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“But how do I know if it is stolen content?”

April 1, 2011

The conversation about stolen content making its way into OpenSimulator continues. For the most part, it has been a fairly healthy (if lively!) discussion, and good points have been made by all sides. One thing I have been asked is, “But how can I know if a freebie is a creator’s generosity or something somebody ripped out of SL and offered illegally?”

Many times, you can’t. Sometimes, you can make a good guess.

Grid Owners can’t screen content, nor (as I understand it, AndIAmNotALawyer) are they legally obligated to do so. The task is impossible: they would have to comb through every item in the database and compare it to the SL Marketplace, plus all the inworld shops. A thousand people couldn’t do that for one medium-sized grid. What they can and must do is respond to complaints under the DMCA or similar laws. They can also educate their residents about the problem, and some actively encourage content creators to make legal alternatives.

What about Average Avatar? What is s/he supposed to do? Unless you build all your own stuff from prim hair to plants to scripts, you can’t be 100% certain you are getting the real thing. In this, OpenSim mirrors Real Life. However, there are some things you can do when you are shopping around the Metaverse.

  1. Quality Inspection.  This is what tipped me off about the boat in my previous entry: it is a very high-quality piece of work overall, but there are some odd flaws in it when you look closer.  Poseballs–with no animations or scripts inside.  A sliding door–stuck in the open position, no script.  The name of the object is “Nave Pirata”, which is either Portuguese or Spanish (according to Google), but some of the component prims are named in English, which is odd but not unheard of.  A railing is missing on the aft section. If you see missing prims, textures, or scripts, it doesn’t prove it is an illegal copy, but it is likely a poor copy, and people who do this sort of work take pride in it.
  2. Look at the name and description.  Some copybotters are just sloppy: I once found some hair marked “Sirena”.  I have done business with Sirena in SL, and I admire the work–but I don’t recall that much free hair being given out. 🙂  Certainly not copy/mod/transfer!
  3. Relevant to the above: in OpenSimulator, much like in SL, people usually don’t name all the pieces, they just name the linked-together object.  If something is named “Primitive”, the prim probably came from an OpenSimulator grid.  (This says nothing about the textures and contents.)  If it is named “Object”? That probably came from Second Life.  Again, not proof that it is illegal, but evidence that it was likely exported from SL.  This could just be someone who took their own creations with them from SL, of course.
  4. If you are looking for something that you just can’t live without, take the extra time to check into where it came from.  A chair, a potted plant, maybe your hair: these can be replaced quickly enough.  If you are going to be running a dance club, you might want to take a little more care selecting your dance animations!
  5. Keep in mind those (like me!) who are doing business on the HyperGrid.  If we want this great experiment of ours to survive, we have to have our own content creators, not rely on content from elsewhere regardless of the legality of copying it.

None of the above prove anything.  They just give you some questions to ask when you find things that you are unsure of.   There is no perfect solution: the current round of discussion  started with stolen plants, something that my little detection techniques aren’t likely to spot. They are so ubiquitous that most of us don’t even think about them much. You can’t be expected to dissect everything you find on the shelf, but you can be more aware.

Finally: Don’t, please don’t, continue to use something when you suspect it is stolen.  Yes, you can stand on your legal rights and wait until the owner of the Intellectual Property digs through all the different venues and files a DMCA notice.  The problem with this is that it feeds the flames between Content Creators and the OpenSim community, and that can’t end well for any of us.  If we are going to move past this period, we need to continue to have healthy dialogues among Content Creators, Grid Owners, and Residents, dialogues based on mutual respect.  If the Content Creators can’t get that respect for their rights, they are going to push for harsher restrictions to protect themselves.  Wouldn’t you, in their position?  If you need that content that badly, try to track down the creator, explain what you found, and ask if a deal can be made.  I have seen this work to the benefit of all.

Have you found any other tips and tricks for spotting copybotted content?

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