Textures, textures and more textures. Textures are vital to any build, the build is nothing without them. Unfortunately, for over a decade, Intellectual Property on these was not something very highly regarded. Mostly because back then, textures that were out there, weren't really used for much other than web page backgrounds and so on. But as the gaming industry and graphic arts industry started to grow in leaps and bounds, IP rights suddenly became a very big deal. Few years behind the trend, but isn't that always the way with hindsight?

I have seen many textures that are supposedly original works, but when you look at them, they really are not. They are a texture taken from a pack that was bought (or in the worst cases, not even bought) or found on the public domain sites, few pixels added to them, and claimed as new work. These are started to be contested more and more, and I will watch with interest what our court system has to say about this, as the derivatives that they speak of have a fundamental philosophical impact to what they do. So, does changing the color of a carpet texture from red to blue, have a fundamental philosophical impact? Little limited in the breadth of the example, but this is something to think about. In our digital worlds that we enjoy, do these things have an intrinsic value in how the new work is thought of? These are things our courts will have to decide on, and I'm guessing in the next 5 years we'll see some of this start coming down the pipeline.

Now comes the next hardest part... the licensing a copyright holder puts on their goods. Well, simple fact is, it IS their goods. Whether you like it or not, they have a right to put as restrictive a license as they desire. They have a right to limit exactly how much of it you can use, where you can use it, and anything else they want including "may only be used when the moon is blue in the designated year of 1874". Nothing you can do about it. And this holds true for virtual worlds. Just because you own something full-perm, doesn't mean there isn't some licensing above and beyond that. Only the original copyright holder can state what those terms are, and those terms be upheld by them, or their authorized agents.

It is up to the end consumer whether or not they will continue use of those items, as most of this is market driven. What does have me concerned however, is not so much the market driven basis for these licenses in VW's, as I've seen some VERY fair policies in regards to licenses being extended for a moderate price to allow the user to use them in ANY virtual world, but the concept of reversing a ToS, and not just by those copyright holders (which is a whole 'nother blog I may or may not do someday) to make more money off the copyright. This is bad juju in any business, not to mention, completely unenforceable. Case law already states that outside of humanitarian rights, you can not simply reverse your terms of service unless both parties agree in writing to the reversal. This is becoming more and more a practice. So my advice to a copyright holder: speak to an attorney first. Understand your rights as the copyright holder, and what you can limit and how best to do so, and most importantly... the wording of your license.

To merchants, or creators, looking to expand into more VW markets, do your research. One of the single biggest fallacies I hear, is that a world is secured by not allowing other viewers in. If the world is using the LL based viewer in connecting to their world, guess what, they are under licensing terms to release that code. And anything that is opensource, is never fully secure. No matter how much one wants to croak out that it is, it's not. So unless they are in violation of the licensing terms for the viewer, or using a completely rewritten viewer that is proprietary to them, the claim is bogus.

Check the business, and it's affiliation to the USPTO's registered OSP agent list. Now, true, given how slow our government works, they may NOT be listed there, but that doesn't mean you can't find out, ask them for a copy of their paperwork filed. Remember, they WANT your business, you have a right to ask anything you need to know as a consumer. This was something we missed, and it could have cost us alot, but we have since rectified it and made sure our paperwork is in place. Any OSP who doesn't do this, and to be blunt, any grid is an OSP, is going to find themselves in a world of hurt later on down the road. If the business is not registered or held in any part under the United States, find out where they are located at and check against the Berne Convention to see if they are participators. How the Berne Convention affects filings of copyright and so on, I have no idea, as we fall under the US laws. What I do know, is the Berne Convention requires each participating country to have pretty stringent copyright laws in place and how to deal with infringement.

