Saturday 28 September 2013

Who the hell owns Second Life anyway?

In light of yet another Second Life TOS change which gives Linden Lab absolute rights to take content uploaded by their resident/customers and do with as they please for ever, it comes as no surprise to me that there has been a shock wave of protest working it's way across the Metaverse. I reported recently on Opensim Virtual that, CGTextures, which used to allow their free textures to be used in Second Life has now withdrawn license to do so and now Renderosity, another free textures site, has issued the same ban (read here). The Second Life forums are buzzing with complaint and the protesters are calling for content creators to turn their regions pitch dark!

    Renderosity follows CG Textures and bans 
uploads of their textures and models to Second Life

Shava Nerad, a well known Second Life content creator posted a topic to Google plus "Dear Linden Lab -- it's been a nice eight years but you just broke the social contract with me as a creator in Second Life. BG TIME." The full text and many comments expressing disgust at the Lab's TOS change can be read here but Shava Nerad ends the topic with...

"What in the world are you thinking, taking my stuff like this?

We should be dumping tea in your harbor.

No, never, mind.  We should just pick up our toys, and leave.  It's not worth it any more.  So sad.


Oddfellow Studios has gone pitch dark, with nothing but a notecard giver with this essay on it.

I encourage other creators to turn their sims dark too, nothing but black and a notecard giver explaining the new TOS and why we have left nothing behind but a protest.

You really blew it."

Tuna Oddfellow has announced his studio will open a sim at Inworldz grid and urges other content creators to do the same. On New World Notes a hot debate rages too and other SL residents are declaring their intention to leave. It has to be said though there are die hard's fighting off the discontented rants with apologetic comments of their own in support of Linden Lab while making outright attacks on Opensim. However, the fact remains that Opensim grids, which are of course free of Linden Lab TOS and more tuned to Creative Commons licensing, are not being included in the ban imposed by CGTextures and Renderosity.

Will Burns writing on his blog, ANDROMEDA Media Group has also joined the protest and laid into Rodvik Humble - CEO of Linden Lab - and puts the blame squarely on him, calling him Gaming Jesus as he rants, "Ever since Gaming Jesus took the wheel at Linden Lab, it’s been insult after mockery to everything that Second Life actually is and the community that literally helped create it. Every step of the way proclaiming he 'gets it' when in reality he doesn't have the single foggiest idea what the hell it is that Second Life represents or how to work within that ecosystem."

Whether Humble actually cares about Second Life or was brought in to get the community under control - given his reputation at EA - and re-focus LL as a video games company is not easy to say for sure but it dose look like the Second Life community that created just about everything but the platform itself is just being dictated to by the changes in TOS. Certainly, I think there is a method in all this madness and I think Will Burns nails it somewhat when he mentions that Humble sees "a mountain of content, services and millions of years of man-hours put into the creation of a virtual environment that would have taken arguably billions of dollars had an in-house design team been charged to create it all." So, with that in mind, what was Linden Lab's latest acquisition?

Yes, they recently bought up their own indie distribution site Desura to rival Steam from Valve whom they initially flirted with. It was thought to be an odd pairing considering mod-friendly Desura which brought mods developed with player-created content and turned them into commercial video games such as Guncraft, but maybe not. "We're looking forward to growing both Desura's global community of gamers and its fantastic portfolio of thousands of games, mods, and other content," said Rod Humble in Linden Lab’s press release at the time. 

One might be forgiven for thinking Linden Lab is genuinely trying to improve the lot of residents in Second Life and get the economy growing again with new opportunities related to their expansion into video gaming but, really, I suspect it is just about the Lab's own bottom line at the end of the day because, despite the controversy, they say they are happy with the TOS changes and have not said anything to clarify what the intentions might be regarding the Desura acquisition and how it might affect Second Life. I mean, why would they change the TOS now right after acquiring Desura and give themselves total rights over the community's property for ever? Why did they feel the need to do that or was it just something the Lab planners did without any regard for the that troublesome community who really owns the content?

So who really owns Second Life anyway?

That is not easy to answer actually but anyway, Linden Lab owns the platform, the infrastructure and all web sites and applications software, and name undoubtedly. They own the company of course but the resident/customers made the bulk of the content, built the environment and gave it all the entertainment if offers. They own license, so we thought, to all the textures they uploaded, the mesh models and all the scripts they wrote to make things work. And the third party suppliers like CGTextures, Renderosity and a host of others all own copyrights on stuff being uploaded to Second Life so you could say the internal fabric itself is not owned by Linden Lab and the whole thing should be looked upon as a partnership between the resident community and the Linden Lab corporation and yet that is not the way the Lab or Mr Humble appears to see it. Granted, they have confirmed in one of their "no name" posts that the residents own their copyrights and are licensed to distribute their creations on the Second Life grid but they then changed the TOS without a by your leave and now we find Linden Lab has taken the right to use all that content in what ever way they choose for ever without having to pay the creators anything at all. And, presumably, they can sell all these rights with the company if they want to.

You, the creators of Second Life are not the owners. Get use to it! Morally, you might be but you agreed to the TOS when the Lab said they can change it any time they wish and in any way they wish so you see, you had to sell out just to get onto the platform. End of story.

Well, not quite the end of the story. There are always alternatives and the obvious one that is compatible with Second Life is Open Simulator or Opensim.

So who owns Opensim then?

The Opensim virtual worlds are almost clones of Second Life, the similarities are that close. Most of what works in Second Life works in Opensim grids and looks pretty much the same. But there are notable differences too like the fact Opensim grids are designed to connect with each other via the Hypergrid protocol which permits teleport's from one server instance to another thus forming a Metaverse of privately owned worlds all freely associating with one another in a global community unlike Second Life which is a monopoly owned by Linden Lab. Something else that is notably different and of special interest to us here is that the TOS - which the grid owners have to write for themselves. They are not subject to the Second Life TOS and the platform software is free to use under very liberal license terms granted by the Overte Foundation which is a non-profit organization that manages contribution agreements for the Open Simulator project. The Opensim license grants permission to use the platform code to create both private or commercial worlds and allows one to change the code without any obligation to contribute your code back. Thus, anyone can take the code and build their own simulator. Educators effectively had Opensim forced on them when, in another policy change, Linden Lab withdrew discounts to education and none-profits and what they discovered was that they can protect students better than trusting LL and the US army likes the security the platform offers too. And for Merchants the new export perm will allow them to control where their products end up as well. There are lots of reasons to use Opensim and the low price point is just the obvious one.

I think one can safely say that the free Metaverse is owned by its community right from the foundation code up. Individuals and companies might build on it but no one company can claim rights over everything as Linden Lab has done with Second Life. Yes, a company can keep code secret and build a community behind closed borders based on the Second Life model but no one grid in the Metaverse has managed to grow bigger than the connected grids as a whole. So, having said all that, I would finally say the community really dose own Opensim.