Yesterday via the Second Life blog, I read a discussion Robin Linden had with the Sellers Guild about the implications of a recently-developed LibSL product called CopyBot. As Robin explains it:
CopyBot allows the user to create a replication of an object, including textures, that is fully permissive. Needless to say this product has caused tremendous worry among content creators who want to understand how its use may possibly affect their business. In particular, they are concerned about theft of their creations, and the potential for unscrupulous people to undercut their prices and essentially take away their business.
Isn’t this like the Star Trek Replicator?
This whole fiasco immediately reminded me of the Star Trek Replicator. In the fictional Star Trek universe, a replicator is a machine capable of converting energy into matter and vice-versa. A replicator can create any inanimate matter, as long as the desired molecular structure is on file, but it cannot create antimatter, dilithium, or a living organism of any kind. From personal memory of Star Trek lore, after such a machine was invented, currency as we knew it ceased to be function. Since everyone had the capability to create (replicate) anything they desire, capitalism as we knew it died, and the new dawn of perfect Marxian philosophy was adopted by the Federation.
How did the CopyBot exist?
Produced by libsecondlife, 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. I believe that this is part of an open-source Second Life client they were working on, the official client being proprietary to Linden Labs.
But not all forms of copying is wrong…
Now the act of copying doesn’t always mean that a copyright violation has occurred. For instance, the law discusses ‘fair use’ as one type of copying that is not a violation. In that post which yielded just under 700 comments, Robin stated how Linden Labs would help pursue such copyright abuses under the DMCA, but even they acknowledge that it’s a tedious process, thus not the best solution.
What SL resident sellers thought…
This didn’t sit well with residents who were selling original items in Second Life where some even considered Linden Labs as being ignorant to their users. Since this evening, I’ve been receiving countless protest votes where sellers have either decided to shut down their shops indefinitely, or to keep their stores open but watch out of residents who use this offending gadget (or script). They promised that if they caught anyone using such a device on their wares, they would tear a new one on them. I don’t think this is possible in the metaverse, but I do know that a neighborhood watch is in place to report such users.
The Aftermath unfolds…
This massive call to action has not only inundated my email inbox, but has also triggered a cascade of drop-down notices when I log into Second Life, effectively crashing my Mac client. This flurry of activities has prompted Linden Labs to take further action and in their most recent blog post, they now consider the use of CopyBot and similar tools as a Terms of Service agreement violation. They also admitted that Second Life needs features to provide more information about assets and the results of copying them. In defense, they mention how 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 could harm legitimate projects within Second Life. Indeed, changing any code in SL can have drastic effect on items owned by the critical mass of SL residents. Libsecondlife has since removed the CopyBot from their repository, but that doesn’t stop those users who already downloaded it from using it. On a positive note, this event has pushed the developers at Linden Labs to prioritzing their time to work on additional asset data (allowing creator’s imprint and better control over items), as well as in support for Creative Commons and expanding the ban lists.
Do add anything you think might help us understand the situation better, including anything I might have not correctly stated.
Update 1: As a form of protection against CopyBot users from replicating their unique avatars, several residents have started to don “freebie” avatars temporarily. For example, Snoopy as seen in the above picture.
Update 2: Second Life resident Cory Edo got his/her hands on a CopyBot and writes up what it’s capable of doing…
Update 3: Collin Smith interviewed Baba Yamamoto, who administers the libsecondlife.org website, to get his thoughts about their CopyBot.
Update 4: Woah! CNN Money just cited me on the CopyBot vs. Replicator on economy issue, and so did game designer Raph Koster. Popular news aggregators TechMeme and Megite tagged me on this CopyBot phenomena as well. I’ve been getting some hits from Technorati, and from my referral logs, I can tell that people are looking to find places to download the CopyBot! (Guys, it’s not as good as it’s hyped to be!)
Update 5: Second Life Insider has an interesting discussion on the parallels between Star Trek’s Replicator and Second Life’s CopyBot.