I have heard things like IP will be obsolete by 2012, well I don't see that as being the case. I do think it's a very uphill, very challenging battle, but I have faith that we as humans, and as morally right people collectively, will find a way to negotiate these challenges and find what is a fair and balanced way to protect consumers and creators. Yes, the courts will drag their heels and the digital age is expanding by leaps and bounds, but I do feel it will all come around at some point... I just hope it's within my lifetime  ;)

See ya InWorldz!  :)

Oh, and PS. ya'll can blame Tranq and Legion for the lateness of this blog as I started it last night but didn't get to finish!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oh The Places You'll Go!

First sign of too much parenting: You can quote Dr. Seuss without thinking about it! Sad state of affairs heh.

As much as I would love to get around the grid far more than I do, sometimes that's just not feasible. Usually, the only way I get to see what our lovely residents are up to is when a problem arises and I need to head to the region itself to see what's going on. And it's not from lack of desire to go to see regions or go to events, it's just busy, busy, busy. This is not to say, that what I show here tonight is any kind of bias, or me having favorites in any way. They are regions I've had to show up and fix something on and took some pics of.

We have interesting regions abounding, we have groups that are forming their own little colonies if you will, and we have those wonderful singular sims that can enchant you, delight you, entertain you, or even make you ponder things.

Some of the bigger landmasses are of course the Victoriana Sims, with 14 regions, LittleBlackDuck has been a very busy little erm, well duck! So I was wandering around one night over there, when I happened to run across this lovely avatar, dressed to the 9's in Victoriana and I thought, HOW appropriate! So she happily allowed me to take a couple of shots of her.

Spirit of Victoriana

We also have the Magellan Colony forming together from a group of residents, and we have the Elf Clan, who's lovely regions I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting yet! But it's on my list! Really!

The other nifty spot I was at the other day, was Raglan Shire. Which begs the question, what is it with Tinies?!? The tinies are sooooo creative! Not that the rest of us normal sized avatars aren't creative mind you, but when you enter one of these regions and look at it from a tiny point of view, sort of makes you appreciate the wonders of nature that sometimes we miss in real life.

The Little Things in Nature

Who doesn't like Pie?!

One of the other really neat spots I'm watching and happened to pop by the other day (because the map tile really intrigued me as I was doing region setups), was soror Nishi Island. Now I have a couple of things from soror, I am so not sure where she gets her ideas, but I think her and Scots have a thing for really bright colors! Whatever the case, here's a little sample of what she's up to, and I can't wait to see what the whole region turns into!

Color Anyone?

Next week, I'll hit some of the other groups like Elf Clan, and a couple of other smaller areas that I've been wanting to pop in and check on from their first builds, but I'll keep those quiet for now  ;)  In the meantime, I highly encourage you to wander the world, as there's so much beauty to be seen, and I hope I can cover alot of them over the next few months! See ya InWorldz!

Monday, October 11, 2010

So What Is It with Virtual Worlds?

We have this talk a lot amongst us privately, about what drives people to Virtual Worlds and of course what drives them out. Usually, we come back to full circle about what it means to people to be in a Virtual World. Now, obviously that just doesn't mean InWorldz, it can mean games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, or even FaceBook. Short version: community.

It really all boils down to that. When you're running amok killing ogres or snowbeasts or spiders, or farming your crops, or gabbing with your friends at a nightclub, it all boils down to your friends and the portion of the community you communicate with on a daily basis. When you play in an MMORPG, you join a guild for the camaraderie, the help, and usually you make a few friends in there. When you're in a grid such as InWorldz, you meet people who help you out, you join groups, and you interact with people. These are the reasons you keep logging in. Sure, you may want to go kill 500 critters to get that neat piece of armor you need next, but you'd be bored silly doing so if you had no one to talk to (well other than those who are completely anti-social, but in current MMORPG's that won't get you through raids and such unless you join a PUG).

That community, is more than just a sense of being, it's of belonging, of friendship, of people you can rely on to help you out. And it's something we spend a lot of time fostering in our world. It's also something that drives us, as the Founders, to continue working as hard as we do every day, as many hours as we can, because we see our community, and how each and every single one of you reach out to each other. Like any big family, sure there are squabbles, sure there are disagreements, and sometimes things get a tad out of hand, but on the whole, our community is strong and helpful.

I touched on some of this the last blog I did, although not nearly in this route, but what it means to us to know our residents. But it also means for our residents to know each other, and us. So today, on my semi-quasi day off, I spent some time wandering our world and our forums. There's been one thread in particular I've been following: Disabilities - What are they? That's not the only thread I follow obviously, but it definitely caught my attention this week. I was amazed at how everyone in the thread opened up and let us all have just a small peek into their RL and what they go through. Thank you, every single one of you. What may seem to you as just a quick glimpse into your reasoning for being here, to us, it's a reason to keep going on each and every day. To bear with all the complaints, the bugs, to listen to all the upset and yet know, that every single one of you has your own special reason to be here.

The other thread I love to monitor is InWorldz Picture Album! - Share Your Photos Here. I love this thread, because it let's me see into your regions and builds (or silliness) that I simply do not have time for otherwise. Some of my favs (I've taken the liberty of just uploading them here):

By Talia Fournier

By Emilie Autumn

By Amaranthim Talon

By Koshari Mohana

By Yvette Clavenham

Well, I have a whole lot more than that  :)  I think, what's most amazing, is that no matter what you are InWorldz, be it tiny, dragon, furry, fairy, lover of fantasy, GOR, Anime, whatever you're into, that when you go to our welcome area, or hang out on our forums, there is always this incredible sense of help and belonging. Sometimes we lose our way, but I see our residents reach out a hand to someone and say, come back, or let us help.

While we tend to get alot of thanks from our residents, it's really us who should be thanking them. Without them, none of this would be worth it (and believe me when I say we never knew if it would be worth it). Without our residents retaining that strong sense of community and building on it and making sure it's given to every new resident and passed on, we wouldn't have this community at all. That, is worth more anything I can say here.

So, next week, I plan on putting some stuff out about some of our regions, both larger land masses and groups and smaller ones. I'm constantly amazed at what our residents come up with! See ya InWorldz :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Just Random Ramblin'

I have all these things I want to talk about, but some have to wait for now, and others are probably going to stoke a fire that would not be good for anyone's blood pressure :)  So I'm going with random ramblin' tonight on a few different topics! Kinda like my puppy tears through my house which we now affectionately refer to as being Rorycaned. I think he probably qualifies as his own storm type, but I doubt the NWS would allow me to do so!

First, my apologies for not blogging last week. We were so consumed with the grid roll and the hardware changes on the back end, which got delayed, that my day off was shot to smithereens hehe. 

As you all know, we released the currency exchange this last week. Majority seem happy with it, however, we have a few who are discontent. This never makes me happy. These are the times I wish I could speed up time and have everything in place for everyone and then everyone would be happy as ducks in water. Sadly, this is not the case, and we have to move one step at a time, but rest assured, our goals are to ensure that particularly in this endeavor, we satisfy as many people as possible. I have come to learn, can't please all of the people all the time, but I do think this is one of those times, we can make a whole slew of them happy over time.

We're also having quite the discussion about the marketplace / search and how it will all tie in together. Kind of interesting, it's one of those crossroads we're at where we know we can do it differently, but will it be better than what most are used to? Hopefully so, as we continue to take in our residents suggestions and feedback so we can lay a solid foundation to work from.

The other trend I'm noticing, is region sales. It seems land is not stagnating when placed for sale, so this has me slightly intrigued. I'm looking at the things I have to do to transfer a region to a new owner (no small feat believe it or not), and how we can streamline this process for our end users so they aren't waiting on me. Alongside of this is the region moving or server shuffles I'm finding myself engaged in for the last couple of weeks. Again, another that is no small feat to do, it's like playing with one of those big shuffle puzzles, 585 regions with 1 extra tile to make everything work right. Fortunately, I was always good at those puzzles  ;)

We also released our real life info this last week. So, let me give a short intro of myself, and really, this needs to go up on the wiki, or somewhere but who's looking right? As much as I love my chosen InWorldz name (although, Llewellyn, well hmmm, yeah that's all I'll say there), my rl name is Beth Reischl (you can also see this on our FAQ). I was a hellion growing up, but was an overachiever. Didn't take much either, as I have an excellent photographic memory and the school system I was in wasn't high on homework. They believed in test grades being the proof in the pudding. My dad started his own business back when I was in High School, he wrote software for CO2 industrial lasers. For those who want to know what that means, it means they cut steel about an 1 1/2" thick. Not the kind you want to play around with.

The software was the translator between DXF file outputs (we typically used AutoDesk's AutoCAD, which back then was version 1.2 when I learned it) into CNC (computer numerical control) language for the lasers. I had this knack, for listening to his support calls and understanding exactly what the customer was asking. At that time, Windows was still a twinkle is Mister Gates' eyes. So the software was written in QBasic, and running on CGA monitors. Wow we've come a long way  :)  My first training for him was in OR over my senior year Christmas break. Zomgs, talk about learning how to roll with code and fixing things on the fly! That was an interesting training needless to say. From there, I handled all the training, wrote our training manuals, moved into handling sales, also did alot of custom work in digitizing. Don't ever ask me to draw you diddly on a piece of paper as I can't. But give me a CAD program and I can do anything on them, probably why I love VW's so much. I also spent my time that year, becoming certified in MI to teach AutoCAD to our customers, was really kinda wasted on me by that time, but was the paper cert I needed for validation. Our customers included Mitsubishi, Anorad, Amada and a few other laser companies. Mitsubishi eventually bought out the business about 6 years later, and my father was going to ghost write the code and I could continue with a new business, but I wasn't ready at that time. Too much responsibility after roughly 6 years of steady travel, little social life, and too many other things going on.

So I took my sales and support experience and went to work for Michigan Rx. They sold prescription pharmaceuticals to pharmacies. At the time they were in 6 states around MI, but the time McKesson bought them out 3 years later, I had been responsible for branching us out into 35 states by then, and handled a team of 5 sales associates. I went through our stock, made sure what we needed to get rid of, put together our sales flyers, handled support of any customer, and generally worked as a go between on accounts that were past due and the billing department. It was at this time I had my first daughter, then moved to Chicago.

From there, I worked for PowerDirect. Not necessarily a company I want to discuss, but there it is. Again, I set sales records, handled customer support, and was generally considered the closer on any potential accounts that needed a final closing on. Two years later, I had my second daughter.

My youngest, is diagnosed ADHD, Bi Polar and ODD (oppositional defiance disorder), and her diagnoses shook my world quite a bit. The mortality rate is not good for them, especially in the teen years. So, I heeded the advice of my mother and quit working to make sure she got whatever she needed in the form of counseling and so on.

Somewhere along those years of raising my kids, I got introduced to Second Life, and loved the entire concept, not to mention it gave me my social outreach I needed. The only thing that bothered me, was as a single mom of two girls, who was more interested in seeing them get to adulthood than jetsetting my own career, I could never afford my own sim there. Even owning a 1/4 parcel really stretched me thin. So my dear friend, Bob Bunderfeld (who shall NEVER live this down btw) introduced me to another grid where it was far more affordable, more prims, the whole nine yards. I was in heaven. Well, for a short while. A few of us got tired of having issues there, and nothing being fixed and false promises. So we said, we can do this better. And we set out to do just that.

Here we are today. I look at our residents, our disabled, our different, our single mom's and dad's, our older folks, and sometimes I get a little teary, because I've been there. We get your thanks, and we really do get it. We understand completely. We know for that so many of our residents, this isn't just a hobby, it's a way of life, a way to throw off the rl shackles, the way to express yourself in no other medium. It's a way to be the real you rather than what you're forced to be.

On that note, I think I've probably rambled enough. See ya InWorldz  :)